I gave Jimmy ten minutes to let off some steam before going looking for him. The sun was just peeking into the gulch when I stepped out onto the street and it was already plenty warm. It was going to be a good day to rest up and stay out of the heat before venturing off into more fun and games the next morning.
Assuming I could get the three of us back on the same page.
I found Jimmy sitting on a tree stump by the stream, staring at the reddish current as it moseyed on by. In the light filtering through the juniper tree to his right he looked, as my Aunt Molly liked to say, a little like death warmed up.
“You willing to let me say my piece yet?” I asked, coming to stand downstream of him. For a few long moments there was only the sound of the stream and a lone cactus wren chirping at us from the far bank.
“It’s a bit early in the day for me to stomach more lies,” he replied without looking up.
“Then I shall endeavour to stick to the truth,” I told him, biting my tongue to stop myself from taking the bait, “if you could bring yourself to be civil with me for five minutes.”
He brought his gaze slowly up to meet mine, unapologetic and unyielding, before saying, “Go ahead.”
“I think it would help us both if you took the time to see our situation from my boots,” I said as I pushed my hat a little higher on my brow. “Ben and I have been partners for longer than I can remember and it’s been just the two of us for all that time. We trust each other without question because we’ve been to hell and back and not once has one of us let the other down.
“Now you’ve entered the picture, unproven and unknown, and not without baggage in the form of a sheriff for a father. I know that ain’t by choice, but I suspect you can see that it muddies the picture from where Ben and I stand.”
“Fair enough,” Jimmy said flatly. “So why did you even allow me to join up in the first place?”
“Maybe I was tired of playing it safe, nickel-and-diming my way toward retirement, and I saw in a third man a chance for bigger rewards to go along with the bigger risks. Maybe I saw a little bit of a younger me in you.”
“I’m not sure if that was a compliment or not,” he said with the hint of a smile, “but I’ll take it as one anyway.”
“So now here we are, on this fine morning, in a fine little pickle.” I paused to glance around us and found not a soul in sight. “We’ve just escaped a trap set by your father, with no way of knowing whether it was for us specifically or just for anybody who made an attempt on that train. And we’ve got two maps, neither of which we can completely trust.”
“I got you that map of the mine fair and square!”
“Maybe so, maybe no, Jimmy. I’ve got no way to tell if the sheriff put you up to that or not.” He was half way to standing before I could add, “I’m not saying he did, and I’m not saying he didn’t. Just look at it from my side, alright? It sure looks suspicious, don’t it?”
I took his silence as encouragement to continue.
“And sure, you got yourself a nasty cut on that train, but it could have been staged. I’m not done yet,” I said, allowing my voice to rise enough to drown his protests. “It didn’t kill you and bleeding for our cause makes a hell of an impression. But I didn’t see it happen and neither did Ben, so we can’t say for sure how it went down.
“Now, most likely you earned that gash in our defence. And that map of the mine is probably legit. But there’s enough smoke floating around that you can hardly blame us for being leery of a bit of fire.”
“So where do we go from here?” Jimmy asked, looking over his shoulder to find Ben heading our way in a thick haze of cigar smoke. I had to look twice to make sure he wasn’t smoking two or three at once.
"West," I replied with a slight shrug. "We'll let you in on as much of the plan as we can without putting ourselves at too great a risk, just in case our suspicions are correct."
"So I'm stuck in the dark, hoping you guys aren't planning on using me as a sacrificial lamb so that you can walk away with the loot?"
"To be entirely honest, I'd feel a whole lot better if we could just part ways right now." I glanced to my right to see that Ben had slowed his pace, sensing that his less than refined presence might damage something fragile. "But we need you to pull this job off. And if you do your part... I reckon our two man show could likely become a three man posse that could have a whole lot of fun in the years to come. It ain't perfect, but that's all I've got to offer right now."
"Well, if this is what it takes for me to ride with you guys, I guess I don't have much choice in the matter." Jimmy chewed on that thought and his bottom lip for a moment before continuing. "I won't let you down, Red. Even though you can't fully trust it yet, I give you my word on that."
It wasn't much, but it was enough for us to carry on. I just hoped that trusting Jimmy, even just a little bit, wouldn't mean the end of us all.