Black and White

"Howdy, pardners," said Ben, puffing smoke into my face and doffing his hat to Jimmy.  I glared at him, and Jimmy fought to keep a smile from his face.

"Since when do you sound like a parody cowboy?" I said, coughing just a touch.  "Next thing I know, you'll be trying to shoot bottles off of some kid's head."

"Better not be my head!" said Jimmy sharply, but the smile had forced its way on to his face by now.

"Thought I'd try and lighten the mood a little," said Ben.  The cigar smelled of horse apples to me, but he was smoking it determinedly.  "We should probably be saddling up and riding on; we've got some thinking to do about what happens when we get there, and I think best when the landscape's moving around me."  He gestured casually back towards Orson's Gulch.  "Are you up for riding there, Jimmy, or do we need to nail you on the horse?"

"Don't!"  I got in fast before Jimmy could reply.  "We've done that twice before, and getting the rider back off the horse is never easy.  It'd be easier to tie you on."

"...Are you serious?" Jimmy's face was a picture.  Ben turned away, but his shoulders were shaking, and I got up and joined him quickly.  We heard Jimmy get to his feet, then his arm fell around my shoulders and some of his weight fell on my back, and the three of us made our way back to the horses.


"So where are we going then?  Are you guys going to tell me, or is it a surprise for when I get there?"  Jimmy sounded a little snippy, but there was a note of warmth in his voice.  Ben looked over at me, and nodded.

"We're going to Our Lady of Perpetual Shame," I said.  "It's the largest nunnery this side of the Grand Canyon, but that's not to say it's enormous, just that there's not a whole lot of nuns out this way.  There's about a hundred and forty nuns living there, spiritually guided by their Mother Superior that Ben here," Ben grinned so widely I thought his face would split, "knows from her earlier life as Shanghai Suzie."

"Our Lady of...?"

"Perpetual Shame," I said.  "Suzie's got issues.  Ben's probably still one of them."

"What did he do?"

"He," said Ben, emphasizing the pronoun, "doesn't think that's what you need to know right now.  When you've been with us another ten years, then I'll tell you about Shanghai Suzie."

"It's a story worth hearing," I said, "but it's Ben's to tell.  Right now, our concern is what might be waiting for us at the nunnery.  Suzie's not a bad girl, but she's a pragmatist.  If someone's offered her enough of what she wants, she'll be going along with their plans."

"That someone being my pa?"  Jimmy's voice was flat and even, but his hand went to the knife-wound in his side.

"It's one option," said Ben.  "But we're not ruling out the option that your pa's working with -- or for -- someone else."

"Right."  Jimmy's voice stayed even.  "What's Suzie got for us then?  For real or for fake."

"Actually, Suzie may not know about this, if this map's for real." I said.  "We've got ourselves a floorplan of the nunnery, and... well, it's a cliché but X marks the spot."

"Marks the spot of what?"  Jimmy sounded a little impatient, for which I was glad; his calmness was a little worrying after the way it had lead to an outburst the last time.

"According to the map," I said, drawing out my answer and savouring the tension, "about half the bullion stolen from the Great Train Robbery of '79."

The End

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