Authors: Johnny D Boggs
Kensington Publishing Corp.
For Verna, Vic, Cody, and Ma
That morning found him bleeding more than usual.
“You gotta keep your head back, Jimmy,” Three-Fingers Lacy coaxed him in her nasal, whiskey-rotted drawl. “Keep your head back, honey, till the bleedin' stops.”
“I keep looking into that sun,” he told her, “I'll go blind.”
“Close your eyes, sweetie,” she said, and pressed the dirty, blood-soaked handkerchief tighter against his nose. “Close 'em tight.”
Reluctantly, Jim Pardo obeyed, but it didn't help. Ten in the morning, and the sun blasted like a furnace. Of course, she could have suggested that they turn around, so they weren't facing the sun, but Lacy didn't have the brains to figure that out. It didn't matter. His neck hurt. Keep this up, and he'd get a crick. Blind, with a bent neck, and a bitch of a nosebleed. Wouldn't Wade Chaucer and the other members of his gang love that? He'd be deader than dirt.
“I'm gonna need another rag or somethin',” Three-Fingers Lacy said. “This one's soaked through.” She pulled the handkerchief away. Her tone changed. “I'm worried about you, Jimmy. It ain't never bled this much before.”
She reached for him, but he shoved her arm away and slid off the boulder.
“Shut up,” he told her. “Where's Ma?”
He pinched his nose, looked at the blood on his fingertips, then wiped them on his vest. Three-Fingers Lacy dropped the bloody rag onto the dirt. The ants would love that. He scratched the palm of his hand against the hammer of his holstered Colt, looked around, tasting the blood as it dripped over his lips. He cursed his nose, loosened his bandana, and saw how his words had hurt Lacy.
Hell of a thing
, he thought, softening, and gave her a reassuring grin. “Don't fret over me, Lacy,” he told her. “Nosebleed ain't going to bury Bloody Jim Pardo. Thanks for looking after me.”
“It wasn't nothin', Jimmy. Ain't that what wives is supposed to do?”
His smile turned crooked. Wife. Concubine. Whore. Whatever she was. He rolled up the bandana and placed it under his nose, holding it there with his left hand, keeping his right near the Colt.
“Where's Ma?” he asked again.
“Up yonder with The Greek.” She pointed.
He had to tilt his head back again, but the flow of blood seemed to be slowing. It wasn't fair. Pardo never knew when his nose would start acting up. He had stopped six or seven bullets, plus a load of buckshot. He didn't recollect how many men he had killed, and there were prices on his head here in Arizona Territory, plus in New Mexico Territory, Texas, Missouri, Kansas, even California. He led a gang of the toughest black-hearts he had ever known. Seven men, plus his mother and Lacy, not including Bloody Jim Pardo himself. But his nose, and those cursed weak veins, could stop him cold, damned near put him under.
He checked his watch.
“Running late,” he said, and swore.
“What if it don't come?” Lacy asked. “What if there was some accident?”
“It'll come,” he said. “The accident won't happen.” With a wry chuckle, he pointed. “Till right there.”
“Why don't you pour yourself a bracer?”
“It's nine in the morn, Jimmy. That ain't proper.”
The smile and friendliness vanished. “What the hell do you know about proper?” He walked down the hill toward the Southern Pacific tracks.
They had never tried robbing a train. Banks, stagecoaches, mines, Army paymasters, regular citizens, and wagon caravans, sureâso many times, Pardo had lost countâbut never a locomotive, yet Ritcher had told Pardo about the payload, even suggested the place to pull off the robbery, and the Army major had never led them astray yet. Number 18 would be hauling passengers and an express car loaded with green-backs for the soldier boys stationed at Bowie, Lowell, Huachuca, and every other post that stank of Yankee fools in the Sonoran Desert.
She would come charging around that blind curve, and the boys would jerk the rail loose, sending the locomotive and her cars crashing down the embankment, likely killing everyone on board, and thus making it easy for Ma and the boys to collect the strongboxes full of money. They could take anything of value off the dead passengers and be back in their hideout in the Dragoons before the blue-bellies knew they wouldn't be collecting their fifteen dollars that month and those fools waiting at the Tucson depot realized their loved ones were feeding buzzards.
With dead eyes, Wade Chaucer watched Pardo slide down the hill. Despite the heat, Chaucer wore a coat of black wool, a fine silk shirt, and red necktie accented with a fancy diamond stickpin. The coat remained unbuttoned, and the slim fingers of his right hand drummed a tune on the holster he kept below his stomach. His left hand emptied a cup of coffee by his black boots, and slowly pushed back his wide-brimmed gray hat.
“How's your nose, Pardo?” he said easily.
Smiling, Pardo slung the bloodstained bandana over his neck, but didn't bother to tie the ends into a knot. That would take two hands, and Pardo wasn't foolish enough to give Chaucer any notions, or chances.
“I'll live,” he said.
Chaucer grinned back. “For how long?”
“Longer than you.”
With a shrug and a bow, Chaucer said in Spanish,
“Vamos a ver.”
They were opposites, and Pardo hated Chaucer for it. Wade Chaucer was tall, handsome, knew about good wines and champagne, wore a nickel-plated Remington, and could speak, when he wanted to, like an educated man. Pardo had even heard him talk in some fancy language. Latin, Chaucer had told him. Ma had never got around to teaching Jim Pardo how to read, probably because she couldn't read or write herself, though she often pretended to. Pardo couldn't make five-foot-four with two-inch heels on his boots, and he dressed like some saddle tramp with an old Colt that was beaten and scarred, but well-used. So Chaucer and Pardo despised each other but needed each other.
At least, for now.
Pardo pointed a short finger at the small fire a few yards away underneath a outcropping of rock, a blackened coffeepot on the coals. “Your idea?”
Chaucer's reply came as a shrug, but the gangly man with the rough beard squatting next to the fire answered for him. “We rode hard, boss man. Ain't et nothin' since day 'fore yesterday. We figured coffee would put somethin' in our guts.”
Pardo's right hand gripped the Colt, and he glared. “I'll put something in your gut right now, Duke, if you don't put that fire out. If that engineer spots our smokeâ¦”
“The fire's small, boss man, and we built it underâ”
Pardo drew the Colt, but Duke started furiously kicking sand over the fire, spraying the pot and cups while he pleaded with Pardo that he was doing it, he was doing it, the fire was out, no harm had been done.
Glancing back at Chaucer, Pardo kept the Colt level. The black-clad gunman merely smiled and rose easily.
“Train isn't here, Pardo.”
“It'll be here. Major Ritcher saidâ”
“What if it doesn't come?”
“Then you can help Duke build another fire and make another pot of coffee.”
“Where's Lacy?” Chaucer looked up the hill.
Pardo shoved the short-barreled .44-40 into the holster. “That's Missus Pardo to you, pal.”
“So you keep reminding me.”
The flash of white light caught his eye, and Pardo was moving past Chaucer and Duke, stepping up a series of rocks. He saw the sunlight reflecting off his mother's Winchester.
“Train's coming, boys,” Pardo said, his smile widening again, and he whipped off his sweat-stained hat, and waved it at the lookouts, turning, moving quickly.
“Duke, you sure those ropes are tied good?”
“Yes, boss man!”
“They'd better be. Soledad!”
Two wiry Mexicans in buckskins, appearing out of nowhere, suddenly slid down the hill.
“You and your brother know what to do,
?” Pardo asked.
the older one, with the salt-and-pepper mustache and goatee, answered.
“Then do it. Come on, Chaucer.”
Running now, sniffing, Pardo climbed back up the hill, kicking dust and gravel at Chaucer, who was coming up right behind him. Three-Fingers Lacy had found a bottle where he had left her, but she quickly corked it and dropped the rye in the brush beside her.
“The train?” she managed.
“Get to the horses,” Pardo barked. “When that train goes over, it's going to sound like the world's coming to an end, and if those horses spook, leave us afoot, we're all dead. But you'll be the first to reach hell, girl. Phil?”
“It's done, Jim.”
Good old Phil
, Pardo thought. Phil had been riding with Pardo since Missouri during the War. He was the only man out here Pardo could trust, though not enough to turn his back on him.
He spotted the dust, sifting off to the southwest on the other side of the butte, and heard the hoofbeats as Ma whipped the bay gelding.
That old woman must have been born in a saddle
, Pardo marveled, as she reached the bottom and never slowed, leaping over the Southern Pacific rails, then swinging from the saddle and handing the reins to Duke. Winchester in her left hand, she scurried up the hill and slid to a stop.
“How you feeling, Jim?”
“I'm fine now, Ma,” Pardo answered. “Finer than frog hair cut eight ways. Where's The Greek?”
“Up yonder. With his Sharps. Just like you wanted.”
“Good. How far away's the train?”
“It'll be here in a few minutes. Then it'll be in hell.”
He laughed. There was nothing to do but wait.
The Greek, that sharpshooting son of a bitch, would keep them covered with his .45-70 in case anything went wrong. Three-Fingers Lacy and Phil would hold the horses. Soledad and Duke had mounted up and dallied the ends of their lariats around the saddle horns. As soon as they heard the train roaring around that curve, they'd spur their mounts and pull out the rail they had loosened last night. Soledad's brother, Rafael, stood closer to the tracks, his hands gripping a double-barreled Parker ten-gauge.
Pardo, Ma, Chaucer, and Harrah, who had just come out of the brush after nature's call, stood on the ledge, hands on their guns, sweating, hearts pounding, excited.
Black smoke drifted into the pale sky. That was all for several minutes. Then they could make out the chugging engine. Pardo wet his lips. At least his nose had stopped bleeding. He scratched the palm of his hand on the .44-40's hammer. The chugging turned into a roar, almost deafening it seemed, but Pardo figured that had to be his imagination. Smoke, thicker now, blackened the sky as the 4-4-0 Baldwin rounded the curve and came into view.
Immediately, the air brakes screamed, and the giant wheels bit into the railsâeven before Soledad and Duke spurred the horses and jerked the rail off the track. That engineer was savvy, Pardo conceded, had a pair of eyes on him a falcon might envy. Must have spotted the ropes tied on the loose rail, hit the brakes, and tried to reverse the engine. But that old 4-4-0 was going too fast. Trying to make up time. Damned shame. Pardo laughed.
One man leaped from the cab. The fireman, Pardo figured, and then Pardo saw nothing but dust, steam, black smoke, and black metal. The 4-4-0 leaped off the rails and slammed down the embankment, the tender toppling over and crashing down on the locomotive as it smashed a boulder and toppled onto its side, followed by a violent explosion that knocked Pardo off his feet and started his nosebleed again.
His ears rang, and the dust blinded him. Pardo swore, trying to find his Colt, but he had lost it. He shook his head, felt strong fingers on his shoulders, and he fought them off, but couldn't, felt the fingers biting into him, shaking him. Then he heard the words:
“Son. Jim! Jim! It's me. It's your mother! Son! Are you all right?”
He shook his head. Tried to answer his mother. Tell her he was fine.
Metal smashing metal, the splintering of wood, savage blasts, and that damned ringing in his ears. Pardo tasted blood again. He spit. Cursed. Felt his mother putting the Colt in his right hand, and he saw her old, weather-beaten face, those cold blue eyes, felt himself being helped to his feet. His hat, somehow, remained on his head. He pulled it off, waved at the dust, seemed to tell his mother he hadn't been hurt, and wiped the blood from his nose with the back of his left hand.
The hellish noise ceased, as did the ringing in his ears, and he walked to the edge and looked down upon his handiwork.
Beside him, heavy sarcasm laced Wade Chaucer's laugh.
“Is that the way Jesse James used to do it, Pardo?” Chaucer asked.
A piercing scream sounded below. Ignoring Chaucer, Pardo looked at the tracks. The bay gelding his mother had given Duke was a gory mess, but Duke seemed to be all right. So was Soledad. He couldn't say the same about Soledad's brother, who lay writhing on the ground like a dying snake. Soledad tried to hold him down. Duke stared, gagging, at Rafael's bloody body.
Pardo spit and looked down at carnage that had once been a Southern Pacific train.
The tender, smashed to pieces, lay atop the locomotive, which had been turned into nothing more than a pile of twisted black metal that looked as if it had been blown apart by ten howitzers. The express car and two passenger cars had slid off the rails and fallen onto their sides before the caboose had flown over the rails, splintering the last coach.
“Which one's got the money, Cap'n?” Harrah asked.
“Express car.” Chaucer answered for Pardo. “The one that's burning like hell.”
Pardo's eyes smarted. Damned car was going up like a tinderbox. Wood crackled, and Rafael screamed for mercy.
“The money,” Harrah said. “The Army money. It's burningâ”
“Check on Lacy and the horses, Ma.” Pardo's voice was soft. He wet his lips, shoved the Colt bitterly into the holster. “Tell Phil we won't have need of the buckboard.”