Marshal Jackson shifted his musty Stetson over his eyes for a quick nap. As the train’s rhythm culled him toward sleep, a bony poke jolted his shoulder.
“You wanted to see me, Marshal?” Garvey’s eye whites gleamed in his sooty face.
Jackson adjusted his hat. “Some coincidence you’re a fire man on a train carrying bank start-up funds.”
Garvey shifted his weight. “I’m all cleaned up, I swear. Ain’t stole a stick of chaw since I quit drinkin’.”
“Got a bad feelin’. Tell me why, and I might leave you alone.”
A thick-middled woman rustled down the aisle toward them. Copious rouge failed to beautify her mole-ridden complexion. Jackson straightened. She was perhaps the ugliest woman alive.
Her gloved hands flailed. “Emergency, Marshal!”
“C’mon.” Jackson tugged Garvey’s arm. “Ain’t lettin’ you outta my sight.”
Mole-face wailed through the cars. “My poor husband!”
When they reached the dining car window’s ‘closed’ sign, fine hairs prickled along Jackson’s neck. He hesitated as his eyes adjusted. Past empty ladder-backs and pedestal tables, one occupied chair faced the back door.
“Poor feller, indeed.” Garvey muttered. “Woman’s homelier’n my dead bulldog.”
“Terrible thing to say about a woman.” Mole-face turned and aimed a revolver at them. “Good thing I ain’t one. Hands high.”
Jackson reached for his Peacemaker as an ear-splitting crack sounded. Pain seared his mutilated index finger. He pressed his hand against his belly. Blood drenched his shirt.
“Take the marshal’s gun belt, Smokey.”
Garvey stammered. “Me?”
Mole-face cocked his pistol.
Garvey tugged at the buckle, glancing up at Jackson. “Had nothin’ to do with this, I swear.”
Grabbing the holster, the bandit sneered. “Why fuss over a knuckle, Marshal? It’ll heal. If you mind me.”
Jackson ground his molars. “Where’s your team?”
“Don’t need one.” He grinned, cracking his lipstick. “I got you two.”
The chair occupant grunted.
“Meet my clothing donor.”
Grey hairs straying from her bun, she wore a simple corset and petticoat. “You behave, now.” The bandit jerked her gag away.
Despite crinkles, a gleam lingered in her topaz eyes. “You rotten burr in a pig’s groin.”
“Now, Miss Parker, figgered a school marm’d have better manners.”
Garvey yanked a curtain from the window and blanketed her with it. “Ma’am, pigs ain’t hairy enough for burrs—”
“Thank you, young man,” Miss Parker interrupted. “This indignity flustered me.”
Garvey glared at their captor. “Didn’t get your name.”
“Dale Burns, isn’t it?” Jackson squeezed his injury. “Infamous cheat and gunman.”
“My reputation stands.” Burns flourished the revolver toward the table. “Be seated, gentlemen.”