Ben settled down into his seat and pulled out the dime novel he’d taken from William Evans’ pocket; The Outlaw Wade. The cover illustration didn’t look like him other than the hat, it was a decent try at his hat and the artists had even attempted to scratch a cross on his gun for the Hand of God.
Chapter One: A Robbery
Arthur clutched his bag as the stagecoach rattled towards El Paso, his entire life was on his lap as he went to a career as a lawyer in Yuma. As he looked towards the window, he caught the glance of Miss Prudence Elliott, who was reading an English Romance. She smiled at him and he realized how silly he looked holding his bag. He loosened his grip and leaned forward, causing a few grumbles from the grumpy rancher next to him, and asked the young woman “Is Helen’s journey across the moors any more comfortable than ours?”
She gave him a pretty, little laugh as he had remembered the heroine of her book. They had talked in Fort Stockton about their reading. “Its wetter, but I don’t know that it’s better. She’s sitting next to a woman who keeps worrying about highwaymen and there’s a clerk that’s snoring.”
“We don’t have highwaymen to bother us and even if they did, the coachman has a man with a good shotgun.”
“Yes and you wouldn’t let them hurt me.”
“No, I’d fend them off with my bag of briefs.” Prudence giggled and a bump sent her into slightly into him where he was able to hold her arms, “Careful, the roads are bad.”
The guard noticed the book in Wade’s hands, “My boy reads those, that’s a pretty good one. It really about you?”
“Yes, it is, but I haven’t read it.”
“Then you enjoy your reading, should have a quiet ride unless you’ve got anymore surprises planned.” Ben nodded and watched the scenery and heard the steady clop of Gabriel following along until the right moment.
Before she could answer, there was a thunder of hooves around them and the sound of gunfire, and then of the coach rattling, so much that it seemed as if it would fly apart. He put his bag to the side and pulled Prudence close to him as he said, “Stay close, we’ll get through this.”
The stage lurched before finally stopping and the door was pulled open as the barrel of a rifle came into view and an unexpectedly educated voice said, “Now don’t you worry, folks, this won’t take long. I’m Ben Wade and you’re going to give me your valuables and no one’s going to try any heroics.”
Arthur swallowed as he looked at Wade, a big man all in black with a gun with a cross on it at his side. Wade glanced over everyone and gave Prudence a smile. Another man was visible beside him, this time thinner and in one of the whitest looking jackets Arthur had seen this far west. “Now get on out, it’ll make everything quicker.”
While still clutching his bag, Arthur came out and then offered a hand to help Prudence first and then the other woman on the stage as the last man came out. They ended up in a row by the stage where the driver could be seen holding his arm and Arthur couldn’t see the man who rode shotgun. Wade had dismounted and walked past them, one hand resting easily on his gun. He began at the other end from Arthur, where the other man, a rancher, emptied his wallet and tugged off a tie pin and ring. Prudence seemed mesmerized by Wade and he smiled at her as he talked, “Now, you’re a lovely one. Taking your baubles won’t leave you hurting too much, because your eyes outshine that little ring.”
There weren’t too many stops out this way and Mexico wasn’t too far off either. All he needed was for the train to slow down enough and the guard to get a little closer. Since he’d gotten on the train he didn’t need to worry about the Evans’ family, they would be fine. He laughed at the novel’s description of himself and Charlie Prince and looked up at the guard, “Do you know who writes these?”
“I think they’re some fellows back East, most of ‘em are set out in New York chasin’ after jewel thieves and rescuing girls who turn out to be heiresses,” He came closer to Ben with a smile.
“That must be entertaining. I wonder if any of these authors found their way out here. What do you think?”
The guard grinned at being asked and said, “My name’s Fred and probably have. Why do you remember some whippersnapper from New York asking you questions?”
“No, but maybe I robbed him,” Ben smiled at Fred--bored and friendly guards were useful. He’d have to think on when he might have inspired this book.
Arthur clutched his bag until his hands hurt but what could he say or do, they were armed and he didn’t know how to do more than box. When Wade reached him, their eyes were almost level, but Arthur was an inch or two shorter as Wade said, “Now what have you got in that bag, boy?”
He swallowed and said, “My books, I need them.”
“You need them, do you? What’s so special about those books?”
“They’re my education and my livelihood,” Wade grabbed his bag and opened it up, looking over the titles as Arthur opened his wallet and took off his pocket watch, “Please, take these,” He felt a fool and could see Prudence shifting away from him before Wade closed the bag and dropped it, taking his money and watch, “A lawyer, not the finest of occupations but keep them. ‘For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.’ Heed your bible.” (Ecclesiastes 7:12) Then Wade gathered all their valuables into a bag and waved his men around before they rode off.
A whistle blew and the train started to slow down, Fred, the guard stood up to peer out the door, “Looks like someone’s herd ended up on the tracks.”
Ben shifted over to take a look as well, listening to the lowing of the cattle and the far off sound of the conductor and cowboys arguing while the cows decided to not move. As Fred was leaning out, Ben slipped the keys off the guard’s belt and unlocked his cell. Someone had even oiled it, so he quietly walked out, took up the Hand of God to put on his belt where it belonged. Then he tapped on Fred’s shoulder, which made him turn around and Ben punched him, dropping the dime novel on his chest as Gabriel caught up with the train. He mounted and set off towards Mexico, where he could lay low and decide what he would do next.