Wrong Train to Limbstone
“Joshua, does this seem familiar to you? In a bad way?”
“I know what you’re thinking, Thaddeus, but what are the odds we’d be getting on another train full of ferocious yet cross-dressing bounty hunters who love their liquor, out to nab certain outlaws who bear a passing resemblance to us?”
Kid shrugged his shoulders. He had to admit it was unlikely.
They stood at the train station, jumpy as cats. Heyes and Curry had their tickets in hand—tickets not entirely legally acquired. Half an hour ago, they’d arrived in town—to see a familiar sheriff before he saw them. They’d already sold their horses and couldn’t buy them back from the gouging horse trader. A quick question indicated that the stage coach had just left—and there wouldn’t be another till Tuesday. The train station was their next stop, and once again, suspiciously, they found there was a train going through any minute—but “all the tickets were sold.”
All the tickets, that is, until they overheard the next two men who entered the station give their names. Names which were on a list, and—
The two ex-outlaws exchanged looks, and once again, followed two ticket-holders into the men’s room.
“You’re selling us those tickets,” said Kid Curry. “We have the money, and we need to get on that train.”
Two men wearing suits and ties shook their heads. “I don’t think so. You don’t belong on that train or you’d buy your own tickets.”
Heyes stepped forward. “Misters, we’ve having those tickets, and we don’t want any argument.” He held his hand out, and his eyes were dark and dangerous.
One man tried to draw his gun—and landed on his backside with a fierce, Kid-Curry punch. The other man glanced worriedly at his fallen partner, then attacked Heyes with a vengeance.
In moments, both ticket holders were tied up, and Heyes and Curry dusted their hands off—tickets safely stowed.
“Now we gotta clean up, Thaddeus, so we blend in.”
They barricaded the men’s room door. Out of the magical saddlebags that held all their clothes, Heyes got a dark suit and bowler hat, Kid got a brown suit and hat. They cleaned up the best they could in the men’s room, under the watchful eyes of the tied-up, suited men.
Then they doffed their hats to the restrained gentlemen, and exited the men’s room, dressed as best they could do on such short notice, and looking as neatly groomed as though they’d had a whole makeup and clothing department taking care of their appearance. Even though they had been riding hard for a week, they looked and smelled fresh as daisies, which was quite incredible, considering they hadn’t had time to take any baths before spotting the sheriff. They also looked freshly shaved, having done their best to clean and groom themselves over the one small wash basin in the men’s room. The overall effect was as amazing as their magical saddlebags.
The train chugged into the station, and Heyes and Curry hung at the back of the crowd, till a bunch of men and women had boarded. (Kid looked suspiciously at the women, but he couldn’t tell if they were secretly bounty hunters in disguise or not.)
“Here are our tickets,” said Heyes, handing his brightly over.
“Don’t be cute.” The ticket taker tore them in half, and dropped them to the ground.
Kid and Heyes exchanged very worried looks as they went aboard.
Once aboard, they found themselves looking around the train with wide eyes. It was the all-around fanciest train either man had ever seen. Heyes whistled and touched the red velvet seat. Kid elbowed him to be quiet, but no one paid any attention. Others were walking around, examining the train with as much evident satisfaction and approval.
Heyes eyes opened wider when he saw the next car led to a dining room nicer than any he’d ever eaten in. Then there were sleeping cars—fancy places, with small rooms ornately laid out.
Heyes and Curry found the one that matched the names they’d been supposed to be.
Heyes opened the door and peered in. A moment later he popped back out, all smiles. “It’s unbelievable! Like for royalty!” he said, so only Kid could hear. “Go on, look around. I’m gonna go see what we’re havin’ for supper.” He rubbed his hands together gleefully.
“I thought I was supposed to be the one who loved to eat.”
“Well maybe whoever’s writing us forgot that. But you know, I’m human too, Thaddeus. I’ve got to eat as well.”
A smiling, smarmy-looking man with a pencil thin mustache approached, and bowed slightly. “I trust you gentlemen are enjoying the trip so far? And the coming entertainment?”
Heyes smiled. “Of course. It’s a very fine train and I’m sure the entertainment will be—” For a moment, he struggled, lost for the right word.
“Entertaining.” Kid Curry gave a little nod.
The smarmy man leaned closer and said in a confidential voice, “You two are the outlaws, aren’t you?”
Eyebrows shot up. Heyes crossed his arms defensively over his chest. “We’re passengers, just like any other. I admit, we’re sometimes mistaken for these other fellas, but…”
“Oh dear, oh dear. I could’ve sworn you were the outlaws.” The now worried-looking gentlemen hurried away distractedly.
Worried looks passed between two ex-outlaws. With mutual, unspoken agreement, they hustled into their cabin. They got into the little but ornately decorated room and shut the door firmly.
“He doesn’t seem to know who we are. Didn’t recognize us,” put in Kid.
“Yeah. It could be worse. But he just didn’t make no sense, Kid. He wanted us to be outlaws? I’m stymied.”
“Is stymied something you’d say, Heyes?” asked Kid thoughtfully. “Stymied. Stymied. It sounds like something to do with pigs. Small, dirty pigs.”
“Shut up and let me think.” Heyes crossed his arms, and sighed. He put his head down, and paced the room. Kid jumped up onto the top bunk and stretched out so he’d be out of the way. Then he started to polish his perpetually gleaming gun. He’d polished it all across the West, and the metal was getting worn down in places.
Two steps back, two steps forward. Heyes paced.
“Figure it out?”
“No. But I think we’re in trouble. They’re playin’ some kind of game, but we don’t know what the rules are. And they’re all rich, and we could be in over our heads. I’m gettin’ bad vibes, Kid.”
“Is vibes a real word?”
“I think it will be, someday,” guessed Heyes in a moment of sagacity.
They exchanged a look of understanding, and pretended neither had brought up the subject.
A stomach growled. Kid jumped down from the top bunk.
“Well Heyes, we really might be on the wrong train, and we really might be in over our heads, but I’m still hungry. Let’s get to the dining car and find a seat, and keep an eye on everyone and see how they act. Then we can do our best, and maybe we’ll be okay, like the last time.”
Heyes frowned doubtfully at the mention of ‘the last time,’ but at last nodded to the wisdom of this plan, and two men who were trying very hard to leave their outlaw past behind them left the little room as well.
They were escorted to a seat at the edge of the room, a rather private little table for two. A big, gaudy flower was in a vase between them. Kid pushed it aside near the window, and put his elbows on the table. Heyes looked at himself in a shining spoon, and brushed his hair back again self-consciously. Then he saw his partner’s elbows on the table, and gave him a look.
Kid removed his table, and several of the pedals from the flower. He was munching them ruminatively when the first couple filed in.
The room was more than halfway full when the man with the tiny mustache returned, walking purposefully. He held out a list, and pointed to two names on it. “You two are down as the outlaws. And you’re up right after lunch, so don’t try to weasel out of it! Meet me in the caboose, and I’ll give you your guns and bandanas right after this meal. Don’t be late! The passengers expect to get their money’s worth.”
With one last warning glance, he hurried away again.
Heyes and Curry regarded one another with blank, dazed stares. “I think he wants—”
“—us to pretend to rob this train, Thaddeus.”
Kid nodded. Absently, he ate the rest of the flower in a worried manner. “Joshua, I think we’re in trouble. If somebody recognizes us—”
“But no one can recognize…”
“Yeah, but someone always does, don’t they?”
They drew back sharply as the server arrived with their first course. Kid’s eyes lit up hungrily at the food. Heyes frowned a little, and his eyes searched the table as he thought.
Partway through the meal a woman rose with the exclamation that her jewelry had been stolen. Guests ate while enjoying the commotion that followed. At last one of the fellow passengers—the “guilty party” as pieced together by various clues—was led away in handcuffs.
The meal continued, until some poor man appeared to die over his soup course. The partners exchanged looks, then followed this investigation with interest, now that they knew how the rules worked. Clues were discovered; passengers got invested in the game, and shortly, the “dead” man’s “long lost enemy” was uncovered, and again, led away protesting that he’d done the right thing by killing the man.
Heyes turned to Kid, triumphant with the knowledge that he’d figured it out slightly ahead of the other passengers—only to see that Kid had finished both meals. Kid belched slightly, bringing a fist to his mouth. “Excuse me, Joshua.”
“I won’t,” said Heyes. “You didn’t leave me a thing.”
“Here comes desert,” said Kid, eying the approaching pies and cakes hopefully.
“In that case, I get yours.” And he ate both their deserts under Kid’s reproachful gaze.
Then they worked their way back to the caboose, debating quietly on the way. “If we don’t do it, he’ll know we’re the wrong men.”
“But if we do—”
The door opened. “About time you two showed up. Here.” The mustachioed gentleman thrust shiny guns into their hands, and red and blue bandanas. “Now get out there, and—”
“Excuse me.” Heyes interrupted, smiling at the man. “Excuse me, Mr.—“
“Nair,” supplied the gentleman, looking back and forth between them.
“Nair,” repeated Heyes, eying the small moustache on the man’s upper lip that sort of resembled a well-groomed caterpillar. “Well, eh, I’m just not sure about that list, but we were under the impression this train was going to Limbstone, and we’re just along for the ride.”
“Then who’s going to play the outlaws? On this mystery trip, we have to have at least one murder, one train robbery, and two jewel thefts! Anything less is going to be a spectacular disaster. We specifically promised train robbery. I don’t know how the mix-up could’ve occurred, but we were specifically told that a Mr. Johnson and a Mr. Reese were the ones who would be playing the outlaws.”
Ex-outlaws exchanged looks. “Ah, well, perhaps we could fill in, Mr. Nair. Since things got confused. Now, you want to just tell us again, what exactly is it we’re supposed to do?”
“You were supposed to know already, but fine. Take those bandanas, tie them round your faces artfully, and wave those guns around, firing them a lot! They’re special, fake guns, made to give a popping sound like fireworks when fired. There aren’t any bullets in them, but you still shouldn’t aim close to any faces.”
Kid opened the gun, and examined the paper strips that smelled of gunpowder. “Real interesting design. Wouldn’t fool anybody for long, though, leastwise anybody that knew about guns.”
Heyes gave him a warning look.
“I mean, I’m assuming,” said Curry.
They tied the bandanas on. Heyes reached over and adjusted Curry’s for him. They buckled on the fake belts, took deep breaths, exchanged looks—and went out to their acting debut.
Heyes cleared his throat. “Ahem. This is a stickup.”
Curry shot him a dark look, raised his pistol in the air, and fired two “rounds” in the ceiling. “Yer money or yer life!” he said, in a passable version of Kyle’s voice.
Heyes’ brows rose and there was a delighted respect in his eyes. “That’s right,” he added, in a voice not unlike Wheat’s. “We want all your valu-ables. Pass ‘em right up here.”
The delighted passengers began to comply, while several of them began to plot how to overpower the outlaws.
While they collected the last of the jewelry and wallets and purses—using a giant tablecloth to carry the loot, because Nair had forgotten a loot bag—they braced themselves for the coming attack. Predictably, two of the youngest and strongest-looking passengers lunged at Curry, while a gleeful older woman tripped Heyes with her parasol, and someone else threw a coat over his head while he was tackled from behind.
The ex-outlaws kicked up enough of a struggle to give the passengers their fun, while yelping and hollering in character. When a lady’s boot found Heyes’ ribs a bit too enthusiastically and often, and the coat was pulled so tight he could hardly breathe, he found it wise to go limp. Then handcuffs were applied, and he was jostled back to the caboose.
He caught a glimpse of Curry following, scowling a lot. The far-too cheerful and enthusiastic passengers hustled them into the back, and Nair slammed and locked the door, and proclaimed them all heroes.
A scuffed and rumpled Heyes and Curry regarded one another. Heyes spit out the bandana they’d tied clumsily round his mouth as a gag. “Get the feeling we’re not movin’ up in the world, Kid?”
“Thaddeus to you.” He nodded sourly at the door. “Leastwise they got your weapon—your mouth—shut, however briefly.”
Heyes gave him a ‘look.’
“Think he’ll remember to let us out of these handcuffs? Before we get to Limbstone and he hands us over to the sheriff—just to make it look authentic?”
A knowing, worried look was exchanged.
“Heyes, how do we get in these situations?”
Heyes frowned. “Thaddeus, I think we both know. There’s…ahem…a fate that controls our destiny. And you may have noticed, that ‘Fate,’ is intent on embarassin’ us and putting us in a strangely familiar situation. But it’s also…well, Kid, let’s just put it this way. She’s just teasing us, and I think if we play along and pretend we’re not bothered, that ‘Fate’ is gonna leave us alone pretty soon to get on with our lives.” He paused, thoughtfully. “In fact, if she doesn’t get a good reaction to us, she just might not want to ‘parody’ any of our other adventures. Hm.” He tapped his fingers behind his back thoughtfully.
“‘Her’? When did Fate become a ‘her’?”
“It usually is,” said Heyes. “Haven’t you noticed? And at least neither one of us is gunshot or has hypothermia or amnesia this time.”
Kid nodded. It could be worse.
“So—we’ll keep our heads low, and—Kid…”
“The next time I decide to sell our horses for a poker stake, you have my permission to flatten me.”
Kid said, “And the next time we have to leave town, and somebody won’t let us buy tickets—we walk to the next town if we have to.”
The two men shared a look of agreement. Heyes fiddled with his handcuffs. “See if you can find me a piece of metal, or something, and I’ll pick these. Then we can sneak back to our room, get our stuff, wait till the train slows down—”
“Now, wait a second, Joshua. Think about it. We were ‘hired’ to do this job. And we already did it. That means we gotta get paid, right? So maybe we ought to wait around and see how much money…”
“But what if we get paid after we go to the sheriff’s? What if the sheriff recognizes us? Seems like an awful lot of people do.”
Kid Curry took a deep breath. “Think about it, Heyes. You’re the one that said, Fate wants to embarrass us—not hurt us, this time.”
Heyes considered. “So you’re saying…”
“It might be worth the risk, waiting.”
“I’d still rather wait out of the handcuffs, if you don’t mind.”
Kid nodded. “Here, try this.” They shuffled around till they were back to back and Kid passed Heyes a little sliver of metal he’d conveniently found.
Fiddling ensued from Heyes. A concentrating look. Sensitive fingers at work. A concentrating, safe-cracking expression, and—“Ahh. That was easy enough.” He grinned at his partner, and moved to undo Kid’s handcuffs as well.
“If only all our problems were so easy to solve,” said Kid Curry ironically.
“Yeah. It’ll probably be amnesia next time. It’s your turn, isn’t it?” said Heyes, with a grin. “Maybe you can end up thinking you’re a sheriff or somethin’.”
Kid’s eyes grew wide and worried. “Heyes—uh, do you have to give ‘Fate’ any ideas?”
The train rolled on to Limbstone, with two ex-outlaws tucked safely in her—in ITS—bosom.
‘Fate’ thought about amnesia and sheriffs….