The rays of the sun were cruel and sitting in the heat inside the train which was traveling through the dry desert of Utah was pure torture. Slaine sighed and lifted his hat to dry the sweat off of his forehead. The wooden seat was hard and made his hips and back ache. They had been traveling through the desert for a good while now. He opened the little leather pouch to have some of the lukewarm water and then leaned back and sighed as he closed his eyes. He felt like sleeping for a while. Traveling with his lord was always tedious.
“Hey, idiot,” he heard a loud voice say behind him which had no trouble drowning out the loud noises of the steam locomotive.
He sighed and opened his eyes to look at the man who had a neatly bowl-cut hair, cut by Officer Cruhteo’s personal hairdresser. Slaine wondered if the man was even aware of how silly the hairdo made him look. The man was dressed in a fine shirt and neatly pressed pants, much different to the clothes of lower quality that Slaine wore. The two men had one thing in common though: Both of their shirts were drenched in sweat from the heat.
“Yes, Mr. Trillram?” Slaine said and gave the man a slight bow.
“Cruhteo wants to talk to you,” the other said with a mean grin on his face. The man had always talked and acted big but once he was faced with a gun barrel his mouth would be welded shut in fright.
“Thank you. I’ll see to it immediately.”
Slaine got up from his seat and walked past Trillram, who of course could not keep himself from trying to make Slaine trip by hooking his angle to Slaine’s. Thankfully Slaine held onto the backrest of his seat as he lost his balance; he did not fall entirely to the floor and could keep himself on his feet and recover quickly with the support from the seat. Trillram laughed like the bully he was and Slaine sighed. He was too tired and hot to care.
“Watch out for bandits, brat,” Trillram scoffed in disappointment from not managing to make a fool out of Slaine.
“Thank you for your warning,” Slaine answered with a lowered voice and continued out of the cart and stood outside on the windy walkway between the carts and heard the rattle from the railway coupler which connected the carts together. The chug of the train was loud and the ashes from the chimney rained over him even if he was on one of the back passenger carts furthest away from the locomotive, and so he made the pause outside brief and hurried into the officer’s private cart. The blond older man was reading a newspaper as he sat and enjoyed a glass of brandy.
“You wanted to see me, sir,” Slaine said and bowed until Cruhteo had recognized his presence.
“Yes. I would like to go through the further details of your job,” Cruhteo said and glanced at Slaine over the edge of the newspaper. The man did not put it down as an act of arrogance and power to remind Slaine who was on the top of the hierarchy.
“Of course, sir.” Slaine raised his bowed head and waited for Cruhteo to continue.
“The Governor’s daughter shall be protected to all costs. The people of Salt Lake City are protesting violently so you will have to raise your level of attention even higher than usual. It would not surprise me if hired gunmen and bandits are hidden in the crowd to shoot her,” Officer Cruhteo said and sipped his brandy.
They were escorting the Governor’s daughter to Salt Lake City after she had been visiting Cruhteo’s ranch for a couple of weeks while the law had to deal with the worst part of the rebellion this far. Taxes had been raised to unbearable levels and the people were not happy with Governor Allusia, and so his daughter had to be sent away for a while until things had calmed down.
“I will do my best, sir,” Slaine answered and bowed again. The thought of the Governor’s daughter - Asseylum - made his heart skip a beat. She was so pretty even imagining her face made his cheeks want to blush.
“Doing your best is not good enough!” Cruhteo said angrily and stood up from his comfortable armchair and threw the newspaper on the table. Slaine jerked from the man’s violent and sudden outburst. “You should be better than best, you insolent street rat! You should be thankful that I took you in and gave you the training of how to shoot with a gun!”
“I’m sorry, sir,” Slaine hurried to say and bowed once again. “I will protect her and be better than the gunmen and bandits who might attack her. I will make great use of the knowledge and skills you so kindly gave me.”
Slaine hoped that would calm the man down. Being the surviving son to a doctor who had dedicated his life to patch up bullet wounds was hard; Slaine had gone from helping his father save lives to end up being one of those who took lives. Slaine hated it but he had no choice. Lieutenant Governor Saazbaum - one of Dr. Troyard’s patients from years before - had asked Officer Cruhteo to take care of Slaine when he became an orphan. Saazbaum had wished to take care of Slaine himself to show gratitude toward the deceased doctor who once had saved his life from tuberculosis, but since he was so busy with work he had no time to take care of Slaine. In the end Slaine had ended up in Officer Cruhteo’s care, and the blond haired officer did not like him at all. Slaine was a commoner and that made Cruhteo think of him as filthy.
“When we arrive to the station I expect you to escort her safely to the carriage and accompany her on her way home. If anything happens to her…” Cruhteo stepped closer and with a threatening hand pushed Slaine’s hat off from his head and it fell onto his back and hung in the thread around his neck. “… I will personally see you hanged.”
Slaine swallowed hard as he stared at the man and felt the urge to back away from him. It was not unusual for Cruhteo to threaten Slaine like that but the young man never seemed to get used to it.
“Do you understand?” the officer asked and narrowed his eyes.
“Yes, sir!” Slaine hurried to say and bowed once again.
“Now leave,” Cruhteo then said and seemed to lose interest in Slaine, and Slaine hurried back to the passenger cart where he had his guard post.
Trillram were nowhere to be seen and Slaine was grateful for it. Maybe he had joined the Governor’s daughter Asseylum for dinner in the dinner cart? Now that Slaine thought about it he was hungry. He had not gotten anything to eat for hours. He sat down onto the uncomfortable wooden seat and sighed again, even heavier than earlier.
Minutes passed and the harsh shakings of the train had almost become soothing. Slaine was about to fall asleep when he suddenly heard gunshots outside. He hurried to look out the window and saw…
There were only four of them; each on their own strong stallion which were fast enough to keep up with the train. Slaine hurried up from his seat and hurried to the dinner cart where he found the fair young lady Asseylum and Trillram look worried.
“Ma’am! We have to take you to safety!” Slaine hurried to say and ran up to her. “Please, come with me, my lady.”
“Slaine! What is happening?” she asked with that voice that sounded like a little bluebird chirping.
“Bandits, ma’am. I have to ask you to return to Officer Cruhteo’s cart and stay there,” Slaine said and offered her his hand, and she took it.
Trillram was pale but Slaine had no time to worry about the man. He led the young lady hurriedly toward Cruhteo’s cart and Trillram rushed after them.
“Bandits!? But there aren’t supposed to be bandits here! I thought the sheriffs had it under control!” Trillram said worriedly with a shrill voice.
“Well, now there are!” Slaine burst angrily and looked out through the door to the walkway between the carts. The coast was still clear. “Hold my hand tightly, my lady,” he then said and gave Asseylum a soothing smile. He led her through the carts and finally reached Cruhteo’s cart. As they stepped in the blond officer was already carrying his custom made gun and was preparing himself for a fight.
“Welcome back, lady Allusia,” Cruhteo said calmly as he checked the rounds in his gun. “Did you have a pleasant dinner?”
“Oh, Cruhteo!” Asseylum said worriedly and let go of Slaine’s hand to rush over to the officer. “I was told there are bandits trying to get onto the train!”
“Do not fret, my fair lady,” Cruhteo answered. “I and Slaine will take care of them. You will be perfectly safe.”
The blond officer gave Slaine a nod and Slaine turned around at the signal and headed back to the other cart in front of Cruhteo’s to stop the bandits from getting to the officer’s private cart. He looked out through the window again and saw three of the bandits climb onto the train further ahead. The fourth took the reins of the horses to lead them away from the train and so the horses would not run away. Slaine pulled his trusty Smith & Wesson Model 3 from its holster and kneeled behind one of the back seats and waited. He could hear screams and gunshots from the cart in front of the one he was hiding in and made himself ready and aimed at the door – which after a short while opened and three bandits came in.
“They must be in the back cart,” Slaine heard a woman say and suddenly he felt unsure of what to do. A female bandit? How was he supposed to be able to shoot a woman? As she took steps forward another of the bandits took a hold of her arm. “Inaho?” Slaine heard the woman exclaim.
“Move back to the dinner cart,” a calm male voice said.
“Why? We’re almost there!” a second woman complained.
‘Two women?’ Slaine thought confused and it became harder to decide what to do.
“Just get back,” the male voice ordered them and after a while they did as told. When Slaine and the bandit had been left alone in the cart the bandit suddenly said: “I know you’re in here. Come out.”
The job became easier. Now it was only Slaine and the other man. Slaine pulled the trigger to shoot a warning shot that was aimed right at the bandit’s hat and hit it. The hat flew off the bandit’s head and left it hanging in the string around the man’s neck.
“You won’t get past me, so get off the train!” Slaine warned him.
“I see your aiming it perfect,” the outlaw said calmly and took his hat from where it hung on his back to look at the bullet hole in it. “I need to steal a new hat since you ruined it.”
“Then go and steal somewhere else before I put a pullet in your eye!” Slaine yelled back and met the bandit’s gaze. Burgundy eyes met his. They were not western eyes.
‘Asian?’ he thought and ransacked his brain for the list of known Asian bandits. That was when it hit him. ‘Deadeye Lee!?’ This Asian bandit was no ordinary one. He was one of the most wanted outlaws in the west, known for his flawless skills as a gunslinger. The rumors said if you looked him in the eyes you would be dead the second after; thus the desperado’s nickname. The bandit had never failed to rob a bank or a train. He was more notorious than Billy the Kid and Jessie James and he had probably killed more people than the two notorious gunmen together.
“I’m afraid I cannot do that,” the bandit answered and placed his hat on his head again and pulled his gun. This was going to be tough. Slaine began cold sweating. “Move out of the way.”
“No!” Slaine yelled as an answer and shot a warning shot again but this time right next to the man’s cheek. The bullet hit the door behind him and the desperado did not even twitch.
“Then I have to move you out of the way myself.”
Slaine saw the man aim and as he pulled the trigger he dodged behind the backrest of the seat he was hiding behind. The bandit ran toward him without hesitation and Slaine had to break the man’s tracks and quickly looked out from behind the seat and took an aim at the man, and a violent gunfight broke out. They dodged behind the seats and jumped across the aisle behind the seats on the other side. The only time they made quick pauses was to reload. Slaine noticed he was faster at reloading than Deadeye Lee and suspected the man to have a Colt Single Action Army revolver. That explained the powerful hits that had blown chips off of the wooden seats as they had been hit. During their third reload the desperado suddenly hurried out through the door which he had entered and steps were heard on the roof of the cart.
‘He’s trying to get to lady Asseylum from above!?’ he thought and hurried out through the other door closest to him at the back of the cart. His shirt fluttered violently as he climbed up the iron ladder to the roof of the cart, and just as he got up on the roof he managed to dodge a kick aimed at his head. Slaine was grateful for his rapid reactions which had developed from Trillram’s constant bullying. Slaine had learned how to almost instinctively dodge hits and kicks due to Trillram’s aggressiveness. He had never thought the dodging skills would be of any use.
“Move!” he heard the bandit yell to drown out the wind and chug of the train.
“Never!” Slaine answered and his hat blew of his head once again. The string around his neck tugged at his throat as the wind caught a hold of the hat.
“I will shoot you if I have to!” Deadeye Lee yelled back to him.
“Not if I shoot you first!”
Once again a bullet whizzed past his ear and he dodged and pulled his gun again. Shots were released again but none of them hit their target. A strong wind suddenly took a hold of the steam that blew from the chimney of the locomotive and covered Slaine’s field of view when he was not prepared for it. He lost his balance and hit his chin against the roof of the cart and almost rolled over the edge but he managed to take a hold of the edge to the roof hatch. Before he had the time to get back up on his feet he heard a click behind him. He realized he should have been dead was it not for the empty cartridge cylinder of the enemy’s gun. He rolled to his back and landed a kick on the bandit’s left calve which made Deadeye Lee lose his balance too, and as the man hit his back against the roof Slaine got up and threw himself on the man. The train came to a curve and the cart tilted slightly and suddenly…
Both of them rolled off the roof and hit the dusty desert ground.
His head hurt. His body hurt. It would not have surprised him if his soul hurt too. He felt like a train wreck. He opened his eyes and was blinded by the gruesome sun. The memories of what had happened came back to him and he figured he must have been knocked out by the impact of their fall. He was lying on his side and felt the taste of sand in his mouth. It was disgusting and he pushed himself up. Sand and dust fell off him as he moved and he tried to spit out most of the sand which had found its way into his mouth. He looked up to see where Deadeye Lee had disappeared but found the man sitting on the ground leaning next to a rock. The man stared at him expressionlessly and aimed his gun toward him. Slaine instinctively went for the gun holster on his hip but his gun was not there. Of course he had dropped it and felt a panic well up inside him.
“Looking for this?” the desperado said and Slaine looked up at the man dangling Slaine’s gun from its trigger guard on his finger. Slaine had lost. He slowly raised his hands into the air in surrender since there was nothing else to do; he was under the threat of a gun. “Who are you?” the man then asked.
“Troyard…” Slaine answered stiffly still with dust and sand in his mouth. “Slaine Troyard.”
“Troyard…” Deadeye Lee seemed to taste the name as he repeated it. “Your gunman skills are good.”
“I see you are confident about it too.” Deadeye Lee got up and seemed perfectly fine from the fall. Slaine had hoped the man had at least broken a rib or two, but since he himself was alright except for a generally aching body the fall must not have been a violent one. Deadeye Lee walked up to him and the hard barrel of the man’s gun pushed against his forehead and Slaine closed his eyes tightly. ‘I’m dead!’ he managed to think and bite back a panic before he heard a click. The man had pulled the trigger but no shot was heard. “I’m out of ammunition. You’re lucky,” the monotone voice said and then the man continued past him to wander out to the desert.
Slaine looked up at him and his body trembled. He thanked his lucky star that the Deadeye Lee was out of bullets. Then he realized he had no idea where he was.
“H-hey!” Slaine yelled and got up from the dusty desert floor to hurry after the man. “Where are you going?”
“Woodside,” the man answered bluntly and kept on walking.
Slaine caught up to him. Woodside was a small town and was less than a day’s horseback ride from Salt Lake City.
“How far is that?”
“About a day’s walk from here.”
“A day!?” Slaine exclaimed and sighed heavily.
“Why do you care since you are not allowed to follow me there?” Deadeye Lee asked without looking at the other man.
“Why aren’t I allowed to follow you there?”
“Because I will head for Salt Lake City from there and I know you will try to stop me.”
Slaine stopped in his tracks and stared at the desperado’s back as he kept walking. So that had been Deadeye Lee’s objective: To get to Woodside and then continue to Salt Lake City to finish off his job.
“You’re going to try to kill her!” Slaine exclaimed as he understood what the man was doing and ran up to him. “The Governor’s daughter… You’ll kill her! Why!?”
“I won’t try to kill her,” the man said.
“Because you’re confident that you will? I won’t let you do that!”
Deadeye Lee stopped and Slaine almost bumped into him. The man stared at Slaine with the notorious expressionless eyes.
“I never said I would kill her,” the desperado then said and Slaine blinked a couple of times. His mind had come to a halt. “Have I ever killed someone?” the man then asked. “It’s just a rumor that I am the deadliest man in the west. I have never taken a life.”
“But…” Slaine was confused. “But they say you are so deadly you can kill with just a look; hence your nickname Deadeye Lee.”
The outlaw sighed and started walking again.
“My name is Inaho – not Deadeye Lee. The nickname began as a joke among my friends because I always have had an expressionless face, and the rumors later went out of control when we began robbing banks and trains. I’m not even Chinese but people insist on calling me Lee.”
Slaine felt dumbstruck. The man who actually was named Inaho stared at him for a while and then continued walking again. Slaine remembered one of the women on the train had called him Inaho. He stared at the man who was walking away from him. ‘Wait what?’ he thought and knitted his eyebrows in the growing confusion.
“B-but hey!” He ran up to Inaho again. “People have died from meeting you! Like the sheriff at one of your bank robberies not too long ago. He was found dead in the desert.”
“I shot him in his leg when he persisted on chasing me. I guess the coyotes got him.”
“What about the shop owner to the gun shop you robbed last year? The entire shop was blown up!”
“The man started waving his gun around and accidentally shot a box with nitroglycerin. Nitroglycerin is a highly explosive liquid that is stronger than black powd-“
“I know what it is!” Slaine interrupted him frustrated. “What about the bar fight where three people died?”
“My sister got drunk.”
Slaine did not follow what the man meant.
“And…?” he pried.
“You don’t need to know more than that,” Inaho said and refused to explain what had happened at the bar with his drunken sister.
“So you do admit you killed those people? You’re just making a fool out of me, aren’t you!?”
Inaho stopped again and sighed frustrated. He drew a line in the sand between him and Slaine with his boot and then looked at Slaine with the eyes that the blond had previously thought were deadly. Now he was not sure at all.
“We’re both gunmen. You’re on that side as a lawman and I’m on this side as an outlaw. Now stay on that side and stop following me,” the brunet said and once again turned his back to walk.
Slaine stared at the line in the sand and wondered if Inaho asked Slaine to not become an outlaw or if he just simply asked Slaine to stay put. ‘No way!’ he thought and ran after Inaho. … Again.
“You’ll get dehydrated if you continue running like that,” the desperado said without looking at Slaine as the blond caught up to him again.
“So why were you after the Governor’s daughter?” Slaine asked and bore his eyes into the man’s expressionless ones, which stared straight ahead. “You said you wouldn’t kill her. Then what was your objective?”
“To take her as a hostage,” the man answered bluntly and kept walking. He talked about it like it was completely normal and something he did every day; took people hostage.
“And what would you win from doing that?” Slaine wanted to know and he tried to match the brunet’s steps which were shorter than his. That was when it hit him: Deadeye Lee – or simply Inaho – was shorter than him.
“I would pressure the Governor to lower the taxes. People are starving.”
“Lower the taxes? Are they really that high?” Slaine inquired worriedly.
“Yes. A loaf of bread costs as much as three days’ salary.”
Slaine stopped for… He had lost the count how many times he had stopped during their short walk, and he hurried up to Inaho – again…
“If you will refrain from kidnapping the young lady I promise I will help you,” the lawman said and this time Inaho was the one to stop in his tracks and stare at Slaine. There was still no hint of expression in the man’s eyes though. “I will lend you my gun, Inaho. Just leave lady Allusia alone.”
Inaho held up Slaine’s gun and tilted his head slightly.
“Technically I own your gun right now,” he said and Slaine wanted to rip his own hat off of his head and throw it to the ground. Instead he gritted his teeth and squeezed his hands tightly.
“You know what I mean!” Slaine exclaimed and tried to take his gun from Inaho, but Inaho raised it up into the air to keep it away from Slaine and took a step back each time Slaine tried.
“Don’t try to steal it from me. It’s mine now,” the desperado said monotonously.
“Technically you stole it from me! And you really think you can keep it out of my reach?”
“Because I’m taller than you!”
“Oh, you’re right…” Inaho said thoughtfully and let Slaine take his gun from him. Slaine quickly hugged his trusty gun to his chest and stared at Inaho disapprovingly. “Well, you are good with your aim and you are quick to reload,” the bandit said and thought for a while. “I guess – since I’m separated from my gang – I could let you follow me for a little while longer then.”