(After her reporter friend is wounded covering a saloon shooting, bumbling innocent Anna Ironhead agrees to interview mysterious railroad tycoon Lash Grey. In the company of a laconic, heavily armed frontiersman, Anna sets out on a dangerous journey across the Wyoming Territory, dogged by a number of squabbling entities living in her head. Suddenly Anna and the frontiersman find themselves confronted by a notorious bandit.)
“A most good day and I must rob you,” he says to Butte. “Ah, but who is this delightful young lady? Surely not your wife.”
A wife? How could anyone think of me as a ‘wife?’ Nevertheless, I feel a feminine thrill course through my clumsy body.
“Not married,” says Butte and spits. “But she’s with me.”
The thief holds me in his brown-eyed gaze, a smile upon his lips. “May I have your name, most beautiful sparrow? In return, I will not rob you so much.”
“Anna Ironhead,” I murmur.
Leaning forward in his saddle, he replies, “Only a little bit could I hear.”
“She’s a murmuring woman,” says Butte. “You’d better come closer if you want to hear right.”
“You tell me her name.”
“Don’t reckon I will.”
“Even though I could shoot you today and you would remain shot?”
Butte spits out another stream. “If you’re Romegas, and I reckon you are, you won’t shoot me.”
Despite his low moral character, I find the bandit’s smile enchanting.
“Ha, yes, you know of me. Oscar Romegas kills no man lightly because then I cannot rob him again.”
My Inner Spinster returns with syrup dripping from her chin. She stomps her foot in fright. I whisper to the bandit, “Should you steal from us, Lash Grey will, no doubt, be personally insulted and send detectives to haul you before justice.”
Amused, Romegas rides closer, “You are like a little bird singing in a derecho.”
Butte calls out, “She said Lash Grey will sic the Pinkertons on you if you don’t clear the road.”
Nodding as if weighing this new intelligence, the bandit urges his horse nearer to the wagon. “Such a mighty friend to have. They say he is a Dandy Man of the first rank. But why would a great man like Lash Grey visit with poor people? I assume no. So you must have money. I assume yes. Give it to me now.”
“I suppose we’d better hand over what we have,” says Butte. He reaches for his hat while addressing Romegas, “Keep my poke up here.”
“Not for long.”
In a swift move, Butte removes his hat and grabs a pistol, a four-barreled pepperbox—secured to his thick brown hair by means unknown—and fires. He wounds Romegas’ horse. I am almost deaf from the report going off so close to my ears. Simultaneously, Romagas fires both pistols. His twin .36 caliber rounds splinter the wagon box and shoot off the handle of Butte’s boot knife.
Terrified, my Inner Spinster and Inner Bawdy Woman run for cover. They crouch behind a ropy portion of my brain. I prepare to faint, but a nagging thought holds me in the conscious world: these men are terrible shots. At point-blank range, they have damaged a wagon, wounded a horse and missed one another despite clear intent to do otherwise. They would not last an hour in R.I. Perryman’s.
Weaving like a sapling in a cyclone, I prepare to resume my faint when over Butte’s shoulder, I catch sight of a large dust cloud. From the west, the cloud moves rapidly in our direction, parting briefly to reveal war ponies. Holy triple cow pie. My loudest murmur fails me. I can only point, making noises like someone who has swallowed a shawl.
|Art: Rhyodon Shishido|
Weapons leveled, Butte and Romegas see nothing but each another.
“Blasted pepper-box. Always shoots low.”
“Were I not out of practice from not shooting so many people, you would stand at the Gates of Heaven, explaining your foolishness in testing Romegas.”
“I’m game for another go. Let me draw my Smith.”
“You will draw nothing but your last breath.”
“Indians,” I murmur at last.
“Anna, hold on. I gotta ventilate this bandito.”
“‘Anna.’ I will whisper your name tonight in my sleep, after I drop this teamster with the impressive moustaches.”
“Coming fast,” I whisper. “Right for us.”
“What is she saying?” asks Romegas.
“Something ‘fast’ and ‘fuss.’ Can’t put a hand to it.”
A round cracks overhead with a sound like a bee. Butte and Romegas turn, as the Indians gallop faster, firing from distance.
“Damn it all—pardon me, Anna. Arapaho, I reckon.”
Romegas shakes his head and sneers. “You have the eyes of a salted ham. They are Nez Perce.”
Butte munches on a corner of his moustache. “We can finish this now, Romegas, and the Indians will hang the winner, head down, over a slow fire. Or we can run like hell and complete our business later.”
“No one wounds Romegas’s horse,” snarls the bandit. “You will live until we meet again.” He favors me with his brilliant teeth. “And you, my confection, have the most wonderful big eyes. You could hunt mice at night without hindrance.”
Panic and fright give way as I blush and loudly murmur, “Is that a compliment?”
“More gracious wording awaits you another time.” Romegas wheels his tan mount and gallops quickly to the east.
Butte drops his pepper-box, and snaps the reins. Our wagon lurches across the rolling terrain as the team flies forward. I bounce and sway, fearful at the possibility of being captured, despoiled and tortured to death, all in one day. It seems like a lot.
And yet, I bask in the compliments of Romegas. He liked my eyes. He really liked my eyes. But then my Inner Spinster calls out from hiding, reminding me that Romegas is a bandit. He would have swiped my hand bag. This extinguishes the glow of his recent compliments.
“Grab your bonnet,” yells Butte as we descend into a rocky wash.
I almost topple from my seat as we rattle and careen down the trail, along the bottom, and up the other side. More shots. Whock as a bullet passes through the wagon. I think of the dynamite cases and pale.
I see the Indians clearly now: lean, coppery feathered men with carbines, bows and arrows, and skull-splitting hatchets. They race ahead, yelling and laughing, to cut off our escape. To the north, beyond our straining horses, I spot another dust cloud.
“Might be a second war party,” says Butte. He sounds anxious. His eyes dart about as if seeking another path, some exit from the ground itself. “If so, our elk is most truly skinned. But don’t fear, Anna, I’ll put a bullet through your head.”
My Inner Bawdy Woman croons sarcastically that Butte’s offer is a sign of true love West of the Mississippi. Then she lifts her skirts and sprints for my left ear, seeking escape from my head. Interesting. Where would she go? However, my Inner Spinster also flees the same way. They collide, tussle, pull hair, curse, and scratch. My left ear loses all sound-gathering ability. An arrow strikes the wagon near my feet. Butte glances at its markings and nods in satisfaction.
“Knew they was Arapaho.”
Part I, Part II
(Part Four will go live on Wed. Nov. 26)