Savage, p.22Richard Laymon
The next train to happen along would wind up chewing earth. If it had much speed at all when it derailed, it’d likely pitch over and plunge into the gorge.
That’s the first thing that ran through my mind. The second thing was how to stop the train in time to save all the lives certain to be lost in such a catastrophe.
I doubted my ability to repair the damage. The only other choice was to hurry up the tracks and have a go at stopping the train. But what if it came from the other direction?
I never got to thinking about the third thing. What it would’ve been, of course, was that somebody had done this to the rail.
Before I reached that stage of my thoughts, however, a gunshot barked. I jumped. And looked up from the rail to see a horseman charge up out of the gorge alongside the bridge. He came galloping straight at me, waving his pistol.
I chose not to bolt. After all, the only escape seemed to be a dive off the embankment. That was likely to bang me up considerable. And the fellow might shoot me. So I stayed put and raised my arms.
He slowed his horse to a trot, and reined it in just in front of me.
This was the closest I’d been to a real cowboy. Of course, I judged he wasn’t an actual cowboy, but a desperado instead.
Not that he looked especially desperate. Other than the revolver in his hand, there was nothing fearsome about him. He wasn’t ugly. He wasn’t much bigger than me. He had a weathered, dirty face with a few days’ worth of whiskers, and didn’t seem to be much older than twenty. He was frowning, but not in an angry way. More like he was confused and rather amused.
Not saying a word, he gave his reins a shake. He walked his horse around me in a slow circle, studying me while I turned around to study him.
He was all decked out in a big hat with its brim turned up, a red neckerchief the size of a bib, and a bandolier chock full of cartridges that hung across his chest from one shoulder. His dusty old shirt was dark with sweat. Around his waist, he wore a belt with holsters on each side. The holster at his left hip was empty. The one on his right held a six-gun with its handle to the front. The holsters were tied down around the legs of his leather chaps. His boots had silver spurs that looked too fancy for the rest of his outfit.
After circling me a couple of times, he halted his horse and said, “You fall outa bed or what?”
“I was thrown from a train, actually. I had a bit of a row with a fellow, and he chucked me overboard.”
“How come ya talk funny?”
“Yup. You some kind of an easterner?”
“My home’s in London, England.”
A corner of his mouth turned up. “I’ll be durned,” he said.
“Trevor Wellington Bentley,” I introduced myself, and held my hand out toward him.
Instead of shaking it, he touched the barrel of his revolver to the brim of his hat. “Chase Calhoun, here.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Calhoun.”
“Well, don’t get too pleased. I reckon I’ll have to shoot you.”
All of a sudden, I felt mighty short of breath. But I managed to say, “I do hope that won’t be necessary.”
“Thing is, Willy, you got in the way. Me and the boys, we’re fixing to hold up the express.”
He wasn’t alone, then. That didn’t come as any great surprise. Working the rail loose would’ve been a big job for just one man. I figured the rest of his gang must be waiting in the gully.
“You’ll be causing a terrible wreck,” I explained.
“We can’t rob the train without we stop it first.”
“You might send one of your compatriots up the tracks to wave it down. Otherwise, there’s bound to be an awful loss of life. Women and children. I shouldn’t like to have that on my conscience.”
“Well, you won’t.” With that, he aimed the revolver at my face and thumbed back the hammer.
“I might be of some use to you,” I said.
“Don’t see how.”
“I could ride with your gang, perhaps. I could run errands, perform chores, cook for you. I make quite a fine pot of coffee, actually. Why, there’s no end to the things I might do to help. I might care for your horses. And I’m really quite an amusing chap. Why, I sailed across the Atlantic with a cutthroat worse than any ten train robbers, and he spared my life for no other reason than he didn’t want to lose the enjoyment of my company.”
It was a stretcher, but I would’ve said just about anything to stop Chase from pulling the trigger.
“You sure run on,” he said.
“You seem like a fine fellow.”
“You’re all right, too, Willy. I won’t get no pleasure outa plugging you, but…”
“You certainly don’t look like an Indian lover.”
He hadn’t looked fearsome before. When he heard me say that, though, his face twisted ugly. “Say your prayers.”
“If you shoot me, that’s exactly what you are. No better than a bloody Indian lover.”
“My folks was massacred by the Sioux, boy!”
“And my best friend was General Matthew Forrest of the Fifth Cavalry.”
The hammer dropped.
Real slow, hooked by Chase’s thumb.
“You knew General Forrest?”
“We were great chums. He took me into his home. I was present at his deathbed. Until last night, I was traveling in the company of his granddaughter, Sarah.”
“Well, let’s see what the boys have to say. Move along.”
He rode alongside me as I walked to the edge of the gully. The bridge crossed a river, just as I’d figured. Over by the shore, the “boys” were waiting. Chase dismounted, and led his horse down the slope, which wasn’t steep enough to give me much trouble.
His gang stood by their horses and watched us come. Four of them, not counting Chase. A couple of them pointed at me and said things I couldn’t make out, and laughed. The other two didn’t seem amused.
“This here’s Willy,” he said when we got close.
“Whatcha wearing there, Willy?” asked one of those who’d pointed. He looked not much older than me. I found out later he was Chase’s kid brother, Emmet.
“I was thrown from a train last night,” I told him.
“He’s from England,” Chase said. “Allows as he’s a friend of Matthew Forrest.”
“General Forrest?” asked an older fellow named John McSween who had a big, droopy mustache that had some gray in it.
“I saved his life,” I said. Another stretcher, but I figured it couldn’t hurt my cause.
“Don’t see how the General’d need a lad the likes of you to save him,” McSween said.
“Why, a scurvy coward tried to back-shoot him on the streets of Coney Island,” I said. “I called out a warning, and Matthew whirled around and emptied his revolver into the cad. Dropped him like an old boot, he did. Matthew presented me with a gold watch to show his gratitude. I would show it to you, but it’s with the rest of my possessions aboard the train.”
“What’re we gonna do with him?” Emmet asked his brother.
“Well, I was fixing to shoot him down, only then he took to claiming how he’s a buddy of the General.”
A huge, red-faced fellow named Breakenridge said, “Buddy or not, we can’t chance him. He’s had a good look at us.”
“I told him my name, to boot.”
“I reckon that settles it, then,” said a weasel-faced fellow with red hair. They called him Snooker, and I never learned his true name. “I’ll do the honors.” He pulled a Winchester out of his saddle holster and worked its lever.
Before he could swing the barrel my way, McSween clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Hold your water there, pal. I rode with Matthew Forrest. This lad saved his hide, he’s aces with me.”
“I don’t reckon he’s ever even met your General,” Emmet said. “He knows he’s in a fix. Likely just a pack of lies.”
“Can you prove you
“I could tell you how his wife, Mable, saved him from the Apaches and caught a dozen or more arrows in the backside for her troubles. She walked with a limp to her dying day.”
“She’s passed on?” McSween asked.
“Yes, I’m afraid so. Matthew, too.”
“I’m right sorry to hear the news.” Turning to Chase, he said, “I don’t see as how it’d be right and proper to shoot this lad. He ain’t fibbing. Mrs. Forrest sure enough had a hitch to her gait. The story went, she got it fighting Indians when her and the General got ambushed.”
“I’d be honored to join the gang,” I said. “You wouldn’t need to split the booty with me.”
“We don’t have a mount to spare,” Chase explained.
“Well,” said McSween, “I reckon he might double up with me. Either that, or we oughta let him go on his way.”
“Where you trying to get to, Willy?” Chase asked.
“Tombstone. I was traveling there with Sarah Forrest…”
“Tombstone! Why, that’s clear down in Arizona Territory. You won’t get there riding with us.”
“It’s a mite far to hike with nothing but rags on your feet,” McSween said.
“Actually, I was simply hoping to reach the next railroad depot.”
“How come we don’t let him stay with the train?” McSween suggested. “They’ll get it running again, by and by. He can ride on along with it.”
“He knows us,” Snooker whined.
“I won’t betray you. You have my word as a gentleman on that. However, I’m afraid the train won’t be fit to take me anywhere. As I explained to Mr. Calhoun, it’s likely to be demolished in the crash.”
They all glanced about at each other.
“That’s what he told me, all right,” Chase said. “He seems to believe it’ll run smack down into the gorge, here.”
“What does he know about such business,” Emmet muttered, scowling my way.
“We’ve derailed four trains already,” Chase said, “and never a one of them crashed much.”
“Have you ever done it this close to a gorge?” I asked him.
“I’m afraid the lad has a point,” McSween said. “Perhaps we ought’ve pulled the rail a hair farther off from the bridge. If she comes along under a full head of steam, who’s to say but what she won’t sail down here? We don’t wanta be the ones to cause a wreck, you know.”
“They’d make it mighty hot for us,” Chase agreed.
“What we oughta do,” McSween said, “is ride on up the tracks a distance and yank a rail there.”
“I’m sure it would save a number of innocent lives,” I said.
Snooker commenced to complain, and Emmet took his side. But Chase put an end to the protests when he pulled a watch from his shirt pocket. “The express’ll be along in fifteen, twenty minutes. We ain’t got time to fool with another rail. What we’ll do, we’ll post Willy down the tracks so he can try and wave her down. She might brake for a boy in a nightshirt. That’ll slow her down enough so she won’t go over the edge.”
“He’ll warn ’em, Chase.”
“I trust that he won’t,” McSween said, giving me a friendly nod.
I nodded back at him.
Chase mounted up, then reached a hand down for me. I grabbed hold, and he hauled me up behind him. I lost the sleeve off one foot and had to squirm and kick some to get myself aboard. What with my state of dress, it caused considerable amusement for the audience below. Emmet and Snooker hooted and whistled and made remarks. McSween handed the sleeve up to me so I could put it on later.
I hung on tight to Chase as the horse carried us up the slope. I had saddle bags under me. They were leather, and hot from the sun, so they didn’t feel good against my skin.
But I didn’t mind the discomfort much. I was rather pleased with myself, actually. I’d managed to hang on to my life. It looked like the train might not crash, after all. And riding sure did beat walking.
I had my arms around Chase’s waist. I gave some thought to going for his guns. They were in easy reach. If I was quick enough, I might be able to disarm him. Make him climb down. Then I could take his horse on up the tracks, meet the train and prevent the robbery altogether.
Why, I’d be quite a hero. I judged the railroad would likely be so grateful I might get a free ride all the way to Tucson.
I couldn’t bring myself to try it, though. Too risky. But also, it seemed too lowdown. I didn’t care at all for the rest of the gang, but I rather liked Chase and McSween. They’d put their trust in me. It just wasn’t in me to do them dirty.
By and by, Chase said, “I reckon this is far enough.” He halted his horse and helped me to the ground. “Have a try, Willy. But if she stops and you tell on us, folks are likely to end up dying. You’ll be one of ‘em.”
“I’ll simply explain that I need a ride,” I told him.
Then he trotted off, raising dust. I tied the sleeve around my foot. By the time I got done, Chase was almost to the bridge. I watched until he rode down the slope and vanished.
More than likely, nobody had an eye on me. I was no longer in the clutches of the outlaws. And I figured they weren’t likely to hunt me down if I took a notion to race down the embankment and hightail into the woods. I’d be shut of them, and free.
It wouldn’t hurt them any.
Sure would hurt the folks aboard the express, though.
Besides, I’d be missing my chance to see a gang of real desperados rob a train.
So I stayed there by the tracks.
Pretty soon, a whistle tooted way off in the distance.
The train slid around a far-off bend, its chimney chugging out black smoke that hung above the whole train, thick near the front, spreading out some over the freight and passenger cars, rising higher and thinning out behind the caboose. In the distance as it was, the whole string seemed to be moving rather slow and quiet.
It got quicker and noisier, the nearer it came.
Pretty soon, the ground took to shaking under my feet.
I stayed between the rails and waved my arms. Well, the whistle howled and howled like it was shouting at me to get out of the way. The engineer, he leaned out his window and flapped an arm at me. Yelled, too, but I couldn’t hear him.
The train kept on thundering closer and tooting.
Then it screeched. Steam hissed and spit from the locomotive, throwing out white clouds down low to the tracks. Sparks sprayed up from the wheels as they skidded over the rails.
I could see it wouldn’t stop in time to miss me, so I jumped clear. Not a second later, the sun was blocked out by the great engine. I covered my ears to save them from the awful noise. Things got hot for my legs, but it didn’t hurt too much. All wheezes and squeals, the train slowed to a halt.
I’d done it!
The engineer and fireman both jumped down. They came striding back past the coal car. They didn’t look any too pleased.
“You hoping for an early grave, son?” the engineer asked. He was an older fellow dressed in overalls and a tall, striped hat.
The other fellow, the fireman, didn’t say a thing. He stood in front of me with his fists planted on his hips, scowling. He was red and dripping sweat. He had more muscles than any man I’d ever seen before. His face had muscles.
“I’m afraid I fell from a train last night,” I said.
The fireman shook his head. His eyes were squinted so narrow I wondered how he could see with them.
“Actually, a bloke picked me up and tossed me.”
The fireman grinned.
If I’d had any notion to warn these fellows they were on their way to a stickup, I lost it when I saw that grin.
“My fare was paid all the way to El Paso,” I explained. “I should be most grateful for a ride.”
The engineer rubbed his chin and looked at my feet.
After letting out a sigh, he said, “I s’pose we can give you a ride to the next station, anyhow. Seeing as how we’ve already gone and stopped. I had half a mind to keep moving, but you looked so set on flagging us down, I suspicioned the bridge might be out. How’s the bridge?”
“I shouldn’t say that it’s out. However, it did seem rather rickety. You’d be well advised to proceed with care.”
I heard somebody huffing up behind me, and turned around. It was the conductor, a little fellow, holding his cap down tight as if to keep the wind from stealing it. There wasn’t any wind, but he didn’t let the lack of it interfere. The gold chain of a watch swayed across the front of his waistcoat. One side of his jacket was swept back behind the revolver holstered on his right hip.
“What have we here?” he asked, giving me the eye.
“Take him on back with you,” the engineer said. “He claims he got chucked from the southbound last night.”
“Natty attire,” said the conductor.
“Hurry,” the engineer said. “We’re losing time.”
With a crook of his finger, the conductor gestured for me to follow him. “I’m much obliged,” I called to the other two, then hurried after the little man.
We were still walking along the right of way when the whistle blasted. A wave of rattles and clanks came running down from the front. The passenger car beside us jumped forward with a lurch. Then the one behind it did the same. Pretty soon, the whole string was creeping along.
The conductor stepped a bit closer to the tracks. We stopped and waited while the train picked up more and more speed. It still wasn’t going particularly fast, though, when the caboose rolled by.
The conductor almost let it pass, then caught a handle and hopped onto the steps of the rear platform. As he scooted up, I grabbed hold and swung myself aboard.
We entered the caboose.
“Take a seat,” he said. I pulled a chair away from the cluttered desk, but he snapped, “Not there. What’s the matter with you?” Then he pointed me to a bench across from a potbelly stove.
I sat down on it. “I’m much obliged for the ride,” I told him.
“Ain’t my doing. I got work to do, so keep your mouth shut.”
Savage by Richard Laymon / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes