A wind came rushing in bending the trees, and yellow aspen leaves whirled in spirals past the waiting men.
“What time is it, Hank?”
“No more than ten minutes since you asked me last time, Kyle.”
At this, Lobo muttered, “He’s right for asking. Didn’t they say the train would be rolling through here no later than 1:30?”
“That ain’t exactly what Heyes said,” Wheat answered, pulling his coat collar up about his ears. “What he said was it’d be rolling to a stop…” He jabbed a thumb toward the track beyond the stand of trees; the Devil’s Hole Gang was secluded behind, “right here, no later than 1:30.”
“So, what time is it, Hank?”
“Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat, Kyle, why don’t you dig your own watch out?” Hank grumbled, pulling on his watch-chain, so it popped out of his vest pocket to land in his open palm. “It’s 2:05 in the afternoon.”
“Geez, that’s a long time past 1:30, ain’t it?”
All the outlaws turned wind red faces to Kyle.
“Ain’t no reason for y’all to be so proddy.” Kyle said, making a show of straightening his mare’s forelock, where it had been bunched by the bridle, mumbling, “I was only saying it seems like its late.”
Flexing his shoulders, Wheat grunted, “I’d do it all different if I were in charge.”
Raising his chin, Preacher looked down his long nose at Wheat, “Like what?”
“I must declare that doesn’t sound like much of an alternate plan.” Preacher replied, pulling the cork on his bottle and taking pull.
“I didn’t say anything ‘bout a plan,” Wheat huffed, “just said I’d do it different.”
“My thinking is right along with Preacher here.” Olly put in with a shake of his head. “Your last good plan got us all kicked out of Mag Woods place.”
Wheat fumed, his mustache bunching, “that wasn’t my fault!”
This time all the Devil Hole’s Gang turned faces filled with displeasure on Wheat.
In response, there was an ample amount of scoffing and rough curses thrown Wheat’s way. Then as if it had not happened, they all drifted back to silently watching the shining, double silver lines of track beyond the prickly evergreens they stood behind.
As they did, a pair of flirting redbirds dived into the trees, chirping their “pretty, pretty, pretty” song as they skipped from limb-to-limb, eventually bursting back into the sky.
When they were gone, Kyle asked, “What time is it?”
Wheat spun on his friend, “Where is your watch?!?”
With a desolate shrug, Kyle replied, “gave it to a shoeshine boy back in Whitehall.”
Each member of the gang leaned out, staring at him with open shock, until finally, Hardcase blurted, “Shoeshine, YOU!”
In perfect unison, every set of eyes in the gang scanned Kyle from his beat-up hat to his rumpled clothing, to his scuffed mud-covered boots.
“I weren’t getting’ no shine. Heyes was.” Kyle stated firmly, nodding like that explained it all, but the looks he was still getting told him otherwise. “See…” he held out his hand as if a watch were being suspended by a chain from his fingers, “whenever I left the face open on the watch, it made the balance just right, to make it spin like Dickens and when it did, sunlight just blinked so darn purty off the glass.”
Making a big show of rolling his eyes, Lobo said, “and we all let you be in charge of dynamite.”
Kyle pulled his hand back, snarling over at Lobo, “was that an insult?!?”
While scowling darkly at Lobo, Wheat said, in a voice filled with tired patience, Wheat said, “No, Kyle.” He looked to his pal, “So, what happen, you drop and break it?”
“Oh, no,” Kyle responded, shaking his head so feverishly, his dirty blond locks bounced about his face. “Done told you I gave it to the boy.”
“If’n it still kept good time….” Hardcastle said, stroking of his sandy walrus mustache, “why would you do that?”
“That boy liked the way the light shot all over too.” Kyle shrugged, rather nonchalantly, “So, I just felt like giving it to ‘em.”
There was a chorus of humphs, and the gang fell back to once more watching the tracks. The quiet had settled fully back around them, when Monty said, “awful nice of ya.”
A tobacco-stained grin bloomed across Kyle's face, and he sat a bit taller in his saddle. “Weren’t nuthin.”
With a shake of his head, Hank jerked on his watch-chain, “Just now 2:30, more than an hour late. What ya think we----”
His words drifted off because they heard the distinctive rocking clack of a train. Looking up to the ridge, they saw it beginning its long descent from the mountains. Then as it drew nearer, they clearly made out Curry and Heyes racing along the car rooftops toward the smoking engine.
Kyle’s eyes bulged a bit, and he gulped, “Woo wee, that don’t look like nuthin I’d want to do.”
The others nodded in agreement, pulling their wild rags up over their faces, and as they did Curry, with his pistol in hand, leapt across to land on the tinderbox with Heyes right behind him; and Preacher solemnly said, “Kentucky don’t make enough bourbon to have me doing any such thing.”
Right away, the train’s brakes began to scream, sparks flying from the wheels, the cars banging against couplers, as the train ground to a halt right in front of the Devil’s Hole Gang, just as Hannibal Heyes had told them it would.
With a shout, they put heels to their horses, waking the dozing animals, and dashing through the trees with each gang member heading for their assigned location.
As Heyes finished tying up the last crewmember of the engine, Curry hopped down, smiling broadly at Wheat.
Wheat grumbled, “what happened to 1:30?” his eyes flicking to Curry, then back to the train, he was watching for any trouble.
Leaning out the engine box window, Heyes shouted, in a lilting irritated tone, all present knew he reserved for Curry alone, “you going to tell them, or should I?”
Throwing his hands up with a shrug, Curry howled, “damn time-tables! I missed an asterisk saying…” He shook his head at the puffing train, “...that in September on Thursdays, it pulls out an hour later.”
Climbing to the ground, Heyes walked by Curry wearing a big hound dog smile, “told you to check it twice.”
“You're supposed to be the genius.” Curry playfully snapped back, “Don’t know why you can’t read the train time-tables?”
Heading for the Messenger Car, Heyes spun on his heel to walk backward, his voice filled with merriment as he replied, “figure you need the practice.” Then that dimpled smile of his grew so large it took over his face, and spinning back around, he chortled, “so, we gonna rob this train or not?”