NaNoWriMo Day 3

A few hundred short of my personal goal, but still making good time and on track for the finish line. This one’s for Two-Gun Bob.

Austin

While Amir continued playing Call of Duty in the living room, Phil closed his door, stripped off his clothes and crawled into bed, his iPod playing Iron Maiden just softly enough for the familiar rhythms to lull him. In minutes he was shut of the waking world.

His dream was real, more real maybe than anything in his conscious day. In his dream he walked with booted feet from a dusty street and through a wooden door, into a bank whose furnishings and occupants all had the look of days gone by. The teller in his grated booth looked up, but by then Phil had already pulled his bandanna up over the lower half of his face in one sure movement of his left hand, and like a conjuring trick his right hand now held the smooth sure weight of a peacemaker. His thumb had already pulled the hammer back without a thought, and his finger was on the trigger.

Up against the east wall, everybody!” said his partner, stepping in right behind him, likewise masked and armed, covering the left-hand side while Phil covered the right. The bank’s patrons cowed easily, it seemed, and were in a moment lined up along that left-hand wall under his partner’s gun.

Keep ’em covered, Jesse,” Phil said, although he knew with dreamer’s sureness that Jesse wasn’t his partner’s name.

All upon it, Frank,” came the reply, though he knew with same sureness that Frank wasn’t his name, not even here. “Go on and make the withdrawal.”

The clerk was a short, solid man, with a thick chest and short arms. His round face didn’t show anything like fear, and wither perhaps like knowing like, Phil

Harry

immediately figured him to have served in the war. Those short arms of his ended in hands below the counter, and

Harry

didn’t care for that at all. He pointed his revolver arrow-straight at the bridge of the clerk’s nose, and told him “hands where I can see them now, God dammit! I swear I’ll kill you!” His voice boiled with some fury, though Harry didn’t feel anything at all but a heightened sense of things and a thrum of deadly excitement in his veins. It was all about controlling the situation, keeping the prey off balance, just like raiding a numerically superior force had been back home in the war.

If you’re the James boys I’m U.S. Grant,” said the clerk, whose hands were up, and trembling slightly though his face showed nothing but anger. “And you won’t get away with this.”

Jesse, shoot a customer if he keeps mouthing!” said Harry, stepping closer so he could have put the muzzle of his gun against the clerk’s head if not for the screen between them. “Keep talking big and it’s a citizen’s blood on your hands. We’ll have the railroad money from that safe, and any gold or silver you’ve got besides. We’ll have it now!”

The clerk followed instructions, maybe spurred by the weeping of one of the female patrons. He bagged the funds as Harry ordered and tossed the bag over the screen. Jesse, whose real name was Jessup Ewell, scooped it up and they both began to back out. It had been three minutes, and they were on borrowed time and knew it.

Not the James boys by half,” said the clerk. “Though I figure you for Missouri secesh trash like them, at least.” He packed a lot of contempt into every word of that assessment.

That was probably what cost him. Outlaws get used to hearing all manner of words aimed at them, but tone can sometimes cut to the bone despite all. Jessup didn’t say a word, just narrowed his eyes in icy fury and put a bullet into the clerk’s chest. He pulled the hammer back and did it again, since the man was still somehow on his feet despite the teaspoon of lead that had just punched into his left lung. That second one did for him, though, at least enough to put him on the ground, and the confines of the bank now reeked of spent powder. The customers began to scream, and one man tried for his gun. Harry had to put a stop to that, and he reckoned that his shot had left the fool’s arm broken but that his life wasn’t in grave peril. Such judgments weren’t a priority at present though, for their time had been cut short to nothing by the noise of the shots.

Woodrell, good man that he was, had continued holding the horses even when things had clearly gone to Hell, and Harry swept into the saddle in a smooth flow of motion, spurring his gelding without gentleness and letting out a whoop as though he were charging with fifty men alongside him instead of two.

The three of them rode in an arrowhead, Harry at the point, and as shouts and shots began to follow them he took the reigns in his teeth, pulled a second pistol from a saddle holster, and looked to ensuring a clear path ahead.

In the war less than a dozen Missouri guerillas charging in that manner could break the ranks of trained veterans with numbers and discipline on their side. Three such men were sufficient to thoroughly scatter the civilians that stood between them and the open plain. Harry fired four shots, two from each revolver, none of them striking anything of note that he could see, and to either side he heard his comrades likewise spreading cover for themselves.

They were clear of the town now, open wind in their teeth, well mounted and burdened with nothing but the money, for which cause Jessup had been allotted the best horse, as the plan had him toting it from town to the place where Mackeson had fresh mounts waiting. The plan had not had him nor any of them dropping their hammers, certainly not for something as negligible as a bank clerk’s insult, but after eight years as unreconstructed outlaws there was a clear understanding that sometimes insults cannot be borne. They’d all ridden together time and again for more than ten years, a time gone by when only Harry of them all had needed regular shaving, and after so long in the brush and on horseback, behind the gun together, there wasn’t much that needed to be said. Not aloud.

Organized pursuit took form, of course, though the chaos they’d sown behind them bought a number of precious minutes. Their lead started good, and they weren’t shy to use their horses hard. Even in that open country they were past seeing unless their pursuers had a spyglass, possibly mounted atop a crow’s nest, and that possibility did not much trouble their thinking.

Mackeson said no word when they reached the rock-shaded changing place, just nodded and mounted himself as his comrades sprang from saddle to saddle. Their tired steeds stood where the reigns had been dropped, flecked with foam and breathing heavy, but not about to die. Woodrell doubtless comforted himself knowing that the hunters behind them would not waste good horseflesh. They would recover and maybe lead happy peaceful horse lives henceforth, which made them objects of some envy for an outlaw with a thoughtful nature.

The fresh horses they used more carefully, and rode with some mind to concealing their tracks, though that wasn’t a great worry. Once they got onto the rocks, it’d take a better man than the sheriff behind them to track them.

Phil woke up in a sudden way, without transition, and the smell of the west Texas plain was still in his nostrils when he went to the bathroom.

In the mirror, he saw reflected a tall, rangy sun-weathered man, slightly resembling himself but definitely not himself. He recognized Harry the bank robber and unreformed guerrilla in his mirror.

You’d best start listening to me, boy,” the reflection said. Phil felt his own mouth shaping the same words or similar. “You’re runnin’ out of time, and you’re on a track to get killed. Pay attention tomorrow, ’cause there’s black wings flappin’ and your doom’s on the road to Austin.”

Phil woke up in bed again, this time unsure of exactly what state he was in, deciding ultimately not to risk anything. He stayed in place until all the craziness went away, and finally woke up in the sane light of morning, his two alarms dueling with each other in an awful cacophany.

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