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Following is the first chapter of The Lost Temple of Totec for you to check out. It’s a fast-paced mix of humor and drama. Think Indiana Jones mixed with The Mummy.
The real problem with dynamite? It doesn’t work too good when it’s wet.
Which goes a long way toward explaining why Boyce isn’t too happy right now. Boyce is the leader of our little gang of outlaws. He’s standing over by the safe, his face slowly turning red. Just inside the door of the train car is Timmons. He’s soaking wet. Head to toe.
And so’s the bundle of dynamite in his left hand. Our only dynamite.
That bad feeling in my gut gets a whole lot worse. I let my left hand drift a little closer to my other Colt .44. If there’s one thing my useless pa taught me before he ran off, it’s that two guns are always better than one.
Which he ought to know, on account of how often people shoot at him.
“What in tarnation happened?” Boyce yells.
That’s a dumb question. It’s obvious what happened. The recent rains left a sizable bog by the train tracks. When Timmons tried to cross it, he hit a soft spot and went down.
Along with the dynamite.
I’ve half a mind to shoot him myself.
“It ain’t my fault, Boyce,” Timmons whines. “It was an accident. Coulda happened to anybody.”
“But it didn’t, did it?’ Boyce growls, advancing on Timmons. He’s got his six-gun gripped in his big fist. Just like we all do. It’s a train robbery, after all, and you don’t rob a train with toothpicks. Grady and I exchange looks. I can see in his eyes he’s thinking what I’m thinking, that Timmons is about an owl’s whisker away from getting some lead in his gut.
Timmons must be thinking the same thing because he takes a step back. But he’s standing too close to the open door and when he does, one boot heel goes off the edge and he starts to fall backward, arms pinwheeling.
Real quick I take a step forward and grab his arm. Maybe the dynamite can still be saved. Maybe it’s not as wet as it looks.
Grady, who’s guarding the door leading up to the front of the train, takes that moment to speak up. “No need to get hasty, Boyce. Won’t fix nothing to shoot the boy for being clumsy.”
Grady’s a solid man, about halfway past five feet, with a thick neck and watery blue eyes. He doesn’t raise his voice much, stays pretty calm as far as I can see. I’ve only been riding with these boys a couple weeks, but I guess I got a pretty good bead on all of them. A man needs that skill, in my line of business and considering my heritage and all.
“You sure about that?” Boyce turns toward Grady and his gun turns with him, so now it’s pointing at Grady. Grady’s eyes kind of slit down a little. Most men don’t cotton to having a pistol pointed at them.
“Ever’ minute we stand here is one minute less to run from the posse,” Grady says. As if to prove his point a couple shots ring out outside the train car.
“Who’s in charge here anyway?” Boyce says in a low, dangerous voice. “You fixing to give the orders now, is that it?”
For a moment I’m not sure what Grady’s going to do. I see the muscles along his jaw tighten and I get ready to jump out the open door. Being in a gunfight in the close quarters of a train car isn’t at all something I look forward to on an ordinary day. Bullets have a way of ricocheting around and tearing holes in all the wrong people.
Grady licks his lips kinda slow and shakes his head. “Ain’t like that t’all, Boyce. You know that.”
“I’d like to know,” Boyce says loudly, “how we’re s’posed to get that payroll out of the safe now. I’m open to ideas, you might say.”
He points his gun at the safe as he says this, in case any of us forgot. It’s one heckuva safe, I gotta say that. Made by the Hammerstein Safe Company out of New York, says so in fancy gold letters right on the front. It looks about as solid as a mountain. Once again, I consider jumping out the door. Just get on my horse and ride away. This isn’t going at all like we planned.
“You got any ideas, Grady?” Grady shakes his head.
“How about you, Slow Eye?”
Slow Eye’s guarding the other door, the one that leads toward the back of the train. He’s a skinny feller with one eye that never wants to point in the right direction. His hat is a shapeless mass of sweat-stained felt, shoved down tight on his head, greasy curls of black hair jutting in every direction from under it.
“Why would I know?” he wails. “I ain’t the brains of this outfit. I’m just here to shoot those you say need shootin’.”
“Well, I know this durned fool ain’t had a good idea since he was born,” Boyce says, dismissing Timmons with a look of scorn. “That leaves you, half-breed.” He looks at me. “You got any ideas?”
Now, that riles me right off. I don’t like being called half-breed, even if it’s what I am. A man hears that term used on him poorly enough times and he starts to take offense, you know what I mean?
But, it isn’t the worst thing I’ve been called since I left the tribe and started moving amongst the white man and I’ve learned enough to know that a half-breed with a thin skin dies fast out here in the world. So I keep how I feel off my face and answer as calm as I can.
“Yeah, I have an idea.”
“What is it?” Boyce snarls. He’s not a patient man.
“We take it with us,” I say.
His face twists up just like I knew it was going to. “That’s the biggest damnfool idea I ever heard,” he snaps. “Were you planning on putting it in your pocket?”
“You didn’t let me finish.”
“Oh, good, there’s more to your brilliant plan.”
“You have a lasso, don’t you?” I ask Grady. He nods. “How about you, Slow Eye?” He nods too. Timmons nods before I can ask him. I turn back to Boyce. “We drag it with the horses. Haul it up that rocky knob off to the west and push it off the cliff. That ought to bust it open.”
For a long moment Boyce just keeps up with that poison mean stare he’s got, then he nods and one corner of his mouth quirks up a little. “That just might work. Not bad, half-breed.”
Before I can stop myself, the words come out. “I told you before, Boyce. My name’s Ace. Use it.”
I know I’m probably a fool to brace Boyce like this, especially when he’s already all riled up, but I also know his type. He’s a bully, plain and simple. Every time I let him get away with treating me like that it gets harder to walk him back. I need to let him know I’m not Timmons or Slow Eye that he can run roughshod over.
Boyce takes a step toward me, his pistol pointing at my gut. I don’t step back. My finger tightens just a smidge on the trigger of the Colt in my right hand. Just a hair’s breadth more and he’s getting a quick trip to boot hill.
“I don’t see how the two of you killing each other dead’s going to help us bust open this safe,” Grady drawls.
Boyce’s eyes flick to him, then back to me. “We might have us a scrap later,” he hisses.
“I’m not hunting trouble, but I won’t run from it either,” I reply. Fists, knives or iron, I believe I can take him. Growing up Apache like I did, I’ve been fighting since I could walk.
“Let’s get this safe out of here,” Grady says, holstering his gun and heading for the door. I step aside to let him pass, still keeping my eyes on Boyce.
“You heard him,” Boyce says, turning on Timmons and Slow Eye. “Get your horses over here and shake out those ropes.” He puts his gun away and brushes past me like he never saw me at all.
We pulled down our handkerchiefs after we got in the freight car and now everyone pulls them back up before jumping out. Don’t want the passengers getting too good of a look at us. Being an outlaw gets a whole lot harder with your face plastered on wanted posters from here to Mexico.
Gimpy is climbing down out of the passenger car when we get out, a bulging gunny sack in one fist. From the other end of the car Billy and Wilson get out. Up to the front of the train, keeping a gun on the engineer, is Terry.
Boyce spots Gimpy and yells at him. “You get that marshal trussed up good?”
“Ain’t no marshal,” Gimpy yells back. “Just passengers.”
That makes me uncomfortable. There was supposed to be a marshal on this train. I start looking around, wondering if he’s drawing bead on us right now.
“Are you sure? You better damn well be sure!”
“I’m sure! I reckon I know what a marshal looks like.”
“I don’t reckon you know what your own ass looks like, less you’re holding it in your hands,” Boyce shoots back. This draws a guffaw from Slow Eye. I think that boy is simple.
Gimpy scowls and limps over to his horse, tied to a tree along with the rest a ways back from the tracks. He gets called Gimpy because one leg is shorter than the other. He doesn’t like it much, but monikers like that have a way of sticking with a man regardless.
“Did we get anything good?” Slow Eye calls to him. “Remember, I want a watch.”
“I don’t know why,” Gimpy grumbles, still mad that Slow Eye laughed at him. “You can’t tell time anyhow.”
“Y’all shut up and get over here with your horses!” Boyce yells. He’s still standing by the freight car. “You too, Gimpy!”
Billy and Wilson come up then. “Where’s the bang?” Wilson asks. “How come I didn’t hear no dynamite going off?”
“Because that fool Timmons got it wet, that’s why!”
“What’re we going to do?”
Boyce waves off to the west. We’re not far from the Rockies and you can see the sharp bluff I was talking about plain as day. “We’re going to drag the safe up there and push it off. Break it like an egg.”
Wilson is tall and lean. Real lean. Like a cadaver. His face looks like God pinched it shut when he was born. He ponders this for a moment, his face screwing up tighter than ever. “You figure that will work?”
“How in the blazes should I know?” Boyce snaps. “But what else we got?”
Wilson’s got no answer to that.
“Get in that car and get ready to tie the ropes off on the safe,” Boyce snaps. Wilson climbs into the freight car grumbling under his breath. He might be the laziest person I ever met.
In pretty short order Timmons, Slow Eye, Gimpy and Grady have their ropes on the safe and are waiting for the order from Boyce. Everyone else is mounted up and kind of milling around. Still feeling a little jumpy about the missing marshal—my grandfather would have said what I felt was a rattlesnake lying in my shadow—I’m parked on my horse, Coyote, away from the rest of them, my eyes roving over the train.
That’s how come I’m the only one who sees the door on the other freight car slide open just a hair and a rifle barrel come sliding out.