I had to do a new story for the challenge.
The train jolted to a start with passengers still in the aisle as exasperated brown eyes scanned the busy carriage. His cheek dimpled at the sight of a slim brunette sliding into a window seat and headed straight for her. He was cut off by the lanky man who barreled into him, thrusting a sharp elbow into Heyes’ ribs. The dark brows gathered in a frown but he pushed on, reaching the seats just behind the stranger who inserted himself into the unoccupied seat next to the young woman despite the whole bench opposite being empty.
The ex-outlaw leader nodded a silent greeting to the woman whose brow creased in annoyance at the strange man beside her, spreading himself into her personal space with gaping legs and jagged arms, and turned to catch the eye of the man in the sheepskin coat following him down the crowded aisle.
“Crowded in here, isn’t it?” murmured the woman, pursing her lips.
“Yes,” replied the be suited stranger, peering down the décolletage masked by a demure white blouse, “but it suits you.”
Her hazel eyes widened in outrage, and she pulled her jacket closed. “Perhaps another seat would suit you better?”
“There ain’t no other seats, ma’am,” the man watched the fair-haired man remove his sheepskin jacket and put it in the overhead compartment before sitting opposite him. “The train’s full. It’s always full on this stretch; full of hens and ankle-biters on a Saturday. Folks go visitin’ for the weekend. It’s a real pain for us professional travelers.” He grinned round at the company. “Sidney Burnley, salesman. I travel in woman’s unmentionables.”
“That must be uncomfortable for you,” smirked Heyes. “Joshua Smith and this is my friend and business partner Thaddeus Jones.” He turned to the young woman. “And you? We might as well break the ice if we’re to journey together.”
“Miss Theda Moorcroft,” she replied. “I’m going to see my aunt in Springfield.”
“You’re travelling alone?” asked the Kid.
“It’s only three stops and my father saw me off. Auntie May will meet me at the other end.” Her eyes slid uneasily to the sprawling man beside her. “What could happen?”
Heyes nodded. “Nothing. Not one thing, while we’re here.” He gave the woman his most glittering smile, but the dark eyes turned frigid as they drifted over to the salesman. “I guarantee it.”
“Aw there ain’t no need for all those dark looks. I’m harmless. Ask anyone.” He turned and delivered quaggy wink to the young blonde across the aisle. “You ain’t scared of me, are ya?”
The bearded man sitting opposite the blonde took one look at Burnley’s lascivious grin and squared his broad shoulders. “I’m the lady’s husband. Why don’t you ask me that?”
Burnley’s brows met. “You ain’t my type.”
“Neither is she,” the man gestured towards his wife, his wild hair looking like it had recently been fed, and glowered at the salesman, “unless you wanna go through me first.”
Burnley rolled his eyes and returned to his own side of the aisle. “Sheesh. They let anyone in here, don’t they?”
Heyes fixed him with intense dark eyes. “Yeah, it looks like they do.” He flashed a smile. “Maybe you could give Miss Moorcroft some room? You’re kinda crowding her there.”
The man flicked up an eyebrow in challenge, but it lowered slowly at the implied threat in the chocolate eyes holding his gaze hostage. He shuffled in his seat, backing off from the young woman. “Is this one of them new trains with a necessary? I need to pee.”
“I don’t think the lady is interested in your habits,” growled the Kid. “That ain’t the kind of talk for mixed company.”
“We all do it. What d’ya want me to say?” Burnley demanded. “How am I supposed to ask where it is?”
“You could ask for the powder room, or the latrine,” the Kid countered.
“Fine,” he stood, speaking through his yellow teeth. “I’m goin’ for a slash in the powder room. Where is it?”
“That way.” The Kid darted a look at the woman as he watched Burnley disappear down the aisle. “I’m real sorry, Miss Moorcroft. He’s real coarse around women.”
“Yes,” she nodded. “But there are no water closets on this train. Where did you send him?”
“Anywhere. Hopefully he’ll open a door and fall off,” the Kid’s face fell. “Darn, he’s comin’ back. Do you want me to move over there to keep him away from you?”
They never had the chance to find out. Burnley plunked himself back down in his seat with a harrumph. “There ain’t none in here. I have to tie a knot in it. What were ya thinkin’?”
“Do you really want me to tell you that?” The man was fixed by a stiletto of blue ice which penetrated what was left of his heart and pushed on into a kernel of self-preservation. The nerve touched, the Kid continued. “Don’t disrespect this lady when I’m around. You’ve got to last three stops. I’m sure even you can do that.”
“Sure,” Burnley muttered. “That ain’t gonna be hard when the company is so darned ornery. A man can’t pass the time with you snooty folks around.”
The lids narrowed over the arctic eyes and nodded, inviting further challenge, but Burnley simply rummaged about in his carpet bag and brought out a dime novel. The title, scrolling in an arc of copperplate writing made both partners swallow hard and sit upright simultaneously. There it was for the whole train to see, ‘Baffled By The Bandits’; and in a smaller font just below it, ‘The Further Adventures Of the Scoundrel Hannibal Heyes And The Gunman Kid Curry’.
Both former criminals instantly searched the cover for any indication that they might be identified, but the drawings were vague and cartoonish so both men released the breath they had been holding and relaxed back onto their seats in unison.
Burnley reached into his pocket and popped a ball of chaw into his mouth. It didn’t take long to find out that Burnley was a bottomless pit of irritation. The tobacco swirled around the gaping, masticating maw. It squelched and squished noisily between jaundiced teeth and swirled in a mash of stained saliva as his loose lips smacked lustily in a vain attempt to contain it. He paused, only to roll it around his mouth before collecting it in the back of his throat and propelling a great glob out into the aisle.
“Here now! What d’ya think you’re doin’, ya great lummox?” cried the man across the way, lifting his wife’s skirts out of the way. “This ain’t a saloon. Git yourself some manners.”
“Yes,” the blonde woman sniped. “Do I need to call the Conductor? Behave yourself.”
Burley simply growled and shifted in his seat again, curling closer to his unfortunate neighbor, having lost interest in his book. “So what do you like to do for fun, missy? I could get off in Springfield too if’n you wanted to meet up. We could maybe go dancin’? I could take you to one of them fancy restaurants they got there? Them ones with the spittoons all the way at the door.” He leered even closer. “How did you get so pretty?”
A tousled head leaned over. “Maybe she got your share?” He turned to the young woman whose cheeks were burning. “Do you want me to deal with him for you?”
Theda dropped her head and sniffed. “No, thank you. I don’t want a fuss.”
“Ya hear that, Burnley? She doesn’t want a fuss. Don’t make me cause one,” growled the gunman.
“If’n you lay one finger on me I’ll have the law on you,” the salesman retorted. “I ain’t done nuthin’.”
“Make sure it stays that way.”
Hannibal Heyes sighed and looked out the window. He wasn’t as unconcerned as he looked; he could see out of the window, but also observe the salesman from his peripheral vision. Neither of them needed to explain themselves to a lawman, but the situation merited observation.
The train suddenly plunged into a tunnel and everyone blinked in the inky blackness but their attention was suddenly caught by the smacking, sucking, squeaking osculation of a juicy kiss. There was silence, then a resounding, fleshy slap.
“Hey!” The train shot into the daylight again, and everyone in the carriage was drawn to the sight of Burnley clutching the scarlet fingers stenciled onto his cheek in the form of a handprint. “I didn’t do nothin’. Someone else musta kissed you.”
Everyone’s eyes fixed on the flaccid face the salesman clutched in indignation. “It weren’t me. I never touched her.”
“A likely story,” barked the irate husband across the aisle. “Conductor! Get this man out of here. He ain’t fit to be around a decent woman. Take him to the baggage car.”
The two women leaned forward and shared a curious look, eyebrows arched in question along with an arch smile as the burly conductor approached. Hannibal Heyes shook his head and observed the scene carefully. Both ladies wore dress gloves so were unlikely to have made the flesh-off-flesh smack he’d heard. The husband, from his gesticulations, was clearly right-handed; and if he’d slapped the salesman without switching to the opposing seat the ruddy slap was on the wrong cheek.
“What’s goin’ on here?” the Conductor demanded.
Heyes glanced at the gunman sitting serenely to his left as the carriage filled with the hubbub of an outraged husband and two aggrieved females. He knew that sweet, innocent face from their poker games and it was obvious to him that his right hand man was bluffing.
A smile danced in the depths of the dark eyes as he glanced casually out of the window. Yup. The Kid had made kissing noises on his hand and then slapped the salesman on the face in the dark.
No doubt about it.
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight Old Scottish proverb