Photo montage by Kenneth Andrews
Pink tinges the eastern horizon, and Lou ‘The Buckeye’ Mello knows he’s got to hurry. Daylight won’t be on his side when he tries to rob the train. He can’t help himself, though. With an energetic spew of tobacco juice, he stares at the morphing line of sky one last time.
He’s still cold, and he wonders about his horse. The desert, she’s tricky. Cooking him to the insides of his chaps at high noon. Causing his as-yet-to-be tobacco-stained teeth to clatter inside his skull under the open sky of camp. With a ‘ya-hooooooo,’ he runs around in circles, kicking up dust everywhere. Partly to warm up. Mostly because that’s just the way he is. The Buckeye is feared because he NEVER sleeps, especially not when he is yards from a busy rail line, already vibrating faintly with the rhythm of the approaching train.
Michael ‘The Conductor’ Carnell is asleep in the wheelhouse. He knows what it takes to make time in the trek across the red desert. This much coal to that much muscle, measured out just so. He’s run this line so many times that it paints the insides of his eyelids when he dreams.
Not that he wants to miss the ride. Trains are his life. He breathes them through his cracked nostrils and exhales them into the charcoal air. Riding trains for pay? He never thought a job could be more enticing. That he gets paid to indulge in his lust for machinery every single day is one of those exquisite turns of life.
Up ahead, he sees a cloud of dust kicking out of the brush. Could be an animal, he thinks, or could be men. He wants to plow through this barren nothingness, arrive on the other shore as quickly as he can.
Hoofbeats. Carnell hears them reverberate in his chest, in spite of the whistling engine. He whirls on his shovelers, but they are gone. No one has been feeding the mechanical beast. Sweat mingles with the smoke on his upper lip as he realizes the train has stopped.
“Come out, Carnell, and fight like a man!” a voice shouts from somewhere outside.
He knows that voice. There’s no mistaking that midwestern patois, native to Ohio. It can only belong to one person, the scourge of his soul. The disrupter of his vagabond life on the train.
The Buckeye fires a warning shot into the engine room, a discharge that buzzes past Carnell’s left ear. He swears he feels what’s left of his hair moving in the gale. With a sigh, he puts a heavy foot on the top step of the engine and trudges down into open air, a heat that consumes him before he reaches the firm footing of the ground.
“I knew you’d find me again, Buckeye,” Carnell snarls through clenched teeth.
“No time for chatting, Carnell. I’m here to kill you dead, dead, dead. You know I won’t stop until I succeed.” The Buckeye rains tobacco juice on everything within range and keeps his pistol trained onto Carnell’s head.
Carnell scratches his head. He’s got to think fast to survive this sticky situation. “Hey. Lou. What do you say we do a shoot-out? Ten paces. Turn around. And powpowpowpowpow.”
The Buckeye smiles a tobacco-stuffed, lopsided grin. “I thought you’d never ask me to kill you.”
They assume their places, back to back. At the signal, they walk ten paces, turn around, and fire at the same time…………..
This is an Act Two of the second post in the series, Grounded: Stories From the American Southwest, an homage to where I am at the moment. If this is your first visit to Grounded, click here to start the series. Lou Mello and Carnell, the subjects of today’s post, will be grateful. As always, thank you for reading my little blog.