"That looks like an awful lot of dynamite."
Gretchen Welles would gladly have agreed with that statement, if she'd been able to speak.
"Now, durnit, Jill, how come yer always questionin' me about my work? I'm tellin' ya, I know this stuff."
Gretchen had no opinion on that, but could certainly have testified that the big brunette knew her ropes: the train guard was sitting on the floor of the rattling strongbox car, wrapped in what felt like a cocoon of tough hemp. She was trying not to lean directly on her arms, which had been dragged behind her, her wrists crossed over each other and encircled with several turns of the harsh cord. More of the rope ran in loops up and around her arms and torso, pulled taut, and cinched with knots every three or four turns.
The woman lying on the floor next to her didn't look any more comfortable.
"Lorraine," Jill sighed, glancing down at the two captives lying side by side," all I'm saying is that you got enough there for a bank vault. This is a train safe!"
This point struck Gretchen as eminently sensible, since it seemed likely that, however much dynamite was used, she and her companion would be somewhere in the immediate vicinity when it went off. In her present state, she certainly wasn't going anywhere. The form-hugging rope had not stopped with her arms and upper body, but had continued its path in broad loops around her hips, thighs, calves, and ankles. Once again, after every few turns of the rope, the tall bandit with the hard features would look her in the eye as she yanked on the rope, securing it further. Finally, once the last knot was tied over the tops of the regulation black leather boots, Lorraine had stood up and looked down, hand on hips, to admire her work.
Damn! but didn't that white rope look fine against the crisp navy blue of the guard's well-tailored uniform. It seemed to Lorraine that every place the rope allowed a glimpse of the dark fabric to peek through, there was some particularly fine curve or shapely limb outlined by the tight cord. Business or pleasure? Why is there never enough time for both?
With a resigned shake of her head, she had then pulled out the bright red bandana she'd stuffed into a back pocket, pinched Gretchen's nose to keep her from closing her mouth, and stuffed the grimy fabric inside as the girl choked and retched on the taste. A strip of cotton cloth was then forced between her teeth, wedging the disgusting gag deeper into her mouth, wound around her head, and knotted at the base of her skull with the same fierce precision that had characterized her binding.
Gretchen had no idea where the two women had boarded the train. Not at a regular stop, she was fairly certain of that. All that the pretty young guard knew was that she had been alone in the safe car of the train, sitting down to a quiet game of Patience, when she'd heard a knock on the door, and the voice of Evangelina Sanchez, the young chief porter.
"Miss Welles, I have a problem here. I really need-- Help!! Ouch!"
Gretchen leapt up from the table. Her small peaked cap slipped from her straw-colored hair, and she raced to the door. She'd been raised to help those in trouble, without regard for her personal safety, and as she threw open the door to the strongbox car, she once more realized that her natural inclinations might be somewhat at odds with the profession of railroad guard.
"Hiya, missy." The tall brunette who was holding a gun on Evangelina was smiling as she looked up and down Gretchen's trim blue uniform. "Min' if we come in and look at yer safe?"
Gretchen was gaping, open-mouthed. Not at the guns-- she'd had plenty of those pointed at her. Not even at the oddly-matched blonde and brunette that were holding them. No, she was goggling at the white-clad form of Evangelina Sanchez, her arms disappearing behind her back, her white uniform in disarray from the web of rope that was pulled taut around her. Gretchen had never realized the girl's eyes were so huge: the soft brown orbs were wide with fear.
Gretchen was paralyzed into astonishment as the two women forced their captive inside. The blonde shut the door behind them as the brunette continued to hold Evangelina in a fierce grip. Once satisfied that the door was secure against interruption, Jill came to aid Lorraine with their captives.
A thick white table napkin was sticking out of the pocket of Evangelina's uniform jacket, and as Lorraine turned her attention to restraining the blond train guard, Little Jill yanked the napkin out, and formed it into a thick band, which she forced between Evangelina's teeth, the crisp white fabric splitting the lovely dark face. Jill drew the napkin around her captive's head, her fingers fumbling in the tumbled dark hair as she knotted the gag tightly. Pushing Evangelina to the floor none too gently, Jill took a strip of braided leather from her belt, and used it to secure the young woman's trim ankles.
While Jill was engaged in binding Evangelina, Gretchen had watched Lorraine unroll a supple lariat from her belt with one hand; the other kept the pistol pointed at the guard's belly.
"Turn around, honey, and let's keep you outta trouble, while me and my partner git our business transacted." And, with that, the binding had begun.
Now, minutes later, Gretchen sat on the floor, tied and gagged, and desperately hoping the little blonde would win the argument about the dynamite: the quantity of explosive that the brunette was considering would send the entire train car flying in fragments no bigger than your hand-- she'd seen it happen.
"All right," Jill told Lorraine, to Gretchen's horror, "you win, but hurry it up. We're slowing down now, for that sloped curve, and we need to be off here before we hit town."
With a satisfied grunt, Lorraine returned to her work as Jill made one last inspection of the prisoners' knots.
Suddenly, over the clack of the train's wheels, the two bandits could hear another sound-- horse's hoofs! Out here? Jill thought. There's nowhere for miles! No question, though... they were hoofbeats, and they were getting closer.
"What the hell?" As Lorraine continued to lay the charges around the safe, Little Jill drew her revolver, and inched herself close to the door to the outside. She flung it open, crying "gotcha!", and took dead aim at... a beautiful, white, riderless horse, casually keeping pace with the slow-moving train.
"What the hell?" she repeated, looking left and right for some sign of a rider... but didn't look up until Marshal Shane McQueen had dropped down from her perch on the roof, and swung herself into the car, her boots colliding with Little Jill's midriff.
"OOOofff!" The pistol flew from her hand, and the tiny outlaw went tumbling back across the width of the car, crashing into Lorraine, still bent over the dynamite.
"Gawd-dammt!" bellowed Lorraine, as she spun to see what had caused her partner to collide with her. When the saw the figure standing in the doorway, gun in hand, she repeated the oath. "Gawd-dammit! You agin!"
"Call me a bad penny," the slender blonde grinned. "Back I come!"
Lorraine gaped foolishly, the stick of dynamite in her hand. She took a glance down at her gunbelt, as though deciding if she could out-draw the blonde. But before she could move, Little Jill's hand darted to the fizzing stick, snatched it from Lorraine's hand, and jammed it down the front of Gretchen Welles' uniform!
"What er ya doin'?" Lorraine demanded. Jill didn't answer her; instead she called to Shane McQueen, "Sorry we can't stay to see the fun, Marshal!" She then grabbed Lorraine by one arm, and hurtled the two of them through the door to the outside.
"Wait--" Shane McQueen made a futile grab for the two bandits, but they were already tumbling to the ground outside the train. Shane could also see that her horse had kept pace with the train, and as the train moved on, she saw Lorraine grab the reins to wrangle themselves a ride. Shane had time to see, out of corner of her eye, the two women vault up onto her horse, and head off in the opposite direction.
Damn. Hadn't counted on losing my horse!
She'd have to worry about that later, though. She dug her hand into Gretchen's front, yanked out the sizzling, explosive stick, and hurled it out the open door of the car.
The concussion from the blast was diminished by the train's movement, but it still sent Shane flying across the small room, slamming up against the pile of remaining explosives. Small tongues of flame sprang up around the car, and Shane scrambled to her feet. She had no time to lose-- there was no way to safely toss two bound women from the moving train, but she had to do something about the flames. There were more sparks than she could hope to extinguish by stamping with her boots-- she needed something big enough to smother them before they grew larger... and almost before she knew she'd made a decision, she'd leaped to the other side of the car, and taken Gretchen by her shoulders,
"Hang on," Shane told the girl. "It's this or we all go up in bits." And, with that, she pushed the bound girl, rolling her tightly-trussed form across the floor. Like a fireman using a blanket to smother a fire, Shane rolled the helplessly bundled guard back and forth over the bits of spark and flame. She supplemented this with stampings of her boots, knowing that she had to keep the guard's body moving fast enough not to let the flames set her uniform on fire.
Gretchen closed her eyes, trying to shut out the dizziness and the terror as she allowed herself to be used to suppress the flames before they could reach the rest of the explosives. The gag in her mouth was near to choking her, and her arms were not so numb from their bondage that pain didn't shoot through them as their blond rescuer roller her over and over on the floor.
Evangelina, her brown eyes huge, saw what the Marshal was doing, and began the painful process of rolling her own bound body back and forth over some of the small sparks that were closer to her side of the car. She whinnied in fear through her gag as one of the sparks set a lock of her hair sizzling, and she flailed her head madly back and forth, her long locks whipping from side to side, until the tiny ember smoldered out, leaving behind the pungent scent of her singed hair.
Finally, satisfied that the danger was past, Shane allowed herself to collapse back against the side of the car, smoke sharp in her nostrils, but with not a single spark of flame remaining.
Both of the captives were breathing heavily through their noses and around the gags in their mouths. After allowing herself no more than a moment's rest, Shane set about untying the two grateful women.
Those two again, the Marshal reflected on the two women robbers as she freed the captives. And I'm guessing they're headed for the next town… this "Rio Bondo". Maybe they need a visit from a Federal marshal. And besides-- I need to get my horse back!
Shane McQueen allowed the two doors to swing closed behind her, blinking as her eyes made the adjustment from the blazing outdoor sun to the smoky dimness of the saloon. There could be few towns, from Dodge to Tombstone, that she'd not visited in her travels, and they all had a saloon that looked exactly like this one: a worn, rutted bar with a grimy wall mirror behind it, tables stained with cigarette burns and the odd bullet hole, rickety chairs occupied by barflies and bust poker players.
The blond marshal stepped up to the bar, ordered a sarsaparilla for herself, and sipped it as she surveyed the room through the dirty mirror. She set down the drink, and addressed the dour-looking man cleaning glasses behind the bar.
"I'd like to ask you a few questions." The man's only response was a grunt. "I'm looking for two women."
The man didn't answer, but raised his eyebrows at a spot behind Shane.
"Well, perhaps I can help you."
Shane turned around to face the voice; it belonged to a handsome, red-haired woman that might have been anywhere from her late thirties to her late fifties. She was big and buxom, with the most professional whore's smile Shane had ever seen.
"Help me?" Shane asked.
"If you're looking for women," the redhead smiled, "I'm the gal to see in Rio Bondo." She gave an appraising glance to the marshal's trim, denim-swathed legs, and the chest of her blue shirt, her gaze seeming to linger for a moment on the silver star. "I have to say, though," she went on, "that the ones I get asking for women usually aren't lookers like you. The gals will be impressed."
Shane smiled indulgently, not entirely sure how much of the woman's "misunderstanding" was sincere.
"I'm a U.S. Marshal. There are two women who escaped from a prison wagon recently, who attempted to rob the payroll from a train coming into town yesterday."
Shane colored slightly. "Well, I got there in time to prevent the robbery-- but not to prevent their escape." She decided not to add that they'd made the escape on Shane's own horse!
"Well, that is different. Still, ya can't blame a gal for tryin' to drum up some trade!" The redhead gave an enormous laugh. "My name's Hermione Larue, but everyone just calls me Rusty." She held out a soft, pudgy hand, which Shane shook warmly, if a bit warily.
"So," the marshal went on, "about these two women."
"What do they look like?"
"One's a big brunette... really tall gal... the other's a little mannish-looking blonde that dresses snappy."
Rusty shook her head. "No one I've seen."
"And your place is the main source of... entertainment... here in Rio Bondo?"
"Yep. If those gals are here, they'll for sure come here sooner or later." Rusty nodded.
"Well, I've got a room at the Majestic, across the street," Shane nodded in the general direction of the grandiosely-named flea-trap that was in the right price range for a Marsha's salary. "I'll be around, and I'd greatly appreciate hearing from you if they should put in an appearance."
long, then, are you?"
Shane gave a mirthless laugh. "Not long. Only long enough to put these two gals behind bars-- and anyone helping them!"
"Well, you're welcome anytime, Marshal," Rusty grinned. "The more pretty gals we get in here, the better!" She shot Shane a glance that hinted at things the Marshal would rather not contemplate; instead, she tipped her hat to the smiling Madam, and headed back out into the hot Rio Bondo sunshine.
Shane's next stop was the sheriff's office, where she found an obese man with a star on his chest, hat pulled down over his eyes, dozing, and an earnest-looking young woman with a wide brown hat over chestnut-brown hair glaring at him.
"I take it this is Rio Bondo's sheriff?" Shane raised an eyebrow.
Tessie Jones looked up, as though jolted from a dream. Her eye widened at the badge on the tall blonde's chest. A law woman-- a REAL one!
afraid so," Tess responded. "I'm deputy sheriff Tess Jones. Can I
The blonde smiled. "Shane McQueen. U. S. Marshal. Since the sheriff seems to be otherwise occupied, would you care to help me put some bank and train bandits behind bars?"
Tess' eyes widened. "Would I!"
"And your boss here?" Shane nodded at the snoring figure.
don't mind him. He's useless," Tess snapped. "Who are you looking
"Don't rightly know their names, but I can describe them."
"Hold on." Tess stood up, and spoke in a lowered voice. "Let's not wake the old walrus." She walked quietly to the door. "C'mon with me, though-- there is someone who's got her ear to the ground in this town. She might be able to help."
"The local madam? I've met her."
The door closed quietly behind the two women, and their shadows slid across the pane of glass as they headed for the newspaper office.
A moment later, Sheriff John Prudhomme tipped back the hat that had been shielding his eyes. He let his chair come upright, and walked to the newly-installed telephone that hung on the opposite wall. He gave it a crank, and leaned close to the trumpet-shaped mouthpiece.
"Yeah, it's me." All traces of the vaudevillian's comic drawl had vanished from his voice. "Listen, we need to talk. I think we've got a situation here."
Evening fell warm and soft over Rio Bondo. Tess went back to her room above the jail, smiling over the progress she'd made that day.
The interview between Shane McQueen and Maggie Ross had begun in a prickly fashion, each certain the other was just using her to get information, but Tess had persuaded the two that pooling their information and resources would be the most effective way to operate.
Even more entertaining had been the Marshal's meeting with Sheriff Prudhomme. The old sheriff's evasions didn't seem to impress the Marshal. Tess had to admit that the woman hadn't exactly got much out of the old fool, but she'd certainly made it clear that she would brook no interference from him, either.
Yup, Tess thought to herself as she slid into her flannel nightgown and settled back into bed, Rio Bondo's going to be a different place with Marshal Shane McQueen around!
As Tess dropped off to sleep, most of the town was doing the same. The odd light still flickered here and there, though; one of them was casting a waxy glow over a heavy wooden table. A collection of hats and guns lay around the table, their respective owners seated in chairs beside them.
"Now, let me make certain I understand the situation." The throaty voice might have been gifted with a natural humor, but that was not in evidence now. "The two of you came to Rio Bondo, because you had heard of our unique... 'arrangement'... providing a safe haven for those who are bold enough to make their own path... as long as they are wiling to share."
Little Jill glowered, but said nothing. She wasn't used to being lectured like a schoolgirl.
"But that was evidently not enough for you two." Sweet Lorraine, for all her size, was also wilting under the chastisement. "With all the fine pickings we have here-- with all the rich folks we have lured to this God-forsaken hole-- you two had to try and take down a train outside of town. The result? We now have what appears to be an extremely capable U.S. Marshal nosing around. How long do you suppose that Sheriff Prudhomme can keep up that ludicrous act of his before the Marshal realizes he's not the moron he seems?"
There was a dry chuckle from one end of the table. "I surely am tired of that damn drawl." Other voices joined him in his laughter, but the two subjects of discussion sat in stony silence.
The two bandits exchanged glances, then Jill spoke.
"So, are you telling us to get out of town?"
"Quite the contrary." The reply was a whipcrack. "You two made this mess, and you're going to clean it up. With my help, we're going to arrange that Marshal Shane McQueen's stay in Rio Bondo is a little longer than she may have planned."Chapter Four Back to Chapter Two Back to Stories Page