This round robin story began three weeks ago and will be continued next week on some other brave soul’s blog. Could that be you? Comment below and stake your claim.
What has gone before:
Part 1 by I.J. Parnham
Part 2 by Jack Giles
Part 3 by Chuck Tyrell
Part 4 by Evan Lewis
Walt Arnside downed the last of his whiskey and placed the glass on the japanned table next to his chair. Bartlett’s remark buzzed about in his head, finding no place to light.
“Ever wonder how I made my fortune, Straight?” Bartlett hooked thumbs in the pockets of his silk waistcoat. A gold coin fixed to his watch chain caught the light and shone like a small sun.
Arnside dodged the question. “Ain’t a thing a man asks.”
“Or tells, unless he’s a damned fool. But I need your help. And your trust.”
Arnside’s eyes wandered about the private railcar. The plush carpet, velvet drapes and canopied bed looked like something out of The Arabian Nights. Bartlett had done well for himself, no mistake.
“I was raised by my grandfather," Bartlett said. "He was a queer old cuss, and more than half-mad. Claimed he’d once sailed with Jean Lafitte, but everyone knew that was hogwash.”
Arnside’s gaze settled on a painting hung between two windows. The subject was a high-prowed galleon, belled sails straining as she plowed a heavy sea. The ship’s side bristled with guns, and atop her mast flew the red and yellow flag of Spain. A treasure ship. Arnside’s pulse quickened.
Bartlett grinned. “The old fellow would sit for hours in his rocker, swilling rum and staring at that very painting. ‘A treasure ship,’ he’d mutter, ‘on dry land!’ Then he’d slap his knee and cackle, enjoying a private joke. After he died, I found an iron box under the floorboards. A box half-full of these.” Bartlett fingered the gold coin on his watch chain. “I kept one for luck, and I kept that painting, hoping to learn its secret.”
Arnside felt deflated. “But you said you knew…”
Bartlett rose and strode to the painting. “A month ago, the train hit rough track and the frame jumped from the wall, cracking free of the canvas. And what do you think I found?” He gave Arnside an owlish look.
A window exploded inward, showering Bartlett with glass. Bullets smashed into the opposite wall. More windows burst. The air was alive with singing lead, flying shards and acrid engine smoke. Bartlett gasped, clutched his shoulder and crumpled to the floor.
Arnside sprang from his chair, flattened next to a broken window. Five masked horsemen raced alongside the car, sixguns spitting fire. In one fluid motion, he drew his .45 and sent the nearest rider spinning from the saddle.
Bartlett lay on his side, his breathing ragged. A crimson stain spread over his fancy waistcoat.
Arnside’s gun crashed again, and a second rider pitched into the dirt. “Is there something you forgot to tell me?”
“I hate to say it, Straight, but you’re not the first man I asked for help.”
“Who was?” Arnside winced as a slug tore a chunk from his arm.
“You’re not going to like it.”
Arnside drew a bead on a third man, but the car lurched, spoiling his aim. Steel screeched on steel as the train began to slow.
“Damn it, Scoot! Who?”
A gas lamp shattered, raining hot oil over Bartlett’s bed. The comforter whooshed into flame. In moments the car would be an inferno.
Bartlett grimaced. “Zack Roden.”
A bullet scorched Arnside’s cheek, but he barely noticed. He felt like he’d swallowed a rattlesnake.
“If we survive this,” he said, “I’ll shoot you myself.”