Just my luck, Nancy Butler thought as the portly preacher seated across from her continued chatting away like an excitable little hen. It seemed like the train hardly moved before she knew his whole life story. That he was born and raised in Boston and how he moved out west to replace his uncle as the prison chaplain for the Yuma Territorial Prison, and now he was moving again, to the new facility in Florence. She smiled and nodded as politely as she could while her brother Virgil seemed to hang on the preacher's every word, or at least pretended to. He'd always been more of a people person, even when they were kids.
This job had the potential to set them up for a long time, but the less-than-reliable source of the information made Nancy feel uneasy. All they had to go on was what they managed to coax out of an inebriated Jack Mosley, younger brother of outlaw Horace Mosley, the leader of the infamous Mosley gang. Horace currently resided in the Yuma prison. A notorious braggart, it didn't take much for Jack to tell them all about what his older brother had planned.
As the train stopped for water, Nancy spotted four men lingering around the nearby way station, one of whom she recognized as Jack Mosley. She nudged her brother; he took a look at the riders, gave her a nod, and turned his attention back to the chatty preacher.
The preacher was telling them about his aunt in St. Louis when the sound of gunshots cut him off. As the passengers crowded into the right side of the train to get a better look, Nancy and Virgil quietly slipped away to the back of the train.
When they made it to the payroll car, they found two employees leaning out of the window, trying to get a look at the action up front.
"Enjoying the show, boys?" Virgil said. His voice muffled by the bandanna obscuring his features.
The employees turned around to find themselves held at gunpoint by two figures, similarly dressed, except for the silk vest worn by Virgil. The older of the two slowly put his hands up as if he'd been through this sort of thing before, but his younger co-worker seemed hesitant.
"Just put your hands up, boy," the older man said. The tired look in his eyes accented a receding hairline and a drooping gray mustache. "It ain't worth it."
The young man reluctantly did as he was told and the man with the drooping mustache walked over to the safe, he knew what these two were here for.
Nancy kept her gun on the other employee while Virgil held out a bag for the old man to place the money in. The kid couldn't be any older than nineteen, he was as thin as a rail and his pockmarked face was sweating profusely. He had a nervous look about him, and his eyes kept darting over to the scattergun resting on a table.
"Go for that gun and we'll both regret it," she said.
Her words caused everyone in the car to pause, even Virgil. Nancy didn't like to talk much, but when she did, her tone could be grave and commanding. Unsurprisingly, the young man listened and kept his eyes fixed on the floor.
After the last of the payroll was taken from the safe, Virgil handed her the money and went to work tying up the men. Nancy watched him admire his work and loudly cleared her throat to emphasize the fact that they needed to get a move on.
"We'd love to stay and chat, but we've got a schedule to keep. Au revoir, gentlemen," Virgil said, tipping his hat to the men.
Nancy had already left and walked to the car that held their horses. She could hear the commotion that was going on up front and smelled the sharp tang of gunpowder in the air. It sounded like some of the remaining guards were putting up a decent fight, but it wouldn't be long before the Mosley gang had their way. Above the din, she could faintly pick out Jack Mosley's shrill, grating laugh. Unlike his older brother, Jack Mosley had a love for violence and killing. She didn't have high hopes for those guards.
Nancy slid the door open; Virgil hopped in the car and laid the wooden ramp out for the horses. He reappeared leading their mounts, just as the chaos up front had died down. The duo wasted no time and put their horses to a gallop.
After about a half hour of riding, they came to a stop on top of a rise. From their vantage point, the Sonoran Desert stretched before them. They had left the train far behind and all they could see for miles were sunbaked sand, hills, and brush. It was midday, and the sun's rays created bright, wavy lines in the distance.
"Think we lost 'em?" Virgil asked. When it came to dealing cards, his eyes were as sharp as a hawk's, but when it came to any sort of distance, he relied on his sister. Nancy had once suggested he get some spectacles and he'd looked at her as if she'd shot him.
"Nope." She pointed to a large cloud of dust coming across the desert. The riders were nothing more than dots, but that was rapidly changing.
"Jesus, how many of them are there?"
"I'd wager about ten, but from this distance I'm not so sure. Want me to stop and ask 'em?" She raised an eyebrow and gestured towards the approaching gang.
Despite how nervous he looked, Nancy did notice a little smile grace her brother's features as he turned his horse and continued riding. Feeling proud of herself, she also smiled, despite her own anxiety about their current situation, and followed after her brother.
They rode for a little while longer, trying to come up with a plan to lose their pursuers, when they spotted a buckboard carrying two figures. As they approached, they found a farmer and his wife on their way to Tucson. The man had a scraggly, blond beard and the woman had bright, blue eyes that Nancy thought were quite pretty. The couple had the typical drawn look to their faces that was to be expected of those who tried their hand at farming on the frontier. In no time, Virgil had charmed his way into the good graces of the haggard-looking couple and while she kept an eye on where they had come from, he offered them a good price for their wagon. He lied and told them they needed it for their sick father and even offered to throw in their own horses so the couple wouldn't be left afoot. He even gave the man his grey frock coat.
They parted ways, the couple no doubt thinking they had met the nicest man in the world. Nancy hopped in the driver's seat and snapped the reins. Virgil was on lookout, but that didn't stop her from looking over her own shoulder.
"Think they'll be alright when Mosley catches up to 'em?" Nancy said after a stretch of silence.
"Should be. You know how Horace gets around blood," he said.
"Only badman I know that gets woozy around blood. What do you think he was up to during the escape?"
"Probably hid under the box car while his boys did the shooting."
They both shared a laugh and Nancy felt some of the tension ease out of her shoulders, even though she still felt uneasy. Although she was good at hiding it, Nancy always seemed to feel anxious about one thing or another. Growing up without parents on the streets of an unruly town like Dodge City could do that to a person.
"So, where're we heading, sis?" Virgil said, leaning back in his seat. It looked like the nervous feeling her brother had when they first spotted the gang racing across the desert disappeared as quickly as it came. Typical Virgil, she thought. The joke at the expense of their pursuer had done the trick for him. Nancy, on the other hand, clenched her jaw as she focused on the road ahead.
"Hole-in-the-Wall. We can get some fresh horses from Ed and plan our next move." Nancy snapped the reins and put the horses into a trot.
"Hole-in-the-Wall's pretty popular. You think Ed'll keep quiet if Mosley shows up?" he said, giving her a nudge with his elbow. Ever since they were kids, that was his universal sign, known only to them, for her to quit clenching her jaw, as it was known to lead to terrible headaches. These headaches often affected her focus, which, in turn, affected her aim. And being the superior marksman of the two, she couldn't afford to be off her game, especially when they've got a gang of desperadoes on their tail.
"As long as we slide him enough drinking money he should be fine," she said. "It's always worked before."
Virgil nodded his approval of the plan and took another look behind them before putting his hat over his face.
"Wake me up when we get there," he said.
She wondered how he could take a nap when they were on the run from a gang of outlaws, but that was what set them apart. They might've had the same dark hair and hazel eyes, but their personalities couldn't be anymore different. She had asked him once, years ago, how he never seemed to worry about anything. He simply replied that she did enough worrying for the both of them and left it at that. She felt it was a cheap answer, but didn't push it further. Virgil often brushed off questions that involved any sort of introspection, yet another trait that he didn't share with his sister.
Colossal Cave, or Hole-in-the-Wall, as the locals knew it, had been a hideout for criminals long before the Butler twins were born. An old bank robber named Edgar Powell maintained the place and lived in a ranch house near the mouth of the cave. The cave system itself acted as a safe harbor for any and all who needed it, for a price.
They reached Hole-in-the-Wall just before dark, and Edgar was in the corral in front of the ranch house, trying to saddle an unruly buckskin. Virgil called out to him and the old man turned and waved, there was no mistaking Virgil's voice.
"Well, if it isn't the Butlers. Haven't seen you two around here in a while. Must be in some real trouble," Edgar said.
"We sure are, old-timer," Virgil said. "Had a little disagreement with Horace Mosley and his boys, so we're gonna have to borrow your cave for a bit till things cool off."
"That so? Well, I'd love to help you out, but things have been a little tight lately and—"
"You'll get your money," Nancy said, cutting him off. She didn't care much for Edgar Powell. They've been using this place to hide out for years and the arrangement with him was always the same. It annoyed her when he always danced around what he really wanted from them, instead of just getting to the point.
"That's my sister. All business," Virgil said. He hopped out of the wagon and walked to the ranch house with Edgar, while Nancy drove the wagon to the barn nearby.
After removing the harnesses from the horses, placing them in their stables, and shoveling them some hay, Nancy decided to take the time to pick out their new mounts. After some deliberation, she settled on a mellow bay mare for her brother and a lively looking sorrel gelding for herself. She checked both of the horses' feet and liked what she saw. They looked like reliable animals. She made sure they were both fed and watered before taking their belongings and heading to the cave.
They spent the rest of the evening playing cards in one of the cave passages. The Butlers had spent their fair share of time hiding out in caves and they both agreed that Colossal Cave was the best. It was a dry cave; no water source was feeding it, which made for a more pleasant stay when on the dodge.
The next day, Nancy woke before dawn to walk the trails outside the cave. She left a note on the back of an old receipt letting Virgil know which horses they were taking, grabbed her rifle, and left. Her walk took her well into the morning and she stopped on a hill overlooking the ranch with a couple of rabbits she'd managed to shoot. As she stood on the hill, she saw her brother head into the barn and took a moment to survey the landscape and think about where they were going next. Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of pounding hooves in the distance. The riders were in sight before she could run down and tell Virgil. She dropped the rabbits, laid down as flat as she could and hunkered down a bit behind the hill to give herself a little cover.
The riders, who she came to recognize as the Mosley gang from the silver Conchos that Horace and Jack wore in their hatbands, rode right up to Edgar. Edgar was once again in the corral trying to saddle the buckskin. She was too far away to hear exactly what they were saying, but she had a good idea. She looked through the telescopic sight mounted onto her Henry rifle and watched Edgar shake his head. From the looks of it he was keeping quiet on her and her brother's whereabouts. That is, until Horace produced a stack of bills from his coat. He tossed the money to the retired bank robber and she watched him count it and, to her dismay, he began pointing to the barn where Virgil was saddling their horses.
The gang dismounted and cautiously made their way to the barn. All of them spread out in a neat little line in front of the door.
"Come on out, Butler," Horace shouted. "We've got the barn surrounded. You can't weasel your way out of this."
Nancy steadied her breathing and took aim at the outlaw who was making his way to the door of the barn. She let him reach out and grab the door and the second she heard it creak she fired. Her shot hit the man between the shoulder blades and he went down with a cry. She turned her aim on the rest of the gang, levering the rifle as fast as she could. She managed to kill another one and wound a couple others before they scrambled for cover. It wouldn't be long before they'd figure out where the shots were coming from and once she saw Virgil make a break for it with the horses, using the shooting as a distraction, she made herself scarce.
She tracked Virgil to where he was hiding with the horses. Everybody looked like they had been put through the wringer, but no one was wounded.
"I don't know about you, but I'm ready for a change of scenery. I'm thinking Tucson." Virgil said. The bag carrying the payroll was safely tied to his saddle.
Nancy was too worn out to give him an answer; she just swung onto the sorrel and headed for Tucson. They made it into town and wasted no time in getting their tickets for a train heading east. Once their way out was settled, they split up. Virgil said he had some business to take care of and Nancy needed to replace the ammunition she spent at Colossal Cave. She met him back at the train station and noticed her brother had a new piece of luggage. She assumed he had simply purchased a new set of clothes while they were separated and climbed aboard the train.
The Butlers found their seats and settled in for a long ride. Their previous ride from Colossal Cave combined with the rocking of the train caused them both to doze off. Nancy awoke from her nap to find nothing but desert outside her window. She was about to go back to sleep when the train began to slow down. Once the train came to a complete stop she noticed the riders approaching the train and her heart sank.
"Ah, hell," she said.
At her words, Virgil woke with a start. He saw the riders surrounding the train car, but he didn't seem to be nearly as worried as she was.
"Ol' Horace just doesn't wanna give up, does he?" He said.
The train was surrounded; there was no way for them to escape without catching some bullets from the Mosley gang. When Horace boarded the car with a couple of his men and laid eyes on Virgil and Nancy, they knew the jig was up. The brother and sister got up from their seats and followed the outlaws off the train.
Standing in the desert, surrounded by Horace Mosley and his gang, Nancy felt as though this might be the end of the line for them.
"Virgil, You know how I feel about shooting, so just hand over the payroll and we'll be on our way," Horace said.
Virgil stood there like an obstinate bull, glaring at Horace. Nancy almost expected him to start pawing the ground, like he was about to charge. The payroll was enough for the both of them to live high on the hog for a long time and he seemed more than reluctant to give it up.
"Oh, now don't give me that look. Consider this payback for when you cheated me out of five hundred in that card game back in St. Louis," he said. "Or if that ain't enough for you I could always have my boys fill you full of lead." The sound of several pistol hammers being pulled back could be heard after Horace spoke.
Virgil quickly came to his senses and handed over the bag. Horace took it and tossed it to one of his men. He mounted his horse and they all appeared to be getting ready to ride off, but Horace turned to face the Butlers.
"You know what? I think I've changed my mind," Horace said, pulling his pistol and leveling it at Virgil. He pulled the hammer back, took aim, and shot Virgil square in the gut. It was so unexpected that Horace Mosley, whom the papers called "The Gun-Shy Bandit," would actually shoot someone that it took Nancy a second to register what had happened. But seeing her twin brother fall to the ground with a heavy thud brought it all into focus. Horace Mosley had shot Virgil, the only family she had left.
Horace laughed and looked immensely pleased with himself. "Well, would you look at that, boys? I believe I've gotten over my aversion to shooting." He and his men continued laughing as they rode away.
Nancy rushed to her brother's side. She tried to speak, but just couldn't find the words; instead she tried to stay focused and find where exactly he had been shot. The tears that started welling up made it hard to see, but despite her blurry vision she was surprised to find that there was no blood, and even more surprised when he started groaning in pain.
"Virgil?" Her voice shook. Her throat felt tight, like some unknown force was squeezing it.
"And you said this thing would never work," he said. He was referring to the vest that was made up of several layers of silk. The man who sold it to him claimed it could stop a bullet, that they were all the rage amongst the gangsters of New York. Nancy thought the man had tricked her brother into paying too much for a stupid vest, but here he was, alive, because of that stupid vest.
"Damn it, Virge," she said, playfully punching him in the shoulder.
She helped him up and he took a moment to dust off his clothes.
"How long do you think it'll take them to realize the money's counterfeit?" Virgil asked.
"So that was what you were doing," Nancy said. "When you said you had business to take care of I figured it involved a saloon."
"It did, but that was after I paid a visit to my friends at The Tucson Citizen," he said. "You know they've got the best printing press in the whole territory?"
"Is that so?"
"Sure is, I'll tell you all about it when we're not baking in this lovely desert heat. Come on, sis. We've got a train waiting for us."
"After you, brother."
Nancy and Virgil Butler walked back to the train, and the small fortune hidden under their seat.