Roland sat in the bar sipping an expensive whiskey, smoking the best cigar he’d ever smoked and listened to the man prattle on about his holdings, his business acumen, and his conquests in the business world. He was bored.
“Appreciate the drink,” Roland interrupted as he puffed on the cigar and blew the smooth smoke toward the vaulted ceiling. “But what can I do for you, Mr. Huxley?’
Theodore Judson Huxley pulled the square wire framed glasses off his ruddy face, cleaned them with a handkerchief from his suit coat, and returned them before he spoke.
“What I need is to be assured that my emissary will be unharmed during this travel to Laramie, and that my business venture can be accomplished in safety and with little fanfare. You come highly recommended.”
“I’m not a bodyguard, or even a Pinkerton’s.” Roland said and slid his chair back.
“Perhaps, you’d like to look at my check before you turn me down…” Huxley took it from his vest pocket and slid it across the table. Roland picked it up and after counting the zeros lay it down on the table.
“You have my attention.”
“Max will meet you at the railroad station at six sharp in the morning. It’s one full day to Laramie,” Huxley said. He thumped the ash from his cigar onto the floor ignoring the ash tray in front of him. “Once the business is complete there I will own the First Naional Bank of Laramie and your services will no longer be required.”
“And my services are?”
“There are those who would like to halt this acquisition and are quite, shall we say, vehement in their objections.” Huxley said. “I’m told you have a gun and are willing to travel.”
“Think I’ll put that on a card,” Roland said. He finished his whiskey and put the check in his pocket.
Roland cashed the check, put most of it in a safety deposit box then checked on Horse at the livery stable. He gave the hired hand detailed instructions about the care of Horse and then spent some time playing cards and drinking at one of the worst saloons in town. He lost some hands, then won a few and was up by close to a hundred when he decided to call it.
Instead of securing a room, he wandered down to the railroad station and found Huxley’s private car. The car was divided with two small sleeping areas divided by a common sitting area. Roland went to the far bed and lay down. He didn’t bother taking off his boots but pulled his Stetson down over his eyes and was asleep in minutes.
The jostling of the train woke him as it pulled out of the station. Roland sat up, stretched and yawned, and then stepped through the open doorway into the middle of the train car.
“So you’re the famous Roland,” she asked.
She was tall, dressed in a blue fashionable dress and had the reddest hair Roland had ever seen. The morning light through the windows bounced off her face and showcased freckles that should have made her look younger but somehow didn’t. Roland removed his hat, ran his hand through his hair, and then put it back on pulling it low on his brow.
“And you are?” Roland asked.
“Max,” she said. “Maxine Huxley.”
Roland stared at her and thought:” I wonder how bad I’d get hurt if I jumped from this train right now, before it gets to really rolling?”
Sitting in the dining car across from Maxine, Roland continued to regret not bolting from the train the instant he met her.
“Again, Miss Huxley”, Roland said. “I am not your hired hand or your servant. I am the man your father hired to make sure his business in Laramie was successful.”
“Well, you’re overpaid,” she said. “and I don’t see why you want to make such an issue of a simple request.”
“You want me to, let’s see I think you said ‘thrash’ the chef.”
“These eggs are insufferable!”
“That’s what you get for ordering them raw.”
“Poached, Roland. It’s all very European, I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”
Roland turned his attention back to his scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast without further comment while Max fumed and sipped coffee from a tiny cup.
“If lunch and dinner are this bad,” she said. “I may starve to death before we get to Laramie.”
“If only that we’re possible.” Roland thought and smiled as he refilled his mug with coffee from the silver pot.
Lunch was not as bad, with Max only complaining about the time it took to be served, and the only problem at dinner was that there was no dessert that suited her. Still, by the time the train pulled into the station at seven that evening Roland just wanted some peace and quiet,
“I don’t know why we can’t rent a carriage,” Max said as they made the two block pilgrimage to the better of the two hotels in town.
“It’s two damn blocks, Miss Huxley, and I am carrying my small bag and this monstrosity of yours that apparently holds clothes for a year.”
“Phfttt,” Max said and headed off in a huff while Roland struggled with the luggage and did his best to keep up.
The Willstar Hotel and Saloon overlooked the main drag and Roland was thrilled that there was no door joining the two rooms reserved by Huxley. There was, however, a common balcony that ran the length of the hotel and it was here Roland sat enjoying a room service whiskey and a cigar.
“You’re not dressed!” Maxine pushed his boots off the rail, towered above him, and glowered down.
“I’m dressed,Miss Huxley.” Roland returned his boots to the top of the banister. “You’ve seen me in these same clothes all day.”
“I told you that one simply must dress for the show we’re seeing tonight. You agreed at lunch.”
“You misunderstood my nod.” Roland said and nodded. “That meant I heard you, not I agreed with you.”
“There is a symphony performing at the opera house and I am going.”
“Fine,” Roland said and stood. He pulled his Stetson down on his forehead. “Will there be dancing girls?”
“Aghhhhh!” Max screamed. “You really think someone wants to do me harm?”
“Hard to imagine,” Roland said under his breath.
“Sit in the back of the room, far away from me.”
“Do you agree or does that nod simply mean you heard me?” Maxine asked.
The next morning after room service breakfast Roland sat again in the rocking chair on the balcony waiting on Maxine. He had just stood and was watching a couple of cowboys tie their horses up across the busy street when he heard her door open behind him. Roland had never seen the men before, but he knew the type.
“I’m ready,” she said and he turned.
Her hair was pulled back in a tight pony tail. The denim shirt she wore was tucked into a pair of pants and the highly polished black boots matched the gun belt she wore at her tiny waist. The single silver revolver hung low and was strapped to her left leg.
Roland tore his eyes away from the woman standing in front of him and looked back out onto the street. The men were gone.
Roland led the way down the stairs and then, instead of walking out onto the street, steered Max to a door that opened onto a back alley.
“Saw a couple of cowboys out front a while ago I didn’t much like the looks of,” Roland said.
Max nodded and Roland opened the door and stepped out. He checked the alley, saw nothing and motioned for Max to follow. After checking the alley for herself, she stepped out and the two of them headed down the alley, side by side. Roland figured to walk the back side of Main three blocks and come out right across the street from the bank.
They had only walked two blocks when a shot rang out behind them. At that moment, the two cowboys Roland had seen ran out of their hiding places in front of them.
Max spun as Roland cleared leather. He fired his first shot from the hip and the closest cowboy went down clutching his chest. Dirt kicked up just behind Roland’s heel, but he ignored it to aim at the second cowboy who had turned to run back toward cover after firing that wild shot.
Meanwhile, Max spotted the back shooter standing behind three wooden crates thirty yards behind them. He fired over the top but again rushed his shot and it went wide whistling by her ear. Max didn’t waste any time aiming. She fired a quick shot in his general direction. The man ducked behind the top carton.
Roland heard the shot from Max, and sighted on the man who fired once as he ran. Roland’s first bullet spun the man toward him and the second put him on his back.
Figuring his next move, Max sighted on a spot roughly knee high on the edge of the lower crate. Suddenly the man’s head appeared just above the spot she’d picked and Max raised the barrel of her gun to compensate. She squeezed off a shot.
Roland turned just as the man fell face first from behind the crates and into the alley. He lay still.
Roland and Max walked over and rolled the man onto his back. He’d been shot dead center between the eyes.
In the distance dogs barked, people yelled and soon the alley filled with by-standers.
She was dressed in another frilly dress, this time teal in color and scooped at the neck which Roland appreciated. Breakfast on the train and once again she had ordered her eggs poached.
“I still believe you should thrash that chef, Roland” Maxine huffed. “Really how hard is it to poach an egg?”
Roland set his cup down, filled it from the pot, and then waived the waiter over.
“The lady is not happy with her egg.” Roland said. He blew on the hot drink. ”Tell the chef to fix it.”
“Our chef does not take kindly to complaints,” the waiter said. “Especially from women folk.”
“He’d be well served to take kindly to this one,” Roland said and sipped his coffee and nodded toward Maxine. “I’ve seen her shoot.”
The waiter laughed but then looked at the two solemn faces, gulped, and scurried off.
“Why thank you, Roland.”
“You’re quite welcome, Max.”