The Trip of a Lifetime

 

By Beth Hinkle

 

As Sarah sat there, looking out the window, the beautiful, untouched by man, moving panorama, made no impression on her.  Well, almost no impression.  Truth be told, all she could think about was how boring it was. 

 

Here she sat, on a train heading west.  The trip of a lifetime. And all she could think about was how long and hard she had pleaded with her 'editor' to 'Just give her a chance!'   A chance to do a REAL story.  A chance to prove she was a REAL writer.  And the answer had finally been 'Oh, very well'.  She would have a nice train ride to San Francisco.   She could do a little story about that, a nice travel piece.  Make the Railroad Baron, who just happened to be a friend of her 'editor',  happy.

 

But the truth was, after 3 days of sitting on a not so soft train bench, watching endless hills, trees, bushes, rocks and a great deal of dirt go by, the trip of a lifetime just felt like it was a trip that was taking a lifetime. 

 

And as for the story she was supposed to be writing,  how many different ways can you describe a tree, bush or rock?  And to think, she thought describing the rainbow colored dresses the various leaders of society  wore to their endless tea's and balls was hard.  So far she had written a solid paragraph and a half, maybe. 

 

Even the few towns they had stopped in had not provided anything to catch her attention.  What had happened to the 'Wild West'?  Was it all gone?  No deadly eyed gunfighters standing in the middle of a dusty street, staring each other down, waiting for the first one to draw.   No evil cattle ranchers, driving their herds down the middle of the street to the danger of all.  And the closest she'd come to seeing a savage Indian was the carved wooden statue standing in front of a general store.  It was all just so . . so civilized. 

 

            Well she had better find something to write about.  The trip was half over and the story had not even begun.  Sitting with her bound journal open to a blank page, her freshly sharpened pencil griped firmly in her hand, she continued to stare out the window,  waiting for inspiration. 


 

            What?  She jerked  her  head up.  She must have fallen asleep.  Oh great.  The train was stopping.  Again.  And this time there wasn't even a town in sight.  Even the other passengers seemed to wonder at this latest stop, they were standing up, looking out the windows and shaking their heads.   She  looked out the window next to her.  Looking up and down the length of the train she could see nothing to warrant the stop.  Not even a water tower. 

 

            The door at the front of the train car was pushed opened and a man was entering.  Ah,  the conductor, now we'll find out what was going on.  No, that's not the conductor, it's a cowboy.  A rather scruffy cowboy, with a gun in his hand. 

 

"Alright now people.  We’re robb’n this here train.  "  Wheat waived  his gun threateningly around the car.

 

            Her eyes started to light up and her mouth started to curve into a smile as she realized that, wonders of wonders, the train was being robbed. 

 

            The silence that had begun when Wheat had first entered, was shattered by everyone talking at once.   Wheat had to shout to be heard.

 

            "Now I want alla ya to get on off this here train so we can get the robb'n tak'en care of."  He seemed just about ready to start shooting, maybe then they'd pay attention and start moving.

 

            Slowly, with a lot of whispering and grumbling, the passengers started to make their way down the aisle and out through the door.

 

            Now she could see that another scruffy looking cowboy was waiting outside.  He had a big grin on his face and seemed to be trying to help all the women step down off the train and at the same time doff his hat to them.

 

            "Kyle, Wheat, hurry it up there. We need to get them all away from the train."

 

            "Yeah, well, we're moving 'em as fast as we can."  Wheat turned to Kyle, "You heard Kid, get 'em to move faster."

 

            "Alright, let's jest get on off and over to the trees,  come on now. " Kyle said as he nodded to the lady he was helping down the steps.


 

            As Sarah stepped off the train, she noticed another train robber standing by the side of the train.   This one wasn’t scruffy like the others.  He had blond hair, just long enough to curl around his  cowboy hat and clear crystal blue eyes. Even though he had a pleasant smile on his face,  his eyes said that he meant what he said and if he told you to do something, you’d better do it.

 

            He was the one who had spoken to Wheat and Kyle.  He must be ‘Kid’.   Kid?  Could he be Kid Curry?  If so, then these must be the Devils Hold gang.  As Sarah continued to stare at Kid Curry,  she broke into a big smile.  Not only was her train being robbed, it was being robbed by the most famous train robbers she’d ever heard of. 

 

            Most of the passengers had made their way to the trees by now and she was being urged to keep walking.   As she followed the group, she started falling a little behind and finally when she was most of the way to the trees, she stopped and turned around.  This was going to be her story.  She couldn’t miss any of it.

 

            Sarah looked back and spotted Kid Curry again.   He had walked over to the baggage car and stood at the open doors.   He seemed to be talking to someone inside the car. 

 

            She looked around, no one seemed to be paying any attention to her.   Slowly, casually,  she started to edge back towards the train.  She was trying to get closer to the baggage car.  That must be what they were here for.   Maybe it was a big payroll, or even some gold.

 

            “And just where do you think you’re going Missy?”

 

            Sarah froze and with her eyes almost as big as her face, turned and looked up at Wheat.  “Oh, oh, um,  I ..”   She couldn’t think of what to say.

 

            Wheat started coming towards her, waving his hand at the other passengers. 

 

            “Now you go on, get over with the others.”

 

            She tried to stand her ground, but her feet just seemed to move on their own.  “Oh, wait. Please, can you tell me, is this the Devils Hole gang?”


 

            That stopped Wheat.  He hitched up his gun belt and with a proud look said “Well yes ma’am, that’d be us.”  He looked around at the rest of the gang, “So you’ve heard of us, have you?”

 

            “Why, everybody’s heard of the Devils Hole gang.”  Sarah’s mind and voice, had finally started to work again.

 

          “What’s on the train that’s important enough to rob, is there a safe full of money in the baggage car?  Is it an Army payroll?  Does it have a lot of gold in it?  Will you have to blow it up?”  The questions just pored out of her. 

 

            The whole time Sarah had been talking to Wheat, she had kept her eyes on the baggage car and now she saw a man come over to the doors and jump off the train.  As soon as he hit the ground, both he and Kid Curry started to run away from the train with out looking back.

 

            Sarah had just started to think, “How disappointing,  they’re running away”  when they looked her way and immediately changed their direction to come towards her.   Before she could move or even say anything, they were along side her.  With each one grabbing an arm, they picked her up and continued running, never missing a step.  Wheat was just behind them.

 

            They didn’t let go of her arms until they had all four reached the trees.  The man who had jumped out of the baggage car pulled her behind the tree he was standing next to and told her to stay behind it.  As she looked up into his dark brown eyes she noticed he was smiling and the smile was brightened by the dimples in his cheeks and answered by the twinkle in his eyes.  Somehow his hat had been knocked off in the mad dash from the train and his dark brown hair had fallen into his eyes.  He casually ran a hand through his hair, pushing the stray locks back and placed his hat back on in a gesture that was almost automatic. 

 

            As Sarah continued to stare at him, she realized that she was standing within a breaths distance of none other than 'The' Hannibal Heyes,  leader of the Devils Hole gang himself.   His skill at opening safes and planning robberies was legendary.

 

            Before she could start firing questions at him there was the loud, shocking noise of a explosion and a cloud of smoke came poring from the doors of the baggage car.   The silence after the explosion was even more startling,  even the birds in the trees were quiet. 


 

            It seemed like the silence only lasted a few seconds, just long enough for the passengers, and birds, to take a deep breath before they had to fill up the world with noise again. 

 

            Sarah tried to gather her wits, things were happening to fast.  She looked around and noticed that Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry were already halfway back to the train.   Forgetting to be ladylike and throwing dignity to the wind,  she ran after them. 

 

            They  had already reached the train car by the time she caught up with them.  Heyes had hopped back into the car and Kid was again standing at the doors looking in.  She was holding her hat with one hand to keep it from falling from her head and trying to catch her breath when she reached the train car.  As she stepped up next to Kid and began to peer into the baggage car,  he gave her a surprised, but friendly, look as he moved over so she could see better.  

 

            Heyes was kneeling in front of a big black and gold safe that still had wisps of smoke coming from it.  The thick door was hanging open by one hinge and the things inside the safe looked like someone had carelessly stirred them with a large spoon.  Sarah felt, rather than saw, someone come up behind her.

 

            “So how much’d we get, Heyes. 

 

            “Not now, Wheat we’ll count it up later.”  Kid said with a warning in his voice.

 

            “Ah, Kid.  I was just askin’ for the little lady here.  She seemed real interested.”

 

            Heyes turned to Wheat and said “Get Kyle over here with the bags so we can put the money in them.”

 

            “Did you find the key yet Heyes?”  Kid wanted to know.

 

            “Not yet.  Everything’s all jumbled around in here.  Amazing how a little dynamite can mix things up.” 

 

            As much as Sarah wanted to ask about the key and the dynamite and the ‘haul’, she kept quiet.  Hannibal Heyes may have been smiling when he looked at her back at the tree, but he just might not want her around now.  And the last thing she wanted was to be sent away.

 

            Kyle had now joined them and was climbing into the car, with  some canvas bags clutched in one of his hands.   Just then, Heyes started to turn towards Kid,  another big smile on his face.  He had his hand up and he was holding a small key between his fingers.   Just as he started to say something,  Kyle, who was by now halfway into the car,  stumbled and fell into Heyes sending the key flying.

 

            “Kyle!”  Heyes, Kid and Wheat all yelled at once. 

 

            “Get off me!”  Heyes pushed Kyle away from him.

 

            “ I’m reel sorry Heyes.  It’s just these new boots don’t work yet.”

 

            “Did anyone see where the key went?”  Heyes wanted to know.

 

            “I saw it roll over that way.”  Kid pointed to the corner of the car.

 

            Heyes made his way over to where Kid was pointing.  “Oh, great, would you look at this.  There’s a hole in the floor.  You’d think the owners of the train would take better care of things like this.”

 

            “Do you see the key?”

 

            “Yeah, I can see it.  It’s wedged in this little hole and I can’t get to it, my hand’s too big.”   Heyes sat back on his heels with a disgusted look on his face.

 

            “Maybe I can get it, my hands are small.”  Sarah was quick to offer her help.

 

            Heyes and Kid looked at each other,  Kid just raised his eyebrows and shrugged.  Heyes looked back at Sarah and gave her another one of those smiles.  She was beginning to look forward to those wonderful smiles.

 

            Kid put his hands around her waist and lifted her up while Heyes took her hands to steady her.  Once she was in the car, Heyes kept hold of her hand and led her over to the corner where the lost key was.   He continued to hold her hand as she knelt down and then he kneeled down beside her.  He pointed to the hole and asked if she could see the key.

 

            “Oh, yes.  It’s right there.”  Sarah reached in and easily picked up the key.  Now it was her turn to smile as she proudly handed the key to Heyes.  She was again rewarded with one of his smiles.

 

            “Thank you.”  Was all Heyes said, as he leaned over and gave her a quick, soft kiss on her cheek.

 

            Sarah could feel her face turning red and she tried to keep her head down as he helped her stand.   When she reached the doors, Kid again held her by the waist to lift her down.  When she had her feet firmly on the ground, he also gave her a soft kiss on the cheek and a thank you before he let go of her.  Once again Sarah was left with her thoughts in a whirl.

 

            Before she could gather her thoughts again and ask what the key was for, she was being led back to the passenger cars.  Wheat, Kyle and the other members of the gang were helping all the passengers back onto the train.   She turned back to look for Heyes, but was unable to find him.

 

            It was over.  The most exciting thing to happen to her and it was over almost before it started.  And she had so many questions that hadn’t been asked and didn’t have answers.

 

            As she sat back in her seat by the window, the train started to move again.  Only this time as she looked out, she saw the Devils Hole gang getting ready to ride away.   And as she watched Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry smiled and returned her wave as she went by.

 

            Her mother, sitting next to her once again, looked at her,  shook her head and just smiled.  Well, maybe she was only eleven, and maybe she wouldn’t be a famous woman reporter and work for a newspaper  and a real editor  when she grew up,  but she did have a really good story to write in her journal.  And enough memories of the trip of a lifetime to bring a smile to her face for the rest of her life.