Chapter 5 – The Engine’s Retort

“I imagine he’s kinda up shit crick. Them engines ain’t gone take kindly to how he done kilt all their pals. They’ll likely tie him down top of an ant hill if’n they can find one within spittin’ range, otherwise, they’ll probably just run a spear through his gut and leave him to bleed out. Either way, they’ll have his scalp first.”

When Bandolero heard this his skin crawled, and his neck hairs bristled, and his mouth dried. “Life sure is a puzzle,” he muttered.

“What’s that?” asked Blacky.

“Oh, nothin’,” answered Bandolero.

“Sounded like somethin’ to me,” replied Blacky.

“Well, ‘twaren’t,” retorted Bandolero.

“Whoa!” snapped Blacky. “Did you just retort me?” He glared straight into Bandolero’s eyes, unblinking.

Dandy and Smitty had been watching the rwo ringleaders throughout the entire exchange. Dandy leaned over to whisper into Smitty’s ear.

“Betcha Bandolero blinks first,” he whispered, cupping his hand around his mouth to keep his words from reaching Bandolero or Blacky.

“Yer on,” answered Smitty. “What’re the stakes?” he asked, unfortunately neglecting to keep his voice down.

“Steaks!” exclaimed Bandolero and Blacky simultaneously.

“Just the thing!” exclaimed Blacky.

“Just the thing!” exclaimed Bandolero at the same moment.

“Eh?” asked Dandy, who was the only person who hadn’t heard what Smitty said, being about 90% deaf in the ear that was facing Smitty at the time he asked.

“Not steaks. Stakes!” snapped Smitty.

“Who’s got steaks?” asked Blacky.

“I don’t know,” answered Bandolero. “But I’d sure like to sink my purely whites into one. Medium rare. No, make it rare, won’t hafta wait so long fer it.”

“You mean pearly whites,” corrected Blacky.

“I don’t think so,” retorted Bandolero.

“Somebody say somethin’ ’bout steaks?” asked Dandy.

“Not steaks. Stakes!” snapped Smitty.

“Did you really just retort me again?” demanded Blacky, glaring into Bandolero’s eyes, unblinking.

“What’d he say?” asked Dandy.

“I ain’t sure,” answered Smitty, “but I’m beginnin’ to think they ain’t no steaks.”

“No stakes?” objected Dandy, “But ya can’t have an honest wager without stakes!”

“No, ya can’t,” agreed Blacky.

“Are you sure about that?” asked Bandolero.

“I’d wager a 16 ounce sirloin on it,” answered Blacky, his mouth watering as well as his eyes for want of blinking. “But, where’d that fellow go that was tellin’ the story ’bout them engines?”

“Not engines,” retorted Bandolero. “Twaren’t no engines. It was ’bout…”

“I can’t believe it!” snapped Blacky. “There ya go retortin’ me again! Enough is enough!” And he stomped out, determined to find somebody who might stake him to some grub for which his craving had become overpowering.

Dandy looked at Smitty, who had removed his hat and was scratching his head in search of a nit that had become active due to the heat and humidity.

Smitty looked back at Dandy. “Well,” he snorted (it was unclear whether the word was ‘w-al’ or ‘w-ail’ but the meaning was understood), “ah reckon the bet’s off!”

Dandy sprang up with his empty beer glass in one hand and his revolver in the other, cocked and pointed straight at Smitty’s nose. “Did you just snort me?” he demanded.

The sudden silence that fell in the bar was like deafness save only for the scratching of Smitty’s finger atop his skull.

Seconds became minutes which seemed to drag like hours until Bandolero couldn’t take it any longer.

“Yo, Blacky!” he shouted at whatever those double-flapping panels are called that are used for doors at saloons, “Wait up!” And he left, leaving them swinging behind him.