The Rattlers

By Kohan Eybergen


The heavy steel-barred door of the cell clanged shut, waking the sleeping occupant who was hunched in the corner. Duncan stood by the door and sized up the man on the ground. Deciding that the man was no threat, Duncan walked over and seated himself on the wooden bench against the wall. He was covered in dust from his hair to his boots, and he hadn’t had a decent sleep for a week.

The man on the ground shifted into a sitting position and eyed Duncan for a few minutes before speaking. “So what’s your story? I’ve been in here almost a month now with hardly a soul to talk to. It’s boring as hell.”

Duncan ignored the man for a while before deciding that there was no harm in talking to him. “The whole thing or just the interesting part?” he asked the man, mocking him slightly.

“Keep it interesting.”

“Fine by me. That might be all I have time for anyway.”  

“Why? Planning on taking a trip?” the man said with a laugh.

“Something like that, yeah.” Duncan spat on the ground before beginning. “I run with a gang of boys called the Rattlers.”

“Cattle thieves?”

“Nah, train robbers. Best there is too. We done twelve trains so far successfully, last week’s would’ve been thirteen.” Duncan shifted around uneasily on the bench and then stood up. He hated being confined. He paced back and forth in the small cell, the chain connecting his handcuffs jingling with each turn. The man on the ground looked up at him curiously as Duncan began speaking again. “It was going to be the last one too. Last one before we gave it all up to live comfortably on the profits.”

The jail guard walked past the door and peered in at the two prisoners. “You bastards keep quiet,” he growled, and then walked back to the front of the jailhouse.

Duncan waited a few minutes before continuing, his voice hushed now. “It was just over a week ago on a new moon, so the night was black as tar. We was waiting behind the fill station–Jimmy, Danny, Jack, and me–and the train arrived half past midnight on schedule. Once the train was loaded with coal, we hopped on and climbed onto the roof of one of the cars, laying low to keep hidden. The train took off and we laid low for about an hour until we could see the bridge crossing the gorge lit up in the headlight of the train. Jimmy and me jumped down onto the connector between the cars, and Danny and Jack ran along top to the engine up front. As soon as we were across the bridge, I blew the lock off the car’s door with my 44, and Jimmy and me ran inside. We felt a massive lurch and heard a loud noise; Jack had broken the window of the engine and threw a lit stick of dynamite into the cab to off the conductor and engineer.”

The man on the ground winced; Duncan noticed and stopped pacing to look at the man. “What? You too good to kill folks?”

“I’m not against killing, just against murdering innocent bystanders.”

“Active conscience,” Duncan mocked him, then continued pacing. “Anyways, so Jack took care of the men in the engine, and Jimmy and me made our way through the storage cars, searching for the bank safes. We busted into the third car and were greeted by a guard with a rifle. Jimmy was in front of me and the guard’s bullet went through his neck and he dropped to the floor. I shot the guard dead and busted out the combination lock on the safe by firing at it. Danny and Jack came in then, and Danny said a quick prayer over Jim’s body. Jack told me that we had to hustle since our drop point was coming up; we had horses hidden in a cave a few miles from the bridge. I stuffed all the money into a sack and we left the car and jumped off the train. It took us a couple hours to get to the cave, but when we got there, there were six men waiting for us. We had a short shoot out and killed four of them, and we got on the horses and rode hard through the night with the other two on our tail. One of them shot my horse in the back leg and it went down. Danny and Jack kept going and the two deputies took me captive.”

“How’d they know that you guys were heading there?”

“That’s what I asked them. They said that Jimmy was a rat and that he had a deal with them, and he was supposed to turn on us and help them out as soon as we got to the cave. Rotten bastard. Anyways, they brought me here; took us a good week too. I’m supposed to be hanged by the neck till dead when the hangman comes through town next month. That’s what they think anyway.”

“What do you mean, that’s what they think?” the man asked, looking concerned and confused.

“I mean that Danny and Jack‘ll probably be here soon to bust me out.” Duncan flashed a rotten smile at the man and kept pacing.

“Wouldja free me too?” the man asked hopefully, looking excited.

“Sure pal.” There was a loud knock on the jailhouse door like someone was hitting it with something metal. The jail guard opened the door to reveal Danny and Jack standing behind it.

“Say hey to the devil fir me” Jack said, and he put a bullet through the jail guard’s head. The sheriff flung the door of his office open and Danny shot him dead as soon as his nose passed the threshold of the room.

“Miss us, Dunk?” Danny asked.

Duncan crossed to the door of the cell. “‘Course I did, I’ve only had this lout for company.”

“We’re gonna blast you out Dunk,” Jack said as he pulled a stick of dynamite from out of his bag.

“No need Jack buddy, just grab the keys from the guard,” Danny said.

“Fine,” said Jack, grabbing the keys and tossing them to Danny.

Danny unlocked the cell door, and Duncan stepped through the opening and grinned at his men. “Knew you boys would get me outta here.” The original occupant of the cell got up, looking hopeful.

“Will you still let me out too?” he asked uncertainty.

“Lock em in,” Duncan told Danny, and the man in the cell’s face fell droopy as a hound dog’s. “Shouldn’t leave em alive though.”

“Shoot him?” Danny asked.

“Nah. Why don’t you blast em Jack? More fun, plus I already told em too much.”

Jack grinned a toothless grin and lit a match on the sole of his boot.

“No! Please! I won’t tell nobody nothing!”

“Either way it’s safer to kill you,” Duncan said. “Blast em, Jack.”

Jack ignited the stick of dynamite and tossed it into the cell with the man, and then the three Rattler gang boys quickly ran out of the jailhouse to the horses Danny and Jack had tied up outside. The backside of the jailhouse exploded with a thunderous bang. Danny unlocked Duncan’s handcuffs and Duncan dropped them into the dirt. The three men climbed onto the backs of their mounts and stuck their boot spurs into the horses’ flanks, and they took off at a gallop to the south.  

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