By Stephen Lowe
They stood in the gently swaying boxcar amidst the boxes and crates, their hands raised, as many firearm hammers locked into place. The compartment smelled of smoke, and the sound of the locomotive’s whistle could be heard from ahead. In front of them was a crate labelled, “Property of Her Royal Majesty, Queen Victoria.” The crate had been opened. The iron bar used to pry it was still in Xander’s hand.
“Keep ‘em raised where I can see them,” said a man behind them, his revolver ready. “And drop the bar. Make one false move and these boys will give you a fatal case of lead poisoning.”
Xander did as he was told and dropped the bar. When it hit the ground he heard the ching of spurs approaching from behind. As the man came into view, revolver in hand, Xander recognized him as Sheriff Wesley Everson.
“Well, well, well,” said the Sheriff. “If it isn’t Wade Alexander, also known as …”
“… The Dingo.”
“Pardon?” asked Sandra Hamway, who sat across the table from where the man in the brown leather duster was standing. She didn’t believe in petticoats and bustles. She was wearing a white, long-sleeved shirt and a black leather vest. In front of her was an empty whisky glass and a silver revolver with an ivory handle. She was in her favourite saloon having a drink when Xander came up and introduced himself. There was always someone trying to pick her up.
“I said, my name is Wade Xander, also known as The Dingo.” He pulled out a chair and sat down.
She raised an eyebrow. “You’re named after a mangy scavenger from the outback?”
“Yeah. Yeah,” he said, nodding his head with a great smile before he realized what she had said. “Wait, no. The Dingo – you know. A cunning scavenger? Cunning, like tricky?”
“Is there any other kind of cunning?” she asked with a slight laugh.
Xander sat there with his mouth hanging open, unused to this kind of attitude.
“Shut your mouth, Mr. Alexander. You’re catching flies,” said the Sheriff.
“Don’t call me that. I hate that name. It’s Xander, now. It’s slick.”
“Looks like today’s my lucky day, Mr. Alexander,” said the Sheriff with a sly grin.
“Caught red-handed with your fingers in the cookie-jar. And who do we have here?” he asked, looking beyond Xander to the others.
“Oh, I’m sorry. How rude of me,” said Xander. “These are my compatriots, Sheriff. The lovely lady to my left is Ms. Hamway, a …”
“… Gunslinger. I need the services of a gunslinger, and word on the street is you’re one of the best.”
“One of the best?” she asked with disbelief. “I am the best. What makes you think you can afford me? And what do you need me for? ”
“Train heist. We’re going to rob a train.”
“You want to rob a train, you’re going to need more help.”
Xander waved his hand, beckoning.
A short, round man wearing a bowler hat, and round, wire-framed specs approached. He wore a big apron covered with pockets filled with tools. Next to him was a thin, tall man in a leather jacket. The tall man carried a tray with a half-filled bottle of whisky and a number of drinking glasses.
“This is my tinkerer and transportation expert, Eiradan Rimmer,” said Xander, gesturing toward the shorter man. “And Doc Stalker, my cryptozoologist.”
The cryptozoologist put the tray down on the table and smiled. The tinkerer tipped his bowler.
“Another?” asked Stalker, lifting the bottle and nodding at her empty glass.
“Please,” she said with a friendly smile.
She looked back to Xander. “Anyone else?”
Xander looked to Rimmer. “Where’s Ravenheart?”
“He’s at the bar, paying for the drinks.”
Everyone looked to the bar. They saw a wealthy-looking man in a white suit pointing the head of his cane at a modestly-dressed man with a braided ponytail. They couldn’t hear the conversation that was taking place over the noise of the crowd, but the body language suggested it wasn’t friendly. The man in the white suit held the cane-topper to the other man’s chest. The man with the braid looked down to where the silver wolf’s head rested. He removed it.
At the table, the tinkerer said, “Here we go again. Happens every time.”
The ponytailed man raised his voice and said, “I pay, like everyone else. My money is as good as yours.” He made a sweeping gesture to the others in the saloon.
Back at the table, the tinkerer’s hand went to his gun, but Xander stopped him and shook his head.
“Please tell me,” said Sandra, “that jackass with the cane isn’t your man.”
The man with the ponytail unleashed a flurry of blows against the man in white. The man in white lifted up the other man, and threw him so that he landed on an empty table, which collapsed to the ground. He didn’t get up again. Finally, the man in white brushed himself off and walked over to join his friends.
Sandra checked him out as he approached. He was a handsome young man who didn’t appear to carry a firearm.
“Besides being skilled in hand-to-hand combat,” said Xander, “He’s also an unparalleled bladesman, specializing in double-handed knife fighting. Ms. Hamway, this is …”
“Nando Ravenheart. This is my lucky day,” said the Sheriff. “There’s a warrant for your arrest, Mr. Ravenheart, for the assault of a gentleman back in York.”
“I never pegged you for someone who’d change sides,” said Xander to the Sheriff.
“Come again?” he said, his attention snapping back to Xander.
“Since when did you start working for the Redcoats?”
“I haven’t. Property is property, and the law is the law. I’m taking you in, as the laws of the Republic require.”
“You’re not going to bring us in, Sheriff,” said Xander.
“And why is that, Mr. Alexander?”
“Have you checked what’s in the crate?”
“I haven’t. Not my business. I’m just enforcing the law.”
“You better check what’s in the crate then, Sheriff,” said Xander, as he slowly lowered his arms. The sheriff frowned, and motioned with his revolver.
“Everyone, take two steps back,” he ordered.
Xander and his people looked over their shoulders to see where they were stepping. Ravenheart’s eyes swept over the assembled men. Stalker noted that they were all human. Hamway marked the rifles, two double-barrelled shotguns – one sawed-off – and the four revolvers. Xander noted the cut of their clothes, the smell of their cologne, and the style of their haircuts; they were Jacks, working for the ...”
“… Redcoats. Bloody Redcoats.”
“Why do you hate them so much?” asked Hamway as she sat by the fire, cleaning her guns.
Xander looked up at the moon.
“They took her from me. My lovely Emma, and they killed her. Not quickly either. They experimented on her first, and when they were done with that they exsanguinated her. All in the name of securing the colonies.”
“It’s not right,” said Stalker, “it’s not right, at all.”
“What’s your role in this escapade, Doc?”asked Hamway.
“I’m here in case stuff gets paranormal. You never know when something strange is gonna turn up. The first time I met Xander here, I was breaking into this warehouse with another group of miscreants, and this werewolf …”
“Doc, this is not the time for one of your stories.”
“Oh, yeah. Sure.”
“I’m sorry,” said Hamway to Xander. “You were saying, they exsanguinated her? You mean they actually drained her…”
“Blood. It’s blood,” said Xander to the sheriff, who was now holding a bottle he’d retrieved from the cooling box in the crate. He held it up to a ray of light that streamed in from between the slats of the boxcar.
“Must be destined for the front. Medical supplies, most likely.”
“No. It’s not,” said Xander.
“What do you know? You have no idea what its purpose is,” said the Sheriff.
“Oh, I know very well what it is. It’s a weapon.”
A look of horror washed across the Sheriff’s face.
“Scarlet fever, like they used on the blankets?” asked the Sheriff.
“No. It’s worse than that,” said Doc.
“What is it?” hissed Sheriff Everson.
The interior of the boxcar suddenly fell into shadow and everyone looked up.
“What is it?” asked Hamway and noticed Xander was looking at his open watch.
“It’s Rimmer – our ride. Time to go,” he said. The sheriff’s attention turned back to Xander.
The gunmen behind them stood with mouths agape. “It’s an airship,” one said.
The distraction was all they needed. Hamway turned, pulled her guns, and began shooting the Jacks behind her. Ravenheart sprung among a group of them with two knives drawn, and performed a spiralling dance of death, painting the walls red. Doc rushed forward and snatched the bottle of blood out of the air before it could hit the ground. It had slipped from Sheriff Everson’s grasp as he drew his revolver. Xander flew back, taking two bullets to the chest. The compartment was thick with smoke, the concussions of firing weapons, screams and the smell of gunpowder and blood.
“In answer to your question,” Xander groaned with pain, “It’s the Redcoats’ attempt to create super-soldiers.”
“What they fail to realize is they’ll create monsters,” Doc added.
Xander struggled to his feet as he clutched his wound. Doc continued, “The blood …”
“It’s my wife’s,” interrupted Xander, in a voice that was growing more gravelly each minute. “She was a werewolf of many years, and learned to control her transformations, blood thirst, and rage.”
Sheriff Everson’s face shifted into horror, and his body recoiled as much from the revelation as from the sight before him.
Xander growled, “And so did I.”