The following is the long-awaited continuation of the origin story of the Clockwork Caballero, by Vaughn Treude.
The storm vanished as suddenly as it had appeared. The airship Carolina floated through clear skies high above the Arizona desert, its engines thrumming steadily. The Southern Pacific Railroad was now obscured by the horizon, and there was no sign of anyone giving pursuit.
“We have survived the wrath of both the US Government and Mother Nature,” the Captain said with a smile. “Let us praise whatever Deity has spared us.”
Denali nodded gravely, though as usual he remained silent, keeping his eyes straight ahead as he piloted the ship.
“Ha! You, prayin’? We all know yer a heathen,” said Poirier with a dry laugh.
“The Lord is merciful,” said Heckler. “But we are still losing altitude. We must land!”
“Denali, set her down next to that hill. Brace yourselves, everyone.”
The Apache pilot grimaced and gripped the wheel so tightly his knuckles whitened. He steered the airship toward the rocky outcrop, turning hard to port as the ground rushed up at them.
Foreseeing possible emergency landings, the Captain had installed a pair of sled-like skids on the bottom of the gondola. He was glad he had done so as they hit the ground with a jolt, then slid for a few yards, coming to a halt in a small patch of brush.
From above they could hear the hiss of the airbag as it continued to lose hydrogen. The Captain opened the main hatch and hopped to the ground. Normally that was a significant drop, but the skids had buried themselves so far into the dirt that the gondola’s hull was almost at ground level.
He held up a hand to shield his eyes from the sun as he craned his neck to inspect the airship. The Carolina, his pride and joy, would likely be grounded indefinitely. The metal Zeppelin frame held its shape, but the airbag’s fabric hung droopy on its bones, like the skin on a starving steer.
“Heiliger Strohsack!” exclaimed the engineer. “That was not bad at all, ja?”
“Speak for yourself,” groused Poirier. “We robbed a Treasury train for nothing. Now we’re wanted men, and flat broke as well.”
The Captain slapped the sturdy on the shoulder. “Cheer up, Jacques, we’re alive, aren’t we? No use crying over spilt milk. We have enough water for all of us for at least a day. According to my calculations, we are just a few miles from the mining town of Gleeson. I have a friend there who can procure some horses.”
“Will they not be suspicious if we all just waltz into town?” Heckler asked.
“Right,” Poirier agreed. “Every lawman in the Territory is lookin’ for us. Especially you, with that tin arm of yours.”
“It would be best for me to go alone. She – my friend – might get alarmed if the four of us appeared at her doorstep. I will wear gloves, of course, and since I always wear a mask during our operations, no one knows my face.”
“Like hell,” said Poirier. “You’ll get a horse, then get the gold for yourself. I’m gon’ ta go and get it first.”
“Go right ahead,” the Captain replied. “All that gold will be too heavy to carry away on foot.”
“Gentlemen, please stop your bickering. We must work together!” Heckler said.
“Why should we? I hereby declare this partnership fini!” Poirier disappeared into the gondola and re-emerged with his guns slung across his back, a bandolier of ammunition around his waist, and a full water skin tied to a strap across his shoulder. He consulted a compass briefly and then trudged off towards the southeast.
“Where are you going?” the Captain demanded.
The Cajun glanced over his shoulder. “I told you where I’m goin’. As for the rest of you, you can go to hell!”
Denali gave a hearty laugh, then turned and re-entered the gondola. In a moment he came out with a burlap sack and another water skin.
“My people still live, Captain,” he said, not looking back as he walked. “I go find them.”
The Captain snorted. “Of course they do, you inscrutable aborigine.” The Apache had always been fond of mystical pronouncements, few of which made any sense.
“Well then, Mr. Heckler, it’s you and me. As I was saying,” he glanced at his pocket watch, “it’s not far to Gleeson, approximately a two-hour walk. Once we have procured proper transportation, we’ll retrieve our share of the gold and then head to Tombstone, where I have associates who can assist us in escaping to Mexico.”
“Sorry, Herr Capitan. You know I am not a criminal. If it were not for my sick wife, I would not so much as pick an apple off my neighbor’s tree. I could never desert her and run to Mexico.”
“Of course you wouldn’t. When we get to safety, you can send for her.”
The engineer shook his head. “Nein, I cannot ask her to travel alone with our three young kinder. If I go fast, I can catch up with Herr Poirier. Jacques!” he called. “Wait for me!”
“Suit yourself, Heckler,” said the Clockwork Caballero. “Godspeed to you all!” he shouted. Under his breath, he added, “All the way to Hades, for all I care.”
To Be Continued (much sooner than last time, we promise!)