Under the Weather
Things were not going well for the Sweetwater Kid. The payroll train from the Hartsville Mine was three hours late. His partner was starting to grumble. The weather had turned cold, and Sweet’s coat was not doing much to keep out the wind. He huddled miserably in the saddle, rifle pointed at the unhappy folks climbing from the lone passenger car. And after all that work, the fool miner had been wrong: the payroll wasn’t even on the train.
The passengers stood there, open-mouthed, as the two outlaws rode away empty-handed. Any other fellows would have lined the lot up and gone through their pockets, but Devon Day and the Sweetwater Kid were professionals, not common thugs. They didn’t rob the little people. They took their losses like men, and headed for the next county.
The next county was even colder. Dev glanced at the yellow sky above them. “I don’t much like the look of them clouds, kid.”
“Yeah, well we ain’t got much of a choice, do we?” Sweet reined in the appaloosa, which was starting to blow. “Unless you see a hotel out here in the middle of damn nowhere. Besides, what else is going to go wrong?”
Even the horses hunched up with cold, tucking in their tails and hanging their heads. Sweet pulled his hat lower and thought longingly of the lobby of the Inter-Ocean Hotel in Denver. He could have been sprawled on that leather sofa in front of a roaring fire, a brandy in one hand and a cigar in the other. The wind picked up, slicing through his coat like one of his blades. It was looking to be one of those days.
“See if you can find some sort of shelter.” He had to shout to be heard over the wind.
Devon Day turned in the saddle. “Where? Out of my ass?”
They eased the horses back into a slow trot and pulled their hats down tight. Cold mist began to bead on their clothing, their skin. Sweet shivered. “This is why God invented hotels.”
“If you’d look around instead of whining, you might find somewhere to get out of the wind.”
A fine drizzle began. Sweet turned up his collar and kept riding. Still nothing but open range and the occasional boulder.
The drizzle turned to an icy rain that found every opening in their clothing and dripped down their skin. The only dry spot on Sweet’s body was pressed against his saddle. And that spot was frozen numb.
Dev rode closer. “Hell, kid, at this point, I’d take a lone tree. At least we’d have something to tie the tarp to.”
“Ask and ye shall receive, old man!” Sweet pointed. Nearly at the edge of his vision, a line of green against a small hill. He picked up the pace. “Our troubles are over.”
With a hiss, a waterfall sluiced down from the clouds. Sweet’s one dry spot quickly soaked through.
They made their way to the little group of cottonwoods and he slid from the saddle to help Dev picket the horses. Dev draped the tarps over all four of them — not that it made any difference. They could hardly get any wetter.
The temperature plummeted. Dev groaned as rain changed to sleet. “Why don’t we just go back and turn ourselves in? At least the jail’d be dry and warm.”
“Hey, old man, don’t worry. It can’t get —”
“Don’t say it, kid!”
The Sweetwater Kid winced as a hailstone the size of a grape bounced off the rump of his horse. The appaloosa shied, dumping Sweet onto his ass. His hat slid off, landing brim-side down in the mud.
Dev rolled his eyes and thrust out a hand, yanking Sweet to his feet. “Do me a favor and keep that big trap shut until we get to Denver. I figure I’m tempting fate just having you along.”
“Denver? But that’s two days—”
Dev shot him a look, narrow-eyed and snake-mean. The appaloosa shifted its rump. A hoof the size of a dinner plate came down on the crown of Sweet’s hat. Sweet drew back a hand to swat the animal, and his feet slid sideways. He just lay there a moment, mud working its way down his collar. Sleet pelted his face.
Dev stood over him, hands on hips. “One more word, kid. One more, and I ride off.”
Sweet closed his eyes. He was soaking wet, slathered with mud, and flat on his back. What else could possibly go wrong?
A hailstone hit the middle of his forehead with an audible crack.The appaloosa shook itself, spraying icy water over everything within three feet. Dev bent over, and the water pooled in the crown of his hat poured onto Sweet’s face. He struggled to his feet, shoving a finger toward his partner.
“Don’t,” Dev said as Sweet opened his mouth. “For God’s sake, leave it alone. You done jinxed us enough already.”
The sky lit up. Thunder rumbled. Sweet glanced upwards. Another bolt of lightning zigged across the clouds.
Maybe Dev had a point.