The Man, the Kid, and the Holy Ghost

Michelle Hanley

(USA)


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The train whistle blew. A body plopped onto the bench across from Bart just as the train lurched forward. The grizzled man cracked open his good eye and tilted his hat back just enough to see. “I wondered if you’d make it.”

“You’d be in a bad box if I didn’t.”

“Been doing this a long time ‘fore you was even born, Jackelope Jack.”

Jack had learned to not let the old man get his goat. He shook open a two-day-old newspaper and buried his face in it. “That right? Then how come we got robbed while we robbed the bank yesterday?”

The old man just tilted his hat back down over his face and settled back into the corner.

“I told you that man in the bolo tie was up to something. But what do I know? I’m just out of short pants,” Jack muttered.

The door slammed, announcing the arrival of the conductor. Jack and Bart showed their tickets, and the compartment soon fell silent again, save for the clack of the wheels and roar of the wind past the windows.

“Say, where’d you get the money to buy that paper?”

“Some lady handed it to me. She disappeared before I could give it back.”

Money had been a bone of contention for the pair for months. Failed heist after failed heist had left them with barely enough for a single train fare. They had to score in Wrathrun or heaven knew how they’d eat.

“Where’d you get the money for a lady?” 

The paper lowered. Jack paled over the headline that screamed HOLY GHOST BANDIT STRIKES AGAIN. “She weren’t a fallen dove, Bart. She was a real lady.”

It was amazing that Bart could convey skepticism with most of his face obscured by the brim of his Montana hat.

“Looksee and then say I’m telling tales.”

Bart looked over his shoulder, finally noticing the woman two rows back on the opposite side of the car. 

The woman was practically as brown as the car. Peanut dress with ecru lace at the cuffs and collar, tightly bound hair to match the dress, skin darkened by sun. The tan meant she was no lady, but she was too prim and plain to be a painted lady. In fact, the reason anyone would notice her at all was the flower she held on her lap. Its pot was a shade darker than her dress, but on the end of its slender stalk were several delicate flowers. They were as out of place in this rugged place as, well…nothing compared.

Bart turned back to the youngster. “I told you not to attract notice.”

“My family tree ain’t a shrub. She’s how I avoided the constabulary.”

Someone further up opened a window. The breeze sent soot and dirt swirling through the compartment.

Jack pitched his voice a little higher to be heard over the noise. “The station was swarming. I were trying to figure how to get past them when I saw yonder lady. She had an armful of plant and valise so I said, ‘May I assist you?’. All fancy-like.”

A door slammed at the back of the compartment. The conductor whistled his way past the young cowboy and the man sleeping under his hat.

Another slam announced the conductor’s departure. “Get to it,” Bart directed from under his brim.

“Hold yer horses. This is good.” Jack placed the paper beside him. A drawing of a filigree necklace was just below the words HOLY GHOST. “The lady in question turned me down, but I know womenfolk. So I says, ‘Ma’am, I’ll carry your belongings if you procure a ticket for me when you procure your own.’”

“She paid your fare?” The boy was a charmer but that was beyond comprehension.

“I gave her money. Didn’t wait for a yes or no, just took her valise and that plant and walked behind her ‘til we was on the train.”

“Huh.” It was pretty smart, acting like a manservant for a forgettable woman, but Bart wasn’t about to tell the boy that.

“Say.” Jack leaned forward. “You were s’posed to ride that nag to Highbluff. How come you were on the train from Thorn’s Gulch? You get lost again?”

“You sassin’ me? I’ve killed better men for less.”

The click of the hammer on Bart’s LeMat revolver was distinctive. And familiar. It was one thing to believe Bart was full of buffalo turds and another to actually challenge him on it. 

“I didn’t mean nuthin’.” Jack’s hands flew up. “I’m sure you had your reasons.”

Everything happened at once. The train lurched to a stop at the Wrathrun station just as Bart tried to decock his gun. The report of the gun echoed through the car, followed by Jack’s howl as the bullet lodged in his foot. 

The ensuing commotion beckoned the conductor, who had to push his way past the passengers who rushed to disembark. One of them carried the most exquisite plant. Its sparse white flowers were dotted with fine red specks in the center, and he’d be darned if it didn’t look like a tiny dove nestled in the center. He couldn’t help but stop to ask its bearer what it was.

“Why, it’s a rare orchid,” came a feminine voice. “Peristeria elata, or in English, the Holy Ghost orchid.”

It truly was a rare beauty, that plant, but a Sheriff’s deputy was pushing his way onto the train and it just wouldn’t do for the train conductor to be absent from any legal proceedings. He wished the bearer of the plant a good day.

The brown-clad woman descended to the platform. The last thing she made out was the old man shouting, “I knew you was dirty!” She smiled to herself and clutched her orchid close. Well, the orchid and the priceless necklace hidden in the bottom of the pot. 

Michelle Hanley

is a

Guest Contributor for Panorama.

Michelle writes about people who do the best they can with what they are given. She gets inspired by her family, fairy tales, and those odd blurbs on news sites that can't possibly be true stories. When she isn't writing, you can find her on a paddleboard, fly fishing, gardening, or reading. Look for her other work in Dread Naught but Time, MOJO, Gingerbread House, Pure in Heart Stories, Chicken Soup for the Soul and on Tall Tale TV.

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