“How many rounds do you have left for that thing?” Hester asked, leading them to the rear of the car and squeezing herself into the tiny space between the door and the wall.
“Three,” Violet said, somewhat embarrassed. The feeling only grew when Hester fixed her with a perturbed gaze.
“I can only hope the other three rounds now reside within the corpses of three pirates,” Hester said. Violet’s failure to reply prompted a frustrated roll of Hester’s eyes.
“Brilliant,” she said, then turned her gaze to Eli. “What about you, kid? How many rounds are in your guns in the cargo car?”
Eli snorted, shaking his head. “I’ve got nothing.”
Hester closed her eyes, her lips moving silently. Violet didn’t know if the woman was saying a prayer, working out a plan, or swearing to kill them.
“Stay close to me,” she said and opened the door. She leaped through the open space between cars and took position beside the next door. Violet followed and took position on the opposite side. Eli looked about to follow and was already moving when Hester stopped him. He slid to a halt just an inch from the platform. He must have seen down through the tracks at the jungle canopy far below, because the color in his face disappeared.
“You…stand watch back here,” Hester told him. Eli nodded with a resolve that may have been endearing, if only his assignment wasn’t meant to keep him out of their way.
Because you’ve proved so very useful, Violet thought.
“Ready?” Hester asked. Before Violet could even nod, Hester kicked in the door and slid inside, rifle at the ready. Three pops sounded from inside before Violet even registered what was happening. She raised her own gun and followed.
Splinters of wood erupted around her immediately upon crossing through the door. Violet threw herself to the ground, more on instinct than any training, and heard a fourth report from Hester’s rifle. After the skirmish, she heard only silence, except for Hester’s voice.
“Maybe you should stay here with the boy?”
Violet scowled and pushed herself up, scanning the car as she did. It was a leisure car, open-spaced and filled with little round tables. Most lay in broken heaps of splintered wood, but the few that remained standing had ashtrays on them.
Hester walked over to one of these that still had a lit cigar resting on its edge, picked the cigar up, and lifted it to her lips. She puffed, letting the smoke drift out in a fine cloud that stood in contrast with the even haze of gun smoke still hanging in the air.
“That’s some fine leaf right there,” Hester said, stamping out the cigar. “From the Torregian Keys. Shame to put it out”
Hester continued toward the rear of the car, stepping over a body Violet assumed must have been the man that the cigar belonged to, once upon a time.
“Get the boy,” Hester said, reloading. Violet turned and saw Eli already peeking into the car. She waved him in and he followed.
“Holy shit!” he said when he saw the carnage. There were four dead pirates, all thanks to Hester, and about five dead men in suits, all thanks to the pirates. Violet urged him to follow and started after Hester. The woman knelt next to the last of her kills, examining his weapon.
A silver six-shooter, not unlike the one Violet held tightly in her left hand.
“Is that yours?” Violet asked. “Did they already get to the cargo?”
Hester didn’t answer, just continued looking at the gun, her face a solemn mask. She recognized the gun. That much was apparent. Violet didn’t think it was hers or Eli’s.
Hester snapped out of whatever reverie she was in and looked up at them. She stood and turned to Violet.
***”Give the boy your gun,” Hester said. Violet reflexively backed away, her hand covering her weapon.
Hester stalked forward, grabbed Violet’s revolver, and turned to Eli.
“Here,” she said, tossing Violet’s gun underhanded to him. Eli caught it, with no small amount of fumbling. Violet imagined him dropping it, and flinched.
Hester shoved the old revolver she’d taken from the pirate into Violet’s hand without an explanation. Violet took it reluctantly, and cracked the cylinder.
“There’s only one bullet!” she protested.
Hester plucked three rounds from her bandolier and gave them to Violet. When Violet reached out to take them, Hester grabbed her wrist. The woman’s grasp was like a steel trap.
“Call me Hester again and you’ll be spending your first year’s wages on a nice set of wooden teeth. You will address me as Surveyor Dowd. Understand?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Violet said, her body automatically going to attention. Hester smiled.
“I wouldn’t go as far as ma’am,” she said, and continued toward the rear of the car. They were nearly half way through when they heard an explosion from the front of the train.
“What the hell?” Hester said, and rushed back to the front of the car, pushing past Violet and Eli both. Curious, Violet followed. Eli continued toward the rear, gun at the ready.
She followed Hester out onto the platform. Hester found a ladder that went up to the top of the car. She slung her rifle around her shoulders and started up the ladder. Half way up, another explosion rocked the train. The shock might have knocked anyone else off in her surprise, but Hester immediately braced herself, waited for the tremor to subside, and continued up. She paused at the top of the ladder and turned around to get a look.
“Well, damn,” she heard Hester say, despite the wind whipping past her ears. Another explosion sounded from the front of the train, and everything buckled again, much more violently. There was a moment of silence as the echo died, followed by the sound of snapping wood and screaming steel. Hester slid down the ladder, a look of panic in her eyes. She didn’t explain what she had seen as the entire train jerked forward on the track. Only one word escaped her lips.
***EDIT: I totally screwed up. The original version of this story had Hester giving the revolver to Eli. As I continued the story, I forgot this bit of information and wrote the story with Violet having possession of the pirate’s weapon. Since Violet having possession of the pirate’s revolver leads to some character development for Hester, I have revised this section to reflect Violet’s possession of it. First drafts, hooray!