A twisted bet and a lot of gold
Sally forced the smile to stay on her face as the throngs of people walked by. The thick, dusty air hung around her like a curse, and no matter how much she kept her expression excited, everyone ignored her.
It was bad enough that she hadn’t had a decent customer in a week, but even the Uriths weren’t giving her the time of day. And they were all desperate to get to their most holy ceremony over the mountains.
Word about what happened to Wild Bill must have gotten around.
That hadn’t been her fault. He was the idiot that thought a rope would hold if he jumped two hundred feet. It had held, but she’d lost the bottom half of him.
“What are we going to do?” Sally’s first mate, Texas, asked. They were all out of money, and people’s stomachs were starting to grumble.
Sally stood, rising to her not terribly impressive height. “I’ll find us a fare if it’s the last thing I—”
Sally stopped in her tracks. The crowd parted, and before her stood a tall, thin man covered in black robes that hung to the ground. His voice reverberated through her, much like the engines on her air ship when they were humming at just the right speed. But they didn’t make the hairs on her arms stand up.
The man closed the distance between them. The crowd went around him like water racing down a hill.
“Yes?” She held her ground.
Texas shifted away.
“You are Miss Sally?”
The man—even his face was obscured by the hood—glanced up and behind her. “This is your ship?”
“Yes.” Sally’s mind did a quick run through of people she owed money too. Had one of them come to collect?
The stranger continued to look at the ship. At least that’s what Sally thought he was looking at. It was hard to tell without access to his eyes. Enough time passed, that Sally cleared her throat.
“Did you need a lift?”
The darkened face turned down to her. “Yes.”
Sally’s heart jumped, but she kept her voice even. “Standard fare is—”
The man cut her off, holding out a leather purse with drawstrings. “This should suffice. Can we leave right away?” Without waiting for her answer, he moved past her and Texas and up the gang plank, which despite his height, hardly sagged.
“Wait a minute…” Sally trailed off as the weight of the purse pulled her hand toward the ground. She squeezed the bag, swallowed and looked inside.
And her breath caught in her throat.
Gold pieces. A lot of them. She looked up, her mouth open and ready to ask the man if these were real, but when she saw him, already leaning against the banister of her ship, she knew they were.
Sally shut her mouth, clasped the bag tight and moved up the gang plank. “Texas, cast us off. We leave. Now.”
Her first mate, and long time friend, knew not to argue.
“Where are we going?” Texas asked.
“Let’s find out.”
Less than an hour later, Sally’s ship, the Loose Cannon, was soaring above the desert toward the mountains.
The man had only given her a direction, not a destination.
Texas was worried.
Sally kept herself together. She approached the man, who had still not lowered his hood, and spoke.
“We’re going to need a destination.”
The man sat at a table that was bolted to the deck. The wind whipped around him, but the blasted robes barely moved. “I need to go to the place where Wild Bill fell.”
A fist clamped around Sally’s middle. “What?”
The man sighed and his hands came out of his sleeves.
Only they weren’t hands. Just bones. Glowing bones. They moved to the hood and lowered it, revealing a glowing skull.
Sally took an involuntary step back and covered her mouth with both hands to keep the scream in.
Death nodded. “Not bad. People usually run.”
Sally’s heart raced, and her hands shook as she lowered them. She could feel her eyes bugging out of her head, but couldn’t do anything to stop them.
“Are you…are you here for me?”
Death laughed. The air shied away. “No, Miss Sally. I’m not here on official business.”
“Then, why?” She hated the way her voice squeaked.
“Well, you see, me and the Death that takes care of the Uriths have a little, shall we say, bet going.”
Several questions surfaced. Sally blurted out the one that made it to her lips first. “There is more than one Death?”
The skull smiled at her. “Certainly. No one of us could keep up with all of these people.” He waved a skeletal hand.
“Why Wild Bill? He’s been dead for a week.”
“Oh, I know. I need something from his corpse.”
“We brought him back.”
Death held up a bony finger. “You brought his top half back. I need the bottom half of him.”
“I told you. For a bet.”
Sally shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
“Since you haven’t screamed, or tried to shoot me like Texas is about to do over there, I’ll tell you.” He leaned forward as if they had a secret to share. “This other Death and I have a bet on how many famous people’s toe nails we can collect in a month.”
Death grinned again. “So far I’m ahead.”
“Wild Bill wasn’t that famous.”
“Not yet, but he will be. Time is a fickle thing. Just trust me. Take me to where he fell and I’ll double the payment I gave you.”
“Maybe triple, depending on how quickly you can get us back.”
That much money and she could buy her own island.
“Well?” Death asked.
Sally turned and yelled at Texas. “Put down that gun and bring us about!”