The Captain spat out the chewed-up cigar he’d had clenched in his teeth and replaced it with a fresh one. From his pocket, he pulled out a match, struck it on his metal arm and was about to light it when his eyes went to the Zeppelin’s airbag looming above him. He blew out the match and ground it out under his boot.
He couldn’t believe his own foolishness. There was still a considerable amount of flammable hydrogen not ten yards away from him, and it was leaking freely.
The Captain sighed as he gazed up at his beloved Carolina. Maybe she ought to go up in flames. His crew had deserted him and he had no way to replenish her hydrogen stores. John Law, on the other hand, had limitless resources. He grimaced as he thought of his airship falling into the hands of those damn Yankees! On a wild impulse he struck another match on his metallic appendage, and once again he blew it out. He just couldn’t do it.
He returned once more to the ship for his Confederate Army canteen and a few belongings, and began walking. Maybe, just maybe she could rest here undetected for long enough for him to return with a crew and enough gas to fly her to Mexico. In his heart, though, he knew how unlikely that was.
There would not be another like her. She was an experimental craft of the Confederate Navy, which he’d rescued from advancing Union troops. Even with his share of gold from the heist, he’d not have the means to create another.
When he was about fifty yards away he lit his cigar at last. After taking a moment to savor the first few drags, he resumed his trek due south.
Curious. It had been early when they engaged the train. It should not have taken all day to grab the gold and escape the soldiers. According to his timepiece, it was two o’clock in the afternoon. Yet the sun was already setting. Perhaps the electrical storm had affected its operation.
Stranger still was the cool weather. It being August, several weeks of intense heat remained. He was thankful for this anomaly. Walking unprotected in the blazing sun of the Arizona summer could easily cause one to collapse from heat stroke.
Night fell, and he continued walking, crossing several barb-wire fences. Once again his prosthetic arm was a great help, easily pushing the wires down so he could step over them. The first time he did so, he unintentionally pulled the wire off the post, which was made not of wood but some kind of extruded metal he had never seen before. Where on earth would they get these things? More importantly, what was the point in fencing this wasteland?
As he walked, he rationed his water carefully. Since his estimate of the time was now suspect, he was no longer sure about the distance, either.
The familiar cry of a coyote soothed him, but what he saw next made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. A dull glow seeped over the southern horizon. He had expected Gleeson’s saloon would be open, but only a sizable metropolis would give off that much light. Was it a brush fire, perhaps? As he got closer he seemed to hear music, but how was that possible? He headed up the nearest hill for a better look.
When he reached the crest, his mouth fell open and his cigar hit the ground, sending sparks flying. What manner of Apache witchcraft was this? This was surely the town of Gleeson, but changed in a way he would never have imagined.
The saloon, post office, and jail were still standing where he’d remembered them. But many of the surrounding buildings were gone. Stranger still, the area was illuminated by lights on poles that far outshone the gas-powered streetlights he’d seen in Charleston and Atlanta. They were more like the newfangled electric lights in New York City. But how could they have them here in such a remote place?
In a brightly lit area between two buildings stood a large crowd of people, surely more than the entire population of the mining town as he’d known it. Three men stood atop a wooden stage playing music with guitar and drums. It shouldn’t have been possible but he could actually hear the music way up here on the hilltop.
In front of the band, a fourth man stood, singing so loud that the Caballero could distinguish the words, though they seemed to be nonsense. What in blazes did the phrase “honky tonk” mean? And what was a “pickup truck?” He stood watching for a few moments, trying to decide if it would be safe to approach. Would they recognize him from the wanted posters? Then again, this seemed to be a celebration of some sort. Perhaps everyone would be too drunk to notice his arrival. He decided to circle around the ridge and approach from a direction that was less well-lit. It might be foolish to proceed, but he was badly in need of water and rest.
From a book of Oriental philosophy, he recalled the saying. “With danger, there comes opportunity.” What kind of opportunity this was he couldn’t possibly tell, but no doubt some very interesting adventures lay ahead.
We hope you enjoy this story. Look for the continuing adventures of the Caballero on this site.