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The dying sun sank behind the plateau as night’s black fingers gripped the Arizona sky. The town of Yuma lay below, all of its lights extinguished as it prepared for the looming darkness. Yuma was known as a safe city, possibly the safest in the West, nestled between the rapid waters of the Colorado River and the steep cliffs of the Laguna Mountains. Some thought that its geography had deterred criminals in the past; some thought that it was the reputation of its brutal sheriff. Whatever the true reason, the famous fact remained. The Grand Bank of Yuma had never been robbed.
No one had even tried.
Willis B. Jackson sat atop the plateau on the back of his shadow-black horse. Andrew Marston waited beside him on his own horse, cradling the Carcano Rifle in his lap. Silently, Jackson gripped the binoculars and raised them to his eyes, scanning the Arizona town sprawling beneath them in the fading sunlight.
“Aw, Hell,” he smiled, shaking his head as his sights settled on the Grand Bank of Yuma.
“What is it?” asked Marston.
“There’s only two guards tonight.”
Marston raised his eyebrows, nodding in approval.
“You know da plan, right?” asked Jackson, still looking through the binoculars.
Marston rolled his eyes, nodding again.
“Speak up, boy! I can’t see you when I’m lookin’ through these things.”
“Yes Willis. I know the plan.”
Jackson put down the binoculars and glared at Marston. His right eye seemed to bulge. “Well, stick to da script. Opportunities like this ain’t common. We gots to capitalize.”
Marston put his head down, chuckling at his boss’s last statement. Jackson noticed, but didn’t say anything. He just shrugged his shoulders, composing himself, and looked back through the binoculars.
The sun had now gone, yielding completely to the blackness of night. There was no moon, and a thick blanket of clouds concealed the stars. The Arizona night was silent, save for the occasional distant yelping of coyotes.
It was almost time to move.
Willis Jackson removed his revolver from its holster, loading the cylinder with six .44 magnum rounds. The dark steel barrel and cylinder were spotless and smooth, and the black grip was almost invisible in the night. Jackson devoted hours a week to keeping his gun clean. He had also devoted years of his life practicing with it, and—in a short amount of time—the legend of this dark revolver had only increased the infamy of its bearer.
The earmarks of this pistol were legendary. Its black grip was emblazoned with a golden image of Christ’s iconic crucifixion, and its barrel had a single name, Hailey, delicately engraved into it. No one knew who Hailey was, but stories and guesses proliferated. Many thought it was the name of the woman Willis loved, or a woman he had killed; many thought it was the name of his horse, or the town in which he was born. The mysterious origin of this name only thickened the cloud of fear surrounding the revolver itself—as did its intimidating reputation. Jackson never lost a duel with Hailey in his hand, and he could never be found without her. Everyone in Arizona knew of Willis the Shadow and Hailey, the outlaw and the black revolver. And everyone feared them.
Willis took a deep breath, holstering his gun. He noticed Marston sitting quietly on his horse, arbitrarily flicking his rifle on and off safety. Despite the pale whiteness of his skin, Marston was hardly visible in the darkness of the night. Looking over at him, Jackson smiled, recalling the first time he met Marston. Orphaned at fifteen, Marston came to Jackson looking for a home. Jackson still hadn’t figured out how Marston managed to find him, but he was glad it had happened. They had been friends for four years now, traveling the frontier together—Jackson on his black horse, Marston on his white. Marston had never talked very much, but he always understood Jackson, and always took his advice.
Jackson continued smiling until the clicking of Marston’s rifle brought him out of his reverie.
His smile faded; it was time to go. But before heading out, Jackson needed to do one final thing. He leaned over the side of his horse, removing his Bible from the saddlebag. Its covers were worn, the colors faded. He held it in his hands, bowed his head, and muttered a prayer, as the silence of the desert night closed in around him.
Jackson finished praying and looked up at the darkened sky. His eyes glossed over slightly as he whispered, “I’ll make it right, Hailey.” Marston heard, but pretended he hadn’t; he knew what Jackson meant.
“You ready, boss?”
Jackson put the Bible back into his saddlebag, took the reins in one hand, and gripped Hailey with the other, the carving of the crucifixion pressing tightly against his palm. He took one last breath, then looked down at the sleeping town of Yuma.
“Let’s do it.”
Both men kicked, and their horses began to move—silently descending from the plateau. The coyotes had ceased their screaming; the only sound was the soft clomping of horse hooves on rock. The descent was slowed by the eerie darkness of this night. The clouds overhead had thickened. A thunderstorm was looming.
It took almost two hours to reach the outskirts of Yuma. The city seemed dead; not even the dogs were stirring. The two men rode as close to the bank as they dared, dismounted, and planted the wooden stake in the ground. As Andrew Marston was tying the horses to the stake, Willis Jackson whispered his final instructions.
“Remember, don’t try and kill nobody. Gunshots’ll wake the whole town. We get in there, get the money, and get out.” Jackson then noticed that Marston was still bending over the stake. “You done tyin’ that thing, boy?”
“Yeah,” Marston replied, standing up. “Done.”
“You know, people don’t like it when you take a long time…” said Jackson, raising his eyebrows in jest. “Y—you know what I’m tryin’ to say?”
Marston just stared blankly at Jackson, who was still smirking.
“Sure, boss. Should we go now?”
Both men knew the plan; Jackson had insisted on reviewing it countless times. Marston would climb to the top of the building across the street from the Grand Bank of Yuma, lay prone on the roof, and cover Jackson with his rifle. Once Marston was in position, Jackson would infiltrate the bank. They had already noticed the exterior guard asleep in a rocking chair on the bank’s front porch, which left only one man inside guarding the vault. After subduing this guard, Jackson would signal to Marston, who would then cross the street to crack the safe. The plan was simple; get in, get the money, and get out. Nothing should have gone wrong.
Andrew Marston crept to the edge of Yuma’s main street, checked to make sure he could cross undetected, then darted to the general store opposite the bank. It was near midnight now; thunder rumbled in the distance. Marston tiptoed to the back of the building, peering through each window to make certain that no one inside was stirring—although, it was almost too dark to see through the dirty glass anyway. Loaded rifle in one hand, Marston scaled the ladder to the roof with the other, swinging his legs over the railing once he reached the top. He held his breath, hoping no one had heard the noise of his ascent.
Marston exhaled. He then silently crawled to the front of the building, resting his rifle on the edge of the roof. The barrel hung out over the street. He had made it. Peering through the scope, Marston could barely distinguish Jackson crouched against the outer wall of the bank.
The night was anxious; everything had inhaled, preparing for the coming storm. In the silence, Marston’s shrill whistle seemed like a scream, and Jackson shrunk even smaller against the bank’s wall, hoping no one had heard.
Marston had signaled; it was time. Right hand gripping Hailey, Jackson began to move, creeping towards the front of the bank. He poked his head around the corner, checking to see if the guard was still asleep.
He was, with an empty bottle of whiskey in his lap.
“Easy as pie,” Jackson muttered as he robbed the guard of his keys. Creeping towards the door, he heard the first raindrops beginning to pelt the roof of the porch. This rain was hard—falling forcefully from the monstrous, black storm clouds overhead. Jackson took a deep breath, right palm still pressed against the golden crucifix on his revolver’s black grip, and unlocked the door.
Andrew Marston was shivering on the roof of the general store. The cold rain had soaked through his clothes and boots; yellow lightning now streaked across the blackened sky. He wiped the water from the scope and peered through the eyeglass just in time to see Jackson entering the bank. Thunder shook the whole town as the door shut.
Jackson was now alone in the darkness.
Marston adjusted his position, trying to see through one of the bank’s dirty windows. He squinted, hoping to detect some sign of movement inside the bank.
Suddenly, CRASH! The front window exploded as the interior of the bank was illuminated by gunfire. Lightning shredded the sky, and thousands of glass shards shimmered in the darkness. Marston frantically tried to locate Jackson in his scope.
BAM! BAM! Two more gunshots ripped through the night, but Marston was on it. In the flare of the gun blasts, Marston saw Jackson holding Hailey in front of him, her barrel smoking. Then, everything returned to blackness. Marston stood up, pressing the scope against his brow, trying to find out what was going on inside the bank. But everything was darkness.
Suddenly, a light shone from a building down the street—the jail; the sheriff was awake.
“WILLIS! WILLIS! Get outta there!” Marston yelled across the street.
BAM! BAM! He was answered by two more gunshots, followed by a loud metallic thud. The vault room lit up in the back of the bank, but Marston couldn’t tell what had happened. He could now hear yelling from the building down the street. Although it was far, he could distinguish one word. Bank.
It was time to get down there.
Marston sprinted to the ladder at the back of the building, holding the rifle in his hands. Lightning snaked again through the clouds; the rain had not eased. Marston slid down the ladder and dashed across the street to untie the horses, noticing that the sheriff had exited the jail and was in the process of mounting his own horse.
Marston looked back at the bank just in time to see the porch guard standing up. The guard raised a finger, pointing directly at Marston, but couldn’t keep his hand up. Luckily for the robbers, he was still drunk.
“You c-come back ovah—” Marston heard a crack, and the guard crumpled to the ground. Willis Jackson stood behind him, brandishing Hailey like a club. The crucifix flashed in the lightning.
“Stupid little retarded little bald-headed rat boy!” Jackson yelled triumphantly. Then, he turned his attention to Marston. “We gots to go.”
Marston noticed Jackson slouching under the weight of three, heavy, black bags.
“You got the money?”
“I had to.”
Marston nodded understandingly, taking one of the bags for himself as both men raced to their horses.
Willis Jackson kicked the stake out of the ground, releasing the horses from their tethers. He quickly slung the two moneybags over the saddle, while Marston slipped the rifle into its holster, attaching his moneybag as well. They both began to mount up.
But then, the sheriff arrived, pistol drawn.
Jackson had one foot in the stirrup when he heard the shot; a pain streaked through his chest from under his left arm. Immediately, he drew Hailey from his hip holster, firing two rounds in the direction of the lawman. The sheriff’s silver badge glinted in the gunfire, and Jackson watched the man’s face contort as he fell off his horse, splashing into the muddy ground. Hailey’s black grip burned in Jackson’s hand.
Now, they had to leave Yuma. Helping Jackson into the saddle, Marston tried to reassure his boss.
“Stay with me, Willis. We’re getting out of here.”
Jackson groaned, but smiled. “Then why you still talkin’, boy?”
Marston replied with a weak smile, hoping it was enough mask his true feelings. Then, he mounted his own horse, taking the reigns of Jackson’s, and kicked. Both animals galloped away from the town just as it began to awaken.
Following the shoreline of the Colorado River, Andrew Marston and Willis Jackson rode until Yuma disappeared in the darkness. The thunderstorm had passed, leaving only a light rain, and the sky had begun to lighten. Marston hoped to ride through the night, until noon the next day, but he realized they couldn’t. Jackson had begun to slump in his saddle.
Marston stopped the horses at a bend in the river and dismounted. Jackson tried to get down, but couldn’t move well enough to do it. He was breathing hard; he seemed out of breath.
Marston wrapped his arms around Jackson, picking him off of the saddle. As he sat him on the ground, Jackson groaned in pain. When Marston stood back up, his shirt was stained with blood. Jackson sat on the ground for a few minutes, trying to catch his breath. Jackson realized that he couldn’t sit; he lay down in the mud. His entire left side had turned red, and Marston began to accept what was happening.
Jackson’s breathing finally slowed enough for him to compose himself. Pointing to his horse, he asked Marston, “Can—can you get it for me?”
Marston nodded—he couldn’t speak—and retrieved the faded Bible from the saddlebag. Handing it to Jackson, he turned to look at the sky. Dawn was beginning to break; the first pink scars had appeared in the sky.
“I want you to give this to her,” said Jackson, holding the Bible in his hands. “Ask her to read it as she grows up. Maybe it’ll remind her of me.”
Marston crouched, wiping his eyes before taking the Bible from Jackson’s outstretched hands.
“Andrew?” Jackson murmured.
Marston looked up.
“Make sure she gets better. I don’t care what you do wit yo half of the money, but promise me, you’ll make sure she gets better.”
“I—I promise,” Marston choked. The blackness of night had almost fully yielded to the pink of dawn.
Jackson continued softly. “My wife’s already picked out the best doctor in Arizona for her, and this money can pay for it. I know it’s enough.” Jackson smiled, “Hell, it’s the most money I’ve ever seen.”
Through his tears, Marston laughed. “Same here, boss. Same here.”
Jackson shifted uncomfortably on the ground, wincing; his eyes seemed to be glazing over.
“Andrew?” Jackson whispered, and Marston looked at him. “Andrew, will—will you do me one more thing?”
Marston nodded. The sun had just appeared over the horizon.
“Tell Hailey her daddy loves her. And he wishes he could be there—to see her healthy again.”
A tear ran down Marston’s cheek.
“I’ll tell her,” he whispered.
Jackson looked down at his belt, giving one final smile, and Marston understood. He removed the revolver from its holster and handed it to Jackson. Then, he stood up, turned, and walked down to the river, leaving Jackson in peace.
Jackson held the revolver as it reflected the orange light of the morning sun. Running his fingers over the name engraved in the barrel, he smiled to himself, then silently closed his eyes.
And Willis Jackson died, holding Hailey to his chest—Christ’s golden crucifix pressed tightly against his heart.