The Hired Man by P Matthew Kimmel

There was no telling what such a town would have in store for him.

He was sitting on his horse, frowning deeply and raising his hat to get a better view. Seeing the town better, he rechecked his guns and made sure they were all loaded.

This wasn’t entirely unusual as he was in Arizona territory, and the sun had a way of sucking out the last drop of moisture a man had. But he usually didn’t imbibe until the job was done. It was the grit and sand that did it, getting underneath his clothes and even into his teeth. He wanted to wash it all away, but he would start with his mouth.  Then…well, he had to get the job done, and he’d worry about it later.

It was more of a street than a community, and the street stretched the definition a bit. There were about a dozen buildings lining the avenue, and a few tents and corrals to fill out the rest. However, there wasn’t a living soul to be seen anywhere, and a few of the buildings were obviously deserted. Whatever had hit the town was mean and thorough, and now it was the Hired Man’s problem.

He could’ve used a drink.

What’s more, Management hadn’t even told him what the job was yet.

Railroad Management had sent him to this “community” to deal with a “problem.”  As usual the problem was left to be determined at some time in the future.  Sometimes long after he should have been told. But those were the ways of management, and he had to live with the rules.

He looked around at the dusty street one last time, turned his horse, and headed straight to the local office of management. To his surprise, a lizard was working the counter.

The lizard was black, with yellow spots on the side of his head. He was dressed well in a vest and tailored pants, but they looked ill-fitting and hung on his body wrong.  It was just the curse of his kind – they’d never look proper in human clothes. He blinked a few times, and the Hired Man noticed he was wearing spectacles that fit him worse than the clothes.

“May I help you?” the lizard said in its carefully constructed, elongated tones.

The Hired Man wasn’t a bigot. He fought for this creature’s freedom in the war, but he didn’t figure they’d hire a lizard to run management’s office., even in a town as run-down as this one. This couldn’t be the man he was supposed to see.

“I’m the Hired Man. Management sent me.”

“Of course. We’ve been expecting you for a couple of days now. I hope the trip wasn’t too arduous.”

“It was what it was. So what needs doin’?”

“I see…perhaps, you’d like to rest. I can offer…”

The Hired Man cut the lizard off. “Listen, I’m here for a job. Tell me what the job is so I can get to it.”

“Quite so, let me just see…yes, you need to talk to Mr. Murdock.”

“Mr. Murdock?”

“Yes, he runs the local hotel and gambling establishment in our fair town. He has all the details.”

“Isn’t there a manager I could talk to?”

“Yes, well…we see this as more of a local matter, and it can be better explained by a local person.”

The Hired Man looked around.

“Fine. Where is he?”

“In his usual spot at the Diamond Dollar. I can show you if you’d like.”

It looked the Lizard was about to come out from behind the counter.

“You mean the fancy place with the twinkling diamonds overhead?” The Hired Man was beginning to chafe in the Lizard’s presence.

“Yes, sir. That’s the place.”

The Lizard bowed his head reverentially towards him.  Definitely, the Hired Man wanted to be alone. 

“I think I can find it on my own.”

“Quite right, sir. Anything else?”

The Hired Man considered this.

“This local man?”

“Yes, sir?”

“He gonna pay me?”

The lizard seemed a little disturbed by the talk of money. Like many of his kind, loyalty was its own reward. It was what made them such great slave labor. But the Hired Man’s loyalty was measured in green. To do the job, he’d be paid.

“Uh, yes…I think the arrangements have been made in that regard.”

“Fine.” The Hired Man left before the lizard could say any more.

He walked to the building with the twirling diamonds above it.  They rotated on their individual axis and sparkled in the sunlight, making him realize there was a ring of dollars circling around them. The magic had lost its potency quite a bit- both diamonds disappeared every few moments- but it had been fancy at one time.

The Hired Man walked in. There was an automaton at the piano playing quietly in the corner, and a barman at the bar. Other than that, the place was empty. No one sat at any of the tables, no one was drinking or gambling, and, most importantly, the house wasn’t making money.

The automaton was like the sign, once impressive, but dulled with lack of care. For once, it was built like a human, with a cylindrical body, appendages, and a cylindrical head coming out of the base. It was painted to look like a person, but the garish paint was fading and chipped. The barman, on the other hand, was tall and lanky, but still as solid as granite all the same and wore an apron that stretched to its capacity.

The automaton turned its head around without moving the rest of its body or stopping what it was playing. Seeing a paying customer, it tried to play something cheery. The barman stood behind the bar absently drying a glass.

“I’m here to see Murdock,” the Hired Man said.

“Of course, you are,” the barman replied, continuing to dry the glass.

“Are you him?”

“No.” The barman still did nothing but clean the cup.

The Hired Man considered the situation. Finally, he asked, “Can you get him for me?”

“Certainly,” the barman said, opening a door and stepping in the back. The Hired Man just shook his head.

“Well, it’s about time he got here!” a voice boomed from the back. A huge man followed it into the room stroking a mustache that threatened to overwhelm his face.

“I don’t take kindly to lateness, sir,” the fat man said.

“You Murdock?”

This caused the fat man to jiggle with superiority. “Who the hell else would I be?  I expected you a day ago.”

The Hired Man got a better look at this Murdock. He had a ridiculously full mustache, which he twirled absently, and he was nearly as wide as he was tall, wearing clothes cut to fit his ridiculous shape. They were black and fashionable, but on Murdock they just added to his girth. He had probably paid quite a bit to get them to fit him which was a colossal waste of money, according to the Hired Man. The tailor was probably still laughing about it. 

After appraising Murdock, the Hired Han finally spoke. “And I don’t like being kept in the dark. Seems everybody is disappointed these days.”

“I don’t like your tone, son,” Murdock said while looking hard into the Hired Man’s eyes.     “I don’t care. I’m not your man. I’m management’s man,’ the Hired Man said staring right into Murdock’s beefy face. It took a second, but whatever was in the Hired Man’s eyes caused Murdock’s face to turb pale white.

Murdock finally glanced away.

“So, what does management want me to do? For you.”

Murdock stroked his mustache again and quietly said, “Loco-motive.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s a Loco.”

“Ah shit,” was the Hired Man’s response.

“They said you had dealt with such things before,” Murdock said.

“I have, but I had a bit more help at the time.”

He had come with his Winchester, his two Peacemakers, and his horse. The last time he had dealt with a Loco, he had a crew of twenty and two cannons. And he had barely got it done then.

Then again, he was a Hired Man.  He’d do what was required to get the job done.

“I’ll still do it. I just don’t like it.”

“Good cause it’s hurting my business…as well as management’s. Those damn Chinamen did this…”

Murdock paused to let the Hired Man chime in, but the Hired Man said nothing, so he continued, “How are you going to stop it?”

“I assume you can’t rustle up a posse, huh?”

“They said…” Murdock looked confused.

“Relax. I’m here to do the job, alone. As to how, that’s my business. Does the railroad have anything stored in that office with the lizard in it?” the Hired Man said, gesturing with the top of his head back at the office.

“Of course. I don’t see what good that’ll do you,” Murdock said.

“That’s my problem. Where is the Loco?”




The Hired Man had managed to find a good perch to observe the Loco, at least.  He needed his spyglass to properly see the beast, but he was well hidden. It was the only good part of a bad situation.

The Loco had nested itself in a sandy basin with large rock formations to its left and front. There was plenty of space between those formations, and nowhere to hide if the Loco caught him unprepared. The Hired Man managed to find a ledge in the front formation that hid him from view, but when he made his move there was nothing to put between him and the beast. The Loco was in its cave, but once out, it would fill the basin and the Hired Man would be trapped.

The only good news was that he was able to find what he was looking for in the Railroad’s office. Not much, but enough. He kept it in a satchel close to his body. If he lost the satchel, he’d have a considerable problem.

The Hired Man waited over an hour after making his preparations, but he knew it had to come out sometime. He made sure it would come out. He just needed to be patient.

Magic was what sped along the trains that were carving up the nation, and like everything else magic touched, trains came away changed by magic. Unfortunately, Locos were the byproduct of the interaction, and since the Chinese were so heavily involved with both the railroad, and magic, many assumed it was their fault. The Hired Man knew this was just bullshit. He faced the Loco, and knew industrial magic powered it.

Suddenly, a whistle blew, and the Hired Man got ready. He checked the satchel.  He was as ready as he could be.

The Loco was coming out.

First, a plume of steam drifted out of the cave, and then one wheel-like claw extended itself out, followed by another claw, and finally the head. This Loco was impressive, the Hired Man  admitted. It was at least twelve cars long and the head was a train engine modified into a living creature. It looked like a lion, if a such a creature could be made out of a piece of industrial machinery. It was long and slender with short legs made out of wheels, familiar of another beast This was another reason the Chinese were blamed,- the Locos looked like Chinese dragons.

The Loco opened its jaws wide and belched out a spurt of fire. This one would be especially dangerous since they usually didn’t know they could breathe fire.

Then, the Loco raised its head to sniff the air, and the Hired Man nodded. The creature had smelled the bait.

Locos, being magic primarily, didn’t need to eat since the magic kept them alive. That didn’t mean they couldn’t eat -, being former trains, they liked to eat the same material trains ate: coal. The Hired Man had been able to get a bunch of it in the basin for the beast to notice, and now it was showing interest in the minerals.

It slowly approached the coal, moving its huge body back and forth in the basin.  It was sniffing the coal out, trying to find a reason for this sudden bounty. Seeing nothing dangerous, it finally reached the pile and nosed it just to be sure. Having produced no reaction, the creature started to eat.

The Hired Man slowly climbed down the rock face until he was about twenty feet above the creature, who was oblivious to everything but its tasty treat.. The Hired Man jumped.

In his previous encounter with a Loco, he had the Calvary there to back him up with firepower, merely shooting the animal to death with a couple of cannons. The guns he had with him here wouldn’t even irritate the creature., but there was another way to exterminate a Loco: kill its fire.

The Hired Man landed on the Loco’s back in a crouched position, and the beast stopped eating to see what landed on it. At first, it didn’t seem to care that he was there, but the Hired Man slowly walked up the creature’s back.  His continued presence caused the Loco to shake its body a few times. The Hired Man just continued on. As it saw that simple movements weren’t going to dislodge its newly acquired passenger, its thrashings became more violent. Several times the Hired Man had to drop down and spread-eagle to hold on, but he managed to stay on, even moving up a few cars. And keeping the satchel. The Loco began to jump around the basin, but the Hired Man managed to hold on. Seeing this, the beast resorted to its weapon of last recourse: fire.

The Hired Man was able to see the creature readying its blast, so he simply dropped down between the cars. He knew he couldn’t go in the cars – there were now organs in there -but the Loco still retained its segmented nature; he had a place to escape the blast.

He could feel the heat, and knew it wasn’t good for the wood structure which made up the train car, so he wasn’t particularly surprised to hear the beast scream. What he wasn’t prepared for was the beast turning on its back, trying to scrape him off that way, and he barely managed to hang on to the now useless door handle.

He did manage to hold on, somehow, and the beast finally righted itself. Climbing back up, crawling again, allowed him to get close to the head. This time the beast tried to snap at him and bite him off, but the Hired Man was too quick and jumped onto the coal car where the creature couldn’t reach.

Finally, he reached the creature’s head, and he jumped down from the coal car.  Inside was partially converted into beast, but the coal grate still burned where he could see it. He finally took out what had been in the satchel, the TNT he had scrounged up in the railroad’s office. Six sticks. More than he expected, but not enough to be sure it would work.

Saying a little prayer, he had to throw the dynamite into the coal grate, hoping it would ignite there.  But the Loco continued to thrash making it nearly impossible to toss the sticks. The Hired Man finally thought to Hell with it and just tossed the dynamite forward. He didn’t see where the sticks flew, but he jumped, hoping the blast wouldn’t catch him.

He landed about thirty feet from the Loco badly, but with no broken bones that he could tell. He covered his head and crawled into a ball, figuring the beast would continue to thrash about, and land on him. It was less likely, but still a possibility the TNT would explode, sending shrapnel in all directions to tear him apart. He figured it was least likely he’d survive, but he’d never been a gambling man, so he knew he might be off about the odds.

He felt the explosion more than he heard it -six sticks of dynamite made a lot of noise. The creature roared, then fell silent. An equally loud sound came from the direction of the Loco, and then, nothing.

He looked up, and there it was, on its side, the Loco.


He wasn’t sure how the dynamite killed it: exploding the thing’s brains, or putting out the fire, but then, he remembered he didn’t need the details to get his money. He had the big goddamned corpse.

Management had to pay him. The Hired Man smiled as he looked at the Loco. He had no idea how they would get the thing out, and if they tasked him to find a way, he’d quit. He was confident they wouldn’t ask anyway, because one couldn’t really expect more than one miracle from a man at a time.

He started back to town, satisfied.

He could finally see about getting that drink.


About the Author

I have an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College, and I have attended the Odyssey creative writing workshop. I have been published in Silverlight, Encounters, and Jersey Devil Press.

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