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“The puzzle was one piece short,” Barney said over Cletus’ shoulder. “Hurry, or we’ll be in court.”

“Do you mind? I’m trying to concentrate,” Cletus said, glaring at his companion as his hands slowed on the dial of the safe.

“Faster, faster, eight-nine-oh-two,” Barney whispered, his nervous breath emanating across the stillness of the subterranean vault. “I don’t hear the rest of the crew.”

Cletus dropped his hands in his lap and looked Barney in the eye.

“SHUT. UP. You can’t say random numbers and expect me to keep track.”

“I want my cut, that’s only fair. Eight-nine-oh-two, it just ain’t square.” Barney said, rubbing his greasy forehead. Cletus stopped and looked at his friend. Barney always started speaking in rhymes when he got nervous. Cletus took a calming breath, then gripped Barney’s wrist and tried to draw his gaze.

“It’s gonna be fine, partner. Just be quiet. Listen for horses. And, please, please try to stop with the poems, yeh?” Cletus said, flashing a broken smile. Barney shook his square head back and forth with too much effort.

“What is it, Barney?” Cletus asked, knowing his intuitive and weird sidekick often sensed impending doom.

“Eight-nine-oh-two. Eight-nine-oh-two,” Barney replied more stridently.

“That ain’t the damn combination, Barn. Shhhhh…” Cletus was growing agitated.

“Time to go, Boss. It’s time to run. Eight-nine-oh-two, let’s beat the sun.” Barney was pacing under the vault window. A red dirt film clouded the view out, but Barney was convinced he could see something of value. Cletus returned to the dial on the safe and tried to block out Barney’s repetitious and inaccurate regurgitation of the combination delivered by the young brunette bank teller just before she was knocked unconscious and tied to the stairwell. Barney started a vigil beneath the lone window, rocking side to side and muttering, “Eight-nine-oh-two.”

Cletus did his best to focus. Eight. Two. Ten. Damnit. He started again.

The combination did not work. Cletus tried it a few more times. But the safe did not open. Barney’s rocking picked up and his rhyming got louder.

“She lied,” said Cletus, genuinely surprised. He turned around and leaned his back against the safe door. Cletus just watched his antsy companion for a moment, trying to reconcile his predicament. “She lied, Barney.” Both of them could hear horses in the distance.

“Eight-nine-oh-two, man. That’s the end. You just don’t listen, my old friend,” Barney sang. But Cletus argued that safe dials only used three numbers, so Barney’s code just wouldn’t work. Barney shook his head again and repeated the same numerical song.

“You knew she lied, didn’t ya? That’s what you meant by the missing puzzle piece…” Cletus said, processing their possible exit as approaching hooves had given way to recognizable voices. “Move away from the window,” Cletus said, shoving Barney aside as he tried to pop the narrow sliver of glass from its decayed moorings. Cletus looked at this rotund buddy, aware that only one of them was slim enough to slide through. Barney was in a full panic, rocking back and forth and singing the same numbered limerick. Eight-nine-oh-two.

Cletus focused on how to get out, but he couldn’t leave his friend. The rest of the gang had apparently fled, taking the horses with them. The sound of the sheriff and his minions grew louder as they breached the bank doors and descended the stairs.

Cletus cocked his pistol and took Barney’s hand.

Eight law men.

Nine horses.

Zero dollars from a safe.

Two dead bodies.

Natalie Brandt

Natalie is a lawyer and mom trapped in Texas. Wildly outspoken about the separation of church and state, she can quickly kill a dinner party but always brings good wine.

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