By Brionadh Hassett
The sun had begun to slide down towards the horizon. The frantic call of seagulls subsided. Marco shifted on his bike seat. Easy there, Thunder. He patted the handlebars. Thunder tossed her black mane and stamped her hoof against the dry Mexican desert. He turned, squinting in silent question to Steph. She simply tipped the front of her hat further over her eyes. She was the most dangerous assassin in all the New World, and she had agreed to come out with him for her final ride. Her appaloosa pony stood stone still. Nothing moved except the wind lifting its forelocks gently revealing her calm brown eyes. Pete the Kid would be in position by now. It was time to ride! He gave Thunder a gentle nudge, leaning forward over his stock whip.
The bikes pushed off down the hill. Hooves crashed over the prairie before them. The bitumen stuck to their wheels and was ripped up again. Yeehaa! They howled as they whirled passed the fish and chip shop, the news agents and the Vietnamese bakery. Skidding to a halt, Marco slammed his left leg down on the footpath and twisted his body, and bike to face the caravan park entry. Thunder reared up and Marco stayed on like the expert horseman he was. Cool as a cucumber. Steph’s horse pranced around the corner and the two were off again. They had to be fast or they’d be stopped at the gate and the whole show would be over. They peddled as fast as they could, bike chains buzzing, they had to duck under the boom gate without Sam the ticket man noticing. A high stone wall stood ahead of them, if they were to get past the sentries, they would have to jump clean over it. The came to the boom gate, ducked and waited for wood to graze their spines. Thunder lead the way nostrils snorting, head tossing, he had waited months to steeplechase again. They sailed over the wall. The boom gate missed them by an inch. They were through!
Now it was an open stretch over grey cement to the end of the boulevard. Pete would be hiding with Annie somewhere in the agapanthus awaiting the signal. Steph reached into her holster and drew out her Smith & Wesson and fired three sharp shots into the air. The cap gun was good and loud! Pete’s wiry frame flew out of the bushes and his bare feet patted across the concrete to the prize. The Stagecoach lay resting at the end of the lane. Left unattended while the driver ate his last civilized meal before setting out across 200 miles of Indian country. Marco looked at his Micky Mouse watch, they had five minutes before Dave got back from smoko behind the toilets. Annie’s shaggy head popped up behind the steering wheel, she was the best at sneaking. Macro and Steph were almost there, he could feel Thunder’s heart racing along with his own. The locals had noticed the commotion, they were running out of their homes waving guns, pickaxes and kitchen knives. Steph spun around so she was sitting backwards on her horse and drew her second pistol. She started shooting with both hands in every direction, leaving bloodied bodies in her wake. Nerf gun pellets bounced off heads and stung arms, kids cried out in pain and sulked away. Marco sped ahead and now he was almost at the Mr. Whippy van. Pete had joined Annie and both beckoned to them out the van window.
An angry voice broke through the mayhem. Dave was back early!
Chico Malo, the terror of Mexico emerged from behind the cantina. His black poncho barely hiding his gun belt. His spurs chimed spitefully as he walked. We have to get to them before he does!
Quick! Steph howled, and lifted from her seat for maximum peddling power. They whirred down the street, not caring how many kids had to leap out of their path. Dave ran in slow grown-up steps behind them, his belly wobbling from left to right under his pink work shirt.
Start the engine you doinks!
The two little faces vanished from the window and the next moment, the engine was purring.
Annie leaped up onto the stagecoach roof and kicked the unsuspecting horse boy off the driving bench. Gripping the reins with one hand she lowered the other to help Pete the Kid up beside her. He pulled his gun from his waistcoat and fired it into the air. The startled horses lunged forward!
They hurtled through the town, locals running after them, the money for the new Church was on board. But the banditos were too fierce. Even Chico Malo was too slow for the galloping horses. The carriage lurched from left to right under Annie’s unpractised hands. Clipping the edge of a mudbrick wall on the way past.
The van rolled towards a street sign, but Annie managed to avoid most of it at the last minute.
Break! She squealed. Pete slammed his palm on the break. Accelerator! Pete switched to the other pedal. This was like dodgem cars!
The van rolled down the street at the speed of a runaway shopping trolley and with the same zig zags. Dave and a pack of angry children raced after it. Steph and Marco swooped in the middle, dispersing them like scared chickens. But Dave wasn’t so easily scared; he reached an enormous hand out to grab Steph’s bike. She saw him coming and leaped over the handlebars and ran ahead leaving him clutching an empty bike. Steph could feel Chico Malo’s frantic fingers brush the fringe of her coat. It was now or never, she stood up on the saddle and took a deep breath before vaulting herself at the carriage. Her body slammed against the wood panelling; her figures found purchase on the top railing. She hoisted herself up. She straightened and looked around just in time to see Chico Malo’s rifle pointed straight at her.
A gunshot split the air.
She was a meter behind the van and about to jump on when Dave appeared at her shoulder, on her bike! She dodged and weaved but it wouldn’t last long. Suddenly, Dave’s expression changed from fierce determination to confused panic. Her heart missed a beat and then Chico Malo fell sideways off his horse. Marco’s gun smoked as he put it back in its holster.
The bike stopped, and he went flying face first over the front wheel. Steph just had time to see Marco drop the tree branch he’d stuck in the bike spokes and zoom to the front of the van.
Steph smiled and jumped. Her hands grabbing the bars at the back of the van before she hoisted herself onto the roof.
Balancing lightly, she shuffled toward the front of the stagecoach. Her friends were waiting for her with shining eyes. They had almost done it. They had almost pulled off the heist of the century! Almost. Seeing them all safely seated, Annie urged the horses on! They were out of town now and headed for the wild horizon where they could camp safely in the wilderness.
Annie! Watch out for the road! The van rolled out of the caravan park on onto Beach Road! Annie! Annie! Stop it! They roared, but Annie’s face remained fixed. They’d come this far, they had to make it the rest of the way, after school traffic or no! A baleful chorus of horns honked at them.
The seagulls perched on the sea wall near the beach watched the whole scene with calm curiosity. Four small humans making a racket to raise hell from an ice cream van. They rolled at walking pace across the street and landed with a soft bump on the sand.
Without a moment to lose, Annie pulled the hand break and leaped into the back of the van. Steph and Marco looked at each other in panic and then followed suit. Pete hauled himself off the floor and scrambled back in search of the sprinkles.
When Ice-cream-man-Dave and plays-fortnight-policeman-Harry reached the van a few minutes later, there was silence within. Plays-fortnight-policeman-Harry reached forward and grasped the roller door latch. He thought he could hear munching. He lifted the roller blind. Dave started to cry. There was ice-cream everywhere, blue, orange, chocolate, pistachio, every flavour of the rainbow was splattered and streaked over the inside of the van. All the tubs lay open and most of them had fingerprints in them.
Pete was lying on the icy-pole freezer with a swollen belly and Cornetto wrappers scattered like confetti around him. Annie was sitting legs splayed with a 4-litre tub of double choc chip that was all but empty. Her hands, arms, neck and face were covered in sludgy brown mess. She looked up the police officer and ice-cream-man as she licked a fistful of ice cream from between her fingers. Steph and Marco had tackled the soft-serve machine, Steph was having her turn, lying on the floor underneath the machine while Marco chomped on a flake and pumped the oozing vanilla treat straight into his sister’s open mouth.
They all had sprinkles in their hair.
About Brionadh Hassett
Brionadh Hassett is an Irish-Australian children’s fiction writer and dog-walking enthusiast operating out of Melbourne. Her interests include anything written from the perspective of an animal, mineral or vegetable, and writing things she’s never seen before. Her literary influences include Spike Milligan, Harper Lee and the literary war stories of Snoopy the Beagle. You can find out more about her on her website https://www.brionadhhassett.com/.