Waking up to find a pistol pointed at him was not the way Reginald Grayson expected his career as a serious actor to begin. He wasn't even at his destination yet, only on a stagecoach en route to Virginia City along with the three other principal members of the San Francisco Shakespeare Company.
"That's it," came the muffled voice of the bandit holding the pistol. "Empty your pockets, kind sir, now that you've rejoined the waking."
The man had no face. Or, more precisely, no face Reggie could see. A hood covered the bandit's head. The only features visible were shadowy blue eyes staring at Reggie through two small holes cut in the rough burlap. The bandit's voice was strangely accented, but all Reggie could focus on was the cold metal barrel of the pistol.
"I'm a poor actor," Reggie said. "I have nothing worth stealing." Which was almost the truth.
The bandit made no reply except to gesture with the pistol and tilt his head in such a way that Reggie understood he would judge for himself whether anything Reggie carried was worth thieving.
Reggie knew better than to expect help from the other man in the coach. Reggie might sleep during interminable coach journeys, but it appeared Jeremiah Sommersby found relief from boredom in a cheap bottle of whiskey. Currently the esteemed Mr. Sommersby was passed out, propped up on his seat next to Reggie, the remains of his latest bottle clutched loosely in his well-manicured hand.
The two actresses in the coach were no better. Well-bred ladies they were, Vivian and Blanche had told Reggie when he was hired as an understudy eight months ago. Apparently ladies did not raise a hand against a criminal except in surrender. Which Blanche and Vivian were doing quite nicely at the moment.
The bandit leaned closer and used the pistol to nudge Reggie's coat open. Reggie kept what money he had in a small leather pouch in his trouser pocket. What he kept in the inside pocket of his coat was much more valuable, but only to him, and he had no intention of giving it up.
"Don't make me search you," the bandit said in his strange accent. "It would not be pleasant... for you."
The man sounded like he might be smiling behind his hood. Reggie found being robbed unpleasant enough. He had no wish to be handled by the man in a search for valuables.
"Very well," Reggie said, trying to project a confidence and worldly calm he did not feel. "If you'll let me reach into my pocket..."
The bandit nodded and lifted the pistol away from Reggie's coat. "Only your purse," the bandit said. "It would not be wise to reach for your own pistol."
That wouldn't be a problem. Reggie didn't own a gun. He'd never fired one in his entire life, and even if he had, he wouldn't have been so foolish as to reach for it now.
Reggie removed the small leather pouch from his trousers. The bandit took it in his gloved hand and put it in his own pocket.
"Now, for the ladies," the bandit said.
"We don't have anything!" Blanche's voice held a timid quaver, so different from the confident tone she projected on stage. Reggie couldn't tell if she was acting, or if she was indeed terrified for her life.
The bandit nudged the silver chain Blanche wore around her neck. Suspended from the chain was a small vial Blanche claimed contained holy water blessed by her parish priest, which she carried for good luck. Reggie suspected the vial contained something vastly different from holy water.
"Sir!" Blanche wasn't acting now; she was truly affronted and genuinely frightened. Of the bandit or of losing her "good luck," Reggie couldn't tell.
The bandit seemed to reconsider. "You have nothing... else... of value?"
Blanche searched through the voluminous folds of her dress and pulled out a small, beaded purse from a hidden pocket. "It's all I have. If you take it, you'll leave me penniless."
"But not without recourse," the bandit said. He took the purse from Blanche's trembling fingers and put it in the same pocket where he'd placed Reggie's pouch. "And you, young miss?"
Vivian was the youngest of the troupe, barely sixteen. With her thin frame, Vivian was a natural to play parts that required a woman to pose as a man. From what gossip Reggie had overheard, Vivian had a somewhat less than virtuous background. She had already made none-so-subtle suggestions to Reggie which let him know she would not be averse to his attentions. Unfortunately for Vivian, Reggie's attentions were not drawn to the ladies.
Now Vivian's pinched expression made her look far younger than her sixteen years. "Please, no," she said. She shrank back in her seat, as far away from the bandit as she could get.
Reggie wasn't sure what possessed him. "Don't," he said. "Wait. I have something..."
The bandit turned his attention -- and his pistol -- back to Reggie. His eyes held a look of surprise. "You wish me to leave the young lady be. What do you have left to offer me?"
Reggie removed his father's watch from his coat pocket. The watch was the sole legacy the senior Mr. Grayson had left his only son before sailing from London for fame and fortune. Reggie had never seen him again.
The watch was silver; an ornately-worked scene of London Bridge on the case protected the polished crystal inside. The crystal had a small chip from when Reggie had dropped the watch as a child. His father's name -- Simon E. Grayson -- was engraved inside the cover in flowing script. The watch had no real value to anyone except Reggie, but the bandit took it anyway when Reggie held it toward him.
The money had been easier to hand over than the watch. Money Reggie could always earn; the watch was irreplaceable.
Reggie swallowed hard as the bandit slipped the watch inside his coat as well. Reggie tried to tell himself that the watch was merely an item and worth far less than his life. He almost believed it.