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Cas City Forum Hall & CAS-L  |  GENERAL TOPICS  |  Saddlebag Tales (Moderators: Marshal'ette Halloway, Lucky Irish Tom)  |  Topic: EotL 1 - No Hat and an Empty Gun 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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LimeyJack
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« on: April 24, 2008, 01:19:41 pm »


End Of The Line
by LimeyJack
cc by-nc-sa

1. No Hat and an Empty Gun.

Adam couldn't open his left eye, and he was sure a few teeth were loose. 

When it came to handing our beatings, the Metropolitan Police were second to none.  Patient.  Committed.  Professional.  The could hit you where it hurt and leave no mark.  Or not.  As they thought best. 

They didn't mind leaving marks on Adam Liche.  Not at all.

The cell in the basement of the precinct had a predictable dank smell to it.  Below river level, water must have seeped up through the dirt floor during the spring months.  It was dry now, but the ever so slight smell of mud hung in the room.  There was a cot, a chamber pot, and a small window letting in sunlight from the street above.  Adam was manacled to the lone wooden chair provided for the inmate's comfort.  It wasn't very comfortable, though.  Manacles or not.  The wicker seat had long since given way, and the pine frame dug into his skin.  One leg was shorter than the rest, and caused the chair to rock with the slightest fidget.  It was a lousy chair in a lousy place.  It was a lousy end that Adam had come to.

He had been so smart.  Planned everything so well.  Taken into account every detail, or so he'd thought.  Something had slipped by.  He'd misjudged something.  They were giving him plenty of time to think about it.  Think about what went wrong.  They'd give him all the time he'd need, breaking rocks in the State Penitentiary.  Hell, better than thinking about it on the end of a rope, waiting for a sudden drop.

Adam Smith Liche worked in a bank.  Had worked in a bank.  He was sure that trying to rob the place had ended his tenure there.  First Bank of Saint Louis.  The biggest bank in town.  Biggest bank on the Mississippi.   Impenetrable.  Impervious.  Impressive.  The bank where banker's keep their money.  Five years he had worked there.  From lowliest page to managing clerk.  He had risen through the ranks.  Biding his time.  Making friends in executive circles.  Sycophantically building up trust until he was literally given the keys to the vault.  All the time planning the big heist.  Preparing for the robbery that would make the papers from San Francisco to Paris.  He had committed his life to the project.  He had no family or friends.  No sweetheart for distraction.  He owned nothing but what he needed for the heist.  Thought of nothing but the details of the plan.  Five years he had prepared.  Taking everything into account.  Knowing every breath brought him one second closer to the day.   To the robbery, and all that money.

To Yesterday.

He had closed the doors at the stroke of five.  The light of the Indian summer redding the sky.  He hurried the Junior Clerks from their stations, accounted for the cash trays, and tallied their receipts.    A few terse 'good evenings', a flurry of hats and coats, and Adam found himself alone in bank.  He turned down the gaslights, and collected some papers from his desk.  Accounts he would normally peruse while at the dinner table of Mrs. Macintyre's Boarding House (a habit that greatly agitated the Titular Lady), but today they would have to go unexamined.  Taking a deep breath to fortify himself, Adam Liche put on his derby, put on his coat, retrieved a colt pistol from his top desk draw, and made his way to the rear entrance of the bank.

The rear entrance had, of course, been Liche's idea.  He had lobbied hard with the Board of Directors to have the entrance installed.   He had successfully stopped large cash transfers from entering or leaving the bank though the main doors, stating holdup concerns.  The rear door had been added.  Wagons could pull up closer to the building in the alleyway.   Enfilades on either side of the door proved rifle cover in case of attack.  The Board had agreed.  Liche had been commended.  Concerns about a night burglary had been calmed by making the door out of 3 inch thick steel.  Perfectly impenetrable.

Unless you had the key.

Adam unlocked the heavy door, and swung it open with a crash.  Out of his vest he pulled his pocket watch and flipped it open.  Fifteen seconds early...

Ten...  Five....  Adam scurried to the end of the alley.  Looking up and down the street, he waved to a wagon parked a block away.  The driver waved back, and whipped his horses into motion.

This day had almost not come.  Five years of planning had come to nothing when the Callville Mining Company, one of First Saint Louis' largest depositors, had switched its payroll from greenbacks to silver dollars.  Greenbacks were easy to transport.  A few horses, a few saddlebags, and a million dollars could easily be yours.  A million dollars in silver was heavy.  Very heavy.  It required a wagon.  A  wagon pulled by strong horses.  A wagon easily caught by a posse before you'd even caught sight of the city limits.

Adam Liche, however, prided himself on agile thinking.  He wasn't about to let five years of work slip away.  He had adapted.  Brilliantly, if he did say so himself.  He was going to steal a million dollars in silver coin.  He was going to do the unthinkable.

The wagon clattered slowly down the alley and came to halt in front of the bank's rear door.  From the wagon, four pairs of boots descended.  The Oakley Gang of Dodge City fame.  Liche's partners in crime.  Their tough, leathery, wind burned faces held dark determined eyes that focused onto Adam.  Without a word, they telegraphed their steel intent.

The Oakley Gang were Road Agents mostly, but Hank- the leader -had grander ideas.  They had tried their hand at bank robbery in Wichita, but the ensuing posse had killed three of their number, including Hank's brother.  When Adam had approached them with his proposition they were laying low in Omaha, licking their wounds.  The idea of half a million in silver had perked their interest.  Hank may not have been a great thinker, but he did liked to think big. 

Adam didn't really need professional desperadoes.  He basically needed muscle.  The plan was his, little was left to chance.  Four Chinamen from the rail yard would have been sufficient, and done the work twice as fast, but Adam knew the value of working with professionals.  If you're sick, hire a doctor.  If you're robbing a bank, hire a thief.  He knew the Oakley Boys would try to rob him-  they were thieves  -but he was prepared for that.

Silently, they moved up the stairs into the back room of the First Bank of Saint Louis.  The vault was still open as it was Adam's job to close it for the night.  The five men simply stepped in.  Not a shot fired, not a stick of dynamite blown.  At the rear of the vault, bagged in two hundred pound sacks, was the quarterly payroll for the Callville Mining Company.  One Million One Hundred and Ten Thousand Six Hundred and Fifty Three Dollars.  Ripe for that taking.

“Hell, it's really here!”  Hank said with glee.  His voice echoed through the large vault and out into the bank.

“I said it would be.”  Adam opened a sack and pulled out a handful of coins.  “Freshly minted in Philadelphia.  Never been touched by human hands...”  The coins clinked musically as they fell back into the sack.

“You sure are one-in-a-million, Liche.”  Hank reached out to a shelf and began to stuff a handful of greenbacks into his pockets.

“Leave the bank notes.”  Adam said.  “They're worthless.”

“Worthless?”

“The coins are what counts.  Come on.”

It was heavy work, and took the best part of an hour.  Carrying or dragging the sacks down the stairs was easy, but lifting the sacks into the empty whiskey barrels on the wagon was back breaking work.  Once one of the specially reinforced barrels has full, its lid had to be hammered into place.  As the Oakley Gang brought the last sack down the stairs, the final barrel was ready to be sealed.  Adam's calculations had been correct.

“There it is.  Last one.”  Hank said as he heaved that last sack up onto the wagon. 

“Good.  Let's get moving.”  Adam pushed the sack into the barrel and began to hammer.

“Don't you even want to close the door?”

“Let it lie.  Come on!”

The wagon groaned mightily as the team was whipped forward.  There destination was less than half a mile away, but the horses strained so painfully to move the weight, that more than once Adam feared he had misjudged the load.  Twenty minutes later, the wagon came to halt in front of the Dogman Saloon, the horses panting and sweeting to the point of collapse. 

“You know what to do, I'll be right back.”  Adam said as he jumped down to the street.  The rest of Oakley Boys busied themselves setting up the ramp behind the wagon.  Hank opened the cellar doors to the Saloon's basement.

Adam stepped into the bustling Saloon and took in a breath.  The smells of smoke and liquor filled his lungs, and for a moment he allowed himself to relax.  The plan was being executed perfectly.  They were even ten minutes ahead of schedule.  As deeply as he longed for a celebratory drink, he controlled himself.  Still many steps to go.  Still many hurdles to jump.

Walking up to the bar, Adam court the eye of the barkeep and smiled.  Adam placed a small sack of coins on the bar, and the barkeep nodded in acceptance.  That job done, Adam turned towards the door.

“Hey partner, stand me to a drink?”  A voice said behind Adam.  He turned to speak to the voice, but caught a glimpse of something outside the door as he turned.  Turning back quick, it was gone.
“Hey partner, I said-” A hand grabbed at Adam's arm. 

“Hey don't you-” Adam span around angrily, bringing him face to face with a old, half blind man.  His attention quickly drawn to the man's wide, cataract covered eye.    For a long second he just stared at it.  Deep down in the milky whiteness an eyeball searched for some sign of kindness on Adam's face. 

“Sure, here.”  Adam dug two-bits out of his vest and pushed it into old man's hand.

“Why, thank you kindly, Stranger.”  The old man held the coin up to his good eye happily.  “Very generous.”

“Have a good evening.”  Adam said, and remembered what was happening in the street.  He turned and started to move quickly towards the door. 

“Beware the Green Man, my boy.”  Came the old man's voice, but this time somehow different.

“What?”  Adam stopped and turned, but the sound of a gun shot in the street just kept him turning.  Coming full circle, the sight of a Metropolitan Policeman falling back into the street filled the door.  A single hole above his right breast pocket showed a hint of red.  Then a whole hail of gunshots erupted.  The stained glass window beside the door came crashing in, one of the Oakley Boys following it.

All of the sudden, Adam's body refused to obey the commands of his brain.  As if drowning in treacle, Adam wrestled his Colt Navy from his waistband, and took a step forward.  Two Policemen began to round the doorway, shotguns in hand, and Adam thought better of leaving through the door.  Spinning yet again on his heals, he turned to face a mass of shocked patrons, fused to their spots like trees.

That was when the ground gave way.

It wasn't until much later in the basement cell of the station house that Adam was able to but together what had happened next.  Everyone in Saint Louis knew that the Dogman Saloon was a good place, if you'd had yourself a little to much to drink, to get yourself shanghaied.  In fact, that had been integral to Adam's plan.  Located close to the river, the enterprising crimps had long ago dug a tunnel that stretched from the cellar of The Dogman out to the river beyond.  When the river was low, a skiff could tie up to the mouth of the tunnel, and load up on shanghaied cargo.  All out of sight of watching eyes. 

It was perfect for Adam's needs.  A cellar of a saloon already ramped to take large barrels.  A dry summer had put the river level at record lows.  River Pirates from the Cave-in-Rock waited on the tunnel's mouth.  Not for shanghaied sailors this time, but for a shipment of 'whiskey' to be smuggled into the dry counties of Kentucky.  Time and luck had converged on this moment in time.  Miss this window and months, years would have passed before Adam would have been able to try again.
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LimeyJack
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« Reply #1 on: April 24, 2008, 01:20:49 pm »

Adam opened his eyes to find himself laying in a pile of squirming bodies ten feet below the floor of The Dogman.  The ground had literally given way.  A trapdoor, right by the bar, must have been triggered by the barman, sucking down Adam and half a dozen other patrons.  A Crimp Hole.  Crimps, after plying their victims with liquor, would shove them down here.  Caged, they'd await their ticket to one of the four corners of the earth via New Orleans.  Luckily, no one waited with a cudgel and rope for Adam.  He pulled himself out of the groaning mass of drunkards, and quickly got his bearings.

Street light shone down through the open cellar door a few yards away.  Beneath the door, half of the money barrels lay ready to be rolled across the cellar floor and into the shanghai tunnel.  A few more gunshots rang out above, and voices began to call out orders.  Adam wasted no time.  Retrieving his derby he squired it firmly back on his head.  He sprinted off to the far corner of the cellar, pushed aside a wine rack as the barkeep had showed him not a week ago, and crawled into the dark wet tunnel.

The tunnel was no more than four feet hight at any point.  Less in places as large oak beams crossed the ceiling to hold up the weight of the earth.  His feet sank into the mud of the floor up to his ankles.  After only a few feet, he gave up walking, and began to scrambled on his hands and knees.  Behind him he could hear horse voices talking in the distance.  He stole a quick look back and saw a light.

The tunnel wasn't long, perhaps two hundred yards, but by the end he was black from the river mud.  He emerged onto the muddy bank of the Mississippi to the sound of an almighty explosion.  A skiff a few yards out into the river, was suddenly engulfed in an explosion, throwing men and splinters in all directions.  Looking back up the bank, what must have been twenty Saint Louis Policemen were firing muskets into the dusky dark of the river.  Muzzle flashes reported back, joined occasionally by the bright flash of a cannon.  The Police's own field piece stood on the bank, a team quickly working to reload it. 

Adam had climbed out of the mud into the middle of a war.

He momentarily considered diving back into the tunnel, but knew those shotguns wouldn't be far behind.   A flash in the dark sent a cannon ball smashing into the bank a few yards upstream from Adam.  He hardly flinched.  The Police's field gun belched to life and struck home, lighting up the river and blowing Adam's derby clean off his head.

Behind him, Liche heard voices.  He watched his hat spiral down, almost casually, with musket fire and cannon smoke engulfing it.  He dropped his pistol into the mud.

The Oakley Gang were all dead.  No Cave-in-Rock Pirates were pulled out of the Mississippi alive.  All the Police netted that evening was Adam Liche.  Three police dead, twenty wounded.  There was only Adam left to pay that bill.

Keys fumbled at the lock to the cell, and Adam raised his one working eye to the door.  Instead of another blustering copper with a blackjack, a small neatly kept man was ushered in.  The guard brought in a small table and chair, placed them in front of Adam, and dropped a leather pouch on the table.  The small, neat man sat.

“I am Emmett Thurgood Esq. of the law firm of Strother, McLaglen & Elem.”  Said the man in a voice that was a little too childlike.  “And you, Adam Smith Liche, are in a great deal of trouble.”

Adam fixed the small lawyer with as withering a stare he could manage with his one good eye, and coughed up a little blood.

“To date, you have been charged with-”  Mr. Thurgood pulled a folio of papers out of a valise and leafed through them “-One count of Grand Theft in the first degree, two counts of breaking and entering, one hundred and sixty three counts of reckless-”

“You the prosecution or the defense?”  Adam manged to slur.

“Oh, neither.”  Emmett Thurgood straightened his spectacles.  “Strother, McLaglen & Elem are the executors to your late father's estate.”

Adam though this would be a good time to black out.

He awoke as the guard poured a bucket of foul smelling water over Adam's head.  As circulation returned to his brain, he coughed a spluttered out a “What?”

“I am sorry to inform you Mr. Liche that your father pass away in his sleep three days ago at his place of abode:  600 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan Island.”

“My father?  I have no father.”

“Well, logic suggests that not to be true.  While you might not be aware of the party's identity, it is requisite for all of us have some individual making a paternal contribution to our conceptualization...”

“My mother's dead...  When I was a boy...”

“Err.  Yes, I gather...”

“My...  My father?”

“Henry Archibald Liche.  Your father.”

“Who?”

Mr. Thurgood gave his valise an impatient squeeze, and moved in his seat.

“Mr.  Liche.  I understand that might be having trouble concentrating after the affairs of the last few days.  Truly, I can't say I could imagine a man in less of a position to grasp abstract concepts.  But it is imperative that you listen.  I am the one who informed the Saint Louis Constabulary of your plan to rob the First Bank of Saint Louis.”

This got Adam's full attention.

“You?  I've ain't ever met you in my life!”

“Very true”

“How the heck...”

“You see Mr. Liche.  Upon your father's demise three days ago, his last Will and Testament was read.  I take it that you're not aware that your father was an exceptionally wealthy man.   Financier.  One of the greatest.  Well, it was assumed in circles, social circles, that he had died leaving no heirs.  There was much speculation as to how the old fellow had planned his estate.  The job fell to me, as-”

“What does this have to do with the bank job?”

“Yes, I was getting to that.   You see, your father's Will contained no information about the dissolution of his fortune.  Just the shocking fact that he did, in fact, have a son.  The product of his misspent youth out west, so he wrote, and that this son was about to embark on a criminal caper in Saint Louis that must be counteracted.

His Will was very detailed.  Discussed your negotiations with the Cave-in-Rock Pirates to smuggle the loot into the dry county's of Kentucky.  Your hiring of the notorious Oakley Gang as muscle for your operation.  It even gave an exact figure for the haul of your heist:  One Million One Hundred and Ten Thousand Six Hundred and Fifty Three Dollars.  Down to the penny, as they say.

It seems that the Callville Mining Company was a subsidiary of one of your father's large holding companies.  Being a prudent man when it came to money, your father took the precaution of switching out the silver in this shipment...”

Emmett Thurgood opened the small pouch that was sitting on the tables.  He pulled out  a freshly minted silver dollar and, with some effort, managed to snap it in two. 

“Just lead, I'm afraid.”

Something inside Adam snapped.  An anger began burning deep down.  Small at first, but he could feel it growing.  At that moment he wanted nothing more than to reach out across that table and cave the small, neat man's face in.  Adam's hands came up, but the manacle chains saved the small lawyer's life.  Shaken, Thurgood continued.

“Your father's Will instructed me to make haste to Saint Louis, communicate the details of your plan to the Police Chief here, and to make arrangements that your life would be spared in the ensuing violence.”

“I should be grateful for small favors.”  Adam seethed.

“Yes, well...  I'm afraid the oddities don't end here in this cell.  Your father's instructions specifically state that I should do what I can to secure your quick release.”

A comfortable suspension of belief began to wash over Adam as the little man spoke.  This was obviously a dream.  His head hurt, and his kidneys were bruised, but somehow this must all be a dream.  He'd wake up soon in his bed at Mrs. Macintyre's Boarding House with just another day of work ahead of him.

“That a fact?”

“Yes.  It seems that your father wishes you to go to End Of The Line.”

“The end of the line?  The end of the line of what?  Is that a joke?”

“No.  End Of The Line.  It's a town.”

Silence.

“In Montana Territory. 

It appears that your father owned a saloon there. 

It was bequeathed to you. 

In the Will.”

There was nothing to say in reply.  Mr. Thurgood obviously felt like a fool once the words came out of his mouth.  He blushed a little, and busied himself with his papers.

“You can get me out of here?”  Adam grabbed at the only thread of reality.

“Yes, I have discussed the matter with the superior court judge.  It seems that the deaths of Oakley Gang, and the effective destruction of the Cave-in-Rock Pirates is quite a feather in the cap of the Saint Louis Constabulary.  The papers are full of it.  Great boon to shipping on the Mississippi, they're saying.  Profits will double.  Some very important men are very happy with the way things have turned out. 

Not a mention of you, of course...  And since all you actually stole was about twenty dollars in lead, no one seems to be in any great rush to drag you through the courts and bring to light any details of how a man like you could rise to a position of trust in a major banking institution such as First Saint Louis.  That sort of thing can cause panics.  Can cause rushes on banks.  No one wants that.  Profits you know...

So, with the understanding that you not only leave town, but leave the Great State of Missouri, the Police Chief is happy to have you quietly swept under the rug.”

“Montana?”

“Yes.”

“And if I refuse?”

“I think they were planning on keeping you down here. 

Forever.”
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LimeyJack
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« Reply #2 on: April 24, 2008, 01:23:00 pm »

Before Adam knew what was happening, he found himself washed, dressed in a cleaned suit, and sitting bareheaded in a Pullman car in Union Station.  Mr. Thurgood sat nervously across from him, his valise on his lap.  Adam Liche was taking it all in stride.  It was a singular end to what had become a singular stretch of luck.  He needed a drink.  He needed a big drink.

“There is one last piece of business that I have to attend to...”  Mr Thurgood opened his valise and dug out an envelope.  “This is the first of many, but I am only supposed to give you this one now.”  He handed Adam the envelope.  Adam's name was written on the front along with today's date. 

“I have to say, we at Strother, McLaglen & Elem are rather excited to hear what it has to say.  This whole affair has been quite stimulating for us.  Things are usually quite dulcet at the office.  Probate.  That sort of thing.   And then here I am catching midnight trains to all parts foreign, foiling bank robberies and handing out mysterious correspondences from beyond the grave.  It's been quite an experience for me...”

Adam fixed Mr. Thurgood with a stare, and Mr. Thurgood coughed nervously and rose from his seat.

“Yes, well...   I can see my work is done here.    Good day, Mr Liche, and good luck.  I will be seeing you again in a few weeks.  Please don't disembark from the train before End Of The Line.  The Constable behind you has orders to shoot you should you try.”  And with that, Mr. Thurgood put on his hat and stepped off the train.

Adam pulled the flap of the envelope back with his finger, and pulled out a few sheets of heavy, yellowed paper.  As the train whistle blew, and the car shunted forward, he unfolding the letter and began to read:

I, Henry Archibald Liche, financier, attorney-at-law, twenty third degree Freemason, knowing full well the fact of my impending death, here put pen to paper in hopes of explaining a little of the past few days to my long lost son.  A son who's life, more or less, I have just ruined.  Yes, perhaps it is a strange sort of introduction for an absentee father, who's only former contribution to his son's life was in the conception; but hopefully I can in these pages fully explain my actions, and fashion some semblance of a kinship, even from the grave.

You see my boy, I have sold my soul to the devil.  I mean that quite literally.  As you read this I burn in the fires of perdition, as sure as the sun will rise.  Shed no tear for me.  I am sanguine about my fate.  I entered into my bargain quite knowingly.  I sold my soul for riches.   And riches I have been bestowed.

When I was roughly your age I consulted a mystic on a matter of business.  I wouldn't have called myself a believer, but trance mediumship being all the rage in social circles at the time, I felt I had little to loose, and many connections to gain.  To my fortune the medium turned out to give sage advice, and I began to consult her more and more as the years went by.  Soon I was depending heavily on her advice.  It was at that point, and only then, that medium reviled to me the foul source of her inspiration.  The spirit that guided her wished to guide me too.  I was faced with a choice:  Acceptance or Ruin.  For the price of my soul, I acquiesced.

I was granted foresight.  I useful commodity in the business of finance.   Knowing which stock will rise, and which would fall just from mention of a company's name.  I had access to wealth beyond my imagination.  I could no longer be tricked or betrayed.  I knew all men's actions.  I could see into their very souls, if you will, while revealing nothing of my own.

But as I aged my vision saw farther and farther into the future.  I began to see things that shocked and terrified me.  I was not the only man of consequence that the devil had made his bargain with.  Politicians, Generals, Captains of Industry.  I saw the future of our nation.  I could see the devil tightening his grip around the throat of our great union.  Our greed his most powerful weapon.  Our freedom his pound of flesh.

It knew it was too late for me.  I would burn in hell for what my greed had let me become.  But age and idle living haven't bested me yet.  I made plans to have the last laugh on Old Ned.  Foresight he had given me, and foresight I could use against him.  I was not yet beyond the planning of a good hostile takeover.  If executed just right, the devil's own designs could be used against him.  The Union could be saved.  Saved from itself.  But I knew I would not live long enough to see my plans come to realization. 

So, my son, it comes to you.  I foresaw your adventure with the First Saint Louis.  I foresaw your death at the hands of your compatriots over the distribution of the stolen funds.  I intervened.  Redirected the river of fate.  Much of the blame must fall on my shoulders, anyway, for not being a father to you.  I pursued fortune instead of family.  You had unknowingly followed in my footsteps.  Greed had consumed you and the devil had marked you for his own.   I intervened in your plans to save your life, my boy, but also to save your soul.  Now saved it is up to you to save us all.  To carry out my plan.

I will not detail what I have foreseen yet.  For if you knew too much of the future, you might be apt to change things for the ill.  You are not that long from the devil's grasp.  I have provided more letters to the good fellows at Strother, McLaglen & Elem, who will deliver them to you at intervals that proceed or follow a particularity large bump in the road to come.  Do not bother them for an advanced viewing.  Strother, McLaglen & Elem are known for their meticulous attention to detail, and will not deviate from my prescribed schedule.  Besides, they won't get paid if they do, and with lawyers it always come down to money.  Just know, at this juncture, it is imperative that you make great haste to the town of End Of The Line in the Montana Territory and take possession of a Saloon I own there called the Singing Hinny.  It is under the care of a man named Gully.  He will be of great help to you. Use him.

End Of The Line will be the center of it all.  That is where it will begin.  You must be ready for what is about to come.  Know that nothing less that the soul of our great nation is at stake.  Be strong, do what you think is right, and you will prevail. 

But above all, my boy:  Act, don't wait. 

Henry Archibald Liche

 

Adam refolded the letter, returned it to its envelope, and slipped it into his breast pocket.  Saint Louis was moving by the window at an increasing speed, and he knew he's never see  it again.  He lay his head against window, and quickly fell fast asleep.

It took over a week to reach End Of The Line.  Changing trains in Minneapolis required a three day wait in a holding cell the Saint Louis Officer was able to arrange.  Track trouble outside Fargo stranded them for half a day.  Passenger service stopped in Billings, and Adam and his bodyguard had to ride with the cargo that last few hundred miles until the train ran out of tracks.  End Of The Line was aptly named.  Since the Union Pacific had gone into receivership, construction of transatlantic railroad had stopped deep in the Rockies.  Gold and silver strikes in the surrounding mountains had followed the end of construction, and kept the trains running along the line; but with new discoveries in the Black Hills around Deadwood, End Of The Line's boomtown days were long over.  Cattle ranchers on the far side of the Big Sue Pass kept beef coming down the line to Minneapolis and Chicago; but other than miners pulling up stakes for gold fields of Deadwood, very little came in or out of End Of The Line.

It was evening when the cattle train arrived in End Of The Line.  Adam's bodyguard handed over Adam's unloaded Colt Navy, and pushed him out of the door.  Adam half fell from the rail car onto the the makeshift planking that passed for a platform.  He took a deep breath and the coldness struck him.  He suddenly remembered his derby floating down the Mississippi river...

The rail tracks came to an end but the town of End Of The Line continued on as if the tracks did.  The main street was obviously cleared for the tracks, but rails were never laid down.  Buildings on either side of the road boarded onto heavily pined forest that shot quickly up the hillsides to the left and right.  At the end of the road, a white clapboard church stood at the highest cleared spot.  Someday the church would be right on the tracks of the continental railroad, but for now it simply acted as an imposing focal point for the town.

Chinese men busied themselves unloading the train as Adam stood there look up at the town.  In fact, Chinese men was the only activity Adam could see besides cattle mooing softly in pens by the tracks. The main street was empty as the sun set behind the church.  No horses, no men, no nothing.  What the hell was he doing here?  This was going to be the center of it all?

Adam shook himself, suddenly realizing he was believing the insanity written in his father's letter.  A week on a train with a tight lipped policeman had given Adam plenty of time to think.  His father, whatever else he had been, had obviously been a lunatic.  The letter had been little more than the ramblings of a messianic madman.  But here he was six hundred miles from home at the behest of a madman.  Freezing, bareheaded, in the autumn evening of derelict boomtown.  It was better than a jail cell or hangman's noose.  He could count his blessing for that. 

Adam began the trek up the main street.  It felt good to move and Adam could feel the hours of sitting on a grain sack working out through his feet.  Soon, however, the biting cold of the onsetting autumn evening began to set in on him and he felt the need to be indoors.  The first sign of activity came from a building near the top of the street.  A saloon with a crudely painted sign of a mule hagging over the door.  This must be the Singing Hinny he was looking for.  This was insane.

“Hey Dude.”  A voice said from behind Adam.  He turned to see a redheaded boy dressed in overalls and a dirty top hat.

“I ain't no dude.”  Adam replied wearily, and turned towards the bar.

“Dress like a dude.”  The boy said falling into lockstep.”  Walk like a dude.  And only a dude would be outside of an evening without a hat...” 

“Sure enough kid, you got me.  I must be a dude.”

“I knew it.  Second I saw you step off the four thirty, I says to myself.  I says:  That there is one class A dude.”

“Sure enough.”

“Ain't seen a Dude as big as you since the railroad done shin out.  And you without luggage or nothing.  Just that there Colt hog leg.  Yes sir, quite a fine sight to see.”

“Ain't you got no parents to go home to?”

“Nope.  Never seen the need.  So I'm figuring to myself:  That Dude must be here to kill someone or something with that there gun?”

“Or Something.”  Adam climbed the steps up to the boardwalk in front of the saloon.  He paused at the swinging doors.  “You coming in here?”  The boy screwed up his face into something in between indifference and pain.

“Nah, Gully don't let me in there...”

“Good.”  Adam stepped through the swinging doors, but the boy grabbed him by the wrist.

“Hey, Dude.  You don't want to go in there.  The Gaffa drinking in there.”

“Good to know.  I'll take my arm back, if you please.”

“But Dude!  If you're here to shoot The Gaffa, I'd think again!”  The boy pulled hard on Adam's arm, and the both stepped back out into the evening.

“Leave me be!”  Adam said as he detached the boy from his arm.  “And what, by Dutch, is a gaffa?”

“That there is The Gaffa.”  The boy said, pointing through the saloon window at a large man standing at the bar with his back to them.  “Don't know his real name.  All the cowboys call him Gaffa.  He's foreman for the Squire's spread out other end of the the Big Sue.  He's one quick hand with a gun, and doesn't cotton to strange folk getting off the train in his town.  I figure you'd be best just turning around and heading on back to Dudetown.  You'll live a might longer.”

Adam looked into the warmth of the saloon and suddenly felt very tired.  He'd come a long way and was far to sober to let any cow puncher get between him and a whiskey bottle.  Besides, if any part of his father's letter was true, that was his bar.  Adam could drink to he fell down without a penny in his pocket.  That was too inviting a prospect to pass up.

“Thanks kid, but I ain't welcome back in Dudetown.  This is the only place I got left to go.”

“Then I hope you're good with gun.”

“Kid, it ain't even loaded.”
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LimeyJack
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« Reply #3 on: April 24, 2008, 01:23:35 pm »

Adam stepped through the swinging doors of the Singing Hinny saloon into the light and the warmth.   A large fire burned in the fireplace by the door, crackling a welcome.  Adam was quickly stuck by the longest bar he had ever set his eyes upon.  It stretched the length of the back wall.  At least 10 yards if it was an inch.  Apart from the large man that the boy had referred to as The Gaffa, there were two other cowboys standing at the bar.  Behind it, a dark skinned man stood idly smoking a cheroot.  All eyes turned towards Adam as he entered.

“This the Singing Hinny?”  Adam said to break the tension.  Silence was the reply.  “Well?”

“It is.”  Said the man behind the bar.  “Drink?”

“Whiskey.”  Adam walked up to the bar, he took his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his brow. 

“Get in on the four thirty?”  The black man said, pouring Adam a shot of booze.

“Yep.  And that's one hell of a ride, I can't tell you.”  Adam gulped the drink down, and his glass was refilled without asking.

“Don't see too many new faces here, now-a-days.  Not since the Black Hills strikes.  Most folks been going not coming, if you know what I mean.”  The bartender's voice was jovial but nervous.  Not scared.  Just tense.

“I hear the gold's about petered out around here.”

“Sure enough.  Never was much to mention in the first place, but that never stopped those folk.  Always gold crazy.  Once word got around about the strikes out east, they all cleared out of here like their tails were on fire.   Sure you weren't trying to make your way to Deadwood?  Hear they're pulling the nuggets out as big as your fist.  In Deadwood.” 

“Nope, this is where I'm supposed to be.  End Of The Line.  Foreboding, isn't it?”

“Mister, I've heard this town called a lot of things, but foreboding...  That's a new one. “

The bartender fell quiet, and Adam drank his drink.

“You know...”  The Gaffa said to the whole bar, which pretty much meant Adam.  He had a thick Scottish Brogue and slurred a little from the drink.  “You know lads, you'd think after a long day hip deep in cattle, my sense of smell would be all done in.  But no.  No, I can still smell a Dude from ten feet away.”

The two cowboys found this side splitting, hooted loudly, and slapped at the bar. 

“It's a queer aroma.  A bit like...  What would you say, Pete?”

“Lilacs?”

“Aye, lilacs!  And toilet water.  Like some dance hall lassie.”    The cowboys doubled over in hilarity. 

Adam felt the whiskey warm in his belly, and he felt his strength return.  In a few minutes the drink would begin to slow him, but right now he was alive and invigorated.  For the first time since before the heist he felt like a human being. 

“Are you talking to me, partner?”

“No, no.  About you, perhaps, but not to you.”

“Then perhaps you've got something you'd like to say to me?”

The cowboys quickly stopped their yelping.  The mass that was The Gaffa lifted itself from the bar and turned towards Adam. 

“Well, I'll tell you once thing for nothing.”

“I'm listening.”

“That we don't care much for your sort getting off the train in this town.”

“Well this is the End of the Line.  Fella can't go no further.”

“Fella shouldn't have come this far at all.  Why don't you turn around and go home, laddie?”

“After I'd came all this way?  I was thinking on staying.”

“Didn't you hear me?  We don't want your kind around her.”

“Well, that's your loss partner, if you want to be drinking here.”

“How's that, my friend?”

“'Cause this is my bar, and I ain't likely to be 'your friend' if you keep talking like that.”

The cowboys began yelping again.  The Gaffa didn't quite know what to make of the situation.  He visibly relaxed, and turned towards his companions.

“You get this?  This here is his bar!  The Dude owns a saloon!”

A tide of laughter washed over The Gaffa and the cowboys.  Adam took a sip of his drink, and waited for peace.

“So I'm figuring you and your boys got two choices:” Adam said.   “Have a drink on the house, and call it fair.  Or”  Adam opened his coat to reveal the empty colt.  “get out of my bar, and stay out.”

The laughter died.  The Gaffa stood silent for a moment contemplating his situation.  His hand hung next to his holster.  A holster that, Adam could be assured, held a fully charged and primed pistol.  The cowboys behind The Gaffa moved slowly out of the line of fire.  Out of the corner of his eye, Adam could see the bartender ducking slowly down, but not before picking the whiskey bottle off the bar.

In the silence of that moment, facing the human mass that was The Gaffa, Adam felt suddenly self-assured.  Suddenly free of a weight that he had been carrying for many years.  What if his father had somehow broken Adam free from his fate?  What if Adam was supposed to be dead right now, floating face down in the Mississippi?  Somehow his father had changed that.  Bought him a second chance.  A chance to redeem himself.  Adam knew all he had was a bluff.  An empty gun, and a claim to a bar he could never substantiate.  But just then Adam felt that was going to be enough.  Enough to send his life in a new direction.  Adam thought back to the milky cataract covered eye of that old man in The Dogman before the shooting started, searching for some sign of kindness in Adam's face.

Suddenly, with a belly laugh, The Gaffa slammed his hand on the bar.  Adam almost drew his empty gun, but resisted.

“Well kiss me ass and call me jessie!”  He said is a booming voice.  “I'll drink your drink, Dude, and bid you a good evening.  You're lucky this is the only bar left in town that's still serving!”

The bartender filled the cowboy's glasses, and they quickly drank the whiskey down.  They didn't wait for refilling, and started towards the door.

“Come on lads.”  The Gaffa said.  “Best cross the Big Sue before she gets too dark.”

And with the clatter of spurs and the rattling of the swinging door, they three cowboys were gone.

“Lord, that was a tight thing.”  The bartender said when they were out of earshot.  “I though he was gonna draw down for sure.”

“Can't rightly disagree.  Why didn't he?”

“You could say The Gaffa and the Squire have acquired a taste for law-and-order of late.”

“The Squire?”

“Squire Burbank.  The Gaffa's boss.  They call him Squire cause he runs his spread like some medieval shire.  His ranch is the other side of the the Big Sue Pass.  Has going on twenty thousand arches out that way.  10 times that in beef.  My names Gully, by the way.  What's this about you owning the place?”

“Name is Adam Liche.  I reckon my father owned this place.”

“Liche, you say?  Well, I'll be.”

“My father has just passed on, not gone a week.”

“Oh, my condolences. ”

“No need, I never met him.”

“Well, can't say I ever met the man either.  What brings you out here?”

“My father bequeathed The Singing Hinny to me.”

“You're kidding?  We ain't got but a dozen customers.  Can't say this is a going concern.”

“Never the less, this is where I'm supposed to be.”

“You sure you ain't supposed to be in Deadwood?  I know your father owns- owned -territory out that way... ”

“Nope, this is going to be the center of it all.  That's what my father said.”

“Center of what?  Center of the snow storm.  Hell, come winter we ain't even going to have them dozen that drink here.  Friend, you got guts, but you should go back home.  There ain't nothing out here worth your time.”

“I ain't got no home to go back to-”  But Adam didn't finish his sentence.  Outside the saloon, the sound of galloping horses and whooping cowboys made Gully and Adam turn.  The Gaffa and his men came charging up main street, opening fire with their pistols as they passed the bar.  The main window of The Singing Hinny crashed in, and bottles of booze exploded behind the bar.  As quickly as they had come, they were gone, the sound of hooves vanishing in the distance.

“Welcome to End Of The Line.”  Gully said, peering out from behind the bar. 

“Don't suppose you've got any law in this town?”

“Matter of fact we do.”  Said Gully.  “Unfortunately the law just shot up your bar.”
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El Peludo
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« Reply #4 on: May 07, 2008, 09:48:24 pm »

Limey Jack, if you're still on this, check the "ST Comments" Child Board; there is a new thread there for this story.
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El Peludo (The Hairy Man)
Las Vegas, Nevada Territory
Lifer in: Life, NRA, NAHC, SASS, SBSS,WARTHOG, DIRTY RATS
IBEW(Retired), Shooter since 1955.
             Roop County Cowboy (FF)
             Original Member: Grass Valley Rangers,
             Camp Beale Land and Cattle Company.
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