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Cas City Forum Hall & CAS-L  |  GENERAL TOPICS  |  Saddlebag Tales (Moderators: Marshal'ette Halloway, Lucky Irish Tom)  |  Topic: EotL 4 - Deal with Diablo 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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« on: July 18, 2008, 11:46:48 am »

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

4. Deal with Diablo

It was the first Adam Smith Liche had heard of the Taw.  He was standing on the train platform in the drizzling rain.  Little of what the man with the prodigious mustache and the baggy green cap said made any sense.  In fact, much of it sounded down right strange.  From what Adam did manage to piece together, that the man and his family were part of a group known as the Taw.  They were crossing the Big Sue on their way to a place in Washington Territory called Yakima.  This family had climbed off the four thirty train with all their worldly possessions, and talked about being the first of many such families on their way through.    Whether the Taw was a religious sect or some sort of homesteading movement, Adam couldn't quite fathom, but he suspected it was a bit of both. 

Adding to the confusion, the man used the word 'Taw' as some sort of term of familiarity.  'Good Morning, Taw.'  'Please to meet you, Taw.'  That sort of thing.  What was for sure was that a man named Marranzano was their leader.  He was mentioned often, sometimes as 'Taw Marranzano',  and always with a quiet reverence. 

The green capped man spoke with the calm, humorless forethought of a preacher, but his wife, in contrast, bellowed at the Chinese laborers unloading the wagon.  She swore like a sailor with little regard to her children running wild around the train platform.  Adam counted six- no seven -it was difficult to keep track, they were in such continuous motion.  Yes, six.  Three boys, and three girls.  The boys wore a similar green cap as their farther.

The family spent as little time as they could in End of the Line, apparently disapproving of the place as soon as they set eyes on it.  It did, however, take them a number of hours to unload their horses, hitch up the team, and herd all their children onto the wagon.  Night had fallen by the time they were ready to depart, but they set out from the trail head in the dark all the same.  What about End of the Line they found so distasteful they didn't volunteer, and no one really cared to ask.

Once the wagon was gone, Gully mentioned that these weren't the first green hats End of the Line had seen talking about a man named Marranzano.  They had been coming, one family or two, for more than a year.  One fella, last spring, made the mistake of starting to homestead on some of  the Squire's grazing land.  The Gaffa had made short work of chasing him off.  It had become sport for him, harassing the pilgrims as the got off the train.  Using his badge to push them around.  Come fall, he had done such a good job that the new arrivals had all but dried up.  But the Gaffa still kept an eye out.  He had mistaken Adam for a Taw the evening Adam had walked into town.  Green cap or bare head, it was all the same to him.

Now that the Gaffa was gone, word must have gotten back to this Marranzano fella:  The Big Sue pass was open again.

The following week in End of the Line was remarkably uneventful.  With the cowboys returned to their ranches, the town sat quiet and empty once again.  Every morning Mrs. Sears would open her store, Gully swept the boardwalk in front of the saloon, and the sound of Big Ben hammering at his anvil would ring out in the cold mountain air.  There was little else about End of the Line that would indicate to an outsider that anyone lived there.  Adam loved the peace.  He sat at his table, by his window, in the wreckage of his saloon, and sipped a beer.  After the events of the least few weeks, he was happy for absolutely nothing to happen at all.

The peace was broken one morning when a rider galloped into town off the trail head.  It was one of Stallman's men who had left with the boss rancher's body the week before.  He charged down Main Street, leapt from his horse onto the steps of the Singing Hinny, and barreled through the swinging doors. 

“Sheriff!  Sheriff!”  He manged, gasping for breath.  Adam was stunned.  He came around the bar, and took the young man's arm.

“Slow down there!  Where's the fire?”  Adam found the man a chair, and sat him down.

“The Reverend...”  Was all the rider said, and dug a piece of paper out of his shirt.  Adam unfolded it, but whatever was written on it was illegible. 

“We'd...  We'd got u...  I can't read this.  Gully?”  Adam handed the sheet across the bar to Gully, who tuned his head sideways.

“We'd... got... you.. preacha..”  Gully said phonetically.  “Brung...   uss...  I can't make this out.”  But the rider had regained his breath.

“It's the Dry Gulch Gang...  They done kidnapped the Preacher...  Jumped him in the Big Sue when he let out to come home...  They're saying they want ten thousand dollars or else they're gonna kill him!”

“That's it.”  Gully said, only half listening.  “$10,000  The zeros look like b's...”

“The Preacher?  Reverend Evan?”  Adam said.

“Yep.  He spent a couple nights sitting up with the Lady Stallman, then she tells him to go home.  Nothing more she needs a man of God for.  So he takes his pony, and heads on out back to town.  But the next day, this young fella rides in.  Tosses down a bag on the stoop of the Boss Lady's house, and high tails it out of there.  She looks in it, and there's that note and the Preacher's backward collar.  Well, it takes us some time figuring out what the notes supposed to say, but once we got the gist, the Boss Lady sends me riding off for the Sheriff right quick.  Only, the snow's already started coming down, and I'm figuring that I either ride like Old Dutch is chasing me, or I'm going to be up there in the Big Sue for good.  So here I am.  Say, you couldn't spare a drink?  It's been a mighty hard ride...”

Adam pulled a bottle from behind the bar and poured the rider a drink.  The rider gulped it down, and Adam poured another.

“Who or what the heck is the Dry Gulch Gang?”  Adam asked.

“Rustlers on the far side of the Big Sue.”  Gully volunteered.  “Strictly small time.  Two, three head.  Just an annoyance, really.  Thing is, they have some sort of hideout in the Big Sue nobody been able to find.  They go in one end of the pass, and never come out the other.  Posse chased them once, but came up dry..  Even brought in an Indian tracker to follow their trail.  Nothing.  This is the first time they've ever done anything like kidnapping, though.”

“Ten thousand dollars?”  Adam said, taking a drink himself.  “Who the heck do they think they've kidnapped?  President Grant?”

“Mrs. Stallman says she ain't got nothing like that kind of money.”  The rider said into his glass.

“I'd reckon not.”  Adam finished his drink.  “Gully.  Better get ready for a council meeting.”

Once word got around about the ransom note, the Council members quickly gathered at the Hinny's pool table and convened an emergency meeting.  Adam took the Reverend's chair without anyone asking him to, figuring his Sheriff's badge paid his ante. 

“So we've all heard what's happen to the Reverend.”  The Mayor began as Gully poured the whiskey.  “Question is:  What we gonna do about it?”

“Them Dry Gulch bandits are a menace!”  Josey Thibodaux said, thumping the pool table.  “We should set the Sheriff on 'em, like we done to those no good Doogan Boys!”

“Yeah, a little Law and Order.”  Big Ben Bell said with a cheer.

“First off,”  Adam interjected.  “You don't set me on nothing.  Second off, going in gun blazing- even if we knew where these Dry Gulch boys were held up  -is just going to get the good Reverend killed.  We need to remember, we ain't holding any of the cards here.”

“Then what do you suggest, Sheriff?”  Josey said, indignant.

“Lord's truth?  Let's pay 'em.”  Adam said.  There was a unanimous groan of disapproval.

“Ten Thousand Dollars?  You must be joking!”

“Mayor.  Can you raise the funds?”  Adam asked, and the Mayor looked shocked.  “You do run a bank, don't you?”

“Well, you see...  It's just...  There really...”

“What he means to say is”  Josey interrupted.   “he ain't got no money.  What money folks around here got, they sure as heck ain't putting into no bank.  He's busted.  All he's holding is a bunch of paper on a bunch of mines that ain't got no gold in 'em.”

“I ain't busted.”  The Mayor said in his defense.  “But I ain't got nothing like ten thousand dollars.”

“Surely you got credit with other institutions.  If you wrote Minneapolis...”

“They'd probability ask, right up front, what I want the money for...  What kind a collateral do you think you've gotta put down on ransoming a Preacher?”

“Point taken.”  Adam said dejectedly. 

“So.”  Big Ben said after a pause  “Is guns blazing still on the table?”

“No!”  Adam said.

“Yes!”  Josey replied.

“That all well and good for those who ain't doing the blazing!”

“What are we paying you for, Sheriff?”

“I wasn't aware that you were paying me at all!”

“We ain't paying him?”  Josey said aside, to the Mayor.

“Ain't never voted in a paying position.  Gaffa never wanted any money, just the badge.”  The Mayor replied.

“Well, heck.”  Josey managed.

“Lets just think this through, a spell.”  Adam said, changing the subject.  “We can't raise the ransom.  That's crystal clear.  No one knows where these bandits is held up, so we can't sneak up and blast them.  Alright.  And by the spelling and grammar of the ransom note, they ain't going to listen to no reasoned negotiations.  I think that only leaves us with one option.”

“What that?”

“We gotta trick 'em.”

“Tick 'em?”  Asked the Mayor.  “Tick 'em how?”

“You say you're holding a lot of paper on a lot of mines?”  Adam thought out loud.

“Heck, safe is stacked with claims.  Ain't worth the paper they're printed on, though.”

“Panned out?”

“Of the easy pickings.”

“Good.  Good.” Adam was turning something over in his mind.  “So what we need is a big nugget of gold...” 

“What?”  The council all said at once.

“Gold.  You're the Assayer,  Thibodaux.  You must have some gold.”

“Well I...   What I mean is...  There's just...”

“What me means to say is”  The Mayor interrupted with pleasure.  “he might have something stash away.”

“I ain't got nothing like ten thousand dollars worth!”

“I don't need much, a few hundred dollars worth.  Enough to prime the pump, as they say.”

“But I can't give it away as no ransom!  It ain't mine!  I'd loose my job!”

“The Council will pay for the nugget.  That right?”  Adam looked around the table.  “The Council want to vote on that?”

“All in favor?”  The Mayor said.  Adam, Big Ben, and the Mayor raised their hands.  “Against?”  Josey, dejected, raised his.  “Then it's settled.”

“He can't vote.”  Josey said, pointing at Adam.  “He ain't even on the Council.”

“You're still out voted, two to one, Reb.  The Council will sit in recess.  Good luck Sheriff, whatever you've got planned.”
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« Reply #1 on: July 18, 2008, 11:47:42 am »

The next morning Adam set off from End of the Line on the back of one of Big Ben's horses.  He had one of Mrs. Sears' Winchester rifles in a boot on his saddle, Thibodaux's two hundred dollar gold nugget tucked into one pocket, and bottle of his own rye whiskey in the other.  As he hit the trail head leaving town, a soft breeze was blowing down some gentle flakes of snow...

By the time Adam was a few miles into the pass, the soft breeze and gentle flakes had turned into a all out blizzard.  He pushed on, hoping for a break in the weather, but got himself well and truly snowed in by dusk.  He gave up and turned around for End of the Line, trying hard to follow the walls of the pass back along the trail.  Dismounting, he lead Big Ben's horse by the reins, walking almost horizontal into the wind, but he quickly became disoriented, and found himself face-to-face with the shear stone wall of the Big Sue Pass.  Unsure which direction was east or west, Adam's horse decided this was as good a place as any to sit out the storm.  Adam didn't disagree, and slid down beside the animal for some relief from the whipping gale.  He took a few sips of his bottle, and realized he was well and truly stuck.

So much for saving the Reverend.  Who was going to save Adam?  As the whiskey warmed his insides, Adam suddenly felt extremely tied.  Snow was settling around him, and all he could see was white...

Adam awoke the the cracking of a large fire.  He was warm, perhaps too warm, and he could feel his face flush from the heat.  He sat up quickly, breathing in a lung full of heavily pungent air.  He coughed and his eyes began to water.  When Adam recovered from his retching, his eyes started to focus on a gray-haired man sitting a few feet away beside the fire.  The old man took a sip from Adam's bottle of rye as he tested the weight of Adam's rifle.

“Hey, that's...”  Adam managed, then succumb to another fit of retching. 

“Merci, my friend!”  The gray-haired man said, toasting Adam with the bottle.  He smiled showing a mouth full of yellowed broken teeth through his long gray beard.  He took another belt off the bottle and let out a belch.  “I did not think that you would mind, as I could have simply taken the bottle and left you in the snow.”  He spoke with a voice that obviously wasn't used to making the sounds of English.  French, or Creole, or something must have suited him much better.  “Seeing as I saved you life, I took the liberty!”

Adam chocked back his retching, and understood the old man's point.  Adam signaled his acceptance, and looked around the room.  Well, less of a room and more of a hut.  The walls seem to be made of mud and grass, and pelts of furry animals hung from the tree trunks that served as eves. The hut was hardly big enough for the old man, Adam, and the ragging fire.  But there they were.

“Thank you.”  Adam said, holding out his hand.  “My name is Ad Liche.  I'm from End of the Line.”

“This is quite a fine weapon.”  The old man replied, ignoring Adam's hand.  He pronounced 'weapon' with more than a few extra syllables.  “It is new, no?”

“Yeah, Winchester 1873.”

“Very fine.  Very.”

“Please.  A gift.”

“Oh, I could not...”

“No, please.  For saving my life.  I can get another.” 

The old man smiled his broken grin.  “Merci!  Merci Beaucoup, Monsieur Ad Liche!”  The old man shook Adam's hand vigorously.    “I am Vert, Vert De Salle.  I hunt these mountains.  As you can see.  A rifle...  A rifle like this.  It will take many furs.”

“You're welcome, Vert.”

“I am afraid your horse is dead, Monsieur Liche.  I shot it, with your fine rifle.”

“I see.”

“You were quite far gone yourself.  A few more minutes and I would have had to do the same for you, no?”  Vert laughed.

“No.”  Adam didn't.

“But, what would bring you out in such terrible weather?  Did you not see the storm coming?”

“The snow came on me so quick...”

“This, snow has a tendency to do.  Why begin such a journey at this time of the year?”

“I had to cross the pass to pay a ransom.”

“A ransom for what?”

“A man.  A preacher.”

“A ransom an a preacher?  You were going to pay with this?”  Vert pulled Adam's gold nugget out of his pocket, and held it up to the firelight.

“Now, I'm going to be needing that back...”

“Who would kidnap a man of God?  Who would do such a terrible thing?”

“An outfit calling them themselves the Dry Gulch Gang-”

“Oh!”  Vert returned the nugget to his pocket, and threw up his hand dismissively.  “Diablo...”

“What?  Diablo?”

“Not what.  Who.  El Diablo.  That is what he calls himself.  The leader of this Dry Gulch Gang.”  Vert did not sound very impressed.

“You know these fellas?”


“You know where they hold up?”


“You don't sound to rightly fearful of this bunch.”  Adam asked.  Vert snorted.

“They are idiots.  They steal animals from the ranchers below, but do not know what to do with them.  They leave the meat to rot in the sun.  If these men have your clergyman, I would expect that have done similar to him by now.”

“Can you take me to their hide out?”

“If you wish.  Now you said-”

“In the morning?”  Adam interrupted.

“It is still snowing!”

“When the storm breaks?”

“We will have to see.  This rifle-”

“And I'll need that nugget back.”  Interrupting again.

“Of course, but it does not seem very much ransom for a man?”

“Well, there's more where that came from.”


“Well, no, but El Diablo doesn't have to know that.”

“Ah...  Now, about this rifle...”

“I said it's yours.”

“Yes, but you said you can get another.”

“How many rifles do you need?”

“No, no, you misunderstand.  It is not for me.”

“A friend?”

“Not exactly...”

“Well, the mercantile in End of the Line has a nice selection.”

“Is business very good?”

“Actually, the town council just outlawed the sale of firearms...”

“That is unfortunate.”

“That ain't the half of it.”

“But perhaps fortunate for you and I.”  Vert let out a soft laugh.

“How's that?”

“I happen to know of an organization that is in the market for just such a fine rifle.”

“I ain't interested in running guns.”

“It is perfectly legitimate.  Across the boarder in Canada, the English have established a new police force to patrol their territories.  Royal Northwest Mounted Police...  Err... Mounties...”


 “Yes.  I was at Fort Whoop-Up not two weeks ago, and their Colonel expressed to me the inadequates of the equipment they have been issued.  I was led to believe that they were in the market for any arms of which they could get their hands on.  Now a fine rifle such as this, they would pay most handsomely.”

“How many of these Mountie fellas are there?”

“Three hundred, perhaps.  If perhaps you were to buy up all the rifles at this mercantile, we could sell them to the English and share the profits, no?”  Vert again smiled his yellow grin.  Adam quickly did some addition in his head.

“Yes...”  Adam said, then with mock seriousness.  “Vert, you don't know it and she don't know, but you just made a pretty lady very happy.”

“Ha!  It has been quite a while!”  Vert laughed.
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« Reply #2 on: July 18, 2008, 11:48:35 am »

The storm broke the next morning.  Vert and Adam set out from the hut at first light, strapping snow shoes onto their boots.  Vert said that the Dry Gulch's hideout was half a days walk away, and that it would be easy enough to approach unnoticed.  Adam had calculated that the little gun run to Canada could net Vert as much as two dollars a rifle.  This idea filled the old man with childlike impatience, and he was suddenly in a rush to get the Reverend Evan rescued.  Even with Vert and Adam's share, Adam was confident that Mrs. Sears could more than double her investment on the guns.  If these Mounties bought three hundred rifles, that'd be enough grub stake for Mrs. Sears to cut her losses in End of the Line and set up shop in a real town. 

It, of course, crossed Adam's mind to buy up all the guns at cents on the dollar and make the trip solely for his own benefit.  Unfortunately, all the cash in the Hinny's till wouldn't get him twenty rifles, even at rock bottom prices, and he still hadn't paid for the one he just gave Vert.  But it was more than that.  After her help shooting it out with the the Doogans, Adam felt that he owed Mrs. Sears something.  She wasn't the sort that would take his help, but she was far too shrewd a business woman to pass up an opportunity like this.  If he could help her get the heck out of End of the Line, maybe that would be part payment for her shooting Ed Doogan.  I'd be something, anyway.

It was just after noon when Vert and Adam came upon the Dry Gulch hideout.  They crested a snow covered ridge, and set eyes on a small cluster of log cabins set back deep in a ravine.  Smoke rose from a makeshift chimney topping the largest of the buildings.  It was easy to see how a posse had been unable to track the rustlers to such a secluded spot.  Without Vert, Adam would never have found it.  Not in a million years of looking.

“You sure this is it?”  Adam asked, crouching down behind the ridge.

“I am sure.”

“Then that's all you can do for me.”  Adam patted the gold nugget in one pocket, and his revolver in the other. 

“Would you like me to cover you from here?”

“Nope.  There ain't going to be any shooting.”

“You sound very confident.”  Vert snorted.

“I've had my belly full of guns.”  Adam said, and climbed over the ridge.  “You'll wait for me?”  Adam yelled back, sliding down into the ravine on his buttocks. 

“Don't worry!  I'll find you before you freeze again!”  Vert yelled.  “You going to make me very rich,  Monsieur Ad Liche!”  And he was gone.

Adam pulled himself to his feet at the base of the ravine.  He tromped through the snow until he was almost at the door or the largest cabin.  All was quiet except for the sound of his snow shoes compressing the snow.  If this was an outlaw camp, they was little that indicated it.  Adam expected to be challenged, accosted, or otherwise told that he wasn't welcome.  He reached the door and realized that he was going to have to knock.  Maybe Vert had made some sort of mistake.

Adam knocked three times on the log door, and strained to hear muffled voices stirring inside.  He knocked three times again, and one of the voices yelled out something inaudible.  Things fell quiet, and Adam contemplated what to do.  He was about the knock a third time, when the log door began to rattle.  It opened an inch, and a pistol barrel poked out.

“What the heck?”  Came from the darkness inside.  Adam wasn't sure if it was a statement or a question.

“Err....  I...  That is...”  Adam felt like a fool.  “Is this?....  Are you Diablo?”  It was all he could think to say.  The gun barrel seemed to be stunned silent.

“What do you want?”  It said.

“I'm Sheriff Liche of End of the Line.”

“Sheriff?!”  There was cocking sound from behind the door.

“I have your ransom!”  Adam blurted out as quickly as possible.  He raised his hands in surrender. 

“The ransom?”  The gun barrel seemed confused.

“For the preacher...”

“The ransom!  Well, that's a different matter entirely!”  The door was pulled open, and a grizzled, shirtless, gray haired man kept the pistol leveled at Adam.  “Get in here before I freeze my nuts!”  He said, waving with the gun.  Adam lunged forward into the cabin, his snow shoes slapping on the wood floor.

Three other men were inside the cabin.  Adam instantly recognized the Reverend sitting beside the franklin stove, disheveled, but otherwise unharmed.  Like the man with the gun, the other two men were also in various stages of slumber.  A large Chinese man lay snoozing on a cot, while a lanky curly haired man dressed in long johns sat up in his bed.

Suddenly, the shirtless man was rifling through Adam's pockets.  His snow shoes, and the pistol barrel in small of his back, made it hard for Adam to resist.  Before he knew it, the gold nugget, the ransom note, the deed to worthless gold mine, and Adam's pistol where on a rough wooden table in from of him.

“Who the heck is this?”  The curly haired man said, pulling his britches on.

“He's our meal ticket!”  The shirtless man said, still frisking Adam.  “So?  Where is it?”

“Where's what?”

“The ransom, idiot!”  Finding nothing, the shirtless man turned to the items on the table.

“There you are.”  Adam said, gesturing to the contents of his pockets.

“What?  This?”  The man questioned, holding up the nugget.


“This ain't worth no ten thousand dollars?”

“No, but-”  Adam managed before the shirtless man shoved the gun in his face.

“You said you had the ransom!”

“I do, but you have to let me explain!”  Adam said quickly.

“And how the heck did you find us here?”  The man ignored Adam.  “Nobody can find our hideout!”

“I figured in this snow, you wouldn't be coming down to the Lazy S to collect your random.  So I brought it up here.  Wasn't hard to find it really...”

“You're laying...”

“Laying about what?  I'm here, ain't I?  If I can find it, then my posse sure can too.”  Adam let the word  'posse' hang in the air for a moment.  It seems to focus attention.  The Chinese fella stirred from his sleep.

“Posse?”  The curly haired man said.

“Yep, sent of twenty guns out of Virgina City the moment we got your note.  Seems the Reverend here has some powerful friends in the territorial government.”  For the first time since Adam's arrival, the Reverend looked up from the stove.  He gave Adam a pained look of incredulity, then looked back at the iron pot.

“Twenty Guns, Trigger Jim!”  The curly haired man panicked.  “We're in for it now!”

“Will you hush a spell, Curly John!”  Trigger Jim bellowed back at his friend, then turned to Adam.  “If you've got a posse, why you knocking on our door with nothing but a six gun?”

“Posse's still down in End of the Line, waiting on the snow.  Figured I'd mosey on up here and have a jaw while we were waiting.  I hear that you're all reasonable men.  Reckoned on maybe we could make ourselves a deal where no one's got to get all shot to hell.”

“You said you had the ransom...”

“And I do.  Right there on the table.  That there mine is worth a might more than ten thousand.  Look at that nugget.  That's just a sample.”

“We ain't interested in no damn mine!”

“As I said, I was thinking on making a deal.”

For behind a door at the rear of the cabin, a fit of coughing interrupted the conversation.  Someone was waking in a back room.  The Reverend flinched like he had been bitten, and the three men fell quiet in expectation.  After a few more deep, phlegmatic hacks, the door swung open on the darkened room.  A young man, no more than twenty, stepped out, half dressed in blue jeans and a shirt.   His hair was wild from sleep, and he rubbed at his eyes.  It was something of an anticlimax after the awed hush the other man had afforded the coughing. 

“What's all the yelling about?”  The young man said sleepily.   “Who the heck is this?”

“Sheriff from End of the Line.”  Trigger Jim said.

“Sheriff?”  The young man reached for a phantom gun at his hip.  Denied, he looked around quickly for a weapon.  He grabbed at a rifle that was laying at the foot of the Chinese man's bed.  “Where'd he come from?”

“Just up and knocked on the door.”  Curly John said.  “Says he's here to pay the ransom, Diablo.” 

The young man was Diablo.  Perfect.

“Grand, where is it?”  Diablo said, look at the table.

“That's why we was yelling.”  Trigger Jim replied.  “He ain't got no money.  He's brought us a nugget and some piece of paper for a mine.”

“Well, that ain't no ten thousand dollars...” 

“What I said.”

“I understand you fellas disappointment, but if you'll all put down the guns and let me explain, I think you might see why this here deed and nugget are a might nicer than ten thousand dollars in cash.”

“Why ain't nobody shot him yet?”  Diablo said, cocking his rifle.

“He says he's got a posse back in town waiting on the snow.”  Curly John said nervously.  “Twenty guns, and they know the way here.”

“Nobody knows the way here.”

“He did...” 

“So what so special about this mine?”  Diablo said after a thoughtful pause.  Adam breathed a sigh of relief. 

“Surely you boys know about the Marauding Monk?”  Adam said conversationally.  The Reverend looked up from the stove again, unknowing panic in his eyes.   

“The what?”

“Marauding Monk?  No?  Where you boys been?  Don't you know why the railroad stopped building in these hills?”  Adam looked back and forth between the Dry Gulch Gang.  They exchanged confused looks.

“I figured they ran out of money...”  Diablo offered weakly. 

“Heck no!  Well, it did bust 'em, but that came later.  What put and end to the railroad was the ghost of the Marauding Monk!”

“Ghost?”  They all said at once.

“Yep.  Appeared at night and warned off them that was laying the tracks.  Said only bad things would come to those that labored in these mountains.  Scared off every living soul.  Couldn't get a man to  hammer a spike for fear of his life.  Broke the back of the railroad.”

“These hills is haunted?”  Curly John said mostly to himself.

“And how.  Of course, fear of the Marauding Monk didn't scare off the treasure hunters.”


“Yep.  You see, the legend goes that there was this Monk down in a priory San Antonio way.  Keeping to himself, living the cloistered life.  Then he gets this call from God- though some say it was the devil -to punish them that despoiling the New World.  So this Monk becomes a bandit.  Starts robbing wagon trains.  Shipments of gold, collected from the natives by the Queen of Spain.  He quickly becomes amazingly wealthy, starts living like some Bandit King.  Even has his own town.  That is until God comes to him again, and tells him that he's lost his way.  Course, the Monk's living high on the hog now, and he ignores God's demands he change his ways.  Retribution comes when the Queen of Spain sends an army to put and end to Marauding Monk's little bandit empire.  Burns his town.  Defeated, the Monk escapes to the north, leaving not a speck of treasure behind.

“Now, that's where the legend ends, but once word got out that his ghost had been seen around these parts, people started putting two and two together.  If the Monk's restless soul, punished by God for his arrogance, was wondering through these hills, then maybe this was where he had come to hideout from the Queen of Spain.  And if this was where he'd ultimately kicked the bucket, maybe this was where he'd hidden all that ill-gotten loot before his death. 

“So the railroad's stuck 'cause everyone's afraid to build it, but that don't stop folks from sinking holes every which way, trying to dig up the Monk's treasure.  People start finding gold, but it's the regular sort of natural stuff.  Well, things really start to go crazy then.  Treasure hunters, gold miners, you name it.  Built that whole town of End of the Line.  I'm sure that's what brought you fellas out here.”

“I don't remember nothing about no treasure?”  Said Trigger Jim.

“See, that's where this mine comes into the story.  With all the gold fever, folks forgot about the Monk and his treasure.  Fella here stakes his claim early on during the rush, but dies under mysterious circumstances.  Next fella who stakes the claim there dies too.  All told, the patch of land goes through six owners, no man living outside of three weeks.  The claim gets a reputation for being cursed, and folks avoid it.  By the time the likes of you and me show up, everyone's plum forgot why no one wants the claim, just that it should be steered clear of.”

“What you saying?”  Diablo asked with skepticism.  “That this long dead Marauding Monk knocked off these miners to protect his treasure?”

“Nobody can say for sure.  Weren't nothing like a sheriff back then to look into the matter.   All folks remember is that all six of them miners were found in their beds, their faces twisted with such fits of fear that they had to bury them with the coffins closed.”

“Diablo,”  Curly John said pensively.  “I don't want no cursed mine.”

“We don't want no mine, Curly John!”  Diablo said.  “Cursed or not.”

“Are you some sort of idiot?”  Trigger Jim asked.  “You want us to end up like them miners?”  Adam smiled inside.
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« Reply #3 on: July 18, 2008, 11:49:18 am »

“Now listen, I just told you all of that so you boys don't go hearing no rumors once you get into town.  I for one don't believe a word of it.  Marauding Monks.  Cursed Mines.  Lost Spanish Treasures.  If you ask me, it's all a load of bunk.  Pure and simple.  I'm new to this part of the world.  They make me Sheriff, then in comes this ransom note asking for ten thousand dollars.  Now this is in a County, you understand, which took in a grand total of one hundred and sixty dollars last year in taxes.  Where the heck am I supposed to come up with ten grand?  I ask myself, 'cause I know you boys are serious about your work.  I ask around.  I ask everybody, and everybody says the same thing.  Them Dry Gulch boys, they're serious about their work.  Damn dirty killers, they say.  So I know I've got to come up with the money right quick, or I'm going to have a dead preacher on my hands.”

“Dirty killers, they say?”  Trigger Jim seemed to like the sound of that.

“So there's only one thing that Seldon County owns that worth a nickel.  Default claims held in lieu of taxes.  I start flipping through them, and I come across that beauty right here.  Why ain't this one panned out?  I ask.  Gotta be a claim worth twenty thousand if it was worth a penny.  So I ask around, and I get this story that I just told you folks.  Craziest story I've heard in awhile.  But here it is.  In a county filled with panned out claims, one plum just sitting there left to be picked.  Being short on time, I ride on over and check out the digs.  Twenty minutes of poking around and I pull that their nugget right out of the ground!  Didn't even have a pan with me.  It was insane, I tell you.  But there it is.”

Attention focused on the large gold nugget on the table.  Adam had them mesmerized.

“On the way back I get caught in this snow, and I figure I might as well just make my way on out to you, and offer the deal face to face.  And here it is, this is what I got, all I can bring to the table for you boys:  On the one hand, I got a mine.  A real production mine that, for whatever reason, ain't been plucked clean.  Maybe it's haunted.  Maybe it's the long lost resting place of a Bandit Monk's great fortune.  Maybe half a dozen miners were frighted to death in their beds.  I don't know.  What I do know is that it's a working claim, that'll payout far more than what you boys are asking. 

“On the other hand, I  got twenty crack men sent to me by the Territorial Governor himself.  Saddled up and waiting for a break in the weather.  We know where you're at, we know who you are, and we got written warrants from a Governor that wants you all dead.  Now, I can't make any decisions for you men.  I came here offering you boys a far deal at a far price.  But if you turn down this offer, or I don't walk out of these mountains when the snow thaws, I can guarantee you're only gonna get a second offer from the barrel of a gun.”

Adam let it all sink in.  They were obviously confused.  Heck, he was confused, and he'd made up the story.  He glanced at his six gun on the table.  If things went south he figured he could get Diablo and the Chinese fella before anyone in the room knew what hit them.  The one called Curly John wouldn't be a problem.  Since arriving, Adam hadn't seemed him toting a gun, and he probably wasn't much for using one if he did.  The one called Trigger Jim was different.  He had remained behind Adam, still shirtless, still hold his cocked gun.  Adam would be dead before he reached the table.  Unless...

“So all this Marauding Monk talk is just hokum, ah?”  Diablo finally piped up.  Adam saw a glimmer of hope.

“Sure it is.  Ghosts and demons.  That stuff ain't real.”

“You sure?”  Curly John chimed in.

“Well, I ain't been everywhere and seen everything, but I ain't a superstitious man.  Always a sensible reason for all that sort of stuff, when you get right down to it.”  Adam suddenly wished he could believe his own words.

“And you figure this mine is paying out?”  Diablo questioned.

“Look at the nugget yourself.”

“We ain't got any tools.  What we going to do for equipment?”

“I can personally extend you credit at Entenmann's Hardware in End of the Line.  The proprietor and I are going into business.  Got all the equipment you'd ever need.  Reasonable prices, too.”

“Heck, we ain't ever worked an honest day in our lives...”  Trigger Jim said from behind Adam.  Even without looking, Adam knew he was lowering his gun. 

“Never to early to start!” 

Without warning, Adam thrust is elbow back into Trigger Jim's face.  He connected with a satisfying crack, and Trigger Jim crumpled back against the door.  While the rest of the room stood in shock, Adam lunged forward, grabbed his gun, and cocked the hammer.  Diablo tried to raise his rifle, but Adam sent a single shot ricocheting off a metal skillet hanging on the wall.   As everyone's ears rang, Diablo lowered the rifle.

“Hail Mary!”  Diablo said, wiggling his finger in his left ear.

“Now we can talk like civilized people.”  Said Adam, re-cocking the gun.  “The Reverend and I are walking out of here-”  Reverend Even didn't need any more prompting.  He jumped from his place by the stove, and began moving Trigger Jim's unconscious body from in front of the door.  “-, but I'll be leaving you boys that there nugget and deed.  Gun or no gun, I'm still figuring that a deal is a deal.  The Reverend for the mine.  If once we're gone, you all get to thinking that you just bought yourselves a pig in a poke, You come on down to End of the Line.  I'll buy you boys and drink, and we can pick up where we left off.  Right here.”  Adam gestured with the gun.

The Reverend had the door open, and Adam stepped back out into the snow.  The Reverend closed the door behind them, and backed away from the cabin slowly. 

“Get a move on.”  Adam said, turning and running.  He didn't have his snow shoes this time, and making headway was difficult.

“We're never gonna get away!”  The Reverend said, struggling in the snow.

“They're thinking on it...”  Adam glanced back over his shoulder.  The cabin door was still closed.

“What was all that bunk about a Marauding Monk?”  The Reverend said breathlessly.  “I don't remember the miners ever telling any stories about a treasure.”

“As I said.  They're thinking on it.”

“You just made it all up?”


“But why?”

“Keep moving!”  Adam yelled.  They were almost to the base of the ridge Adam had slid down.  If they could clear it, they'd be out of rifle range.

“Is there really any gold in that mine?”

“Sure, why not?”

“You found that nugget just laying on the ground?”

“Heck, no.  That's one of Thibodaux's.”  They were climbing the slop.  Scrambling.

“Then there's no gold?”

“Will you get moving!”  The Reverend slipped, but Adam manged to catch him.  Pulling them both to their feet, Adam continued.  “Sure there is.  Dig hard enough.  Gold Rushers are only ever interested in the easy pickings.  They leave plenty of metal still in the ground.”

“I'm sorry, I just don't understand.” 

They were at the top of the ridge.  Reverend Evan and Adam threw themselves over and lay for a second in the deep snow. 

“Well, those boys are eventually going to go check out their new mine.”  Adam began almost in a whisper.  “First few nights, I reckon they ain't going to be doing a heck of a lot of sleeping.  Every creek and shadow is going to be the Marauding Monk coming to scare them away from his treasure.”  Adam peaked over the ridge at the cabin below.  All was still quiet.

“Now, after a couple nights of nothing happening, they're gonna start thinking that all my story was bunk.  There ain't no Monk and there ain't no treasure.  We got suckered with a plug nickel.  But then, once they pan out their first few specks of gold, their minds are gonna start churning.”  The door to the cabin was still closed.  Adam would have given anything to hear the conversation that was going on inside.  “If there is gold in this mine, then at least some of that Sheriff's story is on the up and up.  If this here mine ain't picked clean, maybe those miners were scared dead in their beds.  There's gonna be a few more sleepless nights after that, but not as bad as when they first started digging.  'Cause now that other part of my story will start echoing in their ears.  The part about that lost Spanish Treasure.”  Adam lay back down again in the snow.  Nothing was coming out of the cabin anytime soon.

“And so it will go.  A little bit of hard work will dug up some gold.  That will feed their greed which, in turn, will feed their curiosity.  That curiosity will feed their fear of the Marauding Monk, which will come back around and start feeding their greed again.  All in a loop, building on itself.  All the time, them digging deeper and deeper into that mine.  Half scared out of their wits, but still digging.  More scared of stopping.  And that's right where we want them.”

“Mining for gold?”

“Mining for anything.  Herding horses.  Tending store.  Heck, doesn't matter.  Anything that isn't rustling and kidnapping and hurting folk.” 

A figure was emerging from the forest by the ridge.  Shadowy at first, but becoming clearer.

“Ah, I see.”  The Reverend seemed unconvinced.

“And they said it:  Mining needs a lot of equipment.  Some of that gold they're digging up, they're gonna have to come down to End of the Line and spend.”

“At the hardware store?”

“Sure.  And if they're gonna do business with civilized folk, they're going to have to learn to behave themselves.  More money they get in their pockets, the more business they're gonna be doing, and the better behaved they're gonna have to be.  Heck, get them rich enough and they're gonna have to turn into bona fide model citizens.”

“Maybe even start going to church come a Sunday.”  The Reverend smiled.

“Well, miracles are your department, Reverend.”

The shadowy figure approached.  It was Vert, carrying his rifle..

“To true.”  Said the Revered, resigned.  “It seems wrong, though.  To reward such bad men so.”

“Money ain't now reward, Reverend.  Not when you have to earn it.”

“I see you are not dead, Monsieur Ad Liche.”  said Vert once he was in earshot.  He smiled his yellow toothed grin.  “And this is your preacher?  Nice to see that you are also not dead.”

“Good to see you, Vert.”  Adam smiled.

“You said there would be no shooting.  I heard a shot.”

“One shot.  Old habits.”  Said Adam.  “We'd like to go home, Vert.”  And he meant it.  For the first time End of the Line actually felt like his home. 

“Oui.  This way.”

Vert lead the Reverend and Adam off the mountains by a winding trail through thick forest that was mercifully free of snow.  Vert parted ways from the two men once they were safely back on the Big Sue, with a reminder to Adam about their deal for the guns.  Vert left without indicating how Adam was to deliver his share of the profits or otherwise get in contact with the old man again, but Adam didn't worry.  Vert had already shown an uncanny ability to show up when needed, and Adam had no doubt he'd know when to show up to collect his money too. 

Back in End of the Line, the Reverend was welcomed home with open arms.  The snow had hit the town right after Adam's departure.  Once Adam had failed to also return, little hope was held out for him or the rescue.  Needless to say, everyone was surprised to see him alive and well.  The Town Council was a little irritated that their two hundred dollar nugget wasn't recovered, but considered it fair value for the life of the Reverend Evan.  Adam climbed into a bottle and a piping hot bath for as long as he could stand both, and refused to leave the warmth of the Singing Hinny until all the snow had melted away. 

About a week after the snow thawed, Adam was in Entenmann's Hardware Store discussing business details with Mrs. Sears, when the Dry Gulch Gang rode into town.  They first stopped at Thibodaux's office to cash in their nugget, then walked into Mrs. Sears' store with a receipt in hand. 

“Sheriff.”  Diablo said on seeing Adam.  They all looked nervous.  Perhaps a little confused.

“Diablo.  You come here to finish our discussion?”  Adam fingered the handle of his gun.

“No, sir.”  Diablo said.  He almost sounded respectful.  Adam was dismayed.  “We have a chit here from the Assayer.  He said it'd be good as cash in here.”

“That it is.”  Mrs. Sears said.  She gave Adam a shocked look.

“Here's a list of what we need...”  Diablo unfolded a familiar piece of paper.  They had written their shopping list on the back of their ransom note.

They needed far more than two hundred dollars worth of equipment, but Adam signed a note for the balance, and Mrs. Smith took it with a little grumbling.  When the Dry Gulch Gang had loaded up their ponies and once again made out from the trail head, Mrs. Smith asked Adam a question.

“What did you do to those poor boys out there?”  She asked.  “I ain't seen anyone so beat down so hard in my life.”

“Nothing.  Nothing at all.”  Adam answered.  “That's what the promise of a little money will do.  Nothing civilizes like a dollar.”
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