Saturday, September 7, 2013

Western Novel in 30 Working Days -- day 18

To tell you the truth, I don’t know what day it is. It seems I’ve fallen back into my old novel-writing habits of writing snatches whenever I can snatch a little time. Trying to finish up the short story we talked about during the Interim, and trying to get started on The Sheriff, a novel for Western Fictioneers, have kept me from long sessions at my foolscap notebook.

Nevertheless, progress moves ahead, which is comforting. Progress moving arrears would not get things done very quickly.

Takishim slithered up behind Stryker.

“Young man dead. Other young man very sick. Very big young man don’t fight. Old man now tied up. You come.”

Stryker slid backward, away from the boulder that sheltered him. Takshim led the way, showing Stryker how to hide, where to zig, when to zag, until they reached the deep cavern where Lester Dent and his boys, and Molly Miller, spent the night.

Rocks fallen from the cliffs above formed a breastworks of a sort in front of the cave, but sooner or later, Cousins’ fighters would shoot at the roof of the cavern, trying to ricochet bullets around inside and kill or wound those inside.

As if Stryker’s thoughts had triggered them, rifles began pouring hot lead into the cavern. He hit the ground and wriggled to a point in the natural breastworks where he could see the rocks that lay scattered along the towering canyon walls.

Skeleton Cave in yesteryear
“Trying for ricochets, eh? The 5th Cavalry did that against the Apaches at Skeleton Cave,” Carpenter said.

“Yavapai,” Stryker said. “What’s the situation here?”


“Yeah. The Indians at Skeleton Cave were Yavapais. What’s the situation here?” he asked again.

“Middle boy shot dead,” Carpenter said. “Oldest’s got the raging shits from something. Molly figures it’s too much rotgut with too much kerosene in it. Et him up inside, she figures. He’s useless. Wee Willy, that’s the big kid, he’s stuck by Molly’s side. Don’t even have a gun.”

So the outfit that killed the stagecoach driver and shotgun messenger, did away with passengers, tried to kill Dodge Miller, and burned the stage station to the ground has not fared well on Hell’s Trail.

Skeleton Cave ca. 2011
The cavern stretched back under the cliff for at least a dozen yards, then slanted down for several more before ending in a wall with a hole in it that looked like a sphincter. The hole was perfectly round and surrounded with wrinkled limestone that gave it a puckered look. The hole itself was a good three feet across and nothing but black space showed behind it.

Old Man Dent’s body lay against the back of the cavern. The ricochet had taken him from the side and ripped through at least one lung. No exit wound showed. Lee Roy lay next to his pa, throat torn open by flattened and jagged lead. The vast amount of blood on his clothes said he’d bled to death.

Molly Miller, her clothes tattered to the point they hardly obscured anything from view, sat with her back to the stone wall of the cavern. Finn Bent lay crosswise of her, his head in her lap. She wiped his sweating face periodically with a rag. She gave Carpenter and Stryker a nod of recognition.

“How’s Finn?” Carpenter said.

“Can’t believe it’s just rotgut,” she said. “He’s too low and the blood won’t stop.”

Nate Cousins took the scene in at a glance. He didn’t stop to talk, he just strode around the bend in the cavern and surveyed the horses and mule. Nothing among the loads and gear strewn along the cavern wall even hinted of gold.

“Damn,” he said as he returned to the main cave. “Oh, ‘scuse me, ma’am,” he said to Molly.

“I’ve heard worse, Nate Cousins,” she said. “But why would you swear?”

“When you left Miller’s well, missus, that big old mule had a heavy pack a gold. Dunno what it was in, but no one man’s gonna lift that much. Did you see it?”

“Listen, Nate, I was hardly in a position to take stock of everything Lester Bent tied on the mule.” She wiped cold sweat from Finn’s brow. “But there was something heavy. It always took three of them to life stuff up on the pack mule, now that you mention it.”

“When’d you get here?”

“Just after sundown yesterday.”

“Heavy stuff there then?”

“I didn’t notice.”

“You unload the mule?”

“No. Lester and Lee Roy did that.”

“Heavy when they loaded yesterday?”

“Didn’t notice.”

“Mule look light?”

“Didn’t notice.”

“Damn, missus. Don’t you watch what’s going on around you?” Cousins’ voice started getting a hard edge on it.

“Nate Cousins. Don’t you talk to me like that. I’m here with three man-animals, and Wee Willy, and you expect me to keep minute watch on everything that goes on? How do you think I got this broken nose?”

So Nate Cousins has his gunmen outside, the Dents are all but gone, which leaves only the rag-tag bunch from Alamo – and the gold has disappeared. The Alamo group comes, only to have a run-in with the Cousins gunmen.

Takishim slithered up to Stryker’s position so quietly that the other two may not have noticed. “John Walker is here,” he said.



Stryker turned his eyes in the direction Takishim indicated. At first, he didn’t see Walker. Then the white Pima moved his eyes, and Stryker caught the movement. “I see you, John Walker,” he said.

“I reckon you can, Matthew Stryker. I may have chose Pima ways but I speak ‘merikan just fine.”

“Good to meet you, Walker,” Stryker said. “You got anything to do with all the rifle fire that’s going on?”

“I come to tell you to give up,” Walker said. “Ain’t no reason for you to die. No gold’s worth that much.”

Was Old Dominion gold like this?

“Sorry, Walker. I reckon you’re after the Old Dominion gold that the Dents stole from the Ridges & Hale stage, but we ain’t got it.”

“The Hell you say.”

“Ain’t got it.”

Walker raised an arm, then he was gone.

“I follow,” Takishim said, and he, too, disappeared.

“Damn,” Stryker said. He stopped and stood silent for a moment. “No rifle fire,” he said. Then the whole side of the canyon wall above their heads exploded.

Now Stryker and who knows who else is buried under an avalanche of rocks blown off the cliff face by Alamo miners.

Word count: 29444