Main Characters: All Seven
Rusty Thompkins joined the small group of men on the station platform in the little town of Red Fork. The small train had just arrived, after the engine and coal bin there were only three other cars on this special run, a stock car, a passenger car and one for cargo which was being loaded now with various equipment and most likely food supplies. He could see one armed guard just inside the door, presumably guarding the mine's payroll.
Silver had been discovered in the area and a few business men from back east had formed a company that bought out the original prospectors, who had all walked away happy and rich. Then the newly formed company had managed to get enough investors to rapidly expand the lucrative mine.
Rusty was one of the dozen men that had been hired for this latest expansion that were told to report here today. He looked at the others gathered near him, with his non-descript looks, average height and weight and rough worn clothes he fit right in. It looked like most of the new miners were unarmed; he was only one of a few that were wearing guns. Not surprising since most often new miners were those that were down on their luck and might not have been able to afford one and shouldn't need one at work since most mines usually hired guards. Trying not to look obvious he made note of those whose appearance didn't fit in with the rest. There was a black man carrying what looked like a doctor's bag, which didn't make any sense, everyone knew there was no such thing as a darkie doctor. The other man that stood out, and due to his large size he couldn't help but stand out, was older and wearing a large cross around his neck. Although some of the men there appeared muscular and everyone there was younger, this large older man with salt and pepper close-cropped hair looked like he could clobber anyone there with his ham sized fists, not to mention that his arms looked as large as some men's legs. But what was with the cross, he certainly didn't look like no preacher he'd ever seen and why would he be going to a mine? A few of the men had started introducing themselves and were making small talk so Rusty drifted over to where the older man was and after introducing himself asked if he was a preacher.
The man, who had said his name was Josiah, gave Rusty a small sad smile then said that, no he wasn't a preacher anymore, that, 'him and the Lord had parted ways awhile back, but even though they didn't see eye to eye on a few things that maybe, while these hands were working at the mine he could still spread the word of God a bit.'
Rusty smiled back and then after chatting a bit more he moved over to where a couple of men were talking to that darkie, one asked him what he was doing there and when he had replied that he had been hired by the mine, another asked why he had a doctor's bag. The tall man replied that he was a healer, had trained some in the war and afterwards and since he was adept at setting bones, stitching cuts and such that when the mine owners couldn't find a 'real doctor' to go all the way out to the middle of nowhere that they'd had to settle with him. Some of the men muttered that they would never let him touch them but the black man, who said his name was Nathan, just shrugged, and the men didn't say anything else. Rusty chuckled to himself thinking it wasn't a coincidence that they all shut up just as the large ex-preacher came over and introduced himself to the so-called healer. Rusty took the opportunity to drift over towards the other end of the platform where some of the other men stood there watching something.
Apparently the workers had finished loading the cargo car; the stock car doors were now open and with the ramp in place Rusty could see a milk cow and a couple of beef cattle being loaded. Hearing a bit of a commotion he was surprised when he saw several men waiting ready to load their horses. When he was hired on as a miner they were told not to bring their horses if they had one, since the mine would not provide a barn or a corral and would not bring in feed for them, so had made arrangements with the local livery for miners to be able to leave their horse and gear there for a decent rate. Some of the men were so down on their luck that they didn't own a horse and some just sold theirs rather than have that added expense even though the mine company paid the livery in advance and deducted the cost from their wages. Curious Rusty looked at the men with horses; none of them looked remotely like miners. His cousin Lenny always told him to on the lookout for anyone unusual or anything out of place; you live longer that way he said, so he couldn't help wondering what they were doing there, since this train only ran from this town to the mine.
Rusty saw the two of the men that loaded the cattle lead two horses into the stock car, and wondered why and who they belonged to. Next up a fine looking chestnut quarter-horse was being gently coaxed up the ramp by a well-dressed man. Wearing a black flat-topped riverboat style hat, a red jacket over a gold brocade vest, neat pants and shined black boots, he looked like he should be presiding over a poker table in a fine hotel. Why would a gambler be heading to a dirty mine in the middle of nowhere? Rusty was certain this train carried the mine's payroll, maybe the gambler figured to win most of it off the miners? Now a large man with dark hair and a moustache was easily leading his horse into the stock car. Although he was wearing a gun he seemed friendly enough as he smiled to the everyone he passed; he looked like he could be almost anything, a cowboy or a rancher or even a lawman but not a miner so Rusty decided he was most likely hired on as a guard at the mine, that could explain needing a horse if he had to ride the perimeter areas maybe.
"Get going you stupid mule, or I'll just leave you here for the wolves!" exclaimed a buckskin clad young man with long light brown hair, cussing up a storm and smacking his large black blazed-faced horse on the nose as the contrary beast tried to bite him.
"Why won't he get on?" asked a younger man, not much more than a boy really. This one was wearing a brown three piece suit like a businessman or an Easterner would and a bowler hat. An unlikely pair to be travelling together, let alone to a mine.
"Can't blame him, why would he want to get on this infernal contraption? Just to be cooped up with cattle in a noisy moving box. I told you there's no need for us to take a train, we can just ride there."
"And I told you, it's much faster, and doesn't tire you or your horse out, you just wait and see, I bet you'll like it. Let me go first, this horse you chose for me seems steady and calm, and yours can follow."
The buckskin clad man roughly shoved his horse away from the end of the ramp but before the youth could move his bay horse onto the it a stern faced slender blond man leading a black horse shoved past him, his long black duster falling open to show twin conch-handled pistols. A glare from him had the youth stepping out of his way so fast he almost fell over his own feet, bumping into the solid body of the tall mustached man.
"Whoa there kid, stay out of the way."
"You know him? Who is he?"
"I know of him, and you best stay out of his way. Wonder what the hell he's doing here? Damn, might not want this job if it means having to deal with the likes of him." The large man sighed and turned to follow the scowling man.
"Do you still think we'd be better off in the train with someone like that, than riding there," asked the buckskin clad young man.
"Yes, Vin, it'll be fine, now help me get, oh what's his name again, oh yeah, Milagro, in here and I'll help you with uh, Penny, no I mean, Peso."
After more cussing and shoving amid laughter from the men watching, the odd pair finally got their horses settled and the workers were able to remove the ramp and shut the door.
"Maybe I should stay in there with them, Peso's sensitive and won't take kindly to be bumped around.
"No, we have to go into the passenger car. It should be a smooth ride, straight down the main line then the train will slowly come to a stop," explained the Easterner as they joined the other men now lining up by the door of the passenger car, "and someone will get out and switch the rails to the side spur to the mine, shouldn't be any jarring or abrupt stops or anything, they'll be fine, I know I've been...."
"I know, I know, you've been on lots of trains back East, and all the way out here, but I still don't have to like it," he snarled.
The train door opened and both the conductor and the man that did the hiring for the mine stepped out. The man in the red jacket, the glaring man in the black duster and the mustachioed man gave tickets to the conductor and got onto the train. Everyone else lined up in front of the man from the mine who checked their names off his list as they boarded.
Rusty was surprised to see the unlikely pair join this line, he would have pegged them in the other category, those whose transportation wasn't being paid by the mine, so he turned around and after introducing himself said, "you two sure don't look like miners.
"No, certainly not," explained the youth, "My names JD and this is Vin. I'm from Boston. Sometimes when a mine wants a geologist to explore other caves to assess whether it would be feasible to mine them, they contact a college who sends out a student to do the research. They usually hire a guide too. It's not as if I can't read a map myself, and I bought guns and know how to use them, but they say it's best to hire a local tracker, guess in case of snakes or wild animals or I don't know, outlaws maybe. This is like a dream come true for me. I always wanted to come to the Wild West, and now here we are.
"So you're a guide?" Rusty asked Vin.
"Among other things," Vin chuckled, "Like tracking and hunting up dinner; probably cooking it too."
Rusty laughed, thinking of the young greenhorn out alone trying to rustle up his own vittles.
"Hey, I told you I know how to shoot. I bet I could find something to eat out there, but I guess it's always good to have an expert around. So who would have thought to name it the Nowhere Mine, but I guess since it's in the middle of nowhere that makes sense doesn't it?" he added as they finally boarded the train and took seats.
Rusty smiled at the youth's rapid-fire speech and since he now knew why they were here he sat near the red coated man, and introduced himself to those around him, who did likewise. The red-coated man introduced himself as Ethan Standard and when Rusty asked him why he was on the mine train he replied, "Due to a recent fortuitous run of the cards in a poker game I came into possession of a number of shares in this Nowhere Mine so I decided to investigate my holdings in order to decide whether it would be most advantageous to keep them or sell them."
A few of the men gave their opinion on this and then Ethan continued, "It's also my understanding that a tent city has sprung up near the mine so I'm hoping that I might be able to find a few men interested in perhaps playing a few games of chance to while away an evening since I've heard tell that tomorrow will be pay day there. Perhaps some of you might be interested in a hand or two of poker right now, just to make the journey a bit more entertaining perhaps." He pulled out a deck of cards and a few men agree to play, so Rusty declined and moved so someone else could use his seat to play.
The passenger car was built to hold over twice as many people as were heading to the mine so he looked around to see who was sitting where. The glaring man sat at the far end of the train car, no one sitting near him, his scowl no doubt keeping everyone away so Rusty sat near the large moustached man and met Buck, who explained that he had been hired as a guard for the new tent city. Wherever there was a successful mine, it wasn't long before a businessman saw an opportunity to relieve the employees of their hard earned income by bringing in alcohol and women and maybe games of chance with the 'house' taking their percentage.
"What about him?" Rusty finally asked, nodding over at the black clad man. "Sure doesn't look like he belongs at a mine, if you ask me he looks like a gunslinger. Does he have something to do with that tent city you're working at?"
"Sure hope not. What I've heard is that he's out looking for revenge, hunting for the man that killed his family. I don't want to be anywhere around when he finds him."
Rusty nodded and continued to chat with the gregarious man for a few more minutes before moving on. Even though he was confident that he now knew why everyone was heading for the mine he continued being friendly and meeting and chatting with all the men on the train to Nowhere. The players in the poker game changed a few times and finally ended. Probably no one else wanted to lose any more money but the gambler didn't seem to mind as he regaled several men with outlandish stories involving a blonde woman gambler. The ex-preacher, Josiah, had found his own audience and could be heard expounding on various parts of the bible. Finally feeling quite comfortable Rusty ended up sitting behind the two very different looking young men, Vin and JD, who were sitting in the front row of the passenger car, on the side closest to the door. He glanced out the window and smiled to himself as they passed a wagon. One man was driving the two-horse team and four men were riding alongside. The men all looked ordinary, and as the train passed them he could see some barrels and crates in the back. Not much later the train started to slow down.
"What's happening now," quizzed Vin, "we're stopping, are we there yet?"
"No," sighed JD, "like I said, the train will stop and the conductor will get off and switch the track to the side line then the train will move onto it and he'll switch it back. We're probably half way to the mine now."
"Don't like being in here, bet Peso doesn't like it either, wonder how he's doing? I should go check on him."
"I'm sure he's fine and they're not going to open the stock car and let you look, but yeah we could probably get off for a couple of minutes and you could maybe peek through the slats at him, and you could see how they switch the tracks."
By this time the train had come to a complete stop and the conductor had left the car. The young men got up and followed him out. Rusty looked around to see puzzled looks on some faces, then the black-clad man, who had been sitting in the last row of the car, stood and with a glare at anyone that dared to even look at him he stormed all the way down the aisle and out the door. The large man, Buck, frowned, then emitting a large heavy sigh followed him out.
'No, no, this wasn't right, people were not allowed to get off the train when it switched to the spur line', thought Rusty, not sure whether he should stay inside with most of the other passengers or go outside. The gambler, Ethan, stood up, saying, "This could prove entertaining," then he too headed outside.
When Rusty and a couple others started to stand he felt a large hand push him back down, he looked up and back to see Josiah holding him and the man across the aisle from him in their seats, also effectively blocking the aisle, preventing others from exiting the train car. The large ex-preacher said loudly, "you all best just stay in here, might not be safe out there, it could get dangerous, yes, much safer in here." His large toothed grin was hardly reassuring but the other men mumbled or nodded in agreement then crowded to look out the windows. Rusty was confused, what the hell was happening, did that gunfighter find who he was looking for? Couldn't be that Eastern kid, but that tracker did look a bit savage. He had a both a mares leg and a large knife strapped to his leg, and certainly looked like he knew how to use them. Rusty sighed, this was not at all what he needed right now, no, this should not be happening. As he tried to see what was going on outside, Josiah grinned again and sat down in the front seat, across the aisle from the healer.
As soon as Vin exited the train he shook himself and heaved in huge gulps of the fresher air, then walked with JD to the front of the train, both looking on interestedly as the conductor started trying to move the lever that would switch the track. Then Vin walked back to the ladder affixed to the side of the stock car and climbed part way up it to peer between the slats. The dark clad man walked alongside the stopped train, stopping by the cargo car. Striking a Lucifer he lit a cheroot, taking in a deep breath, coughing slightly before inhaling deeply again. He then turned and noticed Buck standing next to the passenger car watching him, and walked angrily back to stand almost nose to nose with the slightly taller man. "I told you I don't have any problem with you, yet, just stay out of my business!" he hissed then shoved Buck roughly against the side of the train before disappearing between the two cars.
Ethan Standard strolled casually to the front of the stopped train, where the conductor, and now the engineer too, were struggling with the track switching lever. He continued to the far side of the train and around the back, presumably taking in the scenery, nothing remarkable to see. They had travelled over many miles of unchanging terrain although they had been on a gradual incline into the hills. Now there were bluffs nearby and a copse of trees, indicating the presence of most likely a pond nearby. He came around the end of the stock car looking as though he was nodding to himself, as if he had seen exactly what he expected to see. He glanced over where the tracker had been, who was now stretched out relaxing on top of the train car, and saw the youth climbing up on the next car, the cargo one. The mustached man was now leaning near the door of the cargo car and the black clad man was no longer in sight.
Most of the other men had quit looking out, disappointed that nothing had happened to interrupt their boredom, no gunfight, couldn't even call that shove a scuffle, too bad he didn't hit back. Rusty still leaned out the open train car window, trying to see where everyone was and what was happening. Looking in both directions he couldn't see anyone now. Where was everyone? Were they all trying to help switch the track? He heaved a huge sigh, so frustrated at not being able to see, but like his cousin Lenny told him, 'always stay alert, be ready for anything, you never really know what will happen next.' Now here was something, the wagon and the riders had caught up to the train. The wagon stopped next to the cargo car and so did one man who dismounted, tossing his reins to the wagon driver, he headed to the passenger car. The other three riders urged their horses towards the front of the train. Pulling up they were heard to say, "Having some trouble there? Maybe we can help." They dismounted and moved towards the men struggling with the lever.
Rusty stood up and drew his gun the instant the man stepped into the passenger car, both of them shouting, "nobody move, and nobody gets hurt." Things happened so fast Rusty didn't even have time to blink, he saw a knife flash and the other man drop his gun and grab his hand, as Rusty felt a large arm around his neck, a rumbling voice said, "nice gun, can I have it," and his gun was squeezed out of his grip.
Rusty sighed as he was shoved back into his seat and held in place by the ex-preacher who held his own gun on both him and the other man. He saw the black man, Nathan, open up his medical bag and pull out two sets of handcuffs which he handed to Josiah who handcuffed them both to the seats. 'What kind of healer carries handcuffs', he wondered as the healer then proceeded to bandage the injured man. Then Nathan took over guarding the prisoners and Josiah slipped out the door.
The conductor and engineer had both turned around at the offer of assistance only to come face to face with armed gunmen.
"No need for anybody to get hurt here, all we want is the payroll and the land documents that we know are on the train. Soon as we get them we'll be on our way," stated the leader.
"And if there's no problems we'll even fix it again so you can switch the track, and you won't be stuck on the main line in danger of getting hit by the regular train, won't we, Lenny?"
"That's right, now everybody be quiet and let's mosey on over, and if one of you would be so kind as to unlock that door. It's up to you two to make sure the guard cooperates. We can do this just as easy with ya'all dead."
They were nearly at the door when they heard something behind them and turned to see a man wearing the garb of a gambler walking towards them with a gun drawn. Smiling at them he drawled, "Well now, just what do we have here? This certainly looks to be quite a profitable opportunity."
"Find your own train to rob, this one's ours."
"And there's three of us and only one of you."
"Hardly seems fair," said a voice on the other side of them and the three outlaws turned to look the other way to see a tall slender man walking towards them. He looked like a gunfighter as his long black duster trailed behind him exposing a set of conch handled pistols.
As the leader started to change the direction of his gun they heard the door next to them open exposing a tall dark haired moustached man looking down at them, his gun pointed directly at Lenny. "Howdy Boys," he grinned.
The wagon driver had sat watching and waiting and now pulled out his gun and was standing up ready to help when he heard a loud thud. He turned around to see that a young man wearing a brown suit had somehow just landed in the back of his wagon. The youth grabbed his gun hand and pulled him over the seat and into the back of the wagon with him and the gun went off.
Taking advantage of the distraction Lenny shoved the conductor into the gambler and turning started to raise his gun only to feel it shot right out of his hand. Stopping he raised both hands and stared at the smirking man in black. The other two men had started running towards their horses when shots landing in the dirt right in front of them stopped them in their tracks. They turned to see a buckskin clad man standing on top of the train with a gun trained on them.
Josiah ran to the wagon just as the driver and JD fell backwards and the gun went off. He grabbed the reins to stop the horses from bolting, then reached over the side and hauled the struggling outlaw off JD, tossed him on the ground, firmly placing his boot on the man's back to hold him in place.
"Are you alright, son?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, the shot went wild, over the back of the wagon when we landed. Is everybody else OK," he asked as he dusted himself off, grabbed his hat and climbed out of the wagon.
"Looks like it," replied Josiah as they looked over to where Buck and Ezra were disarming the other three men.
JD reached into his vest pocket where he had hidden his badge, pinned there of course, wouldn't want it to fall out, again, he wasn't going to make that mistake a second time! Pinning it on proudly JD rushed to help the others.
When he heard gunshots outside Rusty sighed, no, this is definitely not what he expected. He looked over to see Joey, his cousin's best friend, glaring at him. He just shook his head and shrugged. He had no idea what went wrong, he'd done his job, exactly like Lenny told him to. There was no way this was his fault. He looked up to see Josiah dragging the wagon driver inside, plopping him into an empty seat across the aisle and then tied him to the seat with rope supplied by the healer out of that bag that should only hold medical supplies.
Rusty looked back at the door only to see Lenny being shoved inside by that gambler. 'What the hell happened? Did they get out-robbed by another gang?' Ethan looked right at him and smiled, a big dimpled smile that showed a gold tooth. What's with that and why should he take our hard earned booty? This did not make sense so he spoke up, "I thought you were a gambler?"
"I certainly am, Ezra P. Standish, at your service!"
"I thought you said your name was Ethan Standard?"
"Yes, that too," he smirked as he handed Lenny over to Josiah. Lenny and Rusty both started speaking at once, blaming each other, until Josiah's roar of "That's enough! Be quiet!" silenced them both.
As Buck and JD brought in the last men, Rusty noticed the badge on JD's lapel and quizzed him, "What's with that?"
"Allow me to introduce myself, JD Dunne, sheriff, and these are fellow peacekeepers, we're from Four Corners, sent by Territorial Judge Orin Travis."
"What? No, you said you were a student and he was a guide!"
"No, I didn't actually say that did I, Vin?"
"No, you may have, what did Ez call it, yes, that may have been implied, but he never actually said it, and yes, I am sometimes a guide, if you may recall I actually did say, 'among other things'!"
Rusty sighed yet again. He should have listened to his mother, how many times had she told him that Lenny was nothing but trouble, and no good would happen by hanging around with him. And this time he had actually landed an honest to goodness real job! He had been hired by the Nowhere Mine, maybe he could convince that ex-preacher Josiah that it was all a mistake, that Lenny made him do it, or even say he was repentant. This was so unfair.
The men were gathered around a table in the Red Fork saloon.
"Gentlemen," drawled Standish leaning back in his chair, "may I propose a toast, to a job well done!"
"We did great, didn't we!" exclaimed JD.
"And none of us were injured," Nathan smiled.
"They certainly seemed surprised to see us," admitted Buck.
"You should have seen the expression on that Lenny's face when he saw Chris," laughed Ezra.
Vin chuckled, "and the way that wagon driver looked when JD landed behind him, he was stunned! Great jump, JD, made me almost want to try it myself!"
"And they struck just where you said they would, JD," added Chris, "Good job"!
"It was kind of fun sort of pretending to be someone else," stated JD. "Thanks Ezra, for all the suggestions, it made it easier because some parts were, well true!"
"That's how the best cons work," explained Ezra, "enough truth to make them believable. Bravo, well played indeed!"
"It's like we were actors on a stage," agreed the youth.
"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players," quoted Josiah.
"Shakespeare, from As You Like It," answered Chris. "Hey, I do read you know! Pass the good stuff, Ez!"
"And I didn't even lie, not really, right Buck?"
"Right kid, you did good, your ma would be very proud of you."
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