Riders of the Silver Trailby Franklin D. Lincoln / Historical Fiction / Western
A Frontier G-Man Novel
Franklin D. Lincoln
Riders of the Silver Trail- Frontier G-Man No. 3
Copyright © 2012 by Franklin D. Lincoln
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
THE DARK RIDER
The Nevada moon hung low over the horizon, climbing into the empty purple sky of early night; few stars studding the clear royal tapestry of the darkness. The huge round silvery sphere spread its shimmering moonlight over the rolling countryside casting long shadows from the butte spires and ponderosa pine. October chill filled the air.
A rider emerged from the trees briefly, on the ridge overlooking the valley below. For a moment the figure was illuminated against the brilliance of the moon. An ominous figure dressed in black astride an equally black horse. The horse bore no markings, only solid ebony and the rider was totally enshrouded in darkness, dressed in black from head to toe, with black hat, black riding cape, and a black mask that covered the entire face except for two holes for peering eyes.
The rider, realizing exposure in the moon glow, pulled the big black horse back into the cover of tree shadows. The black started to stamp and pull at the bit, eager to keep moving, but the masterful touch of the rider drew him quickly under control and soon he settled to a patient wait, its warm breath steaming in the chill of the night air, as the rider sat quietly watching the valley below.
All was quiet and dark in the valley. By day, the sight would have been one of furious industry as mine workers worked hard and long in the Glory Hill silver mine. The operations were considerable and at least twenty workers were on hand toiling and sweating in the tunnels that drilled into the other side of the valley wall. Standing apart from the dig site, casting a large shadow, was a large wooden framed building. Here the silver ore was refined and an adjacent structure provided the stamping for silver bars.
The workers had gone home for the night and all was quiet below. No lights exuded from the refinery or stamp mill. Not a soul seemed to be stirring, but the ominous rider knew the valley was not empty. There would be guards about. Usually three men protected the area at all times, but they remained unseen most of the time, appearing briefly during their rounds whenever they emerged from shadow or when the moon was bright enough to reveal them as it was tonight.
An hour ticked by. The rider waited. Watched. Finally a guard appeared out of the shadows, striding toward the refinery, his Winchester held high across his chest, alert.
The sound of wagon wheels and trappings of harness and the thud of iron shod horses hooves broke the stillness of the air. The guard hurried his approach anticipating the arrival of wagon and team as its shadowy bulk came into view along the trail from the west and pulled up to the front of the refinery. The driver, pulling at the reins and murmuring low commands to the snorting team, drew to a halt. Two outriders had preceded the wagon and two more from the rear pulled around the outfit and joined the lead men. They greeted the guard with low tones and dismounted. The guard strode to the refinery’s entrance that consisted of two opposing barn like doors that opened away from each other to leave a wide opening , big enough to drive a wagon through.
A light flared from inside the building and then the guard reappeared carrying a lantern. The scene was now illuminated enough to reveal the canvas covered wagon box as the driver urged the team forward past the refinery a bit, then halting the team before pulling back on the reins, forcing the team to back up as he expertly guided the wagon until the rear wheels were just far enough into the refinery to allow room for unloading.
With the team outside and the wagon inside, the men could no longer be seen by the dark rider. Eyes peering though the holes of the black mask, now focused on another shadowy figure moving stealthily through the shadows toward the refinery.
Ramon Chavez crawled into the scrub brush a short distance from the refinery. He was a young man of about thirty and his dark Mexican eyes darted back and forth under the dark sombrero that covered his black wavy hair. He slid his lithe sinewy body into the thicket and lay prone for several minutes watching and listening to the activity before him. He had spent the last hour evading the guards on duty. He knew their rounds well for he had been a guard himself for several weeks. But last night, he had been fired. Ben Colby, co-manager of the mine had become enraged the night before when Ramon had investigated activity at the stamping mill and Colby was there, for whatever reason, Ramon did not know. Colby had called him a stupid Mex and fired him on the spot, warning him not to be seen around there again. He was specifically warned not to appeal to Ed Gordon, the half owner of the Glory Hill mine. Gordon was a partner with The Nevada Ore Company, an organization that had recently sent Ben Colby to manage and oversee their half share of the mine, but Ramon did not know who the individuals were who comprised the Nevada Ore Company. Ed Gordon was a fair and honest man. Why he was in league with this outside syndicate, he did not know. He surmised that Gordon had needed financing and the partnership was a way of getting it. It seemed to Ramon that this financing came with a high price, for Gordon and Colby were always at odds and tempers flew often. Ramon had never liked Colby. Colby was a big hulk of a man, more muscle than fat and very mean and egotistical. There seemed to be something sinister about him and Ramon was suspicious of him. These nighttime activities at the mine had been increasing over the past week. Ramon’s curiosity was what brought him to the stamp mill the night before.
Fortunately for Ramon, Colby thought him to be a “dumb Mex.” Colby might have killed him on the spot last night if he had known otherwise.
Now as Ramon lay in the bushes watching, he reached to the pistol riding on his hip and pulled it free. He held it at the ready. He had to move closer for he could not see what was happening inside. He waited a while longer. Only the driver was still in sight on the wagon seat holding the horses steady. One of the men returned from the building, said something to the driver and went back inside. With a few cuss words the driver wrapped the reins about the brake handle and lowered his pot bellied frame to the ground. He spat tobacco in disgust and lumbered inside.
Now was Ramon’s chance. He skittered out of the brush, rushed silently to the side of the refinery and braced his back against the wall, trying to hold his breath and remain silent. From here he could lean around the corner and peer through the hinge crack between the left hand door and the wall. If someone came out he could quickly duck back around the corner. He pushed his sombrero back from his head to fall between his shoulders suspended by the chin strap. His eyes strained to see into the gloom. He could see men return to and from the wagon, obviously unloading something, but Ramon could not see around the wagon enough to see what it was. He listened intently. Voices were low and he could barely make them out.
When room had been made in the wagon bed, two men finally climbed in and started lifting the freight out to the receivers on the floor. What ever it was, it was heavy for the two men grunted and their bodies flexed with the weight. The light from the lantern glinted on the cargo as it was handed down. Minted silver bars sparkled in the glow.
Why was silver being brought in? It should be being shipped out. Perhaps it was being returned to the mine. Or was it stolen from somebody else. Probably the latter, Ramon thought. All of the mines in the area had been plundered by bandits in the last few weeks. Shipments had been hijacked and guards and drivers had been killed. The entire mining community had been enraged, but unable to stop the pillaging and unable to determine who was responsible. Ramon had become increasingly suspicious of the night activities at the Glory Hill and he had become convinced that Ben Colby, whose arrival on the scene coincided with the rash of attacks on the freight wagons, was somehow involved.
For several minutes, he watched the men in the wagon bed continue handing the bars out, but with the wagon in the way, Ramon could not see what was going on farther inside the building. Suddenly, a voice boomed from inside, but it was not clear enough for Ramon to make out, but it was definitely a command of some sort and probably issued from some other person that was not with the men who brought the wagon in. The two men in the wagon bed dropped a silver bar at their feet, thudding against the floor boards of the wagon. They stretched to a full standing position, raising their hands slowly, frightened expressions on their dirty, unshaved faces.
What was going on? Ramon needed to see and hear more clearly. He needed to get closer. He swallowed hard as he realized what he must do and then he moved quickly. Bending low he scooted around the open door and dove soundlessly under the wagon. He slithered forward on elbows, still holding his pistol at the ready. The commanding voice grew more distinct as he crawled toward the rear wheels of the wagon. He could see into the lantern gloom now. Before him stood three men, their backs to the wagon with arms raised. Even from this vantage point, he could recognize the men. One was the wagon driver he had seen earlier. He had seen this man before, but didn’t know his name. The other two he knew. Rio Pierce, a tall, lanky swarthy man with grizzled chin whiskers and dark beady eyes. One eye had a drooping lid and appeared to stare blankly ahead without movement. He wore his pistol belt low and Ramon had seen him use it before. He had the moves and the bearing of a hired gun and he was Ben Colby’s right hand. He was never far from Colby and tonight was no exception. Ben Colby himself stood next to him.
Colby was saying, “Now Ed, don’t get excited here. Just listen.”
Across the room, Ed Gordon, half owner of the Glory Hill, could be seen advancing toward them. His craggy, lean face beneath a shock of thinning gray hair was fixed with a menacing grimace. The rear door of the refinery stood scantly open behind him. He had stealthily slipped in and caught Colby and his men red handed. He jerked the muzzle of his Winchester upward in a short menacing motion. “I don’t have to listen to nothing, Colby. I may be old, but I got eyes. I see what you are doing. That’s not Glory Hill silver.”
“No, it’s not, Ed,” Colby said with a sigh. “You didn’t think this old hole of yours still had anything it in, did you?”
Gordon ignored the response. “There’s silver here alright, but it looks like it wasn’t enough for you. I suspected something rotten about you. But, I couldn’t believe J.P. would send a crook here to help manage the mine. I don’t know how you managed to fool him, but I’m going to find out after I turn you over to the Sheriff. I’ll bet those raids on the freight wagons will stop with you locked up.”
“There’s a lot of money in this, Ed,” Colby said calmly. “String along with me and we’ll both be rich.”
“Hunh!” Gordon grunted. “I’d rather string along with a rattler.”
“Suit yourself, Ed.” Colby chided and started to lower his arms, a smirk coming to his lips and an amused glint in his eyes. “Rich or dead. What’ll it be, Ed?”
“Keep those hands up!” Gordon ordered, but too late. A crashing blow against the back of his head sent blackness though his brain. His knees buckled ant he fell limply to the floor, his rifle skittering away as it slid out of his hands.
Ramon jerked his head up almost hitting the bottom of the wagon bed. He could see the guard who must have left the building earlier had returned and slid in behind Ed Gordon. He now stood over the fallen mine owner, his rifle still held by the trigger guard and barrel after clubbing Ed Gordon with the wooden stock.
“Good work, Rafe,” Colby said, lowering his arms and striding forward to stand over the fallen man’s crumpled body. Pierce followed close. The two men in the wagon leaped to the floor and followed suit.
Rio slid his gun from his holster, stretched his long arm downward, pointing the muzzle close to Gordon’s head. The hammer clicked back. Ramon stiffened, he couldn’t allow this, but from his position he could not line his sights properly. Then he relaxed a little as he saw Colby grasp Rio’s gun arm. “Hold it!” Colby ordered. “Not that way. Mr. Gordon’s going to have a little accident. Take him to the stamp mill.” He chuckled. Rio grinned and the other men obediently thought it wise to force a little laugh as Rio motioned them to bring the mine owner along as they headed for the rear door.
Ramon had to act now or Ed Gordon would die. He knew now that Colby planned to have him crushed in the stamp mill and pass it off as an accident. Ramon could wait no longer. Odds were against him getting out of this alive, but he had to try.
He pushed himself backwards behind the wheel, rolled out from under the wagon, and pushed himself to his feet into a gunman’s crouch. “Hold it!” he ordered. Colby and his men halted and spun around to face him. “You’re not taking him anywhere.” Ramon flourished the muzzle, his dark eyes blazing.
Rio moved faster than Ramon could react. His pistol came up hip high and barked, flame flashing in the darkened room. Ramon felt the impact as the bullet tore into his chest, just above the heart and hurled him backward against the wall. The sickening pain followed as he slid to the floor in a still crumpled heap, leaving huge streaks of blood behind and pooling underneath his body.
Rio holstered his gun and chuckled. Colby laughed, “Dumb Mex.” Then added, “What the hell did he come back for?” Then turning to his men, “Get on with it.” They hustled through the door, dragging the unconscious Ed Gordon.
Ramon was just beginning to regain his senses as Colby and his men left. He began to stir and move a little. He could hear the stamp mill engine starting and then the methodical thump, thump of the stamping die in its shaft. Must get up, Ramon commanded himself. Got to stop them! Ramon reached across the blood sticky floor and felt the butt of his fallen pistol. His fingers closed tightly around it. He grimaced with pain as it wracked his body. Mustering all of his strength, Ramon grasped the side of the wagon and pulled himself to his feet. Nausea waved over him as he stood swaying unsteady. He let it pass then staggered forward toward the door. Each agonizing step brought him closer to the door. Then he was outside. He leaned back against the wall of the refinery and gulped the fresh air. The coolness of the night seemed to revive him some. He pushed himself away from the wall and continued toward the stamp mill.
He was almost through the door. The sound of the stamp machine roared in his ears, but he could still hear the tormented screams of Ed Gordon, who must have regained consciousness long enough to know his fate.
Rage and adrenaline flowed through Ramon’s veins. He almost forgot his own pain and weakened condition and charged through the opening, firing his pistol randomly straight ahead, in rapid succession. Startled, but reacting with catlike agility Colby, Rio and Rafe dove for cover, but the other two henchmen folded and fell to the floor as Ramon’s bullets plowed into their midsections.
Ramon slid behind an upright pillar and took cover as the remaining three men regained their composure and returned fire. Bullets crashed into the upright, throwing splinters into Ramon’s face. He fired back twice, forcing his adversaries to duck low.
A glance to his right told him, it was already too late for Ed Gordon. He had already been consumed in the thundering shaft of the stamp die. With blind fury, Ramon fired again and again. Then click. Empty. Must reload.
His fingers fumbled at the cartridges as he tried to pull them from the belt loops. One, then two dropped from his hands and rolled across the floor. Rio grinned as he realized the reason for the lull in firing. He raised up and pushed forward, his gun blazing as he came.
Ramon pushed back toward the door. Must get away. Bullets sprayed the wall behind him. Rio kept coming, thumbing the hammer of his six gun back, an evil grin on his swarthy face. Ramon cringed. He knew this was it, with empty pistol, all was futile.
Then as if by magic, a dark shadow swooped through the door, preceded by spitting flame and thunder roar of a six shooter. The Dark Rider! Rio dropped his pistol and gripped his gun arm with his left hand, blood oozing between his fingers from the bullet burned welt on his wrist. His grin had turned to a grimace of pain, anger, fear and stunned disbelief. Another bullet whizzed past him and spatted into the wall next to Colby. Colby once again dived for cover. Rio threw himself sideways, landing on the floor behind a pile of wooden crates. Bullets thudded into them spewing splinters in all directions.
The dark shadow, still firing, reached out a left arm and wrapped it around Ramon, practically engulfing him in the folds of the flowing black cape, and steadied him, while pulling him back through the open doorway into the night and kicking the door shut with a booted foot.
Colby, Rio and Rafe sprang toward the closed door and halted. Rio cautiously opened the door a crack and peered out. He could see the shadowy figures disappear around the back corner of the refinery. He jerked the door wide open and the three men darted forward in pursuit. Again they halted and pressed themselves against the wall of the refinery while Rio once again peered carefully around the corner.
Their quarry was now mounted, riding double on a strong black stallion and racing across the moonlit valley. Rio leaped forward and threw shot after shot after them. Colby and Rafe slid to his side firing just as rapidly. But the great horse was too fast, even with the double weight and was quickly out of range.
Realizing the uselessness of continued fire or even pursuit, the shooters resigned themselves to defeat. “That miserable Dark Rider has interfered with us too many times,” Colby growled, glaring at Rio. “You’d better find out who that jigger is and kill him. I want you to make sure Chavez is dead too. You should have made sure the first time. I’m sick of your bungling.”
Anger seething, Rio did not respond as he watched the retreating shadowy figures disappear into the shadows. Icy silence spread over the valley. The huge silvery moon loomed in the chill of a Nevada autumn sky.