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    • "Ain't hardly nothin' to do but hunker down till she blows herself out." The man squatted, "Rance, is the name. Been watchin' you, doin' a fine job. You'll do Wheeler, you'll do. Try and get some rest, might end up bein' a long night. Least you won't be ridin' drag come daylight, there's a plus for ya."   He stood and made his way to his shelter to await the grub that was coming.   @Bongo
    • Meanwhile, in the main house, Reb Culverson was visiting with his old friend Fightin' Joe Hooker, who was the ramrod for the fledgling Montana Territory Stockgrowers Association, Northern District. He was there to convince ranchers to join and support the organization, hoping it would take root.   "And just what good is this here association ya got started?" Reb asked.   "It'll give us a voice in the territorial government, Reb, that's what it'll do. Once that happens we'll be able to git us some sortta range police to protect the herds, and the ranchers." Hooker responded. "Rustlin' might not be the threat it was, but you know as well as me, it can come back."   "You get anywhere with Lost Lake, 'er that cow thief on the Evergreen?" Reb asked.   "Can't say as I have, startin' with the smaller spreads an' workin' my way up to them two. I'm well aware of both spreads, and the men that own 'em."   -------------0------------   They swept down out of the trees whooping and hollering and firing off a couple of shots as they closed on both sides of a big group of cattle, just as they had planned. The  lone night hawk knew he had no chance of stopping the raiders, or of saving the cattle while he watched the chunk of the herd moving toward and then into the trees at a run.  He emptied his Colt at the raiders, the whipped out his Winchester  and levered several shots in the area where they had disappeared.   He could not know that one of his shots had found its mark. A man that had just joined took a slug in his back and toppled from his horse. Toole and the men continued to drive the cattle toward the dry riverbed as planned. It was an acceptable loss.   The sound of the shots, mere pops at the distance to the main house and the bunk house alerted everyone, and men boiled out of the bunk house guns in hand, only to watch the night man shooting after the rustlers.
    • Out on the boardwalk they stopped, "So we managed ta git a deal right off, thet's good, it is. Now all we gotta do is convince ol' Wentworth to free up the money so's ya don't have ta use yers right off." Amos commented, "Seems a fair deal but like you say, minin's not no sure thing."   "John and Mary are good folks. It's not a sure thing, but you saw the vein, went to the floor and it looks rich," Speed responded. "And it looks to be wider where they stopped digging. I can't wait to get it assayed to see what we've really got our hands on."   "And it should assay out pretty good from the looks of it, though I know so little about copper ore." Alice admitted.   "Well, you saw the copper ore, which is clearly distinguishable from the surrounding rock due to its reddish, mottled appearance. And that surrounding rock is granite which is not easy to work, but it can be done, and, if we have hit it, the veins could be as much as a mile long, a mile wide, and a mile deep!" Speed explained with a grin. "With that equipment we'll be able to not only dig deeper, we'll be able to tunnel, and we have the property to do just that."   "Jumpin' Jehoshaphat!" Amos exclaimed. Might oughtta buy up what ground ya can aound 'er, jest ta be certain!"   "First things first, let get on up to the bank." Speed suggested.
    • Justus was more than happy to have a chance to get out of the bulk of the wind, although he knew this was far from over.  And he knew they'd be hacking up dirt for days.     With the picket lines set, he moved over to help put up the shelters for the night, pretty quickly deciding that it was a fool's errand...they were all going to be miserable until this let up.   Squinting, he looked out toward the herd, not able to see but a few in the dust, it looked like they had been swallowed by the big, dirty cloud, and weren't even there.  In fact, he had the eerie sensation that all that was left in the world was this small circle of men and horses.   "Ya need me ta do anythin' else?" he called over the din of the wind.   @Flip
    • Doc Gilcrest walked into the bunck house to see Carson on his feet, dressed. "I may not be able to ride, but I can darn sure walk some. Tired of layin' in that bed."   "I reckon you kin do thet, sure 'nough. No body said ya had ta lie there if'n ya didn't want to. Yer stitched up plenty good. Jest leave thet hog leg where she's hangin' fer now, don't need the weight in thet wound."   "So anybody come sniffin' around?" He asked.   "Not so's you'd notice. There's four men down there keepin' watch, but it don't look like Lost Lake's lost any sleep over their man, that is if'n they even know he's gone." Gilcrest offered.   "He seen that brand an' went ta shootin'!" Carson reflected. "I jest shot straighter. Had no choice in the matter. Fool could'a rode on, but, well, that just ain't what happened. Hell of a mess."   "Oh I dunno. So far nobodies come huntin', the boss ain't upset over it, neither's Granger, so you got nothin' ta worry on 'cept gettin' better."   "I should'a been more careful, but maybe there just wasn't no way to be more careful. Up on the side of that mountain is the purdiest view a man could look at. You can see fer miles, see right where they got them cows of theirs. Now that ain't gonna be no easy matter to get to any of 'em. They're deep on Lost Lake range. Gonna be hard to get at, an' worse to get out. We'll lose some men tryin' this one, that's for sure!'   Gilcrest rubbed his chin. It wasn't like Carson to go on about the prospects of a job.

Painted Ladies and a Bottle of Wine


Harriet Mercer
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The carriage swayed with the movements of the high-stepping matched pair of Hackney horses. The lone woman passenger leaned back in the cushioned comfort of the seats. She preferred driving herself but had simply been too exhausted after her arduous journey home. She also preferred speed. H.G. Mercer could match almost anyone in a race and come out the winner. Winning was important to her.


The motion of the small, well-appointed coach was minimal. It was well-sprung and traveled over the cobblestone streets easily. From habit, Harriet Gene Mercer, known to all as H.G., calculated the distance without looking at the passing scenery. She stirred from her semi-slumber within seconds of the vehicle pulling to a stop in front of an imposing row house. It was not painted in the same brilliant colors as the other Painted Ladies that lined the street, but it was not completely somber either with its whimsical tower and intricate fretwork.  H.G. gathered her purse and carry all and exited the carriage before the driver could jump down and assist her. She smiled pleasantly at the young man and thanked him for a comfortable ride and on how well he handled the high strung horses that she preferred. Walking forward to the two carriage horses, she stood at their heads, admiring their strong confirmation and how closely matched they were. 


H.G. turned to the waiting driver, "See they get a little extra treat tonight, Patrick, they deserve it." She ran her gloved hand down a powerful neck before turning to walk up the stairs to the house.


She would have preferred to live closer to the sea although the views from the top of the hill were spectacular. The house had been inherited and was considered prime real estate in the fashionable Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Selling it simply to assuage her desire to live near the ocean was impractical, and H.G. was nothing if not practical. As she walked through the door, she was greeted by the tall, angular form of the housekeeper but servants did not scurry to help divest H.G. of her coat and hat. They had learned that H.G. hated being swarmed and fussed over.


"Is Josephine in?" H.G. asked Mildred, the housekeeper, as she pulled the pins from her fashionable hat that matched her dress perfectly.


"Miss Josephine has gone out for the evening. She is attending a book reading at the home of Miss Smythe," Mildred replied.


Abigail Smythe was a school friend of her younger sister. They had both attended the same boarding school in Sacramento. That Josephine had gone out for an evening at the Smythe home was not a matter of concern. The other attendees at the gathering were of concern and would be addressed at the appropriate time.


"Thank you, Mildred. Please see that Miss Josephine is informed of my arrival. I will expect her to join me for breakfast in the morning," H.G. paused, "I think I will take supper in my rooms, please." She turned and mounted the stairs. Her apartments were on the third floor.


H.G. entered the private sanctuary of her rooms just as she pulled the last pins out of her hair, allowing it to cascade in thick waves down her back. She did not fling her hat and gloves carelessly on the settee but continued through her private sitting area into her bedroom. From there, she walked into her vast closet where she placed the hat and travel gloves on a shelf next to the dirty clothes hamper. Mildred would see that everything went to the cleaners. Carefully, Harriet removed her dark emerald green traveling jack, divested herself of the pale green silk blouse and the voluminous skirt and petticoats with their cleverly hidden split. Next, she removed the arm sheathes that housed her throwing knives. She donned a wide-sleeved oriental type robe made of heavy silk. It was in shades of forest green with wide gold embroidered accents. Once wrapped in its folds, H.G. moved to a cushioned bench, sat down and removed her low-heeled boots. She slid her feet into dark green slippers that matched the robe and walked back out to her private sitting area.


She seated herself at her large mahogany desk and began sorting through the accumulated mail. There was only one letter that needed her immediate attention. It was a missive from a legal firm in Montana. H.G.'s upper lip curled in disdain. Carson Tyndall had been fired as Chance Thornton's attorney on her recommendation. Now, it seemed that he felt Chance's death was an opportunity to reinstate himself. She had received the telegram informing her of the Thorntons' death while she was in St. Louis. She'd concluded her business there and headed back to San Francisco as soon as she could.


H.G.'s heart ached. Chance Thornton had been her first big client. He'd inherited numerous businesses and the vast Lost Lake Ranch upon his father's death. He had also inherited his father's legal counsel in the form of Carson Tyndall III. After several business losses and being underbid on a livestock contract with the army, Chance had haired H.G. Mercer and Associates to do an in-depth review of the Thorntons' holdings. To H.G., the irregularities had stood out like multiple sore thumbs. Upon further investigation, she had learned that Tyndall was also employed by Elinor Steelgrave, an obvious conflict of interest as the Steelgraves were implacable rivals of the Thorntons. She had reported her findings to Chance Thornton.


With Chance's approval, she had cleaned house, metaphorically speaking. The end result was that Tyndall Associates was summarily dismissed and H.G.'s firm took over the duties as legal counsel for the Thorntons. Unfortunately, H.G. had been unavailable when Chance, his wife, Regina, and their older children were killed while en route from Missoula to Kalispell. Her heart ached as she thought of their loss. Chance had meant a great deal to her, he had given her firm his confidence. In a way, she felt she'd let him down. Her absence had been all the opening Tyndall needed to try to slither in and do more damage. He had presented a substantial case to the local court that challenged the dictates of Chance's and Regina's wills that left Shade Thornton, Chance's younger brother, as the surviving children's guardian and trustee of their estate. It also left him half of Lost Lake Ranch. Carson's case brought suit based on the fact that no one had heard from Shade in years and there was some question to him having a criminal record.

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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H.G.'s first priority was to get some rest and start investigating Mr.  Shade Thornton. Chance had located him more than once and observed him, but had not contacted him. She had a notice from Tyndall that he was assuming legal representation and responsibilities for the five-year-old Thornton twins. Her next move would be to repack and head for Kalispell, Montana.


Picking up a chilled bottle of wine from the ice bucket on her desk, H.G. turned it so she could read the label. It was an excellent vintage. It also meant that Cook was serving poultry or fish that night. H.G. hoped it was lobster. Since she was home alone, she'd be able to dig into the shellfish with gusto, something that was unseemly in the company of others. She poured some of the pale golden liquid into a cut crystal wine glass and took a sip, smiling appreciatively.


Now for the other problem that she had to deal with. She picked up a folder with a simple label affixed to it that read Fitzpatrick. Her fine lips folded thin, and her gray eyes turned cold. She knew what was in the folder. Her loyal friend, business associate, mentor and sometime bodyguard, Fang, had kept her informed. She had wired Fang after receiving letters from her younger half-sister that increasingly revolved around the subject of one Jeremy Fitzpatrick. Nothing in the folder was news to her. She'd known the Fitzpatricks for many years. They were a fine family, in general, but something had gone wrong with their youngest son. He did not work, and from what Harriet gleaned from Fang's reports, he had no plans on ever working. He was wild, irresponsible and looking to hook his wagon to an heiress. Josephine was not the first one he'd had in his sights. H.G. was not about to allow her sister to make the same horrible mistake that both of their mothers had.


Franklin Hartwell Mercer, H.G.'s and Josephine's sire, had been a handsome, dashing, and charming ne'er-do-well. He had cut a swath through the well-to-do ladies of various cities, managing to escape marriage with all but two of them. A duel over another heiress while he was still married to Josephine's mother, Evelyn, had ended Frank Mercer's life. For Harriet, Frank's growing antipathy toward her and his cruel barbs when she failed to meet expectations, had gradually turned adulation to hatred and then to cold emptiness. Harriet did not hate Frank Mercer, she no longer felt anything for him at all. She was not going to tolerate Josephine making the same mistakes Evelyn and Winnifred, her mother, had made.


Josephine would be accompanying her to Montana, whether she liked it or not. H.G. just needed to put the pieces into play and force Jeremy's hand. Young Fitzpatrick was no match for H.G. on her slowest days.


H.G. leaned back and tapped a long, perfectly manicured and lacquered nail against the crystal of her glass, enjoying the sound of it ringing. A tap at her door heralded the arrival of dinner.


It was lobster.


Harriet Gene Mercer smiled coldly.

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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