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Mature Content: No.

Author: Charlie Fa

With: Robert Cullen, Lorenzo Crabbe.
Location: Add specific location information here.
When: Early June 1876
Time of Day: Late Morning.

 

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Bao-yu wasn’t used to seeing Crabbe dressed in what would generally pass for ‘working clothes’ these days: lately he was all about the fancy suits (all the better for impressing the gulls with)  and the heavy ended walking canes (all the better for stoving somebody’s skull in with) and the derringer hidden in his derby hat (all the better for … well, that one was obvious). Then again, today Bao-yu wasn’t wearing his usual ‘Chinese’ outfit either: both of them were togged out for field operations in boots, slickers, and broad-brimmed slouch hat, all the better to keep off  the rain that was helpfully pouring down, making their job in the muddy bank all that much easier.

 

He’d sloshed around in the stream long enough, just at the bend where the deposits tended to form. Nearby was the roughhewn wooden sluice of the poor placer miner who was wasting his time here. The man from Xiangxiang reached up his hand and the man from Bowling Green reached down and pulled him up the bank.

 

“Washed out?” asked Crabbe as he hefted the short stout man up. The latter nodded.

“I tol’ you: claim salted!” he pronounced.

 

In other words, the man who had tried to sell the literal ‘gold mine’ of a claim to them had planted some gold ore fragments to fool them into thinking the place was worth paying the exorbitant price he wanted for it. Crabbe had been suspicious of the feller in the first place. When they’d been shown the claim documents in the lawyer’s office, it seemed that some idiot had signed the land over to him without any form of recompense whatsoever! That was odd. Said idiot, the one who had built the sluices and was even yet working the claim for someone else to reap the profits, that was who they needed to find now: for Lorenzo Crabbe, Bao-yu 'Chinese Charlie' Fa and the lawyer Tubb had a plan to reverse not only his fortunes, but their own.

 

Half an hour later, boots caked in the rich alluvial loam of Northern Montana, and rain dripping from the brims of their hats and the bottom of their slickers, they found the shack. Crabbe had seen nastier looking shacks out in the rough and ready claims out side Deadwood, but only usually after some kind of accident involving the dynamite store and a stray match.

 

“Jesus, d’ya think it’s collapsed an’ killed him?!” quipped Crabbe looking at the ‘structure’. But a weak peaty sort of smoke was rising from its rudimentary chimney, so somebody must be home and alive and kicking.

 

The Kentucky half of the duo knew better than to bang on the door and get a chest full of buckshot, so stood well back and hollered at the rude hut from a safe distance.

 

“Cullen? Bob Cullen! You in there? Wanna talk some business with you!”

 

The pair of them kept their hands well in sight, held out in front of them, like they were surrendering to some imagined gunman who held a bead on them. There was complete silence, apart from the patter of the rain on their waterproofs.

 

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It took a couple minutes but then a reply came back from within that makeshift structure.

 

"What sort of business? And you know my name, but I don't know yers!"

 

Inside Robert was watching and assessing the unlikely pair, a tweedy businessman sort and a chinaman, from a useful peephole, he was armed just in case. Though neither his revolver or his aged rifle were exactly top line nor was he any good as a marksman. Actually though he wasn't too worried, these two hardly looked the dangerous types either. And unless they had been given wrong information, they had no reason to think this empty mine and well panned over stream held any riches. If it had, he wouldn't still be stuck out here.

 

 

 

 

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It took a couple minutes but then a reply came back from within that makeshift structure.

"What sort of business? And you know my name, but I don't know yers!"

 

The taller of the men nodded.

 

“My name’s Crabbe! Lorenzo Crabbe. This here’s Charlie Fa. He’s a Chinaman!” he added, just in case the Irish-sounding lad had never seen one before and, mistaking him for a short fat bear, shot him.

 

“We want to buy your claim off of you, or at least a part share!” he added.

 

“If we don’t drown first!”

 

He’d wait until they were somewhere they could talk properly, and in a dryer environment, before he would try to explain that, at the moment, Robert didn’t actually have a claim to sell. Not yet.

 

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“My name’s Crabbe! Lorenzo Crabbe. This here’s Charlie Fa. He’s a Chinaman!”

 

Robert frowned, "Me eyesight's good, Mr.Crabbe, I can see that. I can see the both of you.

 

“We want to buy your claim off of you, or at least a part share!” he added.

 

Robert blinked. What was up with the man? This claim was worthless, he'd given up on the shaft and had resorted to panning the stream next to it. No real luck there either.

 

“If we don’t drown first!” 

 

"I canna control the weather, you'd have to take that up with the good lord," Robert retorted.

 

But he had to ask, "How much ye willin' to offer for it.....me claim?" he called out.

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“If we don’t drown first!” 

 

"I canna control the weather, you'd have to take that up with the good lord," Robert retorted.

 

“Yeah, but you can control your hospitality!” shouted Crabbe through the pouring rain. “How ‘bout lettin’ us in? It’s kinda… kinda soggy out here! You can probably see that too.”

 

Beside him Charlie Fa muttered “Urgh, it go down my neck now!”

 

But he had to ask, "How much ye willin' to offer for it.....me claim?" he called out.

 

“It’s a little more complicated than that!” yelled Crabbe, getting a bit hoarse now. “You ever had any dealings with a feller called…” he could hardly say it, of all the names for a con-man to use “John Smith?!”

 

There was a palpable silence as they waited for the answer. The rain pattered on their hats and slickers, a bird tweeted in the distance, the boards of Robert’s tumbledown shack creaked in the wind.

 

“That’s made him fuckin’ think.” murmered Crabbe.

 

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“Yeah, but you can control your hospitality!” shouted Crabbe through the pouring rain. “How ‘bout lettin’ us in? It’s kinda… kinda soggy out here! You can probably see that too.”

 

"I din' invite ya ta come, did I now?" Robert smirked, he was suspicious about this whole thing. And also, it must be said, reluctant to let any outsiders see his primitive living conditions. It's not like this was his first choice anyhow.

 

"How much ye willin' to offer for it.....me claim?" he called out.

 

"It’s a little more complicated than that!” yelled Crabbe, getting a bit hoarse now. “You ever had any dealings with a feller called…John Smith?!”

 

Robert frowned, "I may have...indeed. So....make it less complicated for me then."

 

 

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"It’s a little more complicated than that!” yelled Crabbe, getting a bit hoarse now. “You ever had any dealings with a feller called…John Smith?!”

 

Robert frowned, "I may have...indeed. So....make it less complicated for me then."

 

“John Smith ain’t his real name!” shouted Crabbe “His real name is Marian Q. Benton, he’s a con-merchant from Bentonville, Arkansas. He specialises in swindling unlettered, but otherwise highly intelligent, miners out of their claims with promises of ‘investment’ for ‘deeper excavations’. He’s also a well known salter. We know him from Deadwood. You signed away your whole claim to him!”

 

The rain pitter pattered in the silence.

 

“That uncomplicated enough for you?!” Crabbe finished.

 

It was all true enough. They had seen him in action two years ago when he’d swindled Gus Knight out his Big Gulch claim and sold a worthless piece of sod to Butch Miller for $500 after hiring a man to play-act having found a good deal of dust in his pan, but having to ‘sell up’ to return to his fictitious ailing mother back East.  

 

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Well, he had asked for clarification and as the man shouted his revelations toward the cabin, Robert listened with some momentary alarm. Cushioning the blow though was the sad fact this claim was pretty much worthless in the first place. So that John Smith was pretty much a crook. Jeezus!

 

“That uncomplicated enough for you?!” Crabbe finished.

 

With a low muttering of Irish curse words, Robert then opened the door and called back to the pair.

 

"Come on in then, lest ye drown though in my experience a little water never hurt anyone none."

 

There had been many a time when he worked for long periods in rain. But the man with the thick glasses did not look the laborer type. He kept the gun in his hand but lowered it so it did not appear threatening. By now he doubted they meant any harm but it never hurt to be careful. Then he stepped back so they could enter. There was a fire crackling but no chairs of any sort, just two wood crates he used to sit on. He didn't have a third crate. There wasn't a hell of a lot of room in the place.

 

 

 

 

 

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"Come on in then, lest ye drown though in my experience a little water never hurt anyone none."

 

“You just said a mouthful of truth there, Bob.” Said Crabbe as he entered the rude cabin and removed his hat, revealing his nice neat hair. Bao-yu took his hat off, too.

 

“Don’t mind me calling you, Bob, do you? I’d like us to get nice and friendly right from the get-go, see? Now, like I say, this here’s Charlie and I’m Lorenzo. ‘Cept he calls me Crabbe cause he can’t say Lorenzo properly.”

 

“Rolenzo, he exaggerate!” countered the Chinese man good naturedly.

 

There had been many a time when he worked for long periods in rain. But the man with the thick glasses did not look the laborer type. He kept the gun in his hand but lowered it so it did not appear threatening. By now he doubted they meant any harm but it never hurt to be careful. Then he stepped back so they could enter. There was a fire crackling but no chairs of any sort, just two wood crates he used to sit on. He didn’t have a third crate. There wasn’t a hell of a lot of room in the place.

 

Both newcomers instinctively went over and warmed their hands at the fire. Lorenzo turned to Robert. “I got a nice bottle of whiskey in my coat pocket under this slicker, mind if I fetch it out? It’s kinda cold out.” He asked. The young man looked a little jittery and ha didn’t want to alarm him by suddenly reaching under his rainproof covering.

 

Apart from the whiskey, which the Chinaman took and enjoyed a good slug thereof, Crabbe brought forth a document of some sort.

 

“This is a fair copy of the bill of transfer you signed for Benton, or Smith or whatever he was calling himself that day. I take it you can’t read, brother.” He asked, although, judging by the unfair content of the document, that was almost a given.

 

“Know anybody in town who could read this for you? Someone you can trust?” he asked, examining the raw Irish youth through the enormous goggle lenses.

 

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"I prefer Robert or Robbie or Bobbie, Bob's me least favorite," the young man shrugged. This jasper wasn't the first person to ever refer to him as Bob.

 

Both newcomers instinctively went over and warmed their hands at the fire. Lorenzo turned to Robert. “I got a nice bottle of whiskey in my coat pocket under this slicker, mind if I fetch it out? It’s kinda cold out.”

 

"Sure nuff, tis fine," Robert gestured with the wave of one hand to let him know he could pull the bottle.

"Tis plain you ain't been thru a Montana winter, huh."

 

The man also produced some sort of paper.

 

“This is a fair copy of the bill of transfer you signed for Benton, or Smith or whatever he was calling himself that day. I take it you can’t read, brother.”

 

"Never learned, no chance to," Robert shrugged. Not everyone got to go to a school.

 

“Know anybody in town who could read this for you? Someone you can trust?” Crabbe asked.

 

"Just so happens I do. Not back when I signed that though," he informed the fellow. His signature had been nothing more than a big   X  that time.

 

 

 

 

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