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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.

Two Ride Alone

Shade Thornton

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Shade was mostly silent for the first part of the morning's ride. The boys had clung to him in fierce hugs as they said goodbye, so had Marianne. Sherm had given him the same warm hug he always had when Shade was riding out on the stage or had just returned from a stock buying or selling trip. Shade couldn't help but notice that both Shermans had given Cantrell the same treatment. They were usually very good at judging character, but Shade still had a few reservations. He was wary of letting the fact that Quentin had connections to the family make him too trusting. He had come down on their side in the shootout at the ranch. Shade respected and appreciated that, but only time would tell if the man had another agenda.

There were other reasons for Shade's silence. He'd spent much of the night wrestling with memories and regrets. Chance had made it clear that he could've gone home anytime after his father died, but Shade was accustomed to living on his own by then and chose not to return. His decision meant he had not gotten to know his brother from an adult's perspective, had never met his children or had the pleasure of Regina's company. Even more than that, Shade had failed them. If he had been there, maybe, they wouldn't be dead. That would always be the hard part, he would never know if he could've made a difference.

Several miles outside Laramie, Shade reined Lakota in and waited for Cantrell's buckskin to come alongside. He gestured at a copse of trees a few yards off the road, "There's a stream just through those trees. It's a good place to break, let the horses breathe."

Cantrell nodded. "Good..." Cantrell slowly rode beside Shade as they continued toward the trees. "...are we going to unsaddle them to give them a rest?"

Shade nodded as he lay the rein against Lakota's neck to guide him off the road. "As hot as it is, we need to unsaddle, run a curry comb and brush over them. Don't want to risk saddle sores."

As the narrow path wove amongst the trees, the temperature dropped significantly, and Shade breathed a sigh of relief. The forest opened into a good sized clearing that bordered a wide, fast flowing creek. There were signs of old campfires, but none were recent. Shade unsaddled Lakota, hung the blanket on a low branch to air out and flipped the saddle upside down against a log to be used as a backrest. He usually rode Lakota with a bosal style hackamore, so there was no bit to interfere with the horse's grazing. With the horses' needs taken care of, Shade set about building a fire. Marianne had sent an extra coffee pot that could be used for boiling water for tea. They also had biscuits and sausage from that morning's breakfast.

That set the tone for the three-hundred-eighty-three mile ride to Jackson. They spent long hours in the saddle, sometimes riding into the night, but Shade felt it best to ride longer and take it easier on their mounts. He had made the journey between Laramie and Jackson often enough to know the best spots to camp. He and Cantrell fell into an easy pattern. Quentin took over getting the camp set-up while Shade took care of the horses. Shade would then see what he could find in the way of game animals for dinner and would do the dressing out of the meat. Quentin did the cooking and clean-up. When they camped by water, they shared fishing although Shade proved himself a bit faster at cleaning them.

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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By the time they reached Jackson, both men were ready to get hot baths and spend a night in a real bed. They also needed to replenish their supplies. While Quentin booked their rooms at one of the better hotels, Shade got their horses settled at the livery stable. An hour later, clean and shaved, Shade was joining Quentin in the hotel's dining room. He took the chair opposite the older man and grinned, one of the few times he'd smiled during the ride, "I sure could go for a big rare steak, or pretty much anything that doesn't taste like rabbit."

Quentin nodded. "It feels good not to have to work so hard for a meal for once." He nodded to the glass in front of Thornton. "I figured you would welcome a cold beer after going so long on nothing but water." Cantrell took a drink from his glass of cider.

Shade nodded and picked up the heavy mug. He downed about a third of the beverage in one long swallow. "Thanks. Sure hits the spot. We've made good time so far. I think we can afford a day." He stretched slightly and leaned back in his chair. "Feels good to get rid of the trail dust and dirt too."

Cantrell nodded. "I think the bath attendant nearly fainted when I left my clothes to be cleaned." Both men paused as a woman came by and asked for their meal choices. She bustled off with a promise to bring them both more drink. Cantrell stretched in his chair. "Remind me, tomorrow I need to pick up a rifle. I did not have a handy place to carry one on the train or stage."

"Wharton's. Best gunsmith in these parts. I need to stock up on ammo. Didn't wanna strip all that John had," Shade replied, pausing as the waitress brought fresh drinks and told them their meal would be ready soon. He studied the other man for a few moments, then asked, "So, when not dragging itinerant drifters back home, what do you do?"

Cantrell looked at Thornton while he thought. "Well...normally I make my living finding people for other people. I found out I had a talent for it and just kept on..." He smiled a bit. "It beat what I did when I was coming out here...most folks don't consider poker an honest living."

"Guess it all depends on how you play," Shade said, then gestured at himself. "Guess you are pretty good at finding people."

"Well as for the poker...I never cheat, and I never play anyone who dresses better than me." Cantrell finished his glass of cider. "As for finding you, I really did not have a choice. I was not going to let that suit-wearing snake steal your family's legacy."

The waitress brought their meals and started to take Shade's beer mug for a refill. He shook his head, "Just water, please. Cold, if you have it." The girl hurried off, and Shade turned his gaze back to Cantrell. "When you're good enough, you don't have to cheat," Shade remarked mildly, pausing to smile a thank you when the waitress sat a clean mug and pitcher of cold water on the table. "This suit wearing snake got a name?"

Cantrell nodded around a mouthful of steak then swallowed. "He does. Carson Tyndall. It's like the old saying about real snakes. You can see a thousand harmless rat snakes, and they are marked up like a rattler, but when you see a rattler, you know the difference. He doesn't care one bit about your family."

"Carson Tyndall of Tyndall Associates," Shade said the name almost musingly. "I remember the name. The firm handled Father's business. I don't remember meeting him though. Can't say as I know legal stuff much, but don't figure as to how he'd have rights over the twins' blood family - you or me. We're their uncles after all."

Quentin leaned back and regarded Shade levelly for several seconds. "Well then take a long look. You haven't been home for a long time, and the last the town knew, you may or may not have been an outlaw." Cantrell's hand came up, and he tapped his chest with a finger. "...and I am hardly the epitome of a stable role model for two children." He smiled wider. "It's not exactly hard work for a competent lawyer to say that we are hardly inheritance or adoption material."

"You're right there, I guess. I've skated along the edge more than once." Shade ran his finger up and down the heavy mug, idly drawing his initials in the condensation on the glass. "Did you know Chance well?" Shade was curious. He wanted to get someone else's perspective on his brother.

"As well as an occasional visitor can. We always spent some time talking. He was steady...level headed...but not like you and me. He was fully able to protect himself and his family, but as far as I know, he never had to actually kill anyone." Cantrell took a drink. "He loved Reggie and his children and would do anything for them..." Cantrell looked at Shade once again. "And he missed you. He talked about you a few times, and at length once he got going."

"Chance always tried to be the bulwark between Father and me, at least when he wasn't away at school," Shade said, his voice quiet and reflective. "After Father passed in '68, a letter from Chance caught up with me, offering me a few acres of the ranch. I countered with my own offer. Asked him to hold it until I'd saved enough to buy it. That was in '70, right after I hired on with the stage company and settled in Laramie."

Shade looked up, regarding Cantrell steadily, "Regina once told me that she was the family scamp. She said you or your parents constantly had to drag her off your ships and the docks. She loved the ranch, but missed the sea."

Cantrell grinned genuinely. "That's partly why she got sent out here. My parents were terrified that one day she would manage to get on board an outbound ship and who knows where she might end up." Cantrell's face solidified after a few moments. "Yeah, I miss her too. She meant as much to me as your brother did to you...let's hope that somehow we can end up worthy of what they thought of us."

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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