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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.

The Eyes of Justice

Harriet Mercer

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The town of Kalispell started life as Fort Kalispell, a stockaded trading post sandwiched between the Snake and Chogun Rivers. In 1870, it was decided that an independent military fort needed to be established in the region. It was decided to relocate the settlement of Kalispell five miles to the north. With the help of the town's business owners and the Army Corps of Engineers, the move was accomplished within six months of the decision being made. The decision had been a fortuitous one. Soon after the relocation was complete, people began flocking to the region lured by the promise of rich farm and ranch land and, of course, the rumors of gold.


By 1875, Kalispell had been declared the county seat of Flathead County. In three short years, the town went from a single street with five or six shops, a couple of saloons, and a boarding house to having several streets branching off of it. More businesses, including the elegant Belle-St. Regis Hotel sprang up. The town's most recent pride-and-joy was the new Kalispell Municipal Building which housed various city and county clerks offices, the town magistrate's office, and two courtrooms. The smaller of the two courtrooms saw the most business as it was used mainly by the magistrate for civil affairs.

The Kalispell Municipal Building stood in its own square at the end of Municipal Street. It was a marvelous two-story building clad in gray granite. The interior sported polished wood paneling on the walls and gleaming marble floors. 

Harriet Mercer stepped down from the carriage and smoothed the travel wrinkles from her gray skirt. She did not wait for her traveling companions to alight from the vehicle. She wanted to get set up in the courtroom as soon as possible. Harriet disliked being rushed. Leading the way to the smaller courtroom on the second floor, she took a moment to see the Hales and the Thornton twins settled in the pew just behind her table. To her pleasure, their opponent, Carson Tyndall, was nowhere to be seen. Harriet had just started laying her documents out when the doors opened to admit Shade and Quentin.

They had just settled in the chairs to the left of Harriet's when Carson Tyndall strolled in with an assistant scurrying in his wake. Tyndall was a tall, well-built man if somewhat on the thin side with iron-gray hair and eyes so dark that they appeared black. He wore an immaculately tailored dark suit and carried an expensive custom-made leather briefcase. The look he cast at Harriet and her clients could only be described as a combination of smug and bored, as if this proceeding was barely worth his time. Harriet smiled sweetly at him. She knew his reputation in the courtroom was merited. Harriet knew better than to dismiss him as incompetent. As he had been dismissive of her the few times they had met at the Thornton ranch, she hoped he would underestimate her.

Just then, there was a rustle at the front of the courtroom. A clerk and the bailiff entered. The clerk settled in a chair near the bench, and the bailiff called things to order, requesting that everyone stand for the Honorable Judge Oliver Mandrell who walked in the right on the heels of the man's announcement. 

As soon as the room settled, the bailiff read off the docket number for the case the judge was hearing. Mandrell thumbed through some papers he'd carried in with him. Finally, he cleared his throat, "As agreed yesterday, I will first speak to William Cody Thornton, Regina Antoinette Thornton, Mr. Ezra Hale, and Mrs. Kathryn Hale in my chambers. The rest of you may walk around if you like but please do not go far. This should not take very long." He once again exited, followed by the Hales and the children.

The judge was as good as his word. Less than thirty minutes later, he returned and resumed his seat. "I have heard from Cody and Antoinette Thornton about their wishes in this matter. Mr. and Mrs. Hale have taken the children to the park. There is no need for them to be present for the remainder of this proceeding. Mr. Tyndall, present your case."


Carson Tyndall rose slowly to his feet. In Harriet's opinion, he was trying to draw the moment out to emphasize how important his case was. It was also designed to impress and unnerve those in the courtroom. Harriet had already discussed his probable tactics with her clients. Neither man flinched or batted a single eyelash as Tyndall began addressing the court.

"Your Honor," Tyndall's tone wasn't quite obsequious. "Ladies and gentlemen." His voice was definitely contemptuous as he looked at Harriet and her clients. "I contend that the will drawn up by Miss H.G. Mercer violates the terms of the Thornton Legacy Trust. The trust was designed specifically to keep the ranch in the hands of the eldest son's bloodline. Mr. Ishmael Thornton had some of the best legal minds in the country design it. It cannot be dissolved or replaced by a personal will."

Carson made a slow turn and threw his arms out expansively, "I further contend that Mr. Shade Thornton and Mr. Quentin Cantrell are not suitable guardians for the children. I contend that a guardian should be appointed that would have their best interests at heart. The last thing those poor children need is to be raised by a couple of gunslingers if they even stay once they learn they cannot touch the Thornton fortune."

Tyndall picked up a sheaf of papers from his table, "Your Honor, I would like to submit the original Legacy Trust documents as proof that the wills of Chance and Regina Thornton are invalid." He carried the papers to the bench then returned to his table and sat down, a self-satisfied smirk on his face.

Harriet rose to her feet, "Your Honor, Mr. Tyndall," she began, her voice rich and confident. "While my esteemed colleague's concern for the Thornton children is laudable, I feel it is misplaced. The rule of the land and, in fact, the laws of this country favor the relatives of minor children when it comes to guardianship. Even had Chance and Regina Thornton not left wills designating Mr. Shade Thornton and Mr. Quentin Cantrell as their children's guardians, the courts would have appointed them. Neither man is a gunslinger as Mr. Tyndall contends nor do they have outstanding arrest warrants. Any past legal transgressions have been cleared. Cody and Antoinette Thornton could not have a stronger support system. They are surrounded by adults who love them, want nothing but the best for them and will protect them at all costs."

"And the children's wealth, the ranch?" Tyndall spoke up, his voice holding a note of derision. "Are you stating that these men do not have a personal interest in obtaining the rights to the children's inheritance?"

"They do not. I would also point out, your Honor, that the Legacy Trust has not been dissolved. Chance and Regina Thornton only requested that it be modified to allow control of who would inherit based on the wishes of the present owners. The courts agreed that the dead should not dictate or preempt the rights of the living. The Legacy Trust was merely appended to allow some latitude in the dispensations of all property and money. The courts also determined that the trust lacked foresight. It did not allow for the possibility of there being no Thorntons to inherit or for there being a generation with no male heirs born. While Ishmael Thornton desired to protect his legacy and ensure it remained in the hands of his descendants, the trust would have actually left no clear line of inheritance in the event of there being no immediate family living."

Harriet smiled sweetly as she ended her argument, "In summation, your Honor, if anyone has an ulterior motive, it's Mr. Carson Tyndall because he was fired after Chance Thornton learned of his conflict of interest." She gave the judge a respectful nod and returned to the table to sit down. Her smile toward Shade and Quentin was definitely reminiscent of the cat who ate the canary.

Oliver Mandrell took off his reading glasses and laid them aside. He shuffled all of the documents into a neat pile and then looked up at the courtroom. "I have reviewed both cases and all the documentation. Mr. Tyndall, Miss Mercer is correct. Regarding contesting the guardianship of the Thornton children, you do not have a legal leg to stand on. No one has brought charges of neglect or abuse, and those are the only reasons I would consider removing the children from the care of Mr. Thornton or Mr. Cantrell. All of the court documents regarding the Legacy Trust are in order and there is no reason for me to set aside the former ruling or request that the case should be reopened. Mr. Tyndall, your case is dismissed."

Tyndall sputtered, "Judge Mandrell, I protest this in the strongest terms..."

"I'm sure you do, Carson," Mandrell drawled. "And before you protest further, understand that I am dismissing the case with prejudice. You are done. You have not represented the Thorntons for many years. You have no legal right to bring suit for how they manage their personal affairs including the dispensation of their property. You are dismissed, please leave the courtroom."

Tyndall gathered his documents and put them into his briefcase, closing its lid with a furious snap. Pausing beside Harriet's table on his way out, he looked at the two men sitting there, a cold, menacing light in his dark eyes, "This is not over." He stalked down the row between the pews and exited, slamming the door behind him.

Mandrell leaned back in his seat and regarded Harriet, Shade, and Quentin solemnly, "Although I found Mr. Tyndall's case to be presumptuous and arrogant, not to mention illegal, I do have concerns which need to be addressed. Please make yourselves comfortable, this hearing will be informal..."

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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Shade shifted restlessly as they waited for the Judge to start speaking. He had been surprised and pleased when Mandrell dismissed Tyndall's lawsuit. However, he was more than a little uneasy when Judge Mandrell stated he still had concerns. Harriet Mercer seemed quite relaxed, so he tried to still his concerns.

"Mr. Thornton, you have had quite the illustrious career," Mandrell spoke suddenly, his cool gray eyes fixing on Shade. "The dossier that Miss Mercer has put together is, shall we say, colorful? It appears that you have a history of walking on the edge where the law is concerned, young man!"

The judge put his reading glasses back on and thumbed through the dossier he had just referenced. "Cutler's Raiders - acquitted. You ran more than one rather elite gang in various range wars. Most recent legal trouble seems to have been in 1871, Willow Colorado." Mandrell peered over the rim of his glasses at Shade, "You were charged with murder. It appears you were within hours of meeting the hangman when you escaped. You were lucky to get yourself cleared, and the charges dropped. However, it seems that you have also made strong impressions on the people you worked for and worked with. Marshal Troup from Laramie wrote a glowing endorsement to my inquiry. The stagecoach company you were working for also had nothing but glowing words to say about you. I would like to hear why I should trust you to raise two small children and manage their property. Particularly, I want to know about Cutler's Raiders."

Shade cleared his throat, "I didn't know what kinda man Randolph Cutler was, Your Honor, not at first. When the war ended, I was a kid without a lot of work experience. He offered me work - he was supplying ranch hands to the bigger spreads in Texas. What I didn't know was that he was also putting in men that would feed him information and, admittedly, I inadvertently did the same thing. I was long gone from Texas when I heard about what had been going on. In 1869, I turned myself in so I could clear my name."

"As far as Cody and Nettie are concerned, I'd give anything if their parents were still alive and I'd come home under different circumstances. But it is what it is. I will do everything in my power to keep them safe, raise them right, and protect their inheritance. I believe in working for what I get. Being given something like half the ranch doesn't sit right so I'll do everything I physically can to earn what Chance and Regina left me."

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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Judge Mandrell made a slight noise that sounded like a harumph. He turned his attention to Quentin. He held up two folders. "This is Mr. Thornton's dossier," he said, holding the thick folder in his left hand and lifting it slightly higher. He then raised his right hand. A much thinner folder rested on it. "This is your dossier, Mr. Cantrell. Quite a difference wouldn't you say?"

Mandrell laid both folders back on his desk and opened the smaller one. "You had a brilliant military career, received numerous commendations and awards, excellent service record, ended the war as a major. Quite an accomplishment despite the circumstances of the war itself. From there, it gets rather murky. In fact, you seem to disappear from more than a year before eventually resurfacing in San Francisco. Your employment is listed as Troubleshooter. Miss Mercer has done her best to explain that, but I would like to hear from you exactly what a troubleshooter does."

Quentin inhaled a moment, letting the breath wash back out slowly as he considered the judge's question. He then seemed to stir inside, his eyes moving up to meet the judge's eyes. "Your Honor, When the war ended, I went home. Honestly, I am not sure why, but it seemed the only place I had left..." Cantrell sat up straighter. "...I am sure you have heard about how things were back then...Charleston was under occupation by the Union army. My father's business fortunes had fallen with the Confederate government and the city was not friendly to anyone who had been on the losing side." His face flushed as he continued with the part he was not enjoying. "I admit I crawled into a bottle...too many nights not sleeping, or when I did sleep I saw too many dead friends. Why was I alive and home and they weren't?...and to be honest, after what I saw when I got home...it would have been easier if I hadn't."

Quentin then gave a small, quirky smile. "Suddenly one night, there was Chance. He said he was there with orders to bring me home to Regina. I admit I was not at my best right then, but he persisted, and I finally went with him. It took awhile, but I came out the other side at the ranch. I was me again...well, as much me as I was ever going to get back, I suppose..." Cantrell took a drink of water from a glass on the table. "Anyway, I was asked by an old friend to come to San Francisco and help him find someone who owed him money. I went, and as it turns out, I had some skill, both at finding them and taking care of myself...seems it's the only useful skills I learned in those four years." 

Cantrell took another breath. "And so that's what I began doing...people would come to me with problems...I would listen to their story and if I believed in what they needed or felt they really needed help...I would help them. Yes, people died at my hand, Judge, so don't bother asking, but I'm no bounty hunter. I never hired myself out to someone who did not need help. I was never just another gunhand or gang member. I killed my share of men in the war, either in battle or sending them to what ended up being their death. I figure any person who lived because I helped them balances each one who did not deserve to die in the war."

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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Oliver Mandrell nodded as if satisfied. He had met Quentin Cantrell previously when the man had requested the injunction to stop Tyndall from doing anything until he could find Shade Thornton and bring him back to Kalispell. Cantrell had done what he set out to do. The judge hoped the man realized the enormity of the task he was taking on. Shade Thornton had been an interesting riddle to try solving. Oliver had known the Thorntons, including John Caleb and Isadora, Shade's parents. He'd always felt that Caleb Thornton had done his younger son a disservice with his unyielding refusal to allow him to come home. It seemed the boy had grown into a decent man despite that.

But, Oliver did not think either man could do the jobs they had inherited alone!

The judge cleared his throat, "Since I am certain that Miss Mercer has covered reading the wills to you both, I will skip the fine print. Mr. Cantrell, Mrs. Regina Thornton left you her shares in all of the family's shipping, mining, and timber businesses. Your percentage is to remain two-percent less than a controlling interest, thus protecting the children's assets. You are the designated manager of their shares until they come of age and can legally do so themselves."

"Mrs. Regina Cantrell Thornton's remaining assets are to be divided equally amongst her children. Should there be any minor children at the time of her death and should her husband, Mr. Chance Thornton, predecease her, their paternal uncle, Mr. Jesse Shade Thornton, is to act as their legal guardian and administrator of their estate."

" Mr. Chance Thornton left the majority of his assets to his children, to be divided equally amongst them. It also left them exactly one-half of Lost Lake Ranch and building sites for homes of their own should they choose to remain on the ranch. To Mr. Jesse Shade Thornton, Chance left half ownership of Lost Lake Ranch, its primary facilities, and Blackbird Lodge. The will further stipulates that Mr. Shade Thornton will be the legal guardian of any minor children and co-trustee of their estate."

"As a judge, I feel that my job is to uphold the wishes of the deceased as long as those wishes do not contravene any laws. However, I would be derelict in my sworn duties were I not to address certain concerns brought forth by your pasts." Oliver Mandrell's eyes settled on both men, "Therefore, I am going to add a few stipulations which will be reviewed and adjusted, if necessary, in six months. First, Mr. Thornton and Mr. Cantrell, you will share custody and guardianship of the minor children. Although Mr. and Mrs. Hale will remain in residence at the ranch, a suitable female companion and caregiver needs to be hired to see to the needs of the children. This caregiver will have no responsibilities beyond the care of the children. The ranch must show a clear profit of no less than six-percent at the end of a six month period. All business profits should remain steady or increase. Mr. Jesse Shade Thornton will remain clear of criminal activities and charges."

Mandrell paused in his discourse, "I further stipulate that Miss Harriet Gene Mercer will continue as the estate's legal representative as well as having oversight on its management. Let us hope that I do not see any of you for the next six months. The court is adjourned."

Harriet rose along with everyone else as the Judge exited the courtroom. Her expression did not mirror how stunned she was at his pronouncement. She had expected conditions to be set. He had intimated as much to her during their meeting the day before. Harriet had not expected to be one of those stipulations! She began gathering her files and papers together and sliding them back into her attaché case. "I suggest we adjourn to the hotel dining room to discuss this turn of events. I will meet you there."

Shade watched Harriet sweep from the courtroom in a rustle of expensive skirts. He did not miss the tall, silent form of her Oriental friend gliding out of the door in her wake. He glanced at Quentin, "Well...."

Quentin nodded, hands already reaching up to tug at his tie and loosen it from his shirt collar. "Yeah, I know...I was not expecting some of that either..." Quentin undid the collar button and stuffed the tie into a pocket. "...and yes, I saw her shadow also. She spent a lot of time with him yesterday..." Quentin grinned as he saw Shade' eyes cut over towards him. "Hey, I trust her, but I never said I was naive...I kept an eye on her as best I could when we got to town." Cantrell exhaled noisily then lightly punched Shade' shoulder. "Come on...let's go get our irons from our room...I feel naked standing around like this."

Shade grinned back at Quentin. Like the older man, he'd already loosened his tie and tugged it off. With the trial over, he felt oddly lighthearted. For the moment, his brother's children and their inheritance were safe. He could deal with what it meant to now find himself part owner of the immense spread later. Now was the time to celebrate getting past the first major hurdle. They could also worry about Harriet and her mysterious Oriental friend later as well. She had done a good job for them.

"Agreed. We also need to let Laura and Ezra know the Judge's ruling," Shade said, then gave Quentin a friendly clap on the shoulder, "I need lunch! Couldn't eat a dadblamed thing this morning." He fell into step with his friend as they headed out of the courthouse and on to the next challenge.

Edited by Stormwolfe (see edit history)
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