The Silver Mine

 

 

 

 

1889

 

William ‘Big Bill’ Mahoney was probably the most unpleasant ****** that had ever lived under the sun. He had a small army of coyotes and vultures that ensured that every whim of his would be granted, and he was insatiable!!! He controlled the whole county with a grip of hot iron, his touch was poisonous and there seemed to be no hope for the good citizens of the town. The sheriff and his deputies? Crooked and in his pockets. The mayor? A drunkard that would do anything his ‘boss’ ordered. All seemed hopeless...

 

...Until the day in which Big Bill watched as the local newspaperman received his monthly beating (when would he learn to not publish those things about him?) by the hands of the sheriff and three of his men when, in the middle of a thunderous laughter, he suddenly placed his fat hand over his chest, doubled over... and fell dead on the ground.

 

None of the worms that worked for him had the cunning and capacity enough for keep the balances as they were, and the retrieval of the county by its law-abiding citizens lasted three weeks, granted twenty six new crosses (less than five were truly lamented) at the cemetery and a new sheriff and mayor after the previous ones were forced to flee overnight.

 

1891

 

How could he have ever thought that be the local sheriff would be such a boring job?

 

Nothing happened anymore in this town, except for a few drunks every now and then he rarely used one of the three cells of his office, the last shot heard was when some cowboys became too effusive as their candidate won the last election. He couldn’t remember when was the last time he had shot a bullet with any of his guns for that matter! This town was way too peaceful for his likes now thought sheriff Roger Grayne. Actually it was a dying town, unless something BIG happened around here there wouldn’t be anyone living here in ten years, no, make it five years. Something has to happen around here...

 

As they say... Be careful for what wish for!!!!

 

He decided to have dinner with his wife at his home and was whistling a popular song as he approached the house in the border of the small town. He saw the two horses cart of Mrs. Applewood and the one horse cart of Ms. Chamberlain parked in front of his small fence, which meant that that annoying (and arrogant) Mrs. Creville was in there as well.

 

Oh yes, it was Tuesday and in Tuesday nights his wife and the other members of the ‘Ladies’ Club’ of the town had a meeting, which meant usually his favorite dish at the table in the kitchen in exchange of the sounds of Mrs. Creville and Mrs. Applewood’s gibberish in the main room of the large one story house.

 

And ultimately they were trying to make Marie join their temperance movement!

 

But as he was entering the house resigned to be forced to listen to those bible-thumpers’ babble for a while, he heard a weird sound. A sound that he had only heard once in his life.

The same sound that his sister Jenny had made when he found her after that bank robber had roped her to that tree and wrapped Marie’s long scarf around her head and between her teeth before fleeing the county. And by the intensity of the sound there were more than one woman gagged inside his house. He grabbed his guns, kicked the door and...

 

The whole place was a mess, somebody had turned over all the three paintings in the walls and some of the furniture, all the drawers of the house had been opened and emptied of its contents, there were papers all over the floor and six women were really roped to the chairs around the table of the living room and gagged with white strips of cloth.

 

First there was Mrs. Applewood, as usual dressed from head to toe in black (she was a mid-fifties widow of a hero of the War Between the States) and the most disheveled among the captives. Her blouse was open, her shoes missing, her hair disarrayed and she sported more rope over her body than any other woman in the room. Her maid Joselyne was at her right side, the only black woman in the room. As conservatively dressed as her boss, the young woman was the first one to try to warn him about the presence of their attacker, but he merely cast his eyes on her before moving to the next woman so she was ignored. Next was Mrs. Creville, the moral watcher of the county and one of its less pleasant inhabitants. The thin and hawkish (not only due to her nose) lady wore a white and navy blue dress and had her cheeks bulging to its fullest. Besides her was his youngest sister, Emily, who was frantically trying to warn him about the shadow at his right, but he misinterpreted it as cries for help that were well muffled by the gag. The mid-twenties blonde girl was the only one bound in her camisole (he would later learn that she had been the first to be attacked as she was changing her clothes for the Ladies’ Club meeting), and the way that she was bound gave a very improper effect on her bust. Mrs. Chamberlain’s desperate warns were also misinterpreted by the sheriff, but in any case the French immigrant (was because of that that she was always wearing those fancy and classy dresses?) always spoke with such a strong accent that he usually didn’t understood what she said... Finally, on the other side of the table, was his wife Maude. The early thirties blonde woman finally managed to make her husband understand that the women were not calling for help... one second too late.

 

‘Drop it, drop it or I’ll shoot!!!’

 

One gun against his right temple, no further movement or sound in the house, so there was only one attacker. A woman. He knew that voice... he dropped the gun on the floor.

 

‘Move it... against the wall, now!’

 

His wife and sister were the only ones not openly disappointed with him.

 

‘Turn around, slowly.’

 

Shattered Moon, the half-cast that was one of the few coyotes that worked for Big Bill that had managed to escape alive of the cleansing of the town. She now had two guns in her hands, and she was big and strong and manly enough to shoot two guns at the same time, and was looking at him with a weird expression, it did not looked like she was going to kill him, then why she had attacked her wife and the other women to better ambush him?

 

‘Where is it?’

 

‘Where is what?’

 

‘Don’t try to fool me! Where is it?’

 

Before he could ask again what she was after she pointed her gun to his wife, Maude was feverishly trying to warn him that the gun wasn’t loaded (she couldn’t believe, again, that she and the other women had allowed this skinny and big kiowa to tie them up under such an empty treat!), but sheriff Grayne definitely wasn’t good in interpreting gagged warnings, and thought that the tall woman in front of him was really menacing his wife’s life.

 

‘Look, Shattered Moon, if you tell me WHAT you want, WHAT you expect me to give to you in exchange of their safety, then I’ll gladly will do it. But I don’t know what you are talking about. So, please, tell me WHAT you are after.’

 

‘The map! The map of the silver mine you greedy bastard!’

 

All the women were now dumbfounded and looking at each other, what she had just said?

 

With all the calm he could muster at the moment, sheriff Grayne managed to get the whole story from the squaw. A miner called Pete Welkins was killed by Big Bill’s men just three days before Big Bill’s death. The official reason of the murder was that Pete had tried to pay his debts at one of Big Bill’s poker tables with fake silver nuggets.

 

But according to the squaw the nuggets were of real silver, and Big Bill had forced Pete to draw a map of the location of the silver mine before having his men kill him, so among the documents of Big Bill that were in possession of the law there was the map.

 

‘Now give it to me!!! NOW!!!’

 

‘None of those documents are in my house...’

 

‘You lie!!!!’

 

That woman was really determined! But how could she tell her that there weren’t any documents, save for a few bank papers, since one of the first things that the whole town had done (right after the last worm had died) was to make a huge bonfire of all legal (whether they were real or not) documents found in Big Bill’s safe?

 

All the land titles that he had stole by any of the various criminal ways that he had used, all the ‘proofs’ that he had against decent people (most usually forged or forced – with the help of treats against the family of the signer – confessions of heinous crimes) to force them to do his will, all the personal papers of that fat pig, everything had went up in smoke under the cheering of the whole town! If she was telling the truth, as it seemed, that meant that they had burned a very valuable map... and she wanted that map now!

 

‘Shattered Moon, all the documents that we found in Big Bill’s office...’

 

His wife, sister and the other women started to plead very loudly under their gag while shaking their heads with haste. He ignored them and kept his eyes aimed at the squaw’s.

 

‘...they are NOT here. I am the law, you’re right, but that doesn’t means that I can keep with me any document that falls under the guard of the law... Like Big Bill’s were.’

 

‘Explain.’

 

Half the women had sighed audibly, the other half was trying to understand where he was pretending to go with that lie, and all were looking at the scene in front of them with devouring eyes while they prayed intently...

 

‘The papers are in a special box at the bank’ safe. That’s the safest place to keep and guard them in the whole county, don’t you agree?’ – and to all other persons in the room’s relieve Shattered Moon nodded her head – ‘I must have looked into those papers about a dozen times. I NEVER saw anything that could be remotely described as a map. NOTHING...’

 

Shattered Moon guarded her empty gun in her holster around her waist, then she grabbed something that was dangling on her belt and threw it to him. It was a small sack made of buffalo skin, and inside it where three silver (that had to be silver!) nuggets.

 

‘The map is real. As you can see the map is real. Don’t lie to me anymore. I don’t like it! If you looked into the papers as you said then you must have seen it.’

 

‘But I didn’t saw it!!! I am telling you that I never saw anything remotely close as a map...’

 

Damn, his gamble was leading him into a dangerous corner... Then came the words that gave back hope for him and the captive women.

 

‘Alright. You go with me to the bank. You force the banker to open the safe and handle me that box you talked about. If you’re lying, you die. Understood?’

 

The sheriff looked at his wife and sister and nodded. It wasn’t very dark outside and there were still many people in the streets. Surely someone would spot him and especially HER. Even if no one did it they were going to be far away from those helpless women when that stupid squaw realized that she had been fooled. How things would turn out after was yet to be seen, but the women would not be within shooting range when it happened...

 

She walked backwards a few steps to give him passage, he started to walk to the door and was suddenly struck in the back of his head by a gun’s butt.

 

 

 

2 HOURS LATER

 

‘Come in...’

 

Both Emily and Maude were frightened to their core. That ******** Indian had dared to kidnap them!!! And was expecting a nonexistent map in exchange for their safe return!!! They were in deep trouble!!! Really deep trouble!!!

 

‘Come in you two...’

 

A tug in the ropes around their waists and they hesitantly started to walk forward. Where were they? After knocking out cold Roger the Indian had wrote a note (in very broken English) and had left it on the table, with the three nuggets (was it really silver?) on top of it. Then she unwrapped most of the rope holding Maude to her chair and, since she had already overly tied every woman before tying them to their chairs, simply threw the tight package over her shoulder and walked away to the back of the house.

 

That squaw was very strong!

 

There was a cart in the back of the house, the squaw lifted a canvas with one hand and sort of deposited/shoved Maude in it, then she punched Maude (one hit and KO), and covered her with the canvas. Then she returned to the house, untied Emily but when she tried to lift her there was a problem. It wasn’t that Emily was fat, far from it!, but Shattered Moon had overestimated her own physical conditions. So she undid a few ropes around Emily’s legs, giving her captive the possibility of take short steps, and with a strong hand around Emily’s left arm she led her outside. Soon both Emily and Maude shared the box of the cart, and both were unconscious. After a while, Shattered Moon stopped the cart, lifted the canvas and redid her captives bonds and gags, and added a blindfold.

 

Both women awoke in darkness, unable to lift their arms more than a few inches from their backs and with their legs being forced further back. Where in Hell did that accursed kiowa learned to link the bound wrists and ankles with (such a short piece of) rope?

 

And with the almost complete sensory deprivation that they were experiencing they thought that many hours passed as the kiowa took them straight to her hideout.

 

Where were they? The cart had stopped, its box was opened and they had been (roughly) helped to get out of it. Then the kiowa tied a rope around each woman’s waist and freed their legs completely, and forced them to walk on bare and dirt ground. Maude at least still had her shoes on, but Emily was barefoot and way more exposed to the chill of the night. Then suddenly something was placed over Emily’s shoulders.

 

A leather coat. But the kiowa was still pushing their ‘leashes’ in front of them, and the coat had been placed on her from behind. She had an accomplice!!!

 

Now they were entering a building... was it a barn? It wasn’t a house since they were still walking on the dirt ground and it wasn’t smelly as a stable. They heard something creaking.

 

‘Now pay attention Ms. Emily. I don’t mean any harm to you or Mrs. Maude. There’s a stairway in front of you. I will tie the rope around your waist to something heavy as I take Mrs. Maude down there. Don’t try to run or escape or you might hurt yourself. Stay put. You are bound and gagged and blindfolded, and I am very good with knots so you don’t stand a chance to undo any of those conditions so soon. Stay put.’

 

She heard the muffled scream of surprise coming from Maude. Then the squeaking of wood (a staircase made of it most likely) coming in front of her. Then nothing. Suddenly she was grabbed and thrown over someone’s shoulder. It wasn’t the squaw, it wasn’t even a woman since she wasn’t feeling her legs pressuring any breast, and it was someone big and tall.

 

The bare mattress in which she was deposited was surprisingly clean and fluffy. Maude was whimpering at her right as someone (not the kiowa) put her back to that darned position with her fingers touching the soles of her feet. Then came the voice of the kiowa.

 

‘By now you must have realized that I am not alone in this. Don’t worry, he’s a man but that doesn’t means that you have to worry about... that. I’ll kill him if he tries that. We don’t mean any serious harm to any of you two. In a couple of days, perhaps more, it will be all over and you’ll return to your home. Now good night ladies.’

 

The squeaking of the couple going upstairs and the creaking of the trapdoor being closed indicated both captives that they were alone. They tried to free each other right away, but that was not to happen. Shattered Moon was indeed very skilled in knotting rope. So they were left to sob until sleep claimed them. Maude was the first to succumb.

 

And Emily couldn’t help but keep remembering the last time she had seen the squaw over and over again... She couldn’t but feeling scared as she remembered how she (and the others) had mistreated the squaw at the... the... bank? It had been at the bank...!!!

 

Could it be... could it be...

 

 

 

OUTSIDE THE BARN

 

‘Ouch!!! What was that for?’

 

‘You grabbed that half-naked sanctimonious cow, I told you to let ME do all the job so they would think that I am alone in this stunt!, then you threw her over you shoulder and you DID liked it! You did like to feel those huge... ‘milkbags’ against your back!!!’

 

‘Not... much...’

 

Now his wife was really beating him, and not beating like a little girl! She had some very good punches in those fists!!!! It was starting to hurt so he grabbed her wrists and pulled her closer to him. The kiss lasted for a while and when they broke it she was still ‘mad’ at him, but her eyes showed otherwise... He let her go.

 

‘Everything’s fine?’

 

‘Like we planned darling, like we planned. By now those arrogant ******** really must be thinking that there was a map among all those documents they burned that day!!!’

 

And Shattered Moon shared a good laugh with her husband before he picked her up, and carried her like he had did with Emily to ‘his’ house as she ‘feebly protested’.

 

 

 

 

THE FOLLOWING DAY: MORNING

 

Even for the standards of the women of the ‘Ladies’ Club’ that was quite a record!

 

Before 9:00 AM there was a huge crowd gathering in front of the bank of the town. The sheriff’s wife and sister kidnapped! A cruel and mean half-caste on the loose in the county! A map of a silver mine in the bank’s safe! And everybody wanted to see that map...

 

It did not mattered that the sheriff insisted that there wasn’t any map at all, all the men and women that were there could remember the joyous feelings they had felt when all of Big Bill’s papers burned that night... but all could also remember that Caleb Louis (the banker) had insisted that a few documents, that Big Bill kept in two boxes, had to be spared.

 

How could he ever claim back all the money that Big Bill had stole from them all without proof that said money ‘belonged’ to Big Bill? So the crowd had, at the time, let him keep those two boxes. He was true to his word and in the weeks that followed many farmers and business owners had big checks awaiting for them at the bank, but all knew that there were some papers that, for some ‘bank business reason’, Caleb had kept with him all those two years. And that could meant only one thing: There was a map among them!!!

 

Escorted by the sheriff and his four deputies two employees of the bank brought a table to the front of the bank, then the sheriff lectured the crowd. He should be looking for his wife and sister and trying to bring Shattered Moon to Justice, but thanks to some ‘stupid rumor’ he was forced to stay in town. And now Caleb was going to prove that it was just a rumor.

The early fifties, small and thin man carried the two boxes and put them on the table, then he grabbed his keys and first removed the padlocks on each box, one of the keys broke and the sheriff himself shot the padlock free, then Caleb opened each box.

 

Papers, no more than thirty papers and all in legalese terms. Titles of property that belonged to people Big Bill’s men had either scared out of the county (and state) or killed, and since there was no way to be sure exactly what had happened to them they had to wait for the legal time to pass to make them vacant. There were also some documents inside a sealed envelope (that was opened) that proved that some of the missing people had accounts at the bank (they also had brief descriptions of each owner of the account and his family).

 

And there was this little red envelope...

 

There was a single old sheet of paper and the only thing that anyone (that could read) could understand in it was the date: 1869. The rest was a series of disconnected words (or groups of letters) that meant nothing. A coded message of sorts, but definitely not a map.

 

The crowd soon dispersed, but the local teacher and the newspaperman insisted in being allowed to copy the coded message. ‘Ms. Angel’ (from her surname Angelique that no one in town seemed to be able to properly say it) told the sheriff that she was an addicted for puzzles and riddles, and that the message was nothing but a challenge for her, while the young man that had inherited the ‘The Spokesperson’ insisted that the message for itself was ‘news’. With growing irritation the sheriff allowed them to make a copy of it.

 

About one hour later ‘Grizzly’ Garrison, a farmer of ill-reputation, arrived in town and went to see the sheriff. He had just met Shattered Moon and her captives that morning.

 

 

 

 

THE FOLLOWING DAY: NOON

 

‘They were right here, just right here, sheriff.’

 

They were up in the hills, somewhere around Bellard’s Bluff (a very isolated spot of the county), right by the river. There were traces of a cart in the ground, signs of a fire and... Maude’s shoes. Both of them. The sheriff, with the shoes in one hand and his rifle in the other, looked at the tall, big and bearded (hence the nickname ‘Grizzly’) troublemaker and then at his deputies who were trying to pick up the squaw’s trail.

 

‘Tell me again why YOU were here Grizzly.’

 

‘But I already...’ – the look in the sheriff’s eyes said everything – ‘I was hunting my lunch when I met Ron Wells and he told me about the whole story of that kiowa and your family. And about the silver nuggets. Well, I thought to myself: ‘If there’s a missing mine in this county where could it be? Bellard’s Bluff was the answer, people rarely comes up here so if there was an abandoned mine that no one had ever heard of...’

 

‘Get to the point!!’

 

‘I got thirsty, went here to the river to drink some water and then I saw the cart that was right over there. Old, almost ready to fall by itself, but with two good horses hitch up to it. OK, if there’s cart then where are the people that brought it here? I started to look around and suddenly there was this sound... muffled yet very audible but that meant nothing, i mean, it were human voices but they were not saying anything that I could understand. I came closer and there they were, sitting on the ground and tied to that three. The missing women!!! But before I could say or do anything that kiowa jumps from behind the tree with two guns aimed at me and...’

 

But the sheriff wasn’t listening to him anymore. He could only picture his wife and sister, wearing only their bodice or camisole or whatever was its name, with rope biting their flesh as they tried to free themselves and Maude’s scarves (and God knows what else) preventing them to warn Grizzly... There were marks on the stem that indicated feverish attempts to cut the rope through friction, and the marks on the ground showed their efforts even more clearly. They had gotten desperate. He couldn’t.

 

‘And afterwards?’

 

‘Well the kiowa made me tie myself to that other tree over there... She had waited for me while making some sort of a rope cuff with a small length of rope. Two sliding knots on each end of the rope made the trick. Then I heard the squaw freeing one woman, who was then allowed to remove the gag and said some words to the other (I was a bit far away to understand what she said and with my back to then so I don’t which one), then she drank some water and was fed with something, and... she was allowed to answer the call of nature and then rebound and reggaged and replaced on the cart’s box. Next it was the other woman’s turn. After the two captives were back to the cart she comes to me and tells me ‘Tell the sheriff that I want that map. I know that there is silver around here’ and that she was going to, somehow, learn about how things are going about it tonight or tomorrow.’

 

‘Learn how?’

 

‘I don’t know! She didn’t told me! About ten or twenty minutes after she was gone I managed to sweat enough to free myself (and my hand still hurts!), and started to walk to the city to tell you what had happened. I found my horse with my stuff, minus my guns, about a mile from here. And afterwards...’

 

He did showed ropemarks in his wrists and his right hand looked bright red even now. One deputy managed to find the trail but lost it after two miles. He split his men in two groups, one would return to the town with him while the other was to turn the hills upside down.

 

 

 

 

THE FOLLOWING DAY: NIGHT

 

Ethienne Angelique lived in the back of the county’s school’s building.

 

She didn’t have much furniture with her, but was surrounded by books and had all the time in the world to read them. The day had managed to pass without many incidents, the kids were agitated with the whole ‘Silver Mine Incident’ but she had handled the issue fairly well. As soon as the last child left she went straight to her table and, equipped with her two books of logic and one of cryptography, started to analyze the message.

 

It was so simple! The first letter in each word had been replaced by the one that followed it in the alphabet, the second letter by the second one that followed it and so on... and the message was loud and clear for her. It was indeed some sort of a map.

 

But to what? It didn’t said, only that whoever that wanted to get what lied at the end had to follow its clues. If she wasn’t wrong the place where whatever it was that Big Bill had hidden in the hills was somewhere near the southern entrance of Serpent Pass.

 

Fortunately for Shattered Moon (and her husband Grizzly)’s plans she didn’t decided to go straight to the sheriff’s office and tell him her discovery. Instead she spotted Jimmy Vane peeking at her deciphering work through the window.

 

Of course the nosy kid would spy on her, it had taken so much to make the children go back to their houses after they heard that she had a coded map of treasure with her – and was planning to decipher it –, but it was obvious that Jimmy was going to stay behind!

 

So she asked Jimmy to do her the favor to call the sheriff. She was hungry, very hungry, and decided that she could tell the sheriff what she had discovered as she had her dinner. Not two minutes after the kid was gone there was a knock at the door.

 

That was unusually fast, had he had any trouble? But it wasn’t Jimmy that was waiting for her to open the door, it was that frightening squaw Shattered Moon.

 

She jumped on the smaller, scared and frailer woman and shoved a handkerchief inside her mouth without any resistance at all, then she rolled the brunette on her belly and started to rope her wrists together, then it was her arms until her elbows touched each other (she didn’t knew that she was so flexible) and then her legs (with her ankles crossed).

 

Then the squaw patted her on her behind and stood up.

 

The sheets of paper, with the copy of the encrypted message and her cryptographic notes, was in her hands when Ethienne mustered enough courage to lift her head and take a good look at her attacker. Who seemed genuinely taken aback.

 

‘Well, well, I must admit that I am surprised. It took me a whole month to understand Big Bill’s code and just a few hours for you to do the same. Congratulations!’

 

She sat on her chair and thought for a moment, then she quickly wrote a note and used an Indian knife to nail it to her table. Then she towered her with a sinister smile in her face.

 

In the next moment both sheets were burning thanks to her candles, and then the squaw lifted her, threw her over her shoulder very easily and carried her into the night.

 

Jimmy and the sheriff (and many other people) appeared at her door about fifteen minutes later. No ‘Ms. Angel’, no deciphered map, no nothing, except for an Indian knife and a message wrote in broken English: ‘No nid to wurry bout yer famly. I gut map of silvrer. Gut silvrer fur me. I set them al free tumorow. Alieve end well.’

 

In twenty minutes the talk in the town’s only two remaining (and now fully crowded) saloons was about a silver mine in the hills, probably around Bellard’s Bluff, and about the ************ kiowa who was going to get her hands on the silver first! In one hour many ‘new miners’ decided to go and look for the mine, or the kiowa, themselves...

 

Including three of the sheriff’s deputies. It was a Silver Rush!

 

 

 

 

 

THE FOLLOWING DAY: NEAR MIDNIGHT

 

She was feeling some pangs of pity for her captives. True, Emily had looked at her with all the world’s disdain two years back, but who didn’t? Who, besides her beloved husband and her late mother, had ever looked at her as a woman, an human one?

 

‘I will take all the ropes and give you some clothes, put them on and don’t try any fuss.’

 

Emily meekly thanked her as she bound her again a few minutes later. At least she was wearing a dress, and not just her undies, and would be found clothed!

 

The young blonde girl looked at Maude and the ‘newcomer’ ‘Ms. Angel’, like she was being turned into one now they were nothing but tight packages of human flesh. Did she had to tie her elbows that close? Did she had to anchor her arms to her back with such a... a obscene tie that crisscrossed her enhanced (by the ropes) breasts? Did she had to bind their legs into a kneeling position? Did she had to gag them so tightly?

 

No, but it was more than obvious that she was enjoying it to the fullest...

 

The town looked so desert now... They had seen (hidden behind a large rock six miles East of the town) all those horses and carts and chariots and whatever else running from it in a rush not one hour before. Few people (mostly women and their children and elders) had stayed behind, but Shattered Moon didn’t took any chance at all. She waited until she was sure that the whole half-empty town was sleeping.

 

At around 1 AM she helped the three women to get inside another cart. It wasn’t the same that she had used so far with Emily and Maude, it looked brand new... Then Emily saw the ‘PR’ carved on the sides of the box before a long strip of cloth was knotted (after three turns) around her head. Paul Renfield, he was the one that was in league with the kiowa!

 

Paul Renfield was big and strong and could have been the man that had carried her the night before. It made sense, the ******* was a ********* ‘Indian Lover’!!!!

 

Oh, when she told it to her brother... she was going to be able to tell him, wasn’t she?

 

Since all three women were now blindfolded they couldn’t knew where they were being taken, besides the obvious fact that it was somewhere in town. They had been warned that if one, and only one, of them did made any noise at all then they would pay for that with a ‘most shaming manner’ of being found by the townsfolk.

 

After she added that she it would meant something even more shaming than them (in the nude!!!!) against the fences of the local stable they all nodded as she ‘asked’ if they would ‘behave’. So they were really quiet, and waiting for the development of their ordeal.

 

The cart stopped, Shattered Moon opened the back of the box, grabbed the legs of Maude and brought her closer to the edge of the open box, then she cut the rope linking the wrists to the ankles and made her sat on the edge of the box. Then, as she was ready to throw the woman over her right shoulder, she heard a sound behind her...

 

The hand covered her mouth as the arm lifted her from the ground. It didn’t lasted more than a few seconds of incredulity for her to recognize her husband. She relaxed as he carried her away from the cart and further into the alley...

 

‘We have a problem’ were the first words that he said when he thought that they were safely afar from the cart. His wife first slapped him for the unexpected pounce on her, then she was all ears. And agreed that they had problems...

 

 

 

 

 

TWO HOURS LATER, INSIDE THE BANK

 

There were a few things that the sheriff really knew about Shattered Moon. One of them was that she wasn’t illiterate as she was pretending to be. She had been the one that wrote a few of the receipts that Big Bill gave him when, back in the days when he was just another newcomer in the county, he had made the mistake to ask Big Bill for a loan...

 

Another thing was that only a few hours after the sudden death of Big Bill, was it really a coincidence?, she had tried to withdraw all her money from the bank. Emily and other women of the ‘Ladies’ Club’ (led by Mrs. Applewood) were there at the time and, with some pressure of the banker’s wife, convinced him to not acknowledge any claims of a bank account coming from a member of Big Bill’s gang. Strictly technically speaking that had been wrong, a felony actually, but the money came from Big Bill’s illegal activities and besides the squaw (who soon became the laughing stock of her ‘comrades’ and townsfolk) no other member of the gang had deposited a nickel in the bank.

 

The first act of rebellion of the town against those worms.

 

The third thing, that he had remembered only a few hours before, was that Shattered Moon had one of her parents (some say the father, others the mother) coming from a family of miners, and before she had appeared in town (and joined Big Bill’s ranks) six years before she had wandered around for many miner cities...

 

She could have picked the silver nuggets in any of them... couldn’t she?

 

The whole thing seemed too suspicious for him, although he couldn’t exactly understand what were her goals he could smell something fishy. Had she kidnapped three women and attacked other four just in order to set up this whole ‘Silver Mine’ story?

 

If he was right then she had managed to lure most of the male population (three of his deputies included) of the county to out of town, at night!, in order to rob the bank (there was no other place in town that deserved such elaborate scam) without facing too much resistance and facing even less persecution afterwards. That made sense to him.

 

That kiowa squaw was really... really... the devil in skirts!

 

Besides him there was Caleb, his employee Harlan (the other two were among the new miners), Mr. Brand and Mr. Lewton (two local war heroes that were close to their 60’s) and the only deputy that he had available, Rob Cross. They were all hidden behind the desks and doors of the bank while he and Caleb were inside his office.

 

They were waiting for a long time now... and most were either yawning or sleeping.

 

Inside the office of the bank both men were attracted to the window (that showed the alley in the back of the building) when they saw a clarity coming from it. Caleb’s face turned pale immediately when he looked through the window.

 

His daughter Geraldine, wearing only her white silk underbodice and a fur coat tied over it, forced to standing in the middle of the alley with a lantern at her feet. The poor girl, her 19th birthday had happened just three months before, was crying openly over the tight mass of silk (probably two or three scarves) that the kiowa had used as a gag. They could not see her bonds due to the coat, but the way she was moving it was obvious that her arms were trapped behind her and her legs were in plain view! Now where was whoever (as if he had any doubt about it) the person who had done that to the slightly petite woman?

 

He opened the window to jump into the alley through it, and Shattered Moon’s guns were now being aimed at him. Stupid! Idiot! An obvious trap and... yet!

 

The first idea of the sheriff was to shoot at the squaw, but then how could he ever know where she was keeping his wife? The gun was probably empty, but he couldn’t bet the girl’s life, the banker’s life and his own life on it.

 

‘You and the banker, block the door with the desk, now. In silence.’

 

Caleb was already trying to lift his heavy oak desk by himself when the sheriff complied. They managed to do it only to see that the squaw had entered the room through the window as they were busy. Those guns had to be unloaded... Then to the sheriff’ surprise the banker grabbed his Derringer in his breast pocket, and pointed it at him!!!

 

‘Don’t. I don’t care if her guns have no bullets or not. It’s my daughter out there! And it’s my fault! My fault that she’s there right now! Now open the top drawer on the left...’

 

What he meant with that? Urged by the kiowa and the banker’s guns the sheriff opened the drawer. There was a big brown envelope in it.

 

‘Three thousand and six hundreds dollars and some change. It’s all in the envelope. Your money, all of it. My wife and the others at my house?’

 

‘Your little ones are still sleeping, I don’t attack children, but I locked them in their rooms. Your wife... well I made her pay for her betrayal by using too much rope on her... Your maids and butlers were dealt...’ – but she was interrupted by the sheriff’s question.

 

‘Betrayal?’

 

‘He will tell you in the morning. Put the envelope on your breast pocket and go to the alley through the window. Now sheriff. Now! Or is it that you don’t to see your wife and sister?’

 

He mouthed the question ‘They’re here?’ and Shattered Moon nodded.

 

‘Count to one thousand before opening that door Mr. Caleb...’

 

The banker saw the squaw leave through the window and force the sheriff to stay five feet in front of her all the time, they walked their way until the spot in which Geraldine was and the sheriff grabbed her in his arms, bridal style, and they were gone in a moment.

 

 

 

 

 

FIVE MINUTES LATER, INSIDE THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE

 

His blood was boiling. If he wasn’t carrying a poor kidnapped girl in his arms he would jumped on the squaw regardless of her guns were loaded or not!!!

 

She had brought Maude and Emily (and the Canadian teacher) to his place of work! And had tied them to the bars of one of his cells!

 

When he had recognized which back of which building she was demanding him to enter, by pocking her guns in his ribs, through a very well known open door he couldn’t believe at first, then he looked very enraged at the kiowa. Then he heard the muffled pleas.

 

The closest to the door that led to the back of the building was Maude. He could clearly see that she had been thoroughly roped at the ankles, knees, waist and arms before even more rope was passed around her body and three bars of the cell behind her. This second group of ropes (and of a different kind of rope) had been more loosely tied than the first, giving her room enough to breathe and wriggle a little, but she was definitely stuck against the cell. She was still wearing her (now covered in dirt and torn in a few places) violet with blue details dress that she was wearing at the time of her kidnapping.

 

The second woman was also the smaller of the captives, ‘Ms. Angel’. She had been tied exactly in the same fashion (and with the same overdoing) than his wife and was the only one unconscious (was she sleeping or had she fainted?). Her yellow and black dress was the covering in best conditions among the captives.

 

Emily was nearly naked, her camisole torn open in various points and almost completely covered in dirt (as were the parts of her body not ‘covered’ by the garment). She was also the most roped up woman in the room, having practically been turned into a standing spool of rope who barely flinched so tight were her bonds. Like Maude and ‘Ms. Angel’ she had been gagged and blindfolded with torn strips of white cloth, but while the others had them tied around their heads, Shattered Moon had tied hers around her head AND two bars behind her, she couldn’t move even her head!

 

‘You filthy...!’

 

‘Manners, sheriff, manners... please deposit the frightened girl on the cot behind them...’ – He entered the cell and did so – ‘...Now tie her ankles to her wrists with the piece of rope that’s lying at the left side of her head...’ – He did so – ‘...Now get out...’

 

And, as he was passing through the cell’s door, he decided to jump on the kiowa.

 

He managed to tackle her at the same time that she landed the butt of both unloaded guns on his skull. Three times more she repeated the process.

 

‘Stupid crazy idiot... and what if I had them loaded??’

 

She dragged his body inside the other cell and cuffed his right hand to one of the bars. At the same time that she was leaving the building through the front door Rob Cross entered it through the back door. But still she managed to leave town undetected.

 

 

 

 

THE NEXT AFTERNOON, AT PAUL RENFIELD’S FARM

 

‘See? I told you I have nothing to do with that squaw!’

 

The sheriff and his deputies had turned the barn upside down, no trapdoor whatsoever in any point of the ground. They had also checked the stable with the same result. Paul’s only cart was about twenty years old, and had only one ‘PR’ carved in the back of the box.

 

Another dead end! That accursed kiowa had fooled his sister, and by extension himself!

 

‘Sorry Paul, but I had to check the clues I had about this whole stunt!’

 

‘Stunt’ was too little to call it... At the same time that the new miners returned to town to grab/buy some provisions, most of them had left in such a haste that they had forgotten to take even a single shovel with them...., and were informed that there was NO SILVER in the hills, the banker was telling the whole story to the sheriff.

 

He and his family owed their lives to Shattered Moon.

 

It was next to impossible to run a bank with Big Bill in town. His men always ensured that no newcomer asked the bank for a loan, he always demanded loans to himself that were easily soon forgotten (and the banker wasn’t stupid to collect them), in short it would have been a complete money pit for him if not for Shattered Moon.

 

The kiowa was hired as Big Bill’s cook and maid (and some says bedwarmer), but in the first day on the job she saw a discussion between Big Bill and his then accountant, Big Bill wasn’t good with accountancy so he had to hire help for that, and completely unaware of the consequences of what she was doing she proved to Big Bill that he was right, and that his accountant had embezzled part of his money.

 

Even for Big Bill’s bloody standards the accountant’s death was horrendous and brutal.

 

And thus Shattered Moon became Big Bill’s new accountant (keeping her other previous occupations) but, since he didn’t wanted that the townsfolk knew that a squaw understood more about numbers than him, he forced her to pretend that she didn’t spoke English very well and be illiterate. – at that point of Caleb’s narrative ‘Ms Angel’ told everybody that during her short captivity she had heard the kiowa quoting Shakespeare twice!-

 

But the accountant had an accomplice, Caleb. Part of the money went to the Alabamian’s pocket and with the other part Caleb could manage to keep his bank working.

 

After being forced to watch the entirety length of the death of his ‘partner’, he insisted that he only ‘collected Big Bill’s debts’ with him, the squaw approached him and swore that his family would never be submitted to the same ‘spectacle’ (or become the ‘stars’ of it). She even helped him to send some money to the late accountant’s wife and kids in Alabama.

 

Years passed, and then she overheard Big Bill saying to his right hand that he was tired of depending on the knowledge of a ‘dirty ****** kiowa’ and thus he would hire a new accountant, and she knew that she had to do something.

 

Like poisoning Big Bill’s cigars.

 

Yes, Shattered Moon had killed Big Bill Mahoney! Everybody remembered that, at the start of the beating of the elder newspaperman, he had lit one of his priced Cubans and puffed with gusto. It was clear for the both of them that the crooked gang that ‘owned’ the town would fall soon, so she would leave town with her part of the money.

 

But when she appeared to collect it she met the ‘Ladies’ Club’ at the bank... and become the joke of the county! But now... now the joke was ON the whole county!

 

Then the Canadian woman told everybody what exactly meant Big Bill’s ciphered message and his sister told about the carved letters she had seen on the sides of the cart. Since Paul Renfield’s farm was after Serpent Pass he and his deputies went to check the Pass first.

 

They found a deep hole in the ground, a shovel and a small box that had been obviously buried on the ground for many years. There were also the remains of a fire and many burned documents were scattered around it or had flown away thanks to the wind. What little was left legible indicated that the papers had belonged to Big Bill.

 

He and his deputies reignited the fire and watched all remains burn completely.

 

Then they went to Reinfeld’s farm. Now they had just thanked the farmer for his solicitude and help and were about to jump on the horse to get back to town when they saw him. Rob Cross, running at them as fast as his horse could run. And his face... what had happened?

 

Only two months later the disappearance of Grizzly Garrison was noted, but only after four more days the sheriff could go to his place and check it. He found the trapdoor in the barn and a dirty woman’s silk lace in the small room underneath the barn.

 

Grizzly was Shattered Moon’s mysterious partner. Three years later the City Council gave his name to the main road in the county. Shattered Moon was by then the name of the main street of the town, regardless of what some newcomers had to say about it.

 

 

 

 

 

ONE MONTH AND TWO DAYS AFTER THE HEIST

 

‘Whoooaaa!!!!’

 

‘Get outta here. Out! Out! OUT!!!’

 

Had he saw what he had just seen? Had his wife really did that to the greedy pretty actress that they had hired? If he dared to take another peek to confirm or deny it she’d be mad at him, and she had a knife in her left hand, and she was very good in throwing knives.

So Grizzly went to the hall and waited for his wife to finish the girl.

 

They had found her in a small ‘theater’ in Philadelphia. After unlocking Big Bill’s ‘secret provision’ (as he had nicknamed his most valuable personal documents, mostly forged confessions of heinous crimes but with some financial documents in the middle), they had discovered that roughly 70% of his money was in two banks accounts in New York in the name of ‘Katherine Millard-Jenkins’. Why couldn’t he have used a male alias?

 

So they had to find a ‘Katherine’ for themselves, since Shattered Moon couldn’t pose as a Paris-born lady, and found her interpreting ‘Lady Ma-berth’ (or whatever was the name of the main dude of the play). Twenty one years old, good eyes and bust, lovely and fragile captivating expression, great with foreign accents, and with a gambling addiction and large debts to some of the meanest bookmakers around town.

 

They helped her as she was being ‘collected’ by two sleazy smelling worms, he beat them a little and his wife gave the men the money they wanted, and hired and trained her. They gave the girl what they knew that Big Bill had created as ‘Katherine’’s past, plus the forged papers that had cost them so much money, and he became her ‘fiancé’. After a pricey exchange of clothes they went to New York City, slept in a hotel suite and went to the banks first thing in the morning, and had it transferred to San Francisco.

 

They returned to their high priced hotel’s best room after a great dinner and the girl pulled a gun at them. And found that his wife had removed the bullets of her ‘secret’ gun while she was sleeping. His right hand was soon covering all the girl’s lower face as his wife bound her crossed wrists behind her back. Then he shoved his biggest handkerchief inside the blonde/redhead’s mouth and Shattered Moon took her to the bedroom of the suite.

 

Nine more minutes passed until she appeared, damn she looked good in that beige dress!, and she asked him if he really wanted to see his ‘fiancée’ one last time. He shouldn’t... but he did say yes. She playfully poked him on the side of his ribs as he passed by her.

 

She was barenaked on her belly on top of the bed’s covers. Why did he had to tell her, and submit her to it a few times making her an addict of it, about this French ‘en crapaudine’ tie? She had tied the girl with those sailor knots he had taught her, firm and reliable as her kiowa ones, and all were out of reach of her fingers. She was stuck, sobbing and pleading with those big green eyes of her. The gag was obviously still holding his hankie inside the girl’s mouth, was it a towel?, yes it was wrung but it was a towel from the bathroom.

 

‘We always pay our bills. Your money is in the top drawer of that chest over there. Good night Maxine, and good riddance!’ – she said before slapping the girl on her left buttock.

 

At the lobby he said that he and his ‘ex-fiancée’ had terminated the engagement due to a ‘very heated argument’, he paid the bill and asked that someone (preferably a woman) was sent to the room in a couple of hours with a hot teapot, supposing ‘of course’ that she hadn’t left the room already. Shattered Moon was waiting for him inside a cab.

 

To San Francisco, and beyond!

 

They went to the Grand Central Depot, retrieved their luggage and went to pick their train. As they were going to their platform they heard a very small newsboy (8 years old tops) announcing his papers, and looked very puzzled at each other before he bought one.

 

It was there in the front page in capital letters:

 

‘FAKE SILVER RUSH TURNS INTO REAL GOLD RUSH’

 

A couple of guys that went to the hills after the ‘Silver mine’ (or Shattered Moon herself) had found a big sedimentary deposit of gold with just three/four hours of search after a short night of sleep. Now the hills were flooding with miners, and the town had just doubled its size, since it seemed that there was gold enough to everybody in those hills!

 

For many years the workers of the Grand Central Depot, even after it was reformulated into the Grand Central Terminal, talked about the mysterious couple (he big as a bear and she an Indian) that all of a sudden burst out laughing in front of a newsboy (scaring him immediately) and everybody else in the middle of the station, and almost losing their train since nothing seemed to be effective in making them stop. And according to the men that had worked on that particular train, the couple’s laugh attack lasted for days!

 

They ended up nicknamed as ‘The Creeping Laughing Couple’.

 

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