Silver Rock [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Luke Short
eBook Category: Historical Fiction
eBook Description: TULLY GIBBS WAS A KILLER ... A bullet sang, and Tully Gibbs hit the dirt. Tully was a killer--trained, highly skilled, merciless. But he was pinned down, exposed to the hail of rifle fire: shots slamming past his ear, spraying the bitter dust into his mouth and eyes, with his own gun a deadly three yards away from his hand ... Right or wrong, Tully Gibbs had staked his claim. Now he had to fight for it! Tully Gibbs was a hard man. War, prison camp, fighting for his life had made him that way. When Tully saw the rich ore in the walls of the silver mine shaft at Officer's Ridge, he knew that nothing--not the biggest toughest mining operator in Colorado, not love, loyalty, pity or friendship was going to stand between hire and his dream of wealth and power. Luke Short's savagely realistic novel of an incredibly rich silver strike and two men who fought each other for wealth, power ... and a woman!
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2011
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If they'd ever had a schedule for this narrow-gauge train, they'd lost it, Tully thought. He was due in at nine; it was eleven P.M. now, so that when he stepped out on the platform alongside the sleepy brakeman, the only other passenger, he couldn't see much of the town, Azurite. Even on this moonless night, though, the vaulting mountains on all sides of him blotted out the horizon stars, and there was a bite in the October air.
"Take it easy, soldier. So long," the brakeman said.
"Mister," Tully said.
The brakeman laughed. "Okay, Lieutenant. So long."
Tully picked up his flight bag and walked down the platform past the lighted bay window of the station. A pickup truck was backing up to the open door of the baggage car and the agent was waiting to help a couple of the train crew unload sacks of mail.
Suddenly it came, just as unpredictably as always. Tully dropped his bag and then, closer to falling than sitting, he eased himself down on the bag. There was no pain, just a total, rubbery numbness in both legs, which would soon pass. I've been sitting down too long, Tully thought. He said it would do it. He sat there a moment, a loose-jointed tall young man in worn flannels and sports jacket. He saw the covert stares of the train crew, and he glared back fiercely, knowing that in the dark his expression of anger was wasted. Presently, as if somebody had flicked an invisible switch, the feeling returned to his legs. He stretched them gingerly, then rose and picked up his bag.
One of the men in the bed of the truck called to him, "Stick around a minute and I'll give you a lift."
Tully said, "Thanks," and went around the front of the pickup, opened the door and climbed in past the wheel.
Tully's anger was gone. He said, "You're the taxi service, too."
"Yeah, and what would the government say to that?"
"Is the train always this late?"
"Only when they don't have trouble," the man said. He glanced down at the bag and by the light of the dash read aloud, "Lieutenant Tully B. Gibbs, U.S.M.C.," and recited the serial number.
Here it comes, Tully thought. All the questions.
The man only said, "What's the B. for?" and Tully said, "Bryan," and that was all. They drove a couple of blocks past unlighted buildings, and swung into the main street, turning right. Maybe three stores had their nightlights on. It was a wide, old-fashioned street, the buildings lining it mostly two-story and brick, a good half of them empty. A lone car, oddly enough a convertible with top down, was parked downstreet. The driver made a U turn and pulled up in front of the hotel, Tully got out and thanked him, and the driver said, "I'll see you around," and drove off. Tully felt as alone as if he were standing in the middle of a big field.
The hotel was on the main four corners, a big three-story affair of brick with the tiled, pillared lobby of the typical mining boom-town hotel of the eighties. The clerk was an elderly man, and Tully disturbed his reading as he faced the desk and registered.
Tully asked then, "Ever fill this place up?"
"Not since 1905," the clerk said. Tully waited for him to tell the occasion, but he didn't.
"Can I get something to eat this late?"
"Two doors down," the clerk said, pointing.
The restaurant was a converted barroom, with the old mahogany bar serving as counter. The waiter, who was also the cook, fried up an egg sandwich and opened two bottles of beer, one for Tully and one for himself. After serving Tully, he took his bottle and walked ten feet down the counter and leaned against the ornate mahogany back bar with its heavy plate-glass mirror.
He wanted to talk, Tully knew, so he said, "Not much business."
"There'll be a few Elks in around midnight, when they close up, but it's a pretty dead dump."
"Any mines working?"
"One. There's a few leasers, too, but it's mostly peanuts."
Go ahead and ask, Tully thought, and he said, "You wouldn't know Kevin Russel, would you?"
The waiter grinned. "The old man? Sure. He still walks down to the post office every day, but it takes some doing lately." Then: "You know Kevin?"
The waiter shook his head. "Not any more, you don't. Jimmy was killed in Korea."
"I know. I was with him."
"You don't say." The waiter came up to him then and set his bottle on the counter, his pale face sharp with interest. "Is it true the way they said he died?"
"No. Shot down and captured and no medical attention."
"He got the same attention we all got, and that was none."
"You were shot down too?"
"Jimmy was my radarman."
"You don't say," the cook said. "How'd you get back?"
"Our guys overran us. We were too crippled to move, so the Reds gave us water and left us for our guys to find."
"You don't say," the cook repeated. "Say, you ought to see old Kevin before you go. He'd like to see you."
"That's why I'm here," Tully said.
They talked some more about what a lousy war it was, then Tully paid his bill, said good night, stepped into the deserted street and turned toward the hotel. The red Ford convertible with the top down that he'd seen upstreet was coasting slowly across the four corners coming toward him. He could see a shock of long blond hair behind the wheel as the car passed under the street lamp. Tully was abreast of the hotel when the car came to a stop beside him.
A girl called, "Can you give me a hand?"
Tully stopped and looked and saw there was a man with the girl. She was driving; the man was staring at Tully, and now he said slowly, "Beat it, bud."
Tully stood still a moment, and when nobody spoke he moved out to the curb, stepped off it and came up to the car. He looked at the man, and even from there he could smell the barbershop on him. His black hair was slicked down and his sports shirt was open under his loud checked jacket. He was big, young, with a boxcar build.
A sport, Tully thought, and glanced at the girl. She didn't go with the big character beside her. She was pretty in a kind of worried way, but she looked as if, when everything that was out of hand was in again, she could smile easily. She wore a red sports coat with the biggest plaid Tully had ever seen, a white silk scarf, gray gloves, and she might have been twenty-four.
Tully said, "What's the trouble?"
"I've been trying to dump him for an hour. He won't go."
Tully didn't look at the man, he looked at her. "Why won't he?"
Tully looked at the man now. "True or false, chum?"
"Half true," the man said. "My car, though."
"Is he your date?" Tully asked the girl.
Tully stepped back and said, "Well, have fun," and turned and went into the hotel. As the door closed behind him, he heard the clashing of gears as the convertible shot away from the hotel.
Picking up his key and bag, Tully went up to his room, a front one. Opening his bag, he changed into pajamas and then started unpacking. Midway through the chore, he thought he heard a car pass and went over to the window and looked out. It was the red convertible again, headed the other way.
If she wants out, why doesn't she drive home? He thought sourly.
He finished unpacking, and then threw his bag in the back of the closet. Not too far back, he thought, you may be packing again tomorrow.
Turning out the light, he walked to the window and looked out. The town was dark, except for an occasional light, and utterly soundless; beyond it the mountains loomed lonely and black. This is the place, he thought. This is the stake. It's got to be.
Next morning at a little after nine Tully, following the clerk's directions, stepped out into the chill sunlight, crossed the unpaved street and headed for the railroad tracks, bound for Kevin Russel's shack down on the river flats.
In the bright day, Azurite had an air of engaging raffishness. It was undeniably untidy: its brick was weathered and sloughing, its boards were a rich brown with age, new paint was a rarity, and its cracked sidewalks of ancient concrete were buckled with the frost of seventy mountain winters. Tully liked it all.
The street petered out at the tracks, and he took a weed-bordered path down through a tangle of chokecherry bushes to the river bottom, where he picked up a dirt road and followed it a hundred yards to a sagging picket fence around a tiny lot. Here, lying in the deep shade of massive cottonwoods, was a small unpainted house.
The gate was off, and Tully took the short stretch of rotting boardwalk to the porch. His knock on the screen door brought a stirring inside the house, and presently a small old man, straight-backed and slow-moving, appeared at the door.
"You're Mr. Russel, Jimmy's father," Tully said. "I'm Tully Gibbs."
The old man might have been slow-moving, but there was nothing slow about his thought processes, Tully observed. Immediately, he opened the screen door and stuck out his hand.
"Lieutenant Gibbs, Jimmy's friend," old Kevin said softly. "I am glad to see you." He looked searchingly at Tully with the palest blue eyes Tully had ever seen.
"What brings you here?"
"Well, I'm on terminal leave and I thought I'd like to look at some mountains again. I remembered Jimmy liked these."
The old man gestured loosely. "Let's sit on the porch."
Tully stepped aside and the old man slowly came out. He indicated the porch swing, and went on to the worn rocker at the corner of the porch and let himself down slowly. Watching him, Tully felt a wrench of pity. Jimmy had been all the old man had, and for a fleeting moment Tully sensed the ageless tragedy of the childless old. But pity was a luxury Tully wasn't affording at the moment, and he made his expression reserved and pleasant.
"How you feeling, son? I figured from Jimmy's last letter you'd be in the hospital for quite a stretch yet."
"A pair of broken legs isn't much, nowadays."
"They bother you?"
Tully shrugged, faintly embarrassed by the old man's solicitude. "They go numb at unexpected times. Some nerve pinch or something. The doctors couldn't see me flying a plane with them, so I'm out."
The old man nodded. He had never taken his shrewd gaze from Tully's face, and now a kind of unease was in Tully. He had meant to sympathize with the old man, to reminisce about Jimmy, to hear about the military funeral only a month past, to imprint on the old man's mind his affection for Jimmy and his shared sense of loss. But the old man had not even mentioned Jimmy yet.
"How have you been, sir? Jimmy worried about you toward the last." The lie came easily, for, it was a lie. Living, Jimmy never thought of his father; dying, he thought of himself.
The old man looked uncomfortable. "I'm all right, Jimmy knew that, and it shouldn't have worried him."
"Need any help?"
The old man looked carefully at him, and his jaw closed firmly. "No sir, and I never have."
Tully felt a faint flush of embarrassment mount to his face, and with it came a sudden caution. Go easy, he thought; get on something safe. "I suppose it's sort of hard for you to talk about Jimmy, sir, but is there anything you wanted to ask me about him? I was with him from the time we crashed until the end."
The old man asked quietly, "Do you want to talk about it?"
"If you want to hear it."
"That means you don't." He was silent a moment, considering. "Who was the boy who wrote Jimmy's letters for him in the hospital? I'd like to write and thank him."
"I don't know, sir. Jimmy and I were in different wards, although I saw a lot of him. It might have been a nurse." This second lie came even more easily, but as he looked at the old man he thought with a faint stirring of apprehension, Why does he ask that? Does he know I wrote them?
"No, it was a man's writing," old Kevin said. "It doesn't matter. I guess I know everything else I need to know."
That'll hold me, Tully thought sardonically. He drew out a pack of cigarettes, offered the pack to Kevin, who declined, and then slowly lighted a smoke. He was wondering why he had ever thought this scheme would work. Not all parents were like the people in stories and books, he was learning again. There were some who accepted the death of their young as stoically as animals, who rejected sympathy, who guarded their feelings with such an iron determination that there was no access to them. Tully had counted on old Kevin's loneliness, his need for sympathy and help, yet the old man needed nothing, and Tully's scheme was no scheme at all.
The old man's voice broke in on his thoughts. "Jimmy wrote you were a mining man, son."
Instantly, Tully's heart began to pound. So the old boy remembered. Here was the chance, the slim chance, and he must handle it with care.
"That's right," he said idly, and added, "that's about all I know how to do except fly a plane."
"We had quite a camp here once."
Tully nodded. "The Iron Top, and the McClellan. I should say you did, unless all the textbooks lied."
"They didn't lie," old Kevin said softly. "Where've you worked?"
Tully told him he'd been with Anaconda since he left school, that on his last job he'd been loaned out to a subsidiary company doing exploratory work in Aspen, Colorado, on lead-zinc. He'd been there when the Marine Reserve called him up.
"Like these big companies?" old Kevin asked.
Tully shrugged, knowing the old man was feeling him out. "I don't know anything else. Nowadays, you work for them or you mostly don't work."
The old man nodded. "It's a poor profession these days if you're a loner. Going back with them?"
"Yes. After I loaf a while."
They sat in tranquil silence, and Tully was fairly certain he had passed the first test. It wasn't much, but it was a start. He thought back to the many letters he had written old Kevin pretending they were on behalf of Jimmy, whose arms were rotting with gangrene and whose mind was drugged with pain-killing opiates. Each of those letters always contained news of Lieutenant Gibbs, Jimmy's savior, his friend, his pilot. And each told a little more of Lieutenant Gibbs, how they talked mining, what a swell guy Gibbs was. Tully wondered now if he had overdone it, but he knew he wouldn't know that until later.
Old Kevin stirred then and said, "Well, you picked a good place to loaf. How long you plan to stay?"
"A few days, maybe," Tully said. "I want to do a lot of walking and get my legs back in shape. Then I'd like to look at some of the old mines, too."
"There's a fair-sized one north of town up Liberty Gulch, the Mahaffey. It's a good lead-zinc-silver property."
Tully threw away his cigarette and rose. "I'll see you around, won't I, Mr. Russel?"
"Certainly. I walk to the post office every day and mostly rest in the afternoon. Come over any time you feel like it; in fact, come over lots." He smiled his soft, almost shy smile and rose too. Tully shook his big, flat-palmed calloused hand and in parting said, "This is a nice quiet place you have here."
"It suits me."
Back on the road again Tully assessed what he had accomplished. It wasn't much except that he thought the old man liked him on sight. Meanwhile, remembering he mustn't crowd the old boy, he would have to be content with that while he moved as circumspectly as possible.
He had paved the way for this next move by telling old Kevin he wanted to look at the country, which was natural enough for a mining man. Now, cutting back to town across the weed-grown lots, he was ready to go to work.
The town viewed from this distance seemed to shoulder against the very base of the high peaks which ribboned off into numberless gulches whose sides were scarred by the pale wash of old mine dumps. The tallest building in town was the cupolaed brick courthouse, and Tully, picking his way through the back streets, headed for it. Its iron fence guarding the marble monument to the Civil War soldiers and shining in the sunlight was freshly painted. Its lawn was deep emerald green against the faded brick of the courthouse.
Inside, the halls were lofty and dim-lit and smelled of aged wood and well-used cuspidors. The county offices were proclaimed by scroll letters in gold leaf in their solid doors, a mocking memory of the county's wealthier days.
Tully shouldered through the door marked "County Clerk and Recorder," and moved up to the counter that barred his way into the big room. Here was a monumental clutter of papers on old slant-top bookkeepers' desks, but from somewhere in the back of the room came the sound of a typewriter clattering at a terrific pace. Tully looked about him and since the typing continued, he cleared his throat noisily. The typewriter ceased and from around the desk came a girl. It took Tully one careful look to identify her as the girl in the red convertible of last night. It took a longer and an even more careful look for her to identify him as she halted on the far side of the counter.
"Did you get rid of him?" Tully asked.
"At ten minutes to two, no thanks to you," she answered coldly.
Tully shook his head wonderingly. "An old family friend?"
Tully said, "What's the matter? Did you forget where you lived? Couldn't you have driven home, thanked him for a nice evening and gone inside?"
"You don't know Ben Hodes," the girl said.
"You tried awfully hard to introduce me," Tully countered dryly. "What was I supposed to do--say hello and kick his head off?"
"If you'd been a gentleman, you wouldn't even have said hello."
Tully felt a thrust of irritation. "If you don't like drunks don't go out with them."
"That's a large order in this town."
"Then you ought to organize a rescue unit and not depend on strangers."
"Especially timid ones."
"Right," Tully said. "Who's in charge here?"
The girl laughed suddenly. "Put down that lorgnette, Duchess. Won't I do?"
"If you're the recorder," Tully said shortly.
"I do his job when he isn't here. What is it you want?"
"I think Kevin and Jimmy Russel have some mining claims in this county. I'd like to know their location."
The girl's slim face altered; a faint suspicion in it now. "Any special claims, or would just any of the Russel claims do?"
"These are on Officer's Ridge."
The girl's eyebrows raised. "Now how did you know that? It's called Vicksburg Hill now, and only the oldest-timers ever call it Officer's Ridge."
"Why, Jimmy told me."
"Did he tell you to have a look at the claims there?"
Plain annoyance mounted into Tully's face. "He did, but I haven't got an affidavit to prove it."
"Okay, Donald Duck. Sit down and pour yourself a glass of sherry while I hunt up the ledger."
She turned and walked into the big vault in the left wall of the room. Altogether she was a pleasant sight, standing, walking or scolding, Tully thought. He wondered who Ben Hodes was that she and presumably the rest of the town girls were so in awe of him.
Presently she returned with the big ledger, dumped it on the desk and said, "Do you suppose I could ask you a question, a very small one, without having to watch you take your shirt off and fight?"
"Go ahead," Tully said coldly.
"How do you propose to find these claims on Vicksburg?"
"There are corners, aren't there?"
"Have you got a map, a compass, a surveyor and a logging crew in your pocket?"
Tully frowned. "Why, are they hard to find?"
"Unless you know the country, they're impossible. There's no road to them. There are some prospect holes on the claims, but you have to know even your game trails to find them." She added with a faint trace of humor in her tone, "If you're thinking of buying them, I can save you time."
Tully straightened up. "I'm not. Why? Aren't they for sale?"
"There have been offers--none of them accepted."
"Ben Hodes for one. He runs the Mahaffey."
Tully said wearily, "There's that man again."
The girl flushed, but said nothing. She started to open the claim ledger when Tully put his hand on the cover. "I guess I don't need that. Can anybody around here take me to the claims?"
The girl thought a moment, then asked, "Do you want to pay for a jeep?" At Tully's nod of assent, she turned and crossed the room to the telephone and dialed a number.
"Alec?" she asked. "This is Sarah Moffit. Are you working today?"
Tully watched her with a close attention as she talked. He had had dealings enough with other county officials to know that they were a mine of miscellaneous information, the importance of which they seldom had an accurate knowledge. He would have liked to ask this Sarah Moffit more about the Vicksburg Claims, but he remembered the caution that mounted into her green eyes when he had first mentioned it.
She turned and asked abruptly, "Can you be ready in half an hour?"
"In ten minutes."
The girl relayed the message and hung up, then crossed back to the counter.
"Your man will pick you up at the hotel in fifteen minutes. His name is Alec Bacchione and he'll bring lunch."
"Sounds like a dude wrangler," Tully observed.
"Not quite," the girl said patiently. "Alec was a combat engineer during the last war, and he's sort of a freelance heavy-equipment operator. For a while he was chainman for the county surveyor, and he's guided hunting parties, too. That's why I picked him, because he knows that country like a book." She added dryly, "You'll be in safe hands. You'd better change out of those dancing pumps, too. You're going to see some country."
Tully looked at her a long moment, then said, "Every time I have an impulse to be polite to you, you change my mind, so I better say thanks before you do it again."
"That's all right. It was only a little trouble." They regarded each other with a mild hostility before Tully turned and went out.
As he changed into rough clothes and engineer boots in his room, his thoughts kept returning to the girl. She had a sort of cross-grained, almost malicious way about her that he did not wholly understand. His rudeness of last night she had returned to him compounded. Moreover, she met him with a mingled suspicion and dislike that he was not accustomed to. It was as if without voicing it she suspected his motives in looking over these claims. That's small town, he thought, but I've got to be careful. Alec will tell her everything I say.
A battered army surplus jeep was waiting in front of the hotel when he stepped out. The man behind the wheel was dressed in oft-washed coveralls and an ancient ski cap. He was a short, heavy young man with the dark perceptive eyes and the almost tender smile of an Italian. He introduced himself, shook hands with Tully, and gave him a few grudging seconds to throw his packsack on the back seat and settle himself before he shot the jeep into a U-turn and headed north out of town and up the valley.
A .22 rifle lay between the separate front seats and Tully, pulling it away from the gear shifts, asked, "Is a gun standard equipment in these parts?"
"If you live here," Alec said laconically.
"I don't follow you."
Alec gave him a quick grin. "Ducks and blue grouse."
"Is the season open on them?"
"Only if you live here," Alec said again. Then he glanced obliquely at Tully and said, "These are our birds and our game in these mountains, no matter what the state says. We kill them whenever we want but never for fun. That's more than these jokers from Kansas or Nebraska with their hunting licenses can say, isn't it?"
Tully grinned too. "Right you are," and thought sourly, A character.
Only a few minutes from town the main traveled road turned left up a gulch. A sign at the forks pointing left said "Mahaffey Mines, Inc." Alec's way was straight ahead and the road, an abandoned mine road, was already scarcely more than a track. It climbed into black spruce and twisted through alders fringing the creek which they were to ford twenty more times in the next two hours.
Against the grinding of the gears and the noisy jolting of the jeep, conversation was impossible. Tully knew that Alec was wondering at the reasons for this trip and sooner or later he would have to be satisfied, but at the moment his silence was welcome and Tully reviewed the little he knew of the Russel Claims.
Most of it had been gleaned in the long days and nights Jimmy and he had lain side by side on the schoolhouse floor. They'd been brought there after the crash of their Tigercat F7F on the rocky beach to the east.
To dull their pain they talked, forgetting their dislike of each other. The one thing they had in common, an interest in mining, had never been a bond between them; Jimmy's contempt for a "schoolbook miner" had seen to that. But during those interminable and miserable days Jimmy swallowed his prejudice, and he talked about little else but the Officer's Ridge or Vicksburg Claims, ten in number, that were so rich in lead, zinc and silver. Every man had a dream in his heart, and these claims were Jimmy's dream. Neither Jimmy nor his father could raise the money to develop them, Jimmy had told him. The R.F.C. Mining Loan Department had rejected their application for a government loan on the grounds that federal money was intended to enlarge going properties and not to develop prospects.
As for raising outside money, it was the old story that Tully knew so well. There is nothing quite so articulate and hopelessly optimistic as a miner trying to share his deep conviction that there is great mineral wealth on claims he owns. The rest of the story was classic in its outline. Other mining interests knew the worth of the claims, but they also knew old Kevin's inability to develop them. Insulting offers had been insultingly rejected.
The substitute for a road which they had been traveling now hauled up abruptly at a caved-in cabin among the spruce. A tunnel mouth opened jaggedly into the slope behind the shack and Alec put the jeep across the rusting tram rails toward the other side of the clearing saying, "From here on we bushwhack."
The jeep climbed more steeply now and under Alec's guiding hand it seemed to be almost sentient, picking its way around windfalls and choosing passages through the thinning timber that were just wide enough to accommodate it. A startled buck off to Tully's right watched them in still amazement for long seconds, and then went vaulting off down the hill.
They were presently in a thicket of young aspens and Alec hesitated just long enough to put the jeep into low low. Then he butted through the thicket, bending down the trees ahead of him and soon they broke out onto a high grassy bench interspersed with heavy thickets of black spruce which they traveled for another hour.
Looking ahead, Tully had guessed that this bench would take them by gradual ascent to a higher craggy ridge looming directly ahead of them and nestled below the high peaks, but this was not to be. Only minutes later Alec swung the jeep in a half circle, cut the motor and said, "End of the line. It drops straight off past the edge of the timber."
They shrugged into their packsacks and Tully surprised Alec covertly watching him as he adjusted his straps.
"There's ten claims strung out in a line on top of that ridge," Alec said, pointing. "Where do you want to head for?"
"Claims three and four."
"Sarah tell you what's on them?"
Tully shook his head. "Jimmy did. That's where the fault lies closest to the surface, isn't it?"
Alec nodded slowly. "So I heard, but I never heard him say it."
Something in his voice held Tully's attention and they regarded each other almost with hostility.