Joe cursed as he witnessed what the "coon or another varment had done to the Jeep. Curiousity is one of man’s worst enemies concerning the wild. From a rummaging bear to the mischevious doings of a "coon" tearing the wiring from under a Jeep’s dash. He should have put the vehicle in the garage un the tower the previous night but by the time he had made the three trips up the steep stairwell to the tower carrying his gear and rations he was just to tired for the fourth trip down.
Gripping the "grip" of the .06, he shrugged. Oh well, he guessed a morning hike of three miles would do him some good. Making sure his canteen was full, he turned for the road.
Shawna had found the access to the bluff’s rim she had sought. Though having to grip protruding roots, she started up. She reached the halfway mark before unsure footing cost her. Screaming, she rolled/ fell back to the bottom. Bruised but not hurt, she returned to the job of gaining the bluff’s summit. She froze.
A deep growl from the puma cracked the morning air. Slowly, the girl turned to face the giant cat. Though the cat’s hunger fought it’s reasoning, it fidgeted as the human faced it. Within seconds it could be at the girl’s throat tasting the sweet blood as it flowed from the carnage, but knowledge of the "long stick" made it hold back.
In the distance Shawna could hear a vehicle on the road above. Great, she thought as she backed against a tree, why does the "cavalry" always arrive too late. Finding a small branch, she held it to her fore. The cat settled back on it’s haunches. It could see the stick the other had produced, but the smell wasn’t there. The oil smell that lingered on the "long sticks" was absent. The cat’s hunger outweighed it’s doubts of the stick. Sleek muscles bunched. The cat attacked!
Shawna swung the branch as the cat flew for her. The concussion of an .06 filled the noise of the attack. The huge animal doubled in the air. Shawna dived out from under it’s weight. Again, the .06 sounded off.
The puma hit the ground fighting it’s wounds and still trying for the girl. For the third time Joe aimed the 06. For the third time his finger fell on the trigger.
Keeping the weapon trained on the dead beast, he crossed to the girl. Helping her to rise he asked if she was alright.
"Yes, she answered, "I don’t know where you came from but I’m mighty glad you’re here."
"I was up on the road.’ Joe explained, "I heard you scream."
A male voice carried down to the two. "Are you alright down there?"
The police department was active with the new information the girl had produced. Josh studied the map of the area. They now knew where the van was, but the mine the girl had mentioned wasn’t there.
He turned to the chief. I thought you said all the old mines were on this map."
They are, at least all the recorded ones are."
The chief nodded, ‘this country is loaded with gold and silver mines. Some recorded some not.
You have to think, back in the mining days, the biggest crop this country had was claim jumpers. If one of those old miner’s was afraid, he’d not record his.
Taking a protractor, the agent made a circle of approximately four miles around the "hole." He counted twenty-three mines in the circle. It was still going to be a cat and mouse game. "Let’s get some copters. Start making a sweep of this area."
The chief laughed at this statement. "Man, your looking at some of the roughest country in the Rockies. Copters won’t do any good. The wind currents those mountains create would ground a copter in a heart beat. No, we’ll have to go in there on foot or horse back."
Silently, the agent cursed under his breath. "Alright, if we have to." His sight returned to the chief. "How many horses can you round up?"
"Well, let’s see, there’s the sheriff’s patrol. Them boys all have mounts they ride in the parades and such. Oh yeah, we can borrow horses from the Bar X O. Old Wade will probably furnish some riders too."
The agent nodded and laughed, "Well chief, I guess you need to round up your posse."
The door burst open. Tom Sunday pushed his way into the room followed by five other men. "What are you doing about finding our children?" he asked in a demanding voice.
The chief raised his arms and pressed his hands against the parent. "Now hold on Tom. We’re doing the best we can. It won’t be long before little Lorie’s back at home with the other girls."
News of the "hole" and the mine had raced like wildfire through the small community. How the word had gotten out, none knew but it had. "I’m tired of waiting," the formidable construction company owner shouted, I think I’m going to get some of the boy’s off the job and go searching myself." he turned to the followers, "How about it boys, are you with me?"
Yelling over the roar of the others, the chief cautioned the man. "Tom, don’t do anything stupid. Let the police handle this."
"Handle, hell. You couldn’t handle your own pecker when you’re pissing." The parent growled as he turned away. "Come on boys, let’s show the police how we handle murderers and rapists in this country."
Watching the group leave, the agent shook his head, "Now he had a bunch of vigilantes to watch out for. He placed his hand on the chief’s shoulder, "I’m going to grab a bite to eat. Try to get everything ready by in the morning."
The chief returned his look. The agent could see a hint of a tear in the man’s eye. "Do you have any idea how much I want to be with that bunch there?"
The hand slightly gripped the muscles of the shoulder. "Let the law handle it bud. Let’s make it legal when we bring those bastards down."
The little diner was empty except for the two old men as he stepped through the door. Casually wondering if they ever left the place, he reclaimed his booth and sat down. Grabbing a menu from the condiments stacked at the booth’s backside, he scanned the offering as the waitress approached.
"I think I’ll have the hot roast beef with french fries and a glass of tea."
"Heard you found those boogers."
He raised his head to the old man’s drone. "Pardon me, I wasn’t paying attention."
"Those robbers, heard you found where they was holed up."
He nodded. He couldn’t see the harm in the conversation since the information was now town gossip. "Not really," he commented. "They are supposed to be in some mine about four miles back in the mountains from the "hole." He didn’t elaborate on how many mines would have to be searched.
"You’re not talking about the old Robertson mine, are you?"
The name didn’t ring a bell in his memory. He couldn’t remember seeing it on the map.
"Robertson Mine? That one’s not on the map."
"Wouldn’t be. Let’s see, the way pap told the story, Robertson came out here in the early eighties like the rest of the miners. That’s eighteen eighty. Now pap was just a boy back then so he couldn’t remember the whole story, but it seems that this Robertson fellow was a mite eccentric, afraid jumpers would take the mine away from him and all.
Any way, he never told anyone where he was mining, but brought out some quality stuff.
Jumpers got him alright. One time they followed him out and cornered him at some cave. That cave was well protected and all but a lucky shot got him. The robbers got off with his gold and come back to town.
No one ever found that cave either, but that didn’t matter. Once the town found out what those fellers had done they strung them up. Didn’t even give them a chance for a trial or anything. Course that was back before Fred Winston’s time. If Fred had been marshaling back then, he’d never let the town folks do that." He nodded to his partner, "you remember Fred Winston, don’t you?"
At least this time the partner was awake for he nodded at the question. "Sure do, he commented, "Fine man, If he was still the marshal, this robbery wouldn’t have ever happened."
The agent cut in, "well do you know where the Robertson mine is now?"
"Told you I didn’t, but pap figured it to be across the ravine from "Old Baldy."
The agent nodded as his meal was brought to him. In his mind’s eye he saw the ominous mountain. At least it was someplace to start.