Posts : 834
Join date : 2013-08-25
Age : 45
|Subject: Promontory Sun Jun 22, 2014 10:18 pm|| |
Promontory“Harry, it’ll never work!"
“Oh, come on, Heyes! How can you say that, with all the plans you’ve made that worked out? We just perfect the plan until it’s foolproof.”
Kid Curry shook his head. “Harry, you’re new here, so maybe you don’t appreciate the way we work. Even if we were able to pull it off, it wouldn’t be worth it – like Heyes told ya, it’s only fourteen ounces of gold. Too much risk for too little reward!”
Harry pushed on. “Kid, it’s not the amount of gold that matters here, it’s being able to achieve the objective!”
Blue eyes rolled. “Whatever ya say, Harry. There’s no talkin’ sense to ya.” Kid turned to his partner.
Hannibal Heyes sighed. “Harry, if you would come up with something we could actually pull off, then maybe. But this is silly. And Kid’s right, it ain't worth the risk.”
“But, Heyes, you’re always up for a challenge, and this would be a big one.”
“A big one? How? It’s small potatoes. It’s just as harebrained as wanting to rob the Denver Mint! And we’d have to melt it down ourselves to be able to do anything with it.”
“Ah, Heyes, that’s where you’re wrong. You don’t melt down a thing of such historical value. You ransom it. Think of it as a kidnapping, except it’s a thing, not a person.”
“But we’re not in the kidnapping business, Harry. It’s not what we do.”
“No! And that’s final!”
Heyes calmly strode to the stove and poured himself a cup of coffee, his back to the would-be newest member of the Devil’s Hole Gang. He stayed in that position a long few seconds before turning around. To the outlaw leader, Harry appeared crestfallen.
Conciliatorily, “Look, Harry, I’m more than willing to listen to a good plan. But it has to be something we can pull off, and not run too much risk. We don’t want to compromise ourselves. That make sense?”
A smirk. “Maybe. But, Heyes…”
Heyes raised his voice a tad. “No more! If you come up with something more realistic, we’ll talk. But for now …” He shook his head. “No.”
The outlaw leader did not appear to be finished. Harry and Kid waited, expectantly.
“Besides, that’s one target that’ll remain off limits.”
Brown eyes ablaze, the outlaw leader’s anger turned on a dime. His voice rose more than a tad this time, “Don’t challenge me, Harry! The answer’s ‘no,’ and that’s final!”
Kid stepped forward, grabbing a startled Harry by the arm. “Come on, Harry, time for ya to go back to the bunk house. The boys probably have a poker game goin’. Cool off a bit.” He opened the door of the leader’s cabin and practically shoved the man through the threshold.
Harry turned to see the door slam in his face.
On the other side of it, Kid faced his cousin. “Okay, Heyes, what was that all about? Sure, Harry’s a whiner and a dreamer, but why the reaction? That’s not like you.”
Coffee cup in hand, Heyes sat down at the table. He stared at the dark liquid for a moment, before locking eyes with his partner. His demeanor was quiet. “I guess he hit a nerve.”
Kid pulled up a chair. He spoke matter-of-factly, “Yeah, but why?”
Brown eyes regarded blue for a quick second before contemplating coffee again. “It’s personal.”
“Personal? The golden spike?”
A sigh. “Yeah.”
Heyes regarded Kid. “Guess I never told ya. I was there.”
Kid rolled his eyes. “Where, there?”
“At Promontory Summit.”
“How? We … we were …”
Heyes interrupted. “We’d just broken up. I headed to Utah. You know that.”
“Well, I told ya I was scoutin’ for the railroad the last few months …”
Heyes took a deep breath. “I was at Promontory Summit for the ceremony.”
Heyes stood up, obviously frustrated. “Gee, Kid, you’re smarter than that. Do I have to lay it all out for ya?!”
Kid’s brow furrowed. He spoke in a strong, but still quiet, voice. “Heyes, I don’t read minds.”
Heyes leaned against the fireplace, facing it, seemingly lost in thought.
A long minute of silence passed.
Kid rose and walked the few steps to his partner’s side. He regarded him, placed a hand on his shoulder.
Heyes looked down momentarily before locking eyes with Kid for a second, then looked away.
The outlaw leader took a deep breath, which he held for a second before exhaling. He bit his lip, shook his head.
“Heyes? What is it? Tell me.”
Finally, softly, “It’s personal, Kid.”
The blue-eyed man nodded. “Okay.” He squeezed Heyes’ shoulder before heading for the door. “I’ll be in the bunk house.” He reached for the latch.
“Kid?” Heyes turned toward his partner. “Wait.”
The blond man regarded Heyes.
“Sit down.” Heyes nodded to a chair. “Ya always like a story? I’ll tell ya a story …”
Kid stood, frozen, eyes locked on Heyes. He sat down, waited.
Heyes took another deep breath. He paced, stopped, opened his mouth as if to speak … Sighed.
Kid tracked his every movement, anticipated – patiently.
Finally, Heyes spoke, “I guess I should have told you this a long time ago …”
“You there! Heyes, is it?”
The wide-eyed youth squinted, the rays of the sun almost blinding him as he stepped out of the grading line and ran the short distance to the man on horseback. He looked up.
“So’s ya got a good eye.”
“A good eye, sir?”
“Yup. Ya sighted them Injun tracks when no one else did; gave us enough time to stop that attack before it even got started. Where’d ya learn that?”
“From my pa, sir. We hunted a lot.”
“Your pa’s a fair tracker, is he?”
Heyes sighed. “He was …”
“Sorry, son. The war?”
The youth nodded, grim-faced. He contemplated the ground.
“Too many good men lost.”
Heyes regarded him. “Yes, sir.”
“You mind your manners real good, too.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“How good a shot are ya?”
Heyes thought. At eighteen, he did not have the speed of his sixteen-year-old cousin, but he was accurate – not as fast, but accurate nonetheless. (Hmm, it would be nice to have Jed there by his side. Oh well. Not to be right now.) But speed wasn’t the question at hand. “I can generally hit what I aim at, sir.”
“And you can handle a rifle, and that sidearm of yours?”
His chest puffed, but just a little. He replied with a tone to match, “Yes, sir.”
“Cocksure of yourself, are ya?”
Heyes shrugged; he sported a lopsided grin.
“How’d ya like to eat less dust? Maybe get off the gradin’ line?”
Enthusiastically, “Yes, sir!”
“We need more scouts out ahead – watch for sign, hunt, forage to supplement the meat. Pays better than the grademen, not as much as the ironmen. Interested in joinin’ us?”
Grinning broadly and dimples in full glory, Heyes nodded. “Thank you, sir.”
“Don’t mention it. I’m Settles. I head up the scouts. Get your gear, then come find me. I’ll go over what ya need to know; show ya where to bunk.”
“First thing ya need to know is I don’t tolerate insolence!”
The youth smiled.
Job Settles scrutinized the boy – young man – who stood before him. “How old are ya, son?”
“Just turned eighteen, sir.”
“I can do the job.”
Unseen by Heyes, the older man’s brow furrowed beneath the mane of flowing locks that found its way into his face, obstructing his vision momentarily before he raked it back under a weathered grey hat that blended in with the color of his hair. He spoke matter-of-factly, “Sure of yourself, are ya?”
Heyes gulped. Hesitantly, “Yes, sir.”
“Ya don’t sound too sure of yourself now.”
“I … I can do it, sir.”
Settles audibly drew in a deep breath. He nodded, as if in thought. His eyes never left Heyes. “I think ya can, too. That’s why I wanted ya for my detail. Just need to make sure I was right, before puttin’ ya out there. It can be dangerous, this scoutin’ business.”
The youth nodded imperceptibly, relaxing a little.
“We’re almost finished, windin’ down. But we still need to know what’s yonder. And whatever forage you come across doesn’t hurt. Ya got a mount?”
Heyes shook his head.
“Cat got your tongue all of a sudden, boy?”
Settles squinted against the afternoon sun, a half smile appearing. “No, sir, no mount? Or, no, sir, the cat don’t have your tongue?”
Heyes visibly relaxed. “Both, sir.”
Scouting detail agreed with Heyes. Freed from the grading line and the constant din of the hammering that followed it, he found freedom on horseback, riding ahead with the other scouts to make sure the way was clear for the advancing iron rails. Indian sign abated after that last sighting, but so was forage scarce in the desert-like conditions of Northern Utah. The buffalo hunters kept the crews stocked with meat, and there was talk of one in particular who reckoned he had felled thousands, far exceeding his contracted-for amount. Heyes only glimpsed the newly named “Buffalo Bill” from a distance, the faraway figure reminding him of a younger version of his mentor, Job Settles.
Heyes thought “Old Job” Settles well-named. Under a gruff exterior existed a soft heart, but perhaps only for the greenest of his detail. However, under his tutelage, the youth’s natural abilities shined, the proverbial patience of his namesake coming to the fore in a way that only Heyes seemed favored to witness, as if some destined connection quickly took hold and germinated. And since most of the other scouts had at least eight years and concomitant experience on Heyes, no jealousy existed. Indeed, after a brief period of playful initiation, they too appreciated the youth’s obvious smarts and shrewdness.
“You’ll lead men someday,” noted Settles. “Hell, you’re just about leadin’ ‘em here!”
“You’re in charge,” came the respectful reply.
Gruffly, “Might be, boy. But nigh on too long, we’ll be done here, and you’ll be off on your own. Ya got a good head for makin’ your way in the world.”
“'Tis true, boy. Ya meet back up with your kin – you’ll both be better off for it. Truer words I never spake.”
Heyes thought for a moment. “I do wanna meet up with Jed again. Stupid what broke us up.” A pause. Softly, “I’m thinking you and me are sorta like kin now. Where ya headed after this? Ya never have said.”
“I got no real plans, boy – I go as the wind blows. Might finally see fit to enter a contest down south – a little bit of somethin’ I can tack on my name.”
Curiously, “What kind of contest?”
Chuckling, “A trackin’ contest, boy.” Settles regarded Heyes. “Ya know, you’d gimme some right competition. Maybe ya follow me for that long, anyway.”
Heyes’ grin grew as he nodded assent. “I like that idea just fine. But I know who’ll win, and it ain’t me.”
The men – experienced and barely – passed a moment of silent agreement, and rode on.
As the iron ribbon of the transcontinental railroad neared its completion, news of a ceremony involving dignitaries and a commemorative tie and spikes filtered through the camps. Indeed, the governor of California personally transported the golden spike from Sacramento via a special train.
Crews spelled each other in a last rush to finish the track. Finally, one last tie remained to be laid, but first a specially made and polished laurel board pre-augered with holes for the golden spike and three others would be put in place for the commemoration.
Delayed several days, the ceremony finally got underway. Due to the significance of the occasion, hundreds of people gathered to watch. Politicians, railroad officials, several companies of the Twenty-first Infantry, men of the various crews, and curious onlookers assembled.
The crowds jockeyed for position to hear various orators. When calls for them to move back went unheeded by some of the throng, Settles and his scouts rode in to keep order.
The chief of scouts ordered his men to various parts of the line, detailing Heyes to the far end on one side – it seeming the more cooperative part of the assembly – while he rode to the far end. However, the youth noted the throng was, for the most part, orderly – their excitement and enthusiasm, palpable; the occasion, auspicious. Colorful pennants waved in the breeze. Children ran forward and parents after them.
The speeches droned on and were difficult to hear at that distance, although the speakers were not that far away. Heyes witnessed the dignitaries – the governor of California, who was also the president of the Central Pacific, and his equal on the Union Pacific’s side – simultaneously attempt to tap the ceremonial spikes into place, missing and hitting rail first before finding the heads of the spikes on the second try, drawing spirited cheers from the crowd.
Less than an hour after it began, the ceremony ended. The dignitaries and officials having quit the scene, workers moved in to extract the commemorative laurel tie and gold and silver spikes, replacing them with a regulation tie and iron spikes.
Souvenir hunters in the crowd surged forward. Settles signalled his men to restore order. Heyes saw his mentor and a couple of other scouts on horseback, trying to move the throng back. He also took notice of knives in the hands of some men in the crowd, slashing at the laurel tie for mementos. Jostling on one side drew his attention away and he galloped off in the other direction in an attempt to quell a potential mob scene.
Order restored, he turned back some minutes later. A few souvenir hunters still did their best to get to the laurel tie, but it was soon out of reach as a crew finally broke through the throng to carry it away.
Heyes reached for his canteen. Although the weather was pleasant, the men of the scouting detail had worked up quite a thirst in trying to control the crowd. As he gulped, Heyes noticed Settles’ big bay roaming freely off to one side. He presumed the older man had dismounted to tend to something pressing; perhaps a lost child had wandered into the midst of determined souvenir seekers and needed immediate protection. Thoughts passed as his attention turned to the warm liquid coursing down his throat, slaking his thirst, if not a feeling of foreboding.
As the afternoon wore on, crowds slowly thinned. Groups of dignitaries and officials posed for photographs and talked to reporters.
Off crowd control, Heyes went in search of Settles. Arriving back at camp, he found several of his cohorts standing around, idle. A few seemed in a state of shock.
The second-in-command looked sorrowfully at Heyes. “Sorry, boy. I know he was like a pappy to ya.”
Heyes froze, his visage projecting the rising panic he felt.
“Ol’ Job. He was hit in the wrist with a blade that flew off the knife of one of them souvenir hunters. Bled out afore the doc could get to him. Damn shame. He never had a chance.”
The breath went out of the youth, and he sank to his knees.
Silence filled the leader’s cabin.
Lips pursed, Heyes stared at the fire. The memory seemed as real as yesterday.
Kid focused on his partner. Quietly, “I’m sorry, Heyes.”
The outlaw leader turned. He glanced at the blond man. “Thanks. It was a long time ago.”
“So you went south after that.”
“Yeah. Wasn’t sure if I should, but it’s what we’d planned on.”
“And you won the contest.”
“Yup. But I shouldn’t have. It was meant for him.”
Thoughtfully, “He’d have wanted it that way.”
Heyes turned back to the fire. “Maybe.”
Kid rose and strode to his partner’s side, clasped his shoulder. “Champeen Tracker of all Southern Utah … You’re kinda proud of it. Means somethin’ to ya.”
Heyes glanced at Kid with a sorrowful half smile. “Hmm. Only because of him.”
“A fittin’ tribute.”
Kid clapped Heyes’ back. “Come on. Let’s go see what the boys are up to.”
The outlaw leader nodded.
The two went out on the porch. Harry was waiting for them.
Kid spoke, “Harry, we told ya ‘no.’”
Pleadingly, “But, Kid …”
Heyes regarded the hanger-on. “No buts, Harry. Let it go.” Pause. “Matter of fact, you go, Harry. You’re just not suited for the Devil’s Hole Gang.”
Leaving a dumbfounded Harry in front of the cabin, Heyes turned, walked inside, and shut the door.
Author's Notes: Some creative license was taken for the story. A spectator did indeed have the artery in his wrist cut with a flying blade during the scramble for souvenirs after the ceremony, but a doctor was able to dress the wound in time, and he recovered.
The ceremony at Promontory Summit was quite the event in its day, but faded in importance over time. As well, public sentiment for the accomplishment of the transcontinental railroad turned sour due to the Credit Mobilier scandal a few short years later.
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Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything. ~ Wyatt Earp