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CHAOS Part II

Last week, my blog post featured Part One of CHAOS, a western tale set in the late 1800s. The once-prosperous mining town called Chaos had been renamed Wildflower in an attempt to revamp the town’s image but not the corruption that ruled it. When Part One closed, weathered cowboy, Sam Thornby, had befriended Charlie De Diné, a Navajo shaman who had partnered with Sam’s father, Jacob. The elder Thornby’s suspicious death has united Sam and Charlie to resolve what happened to Jacob. Both Sam and Charlie possess silver trinkets that provide clues to solve the mystery. But the missing piece they seek lies with a corpse in Boot Hill.

Enjoy the conclusion. Thanks for stopping by.

CHAOS Part II

“Wait,” Charlie said. “Even white men believe it is bad medicine to disturb the dead.”

“Only way we’re gonna solve this riddle,” Sam replied. “See the boot on front of your piece and the mound on mine? They tell where ta look for the third piece––Boot Hill.” He flipped the silver triangles. “Numbers on back tell if letters in the pictured word need switchin’.”

Charlie eyed the cyphers 2=6-1 and 3=9-4 on the back of Sam’s piece. “But mine does not have numbers.”

“’Cause your word don’t change. The second and third letters in ‘hill’ are s’posed to be the fifth letter of the alphabet.”

“Pictograms and letter codes. Well I’ll be damned.”

“Switchin’ the I an’ the first L to Es means the missin’ piece is under Pa’s boot heel. I better get dressed so we can head ta the cemetery.”

“We have time. Finish your meal, and rest. We dig when it is dark. Afterward, I will explain.”

“Explain what?”

“The man in the graveyard…only wears your father’s clothes.”

“What the hell?”

“Another of you father’s messages. I will check your clothes to see if they are dry.”

* * * * *

Sam’s shovel thunked against something hollow. He and Charlie ceased their burrowing and stared at one another. A few more scoops exposed the south end of pine box. Once more the pair shared tentative glances before prying back the top boards.

Strong odors of body sweat and decay drifted from the casket like an evil spirit. Sam wilted against the dirt wall. “Phew!”

Charlie winced. “Except for our friendship, Jacob was a loner, and preferred it that way. Wearing the same, unwashed outfit whenever he was in town guaranteed his isolation.”

“So Pa was a stinker more ways than one.”

“Only in Wildflower. Once at his cabin, Jacob shed his armor.”

“And swapping clothes with this sap convinced others it was him?”

“Your father made two requests––his funeral arrangements, and that I wait for you in Wildflower.”

“Still doesn’t answer what happened and who this man is.”

“I promise to explain.”

“What if I never showed?”

“Jacob’s holdings would be lost. He and I would die curious, sorry old men.”

Charlie’s statement caused Sam to ponder. He and his father were close once. Though they’d parted on hard times after his mother passed, they’d kept in touch. Jacob Thornby never forgot he had a son. “Grab a boot. Let’s finish this.”

A voice shouted from behind a lantern. “Who’s there?”

Sam and Charlie yanked the footwear from the cadaver, scrambled from the grave, and then dashed into the darkness. Shots rang out behind them. Pellets rained from the sky, but the duo kept running until the only sounds were the desert wind and their feet pounding the sandy earth.

Inside the hogan once more, the pair sagged against the door.  Charlie struck a match to a lamp, then the two men scuffed over to the table and dropped the boots. The Navajo unsheathed his knife and pried off a heel—nothing but dust. The other, however, revealed the missing piece of the puzzle. Sam grabbed it and aligned all three sections. Both men examined the markings and then stared at the wall above Charlie’s bed. “Like ya said, Pa was a clever man.”

Charlie snickered. “That son-of-a-bitch.” He stepped to his bed and unhooked his diploma from the wall. The backing revealed a slit. When he peeled it away, a folded paper dropped onto the mattress.

“Is it the claim?” Sam asked.

Charlie unfolded the mysterious square. “That and a map of the mine. The copper vein runs—”

The door slammed open. John Bartlett leveled two revolvers at Sam and Charlie. “Right under my saloon. Now stay where you are.”

Sam jerked around. Bartlett smacked Sam’s jaw with a pistol barrel. “I said stay put.”

Sam rubbed the side of his face. “An’ who the hell are you?”

“The man who’s finally gonna control everything around here once you and Jacob Thornby’s red-skinned partner are out of the way.”

Charlie smiled. “So I am no longer your good luck charm?”

“That’s right, Injun–– Hey, when’d you learn to talk?”

“A lot you don’t know about me, John Bartlett.”

Bartlett grunted. “Which won’t matter once I’ve taken control. Now give me that damned paperwork.”

Sam straightened. “Then what?”

“We all take a ride into the desert.”

“An’ only one comes back?”

Bartlett grinned. “That’s right, sonny. And after I’ve refiled Jacob’s claim, I’ll decide to dig a storage cellar for beer and whiskey and just happen to hit copper—lots of copper.”

“You had my father killed?”

“Father? Oh, this is rich. Sorry, sonny. Though I’d have preferred to kill your papa myself, had to pay another man to do it.”

“Men,” Charlie said. “Either your hired gun needed help, or he partnered with someone else, perhaps planning to cut you out.”

“What?”

Sam stood. “Who told you about the copper?”

A voice from the shadows interrupted. “I did.”

Bartlett spun to find Jacob Thornby hoisting a double-barreled 12 gauge, with both hammers cocked. Light from the hogan reflected off a U.S. Marshal’s badge pinned to the vest of the man standing beside Jacob.

“Pa?”

“Sorry, Son. Catching this murderin’ claim jumper meant testing your resolve.”

“But how the—”

“Once Bartlett discovered I’d re-filed on abandoned claims, he figured I’d located the next big strike—craved it for himself. What he didn’t know was the claims I’d mustered included his entire one-man town—’til I told him.”

“And planted the bait.”

“Yep. When Charlie paraded what townfolk thought was me down Main Street, strapped across a mule, Bartlett thought he’d won.”

“’Til his man never came back and he doubted it was you.”

“Nobody else would cozy up enough to swear otherwise. Discovering the grave near the mine—the one you found—had eased his mind a bit.”

“One of the hired guns?”

Jacob nodded at the marshal. “Self-defense.”

“What about Charlie?”

The Navajo smiled. “Just dumb Injun, remember? After Jacob’s funeral, I stayed in Wildflower to keep an eye on Bartlett––though he thought it was the other way around.”

“Then I showed up.”

“Our plan depended upon you.”

“Like I said b’fore, what if I never came?”

“Then I was done.” Jacob jabbed the shotgun in Bartlett’s back while the marshal grabbed his pistols. “All the wealth in the world meant nothing without family to share it.”

“You woulda let this man steal everything?”

Charlie shrugged. “Bartlett would have died in his sleep one night. Then two old friends would have faded into the mountains.”

The marshal swept a disapproving glance at the Navajo as he cinched handcuffs around John Bartlett’s wrists and escorted him from the hogan. Charlie just grinned.

Sam frowned. “You lied. Both of you.”

Jacob matched Charlie’s widening grin.

* * * * *

Morning sunlight crept above the high desert mesa. Charlie de Diné, Jacob Thornby and his son, Samuel, sat outside the Glass Slipper Saloon sipping coffee. With Bartlett gone, Mayor Derkens and his cronies accepted defeat and caravanned from town. The saloon would soon host a mineshaft, a passage that would allow the earth to relinquish its valuable ore. Many locals indicated they would stay to work the mine and build a new community––their community. Sam and Jacob guaranteed things would be different and none of them would ever again know want again. Charlie would share their success and build schools for his people. Wildflower would become Chaos once more.

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