Steam wafted into the sky from the approaching locomotive, which chugged to a stop along the recently completed transcontinental railway. I reached into my jacket and removed my pocket watch. 10:15 AM exactly. The small,
Steam wafted into the sky from the approaching locomotive, which chugged to a stop along the recently completed transcontinental railway. I reached into my jacket and removed my pocket watch. 10:15 AM exactly. The small, wooden platform was deserted, except for me. This stop, if you could really call it that, had only been erected to serve the silver rush at Midnight Mountain, Nevada. The mountain was given the ominous moniker because a slightly taller peak kept it in the shade past noon. Of course, recent events had made the place more sinister by far. Unless I was mistaken, I assumed the papers in San Francisco were covered with headlines about the murdered Japanese diplomat during November 1869. That had been three months ago. And now, sooner than I’d like, his brother, who was supposedly some kind of warrior, was arriving to investigate.
The metal behemoth at the front of the train drifted past me, leading the bright red passenger cars into view. Although it was mid-winter, the day was hot as the sun hung high in the clear sky. I took off my Stetson hat and fanned the sweat from my face. My dark, black suit was the fanciest thing I owned, but it was a terrible choice on this warm day. The gold of my badge gleamed in the morning light. At last, the locomotive came to a full stop, and the door to the car in front of me slid open.
A slick, well-dressed government man with an oiled and curly mustache stepped out. “Sheriff Barron?”
“That’d be me.” I returned the Stetson to my head.
“This one’s your problem now. See that another of these savages doesn’t end up dead in your care. You may’ve been someone in the war, but if I have to come back out to Nevada again, that won’t stop me from making you wish you’d never been born.” The government man headed back into the train.
My hand drifted down to the grip of my revolver. I considered shouting after him and challenging him to a duel. I was sure his pencil-thin arms couldn’t even raise a gun, but then my new charge appeared.
The man before me was dressed in a fancy, grey robe, and he wore sandals instead of boots. His hair was done up in a knot. I would’ve mistaken him for a woman, if not for the two swords, one long and the other short, tucked into his belt of fabric.
“You Saigo?” I asked.
“Yes.” His facial expression tightened in anger. “And you are the fool who allowed my brother to die.”
I’d had enough insults for one day, and my grip tightened around my revolver’s grip. “I didn’t even know your brother was on Midnight Mountain until I found his corpse.”
“Is it not your duty to protect those in your province?” Saigo’s hand went to the longer of his two swords. “Do you think you could draw that gun before I cut off your arm?”
I weighed the challenge for a moment, seriously considering the implications of drawing.
The government man returned and tossed a bag past Saigo. “The train will be back tomorrow, and I expect the Japanese national on it.”
Saigo and I both removed our hands from our weapons.
I picked up Saigo’s bag, which was moderately heavy, and walked down the steps to the two horses I’d tied to the hitching post. “Hope you can ride. We’re going up into the mountains. Should be to the camp by the afternoon.”
“I can ride better than you can protect.” To prove his point, Saigo dashed past me and vaulted up onto my horse.
Yet another insult. The day didn’t seem to be getting any better. I hadn’t experienced this kind of aggravation since I’d been caught behind enemy lines during General Sherman’s march to the sea. Thankfully, that situation hadn’t lasted long, and I’d managed to fight my way back to my compatriots in blue.
I slung the bag over the back of the horse I’d brought for Saigo, my horse now, and I tied the bag up so it wouldn’t fall. “What do you have in here?”
“Doesn’t feel like metal. Who wears armor these days anyway? You a knight?” I mounted the horse I’d been left with and started off toward the mountains.
Saigo followed. “I am a Samurai, and the armor is light because it is not made from metal.”
“Sam-ooo-rye.” The word felt funny coming off my tongue. “You sure speak good English for a foreigner. I never could master any language but the one I grew up with.”
“My people adapt fast. We’ve had to learn a great deal about your country since your Commodore Perry fired upon us.” Saigo spurred his horse to go faster. “We’re wasting time with idle talk.”
The shrubs and sand of the desert surrounded us. Ahead the flat land rose steadily, rising to meet the mountains in the distance. I spurred my horse into a gallop to catch up with my new Japanese acquaintance.
Dark clouds blotted out the sun as we ascended the final slope into town, which was truly more of an overgrown mining camp. An accumulation of thirty wooden shacks thrown together by workers, a saloon, my dwelling, and the Company Store made up Silver Springs, a wishful name if there ever was one. The large, snow-topped peak that kept our settlement in the shade loomed above Midnight Mountain’s nearby summit. No one came out to greet us. The men would still be in the mine at this hour.
I turned to my charge. “Where to first? You want to rest a while? Take in a drink, or maybe visit with one of the local women?” I smiled.
Saigo’s facial expression remained grim. “Take me to where you found my brother.”
“Straight to business it is.” I directed my horse to the trail leading out of town.
The path was short and rocky. We didn’t really need the horses to get to the mine, but I hadn’t seen a point in dismounting to walk the span on foot. Silver Springs was only about eight wagon-lengths away when I brought my beast of burden to a halt. The hole carved into the mountainside was black as pitch. Wood was used to frame and support the tunnel’s structure. Dismounting, I noticed how quiet it was. There were none of the usual sounds of pickaxes, falling rocks, or hard labor.
Saigo joined me on the ground, and we both hitched our horses to a nearby stump. Two unused lanterns sat outside the gaping maw of rock. Inspecting the lanterns, I found one broken, but the other looked fine. I removed my pack of matches from my pocket, sparked a flame, and lit the lantern in turn.
With my light source held high, I stepped over the carved-out threshold. “You have any idea why your brother was in this place?”
“His business is mine to know.”
Thunder echoed outside, and a deluge started as we got undercover. I ducked to avoid the low, jagged roof, but Saigo fit with ease. We made our way down the rocky descent until the only light was from my lantern. Finally, we reached a junction. I turned left and led Saigo into a chamber bigger than any building we’d erected on the mountainside.
“Your brother was found in here.” I continued forward.
“You were able to carve all this out?”
“No, the miners found this place. I assume it’s a natural formation. There has been a lot of excitement in town about a passage they discovered leading off from here.” I pointed to a large, smooth stone that jutted up from the earth. “A worker found your brother on this rock here.”
“What else can you tell me about how he was found?”
“I suspect you may know more than I do about that since you know why he was here in the first place.” I held the lantern up higher, and the light revealed a large bloodstain. “He was tied to this rock, and we found daggers piercing his shins, forearms, and one in his—” I paused. “You sure you want to hear all this?”
“One dagger was in his groin. Don’t ask me why.” I took a breath and tried to recall what I’d missed. “A key shape had been carved into his cheek too.”
I heard Saigo remove his sword from its sheath, and I spun around. The samurai brandished his blade toward the darkness behind us. I held my lantern out further. The light revealed a miner, whose eyes glowed like emeralds, holding a bloody pickaxe.
The man raised his weapon above his head, ready to lash out. “So happy you could join us here in the dark.”
My hand went for my revolver, Saigo prepared to strike, and the miner lumbered forward.
To Be Continued…
In Part 2: Aim.