Two struggling miners may have just found their ticket to fortune—if they can keep it—in this riveting new Ralph Compton Western.
England Dan Rutledge and his partner John Cooley have worked their claim for a year and are barely eking out a living. When Cooley shows up with a map of the abandoned Irish Lord Mine he drunkenly bought off a shady cowboy, England Dan is sure it’s a complete fraud. After all, no one knows what happened to the most valuable gold mine in the Superstition Mountains after a banshee frightened off the last owner.
But when England Dan gets a good look at the map, details start clicking into place. Maybe they have the key to a fortune after all! But soon an infamous bank robber shows up looking for this mysterious map he claims is his. Now England Dan and his partner will have to fight off hostile Indians, miners, and a dangerous felon to find the cache of gold and strike it rich.
Release date: July 7, 2020
Print pages: 320
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Ralph Compton Lost Banshee Mine
Worse, England Dan hated to leave his partner in their mine alone.
It wasnÕt because of any danger, but John Cooley slacked off when he didnÕt have his partner constantly urging him to work harder or even to work at all. En-gland Dan hardly blamed him. The Trafalgar Mine was playing out, and they both knew it. The amount of gold they pulled from the tons of ore they moved decreased monthly. Getting a single ounce for that work amounted to reason for celebration. Mostly there wasnÕt that much and hadnÕt been since last fall.
He tramped up the trail toward their mine, not paying attention to where he stepped. A -low--hanging branch knocked off his bowler as he failed to duck in time. Cursing, he put down the two scrawny rabbits he had bagged and picked up the hat. A quick swipe of his forearm brushed off dirt. Or most of it. The hat had seen better days since he bought it in London, and his British Army officerÕs jacket had been patched so many times, it was more repair than original cloth. The epaulets had been ripped off when he was cashiered, and the gold braid had long since turned black from oxidation and filth. His cavalry boots needed polishing, and the gun belt strapped around his waist, carrying a -well--used -Webley--Pryse, showed empty loops where spare ammunition normally rode. He wore a bandolier slung across his left shoulder, but the cartridge loops in it were as vacant as those in his gun belt. Ammo cost money.
There wasnÕt anything about him that didnÕt have the Òrode hard, put away wetÓ look.
England Dan sank to a rock and worked more on the bowler. His collision with the tree limb left a sticky patch of pinesap. Using his thumbnail, he flicked it off. The gob landed in the dirt, perfectly domed and mocking. Detritus survived. His future was less well formed and murky.
He looked up suddenly when strange voices drifted downslope. Cooley often talked to himself and sang -off--key when he worked. Answering himself in a different tone was -brand--new. This turned Dan wary. Perching his bowler securely on his head and brushing his unkempt -gray--streaked sandy hair out of his eyes, he drew his -six--gun and came to his feet slowly. Every sense strained. He made out two distinct voices rumbling from off the trail. He took a deep whiff of the air and caught the scent of tobacco. Someone with enough money to buy fixings for a smoke moved through the undergrowth.
Choosing to rummage about in the dried bush rather than take the trail sent a new thrill through him. His feeling of impending disaster proved accurate. The only men who crept up on the mine like this were claim jumpers.
A shot in their direction would solve a couple problems. It spooked men too cowardly to present themselves at the mine, and it warned his partner. Unless Cooley was actually working deep in the Trafalgar, heÕd hear and know something was wrong.
England Dan carefully broke open the Webley and saw four of the six chambers carried live rounds. Four bullets to fight off an unknown number of would-be thieves and murderers. An astute claim jumper had no reason to leave the miner alive. For the first time, he wished his hunting hadnÕt been so successful, if two rabbits merited such a label. His marksmanship was far better than his partnerÕs, but he had taken a dozen shots to bring down this pitiful bounty.
He had to do better with the claim jumpers.
Slipping through the brush as quietly as possible, he found a deep footprint in the soft ground under a tree. He measured it against his own. He stood six feet tall. If the footprint was to be believed, the man making it was at least a head taller and a hundred pounds heavier. To verify his guess, he found a second print and tried to put his feet in each. He held back a moan as he strained his crotch. The stride, even if the man was running, showed him to be a giant.
England Dan ran his finger over the -six--shooterÕs trigger. Four rounds, even of the potent .455 slugs, might not be enough to bring down a man this size.
A brief thought flittered across his brain. Turn around. Leave his partner to his fate. He heaved a deep sigh and continued up the slope. John Cooley might do that. England Dan Rutledge wouldnÕt. He was made of sterner stuff, even if his father, the earl, thought otherwise. Cooley was his partner, and partners watched out for each other.
He crouched low when he caught sight of their cabin. No smoke puffed up from the chimney. Wherever Cooley was, he had abandoned the cabin to go there. Working around the cabin, he chanced a quick glance inside. Empty. He moved past a small mountain of black tailings to get a better look at the mouth of their mine. It was fifty feet upslope. The ore cart wasnÕt at the end of the track running into the mine. That told him what he needed to know. Cooley was working to fill that rusty bucket deep inside where they had found a new vein.
If his partner dug like a badger a hundred feet into the mine, heÕd never hear anyone moving around outside.
But England Dan did. The crunch of feet against gravel alerted him to a man darting to keep from silhouetting himself at the mouth. Moving like a marmot, England Dan popped up, took in the situation and dropped back. One man armed with a rifle had dashed across the front of the mine while another tried to position himself above the opening.
That one physically matched the tracks he had found. A guess of six feet six was shy of the truth by three or four inches. The only thing he lacked to be completely intimidating was a gun. He didnÕt sport iron at his waist or carry a rifle like his partner. England Dan stroked his WebleyÕs hammer, appreciating the worn crosshatch there intended to keep a thumb from slipping. It was a double action, but he had been trained to cock it and fire like a single action to keep from pulling the trigger repeatedly in the heat of battle and unexpectedly finding the cylinder empty. It was his only advantage in this fight.
The man with the rifle pressed into the rock beside the mine opening signaled his partner. The behemoth above made an impatient gesture with a hand the size of a ham hock. As if that was the order heÕd waited for, the rifleman swung around and began firing into the mine shaft. Bullets whined off the walls, tearing deep into the mine. The sparks from a few ricochets leaped backward past the gunman, causing him to duck.
ÒGo in!Ó The giantÕs voice rumbled like thunder among the tall peaks.
ÒI donÕt know if I got him.Ó
ÒIs he still digging?Ó
The rifleman shoved a finger in his ear and wiggled it around. He shook his head and peered up. ÒI canÕt tell. The report deafened me.Ó
ÒGo find out. Get in there!Ó
The man stared at his rifle, jacked in another round and plunged into the mine. From where he hid, En-gland Dan couldnÕt hear any sound in the mine. The fusillade had been short and intense. Cooley could have been cut down before he knew what happened.
ÒPlease, be taking a break like you always do. Sit down -andÑ-Ó He hadnÕt realized he was speaking aloud.
The giant let out a -deep--throated bull roar and reared up. He held his arms out at shoulder level, fists clenched, eyes searching wildly. England Dan reacted without realizing what he did.
Four shots tore through the air in the manÕs direction. A fifth tug on the trigger landed on a spent chamber.
England Dan cursed as he looked up. His marksmanship was good. Graduating from Sandhurst had taught him not to panic in battle. Nothing had been said of hitting his target four times and so much lead having no effect. The giant of a claim jumper roared and pounded on his chest, then jumped down. The only hint that the four .455 caliber rounds in his chest bothered him appeared when he landed hard -off--balance and collapsed to one knee. He shook himself like a wet dog and got to his feet.
The snarl on his face chilled the miner to the core of his being. As crazy as it was, England Dan might have stood his ground and fought. Those bullets in the manÕs chest had to wear him down eventually, but the claim jumperÕs partner came rushing from the mine, waving his rifle around.
ÒWho fired? I knew there was a second one of them varmints.Ó
The giant grunted incoherently and pointed downhill in England DanÕs direction. It was time to retreat. This had never been covered in any of his military studies. To retreat meant failure. The British Army never lost a fight except for that bloody fool, Cornwallis. Their forces might be cut down to the last man, but they never lost. England Dan had developed his own set of more pragmatic tactics while stationed in India. He turned and bolted. Rifle slugs danced around him, adding speed to his Òadvance to the rear.Ó
He came across a game trail and feinted left, as if heading farther downhill. Footprints in the dry dirt showed his direction. With a powerful jump, he reached up and caught a tree limb. A hard kick swung him around in a circle so his belly pressed into the branch. He pushed himself to a squatting position, hidden among the foliage.
ÒHe came this way. ThereÕs his footprint. Come on!Ó England Dan felt like a hound on the hunt.
ÒYou go. I donÕt feel so good.Ó The giant turned this way and that, as if looking for a way to escape.
England Dan hoped the monsterÕs innards had been ripped apart by his bullets and he slowly bled to death. The two claim jumpers had intended to flush Cooley from the mine if they didnÕt plug him by firing wildly into the shaft. They hadnÕt given him a chance. For all Dan knew, his partner was bleeding to death in the -mineÑ-or was mercifully dead already.
He slipped the Webley into his holster, slid the leather thong over the hammer and drew a wickedly sharp knife sheathed at his left hip. If either of the thieves passed beneath him, heÕd drop down and slit their throat. Hiding like a coward galled him, but he intended to stay alive. The mine still had a few ounces of gold waiting to fall under his pick. Defending his property and his -partnerÑ-and -himselfÑ-was a matter of honor.
Killing the claim jumpers was a matter of survival.
Scooting along the limb, he positioned himself directly over the game trail and waited. And waited. Straining his every sense, he tried to locate his attackers. The rising wind in the treetops drowned out small noises along the ground. From the way the clouds were gathering, a rare thunderstorm was preparing to dump tons of water on him.
Taking a deep breath, he sought the hint of tobacco. Nothing. A trace of moisture replaced any distinctive scent. Thunder sounded in the distance. The knife hilt turned damp as his hand sweat with strain. His fingers began to knot.
Stretching his body along the limb, he chanced a look along the trail in both directions. An incurious fox danced about on the path. England Dan dropped and startled the fox, but the animal would never have poked his nose out of hiding if the claim jumpers had been nearby. A few quick wiggles got England Dan into the undergrowth, where he could burrow open a small tunnel through the brush to peer at the mine uphill.
The claim jumpers were nowhere to be seen. Neither was John Cooley. Digging in his toes, England Dan began creeping up the hill until he reached a spot a few yards from the mouth of the mine. No sound came from inside, but he heard crashing and glass breaking from the direction of the cabin.
He gritted his teeth, got his feet under him and let his fury explode. Legs pumping hard, he ran to the cabin. The door had been ripped off its hinges. Inside lay total destruction. The claim jumpers had destroyed everything. The larder had been dumped out. All the -foodÑ-what little there had -beenÑ-was gone.
Rage built and he loosed a roar that echoed from the mountaintops. England Dan brought his anger under control and searched the ground for tracks. Only one set showed. The giant could have never hidden his tracks. He was too heavy. Stride long and alert for any trap, Dan set off along the trail curving eastward around the mountainside.
ÒGot you,Ó he snarled when he came upon the huge man sitting on a rock, holding his chest. ÒGive back everything you stole!Ó
The giant grinned. Two front teeth had been broken, and the rest were blackened. He lifted his immense hands, each larger than a quart Mason jar. Balling them into fists, he raised them like a prizefighter.
England Dan circled. His opponent remained seated. With a roar he lunged forward, using the -long--bladed knife as if it were sword. A huge gash appeared on the claim jumperÕs forearm. He hardly reacted. England Dan kicked hard with his back leg and lunged again. This sent the tip of the knife into the giantÕs chest. For a moment, the man didnÕt stir. Then he casually batted the weapon away. The bloody knife clattered a dozen feet away.
ÒI will kill you!Ó The words came out amid bubbling pink froth on his lips and a deep rattle from his chest.
The giant tried to stand, but his legs gave way under him. The bullets had worked their leaden death magic internally. The knife cut had to have been as close to fatal as possible without actually killing him instantly. England Dan dodged inside the manÕs -tree--trunk arms and began hammering away with his fists. Hitting a man on the jaw was a good way to break fingers. He had been in enough bar fights to know this. His target lay just under the giantÕs chin. Three quick punches drove into the manÕs AdamÕs apple.
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