23. June 2015 · Comments Off on After a Long Hiatus – Another Chapter of “The Golden Road” · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book · Tags: , , ,

So – I have the time and inclination to work on the picaresque Gold Rush adventure – about the teen-aged and wide-eyed young Fredi Steinmetz’ experiences in the California Gold Rush — which so far in first draft has him encountering Sally Skull,

Not the final for-real cover, but a place-holder for now

Not the final for-real cover, but a place-holder for now

Charlie Goodnight, Jack Slade, and Leroy Bean … and then a bandit who may be Joaquin Murrieta … or not.

Chapter 10 – O’Malley’s Grand Party

Not daring to venture far from the wagon in search of the mules for fear of becoming lost in the dark, Fredi eventually settled on his bedroll underneath it, holding Nipper still firmly bundled in O’Malley’s heavy coachman’s overcoat. Much to his surprise, he fell almost at once into a very sound sleep, and remained in that condition until wakened just before sunrise by the lightening sky, the cooing of doves in nearby bushes, and the pattering of fat little quail searching for bugs in the leaf-mast under them. The night had been chill enough – and Nipper had not been tempted until then to unravel himself from the toils of O’Malley’s coat. He shook them off, trotted over to the nearest bush and cocked a leg to piss against it. Groaning, Fredi followed suit, and wondered now what he was to do – penniless and alone save for a small black terrier dog, without mules to pull the wagon. The wagon itself now represented the larger part of his and O’Malley’s fortune, and he was loath to abandon it.

Might as well go and search for the mules, first. Perhaps he would strike it lucky – and it would be about time, for there was nothing but bad luck in the last few days. And he had no appetite for breakfast, for worrying about O’Malley and the mules. He rolled up his bed-roll and blankets, pitched them into the wagon, shrugged the overcoat over his shoulders – for he felt the chill – and whistled to Nipper.

“Let’s go find those mules, hey, Nip? There’s a good dog. I know of sheep-herding dogs,” he mused aloud. “Why can’t you be a mule-herding dog?”

He examined the hoof-prints of shod beasts, trodden into the road, and into the grass to either side, but the prints of the mules were indistinguishable from those of the horses ridden by the bandits to his relatively unskilled eye, and all in a muddle anyway, on either side of and ahead of the wagon, sitting forlorn by the side of the road. He wasn’t anything like the tracker that Carl was, although he was good enough at straying cows. Fredi took his lariat from the wagon, and strode off in the direction most heavily marked by disturbance of the mud, crushed grass and small broken branches, in hopes that fortune would favor him and that three mules had not wandered very far from water. From the darker line of green at some distance, it appeared likely that they had gone in that general direction. Fredi gloomily wished that he had kept shrewd Paint, sold at Warner’s for a price in gold now gone to a bandit’s purse. It would be a damned long walk to the water, and a hard chase on foot if the mules weren’t cooperative.

Before he had ventured very far, though – he heard O’Malley’s distant voice, raised in song. Nipper, trotting at Fredi’s side one moment, made like a small black lightening-bolt in the next, soon lost in the low brush.

“You took your time about it,” Fredi gasped, when he emerged onto the track again, to see Nipper capering happily alongside the mule that O’Malley rode bare-back. Now and again the small dog leaped up, clear of the ground. “They must have showed you a grand time.”

“Oh, Freddy-boyo, they did indeed,” O’Malley groaned, even though his countenance seemed reasonably cheerful – especially considering that the bandits had deprived them of nearly all their stake. “Although ‘tis a matter of me, showing them a good time … the poor lads wanted to see someone playing a piano properly, y’see. I thought of it as a command performance, boyo. They heard all about the piano at the Headquarters Saloon an’ the wonders of m’ performances there – but bein’ in the outlaw trade, they could no’ partake of them in person.”

“Where did they take you to?” Fredi demanded, but O’Malley only shook his head.

“It was dark, an’ they tied a blindfold around me eyes, and again this morning when they led me away. It was a room in a house like Dona Vincenta’s, of that I am certain although it was only the one room that I saw – only sore neglected, an’ all covered with dust. The piano was in abominable tune an’ a torment to my own ears … but it pleased the audience well.”

“Glad that it pleased someone,” Fredi observed sourly, resenting O’Malley’s good cheer on this disastrous morning. “They stole our stake from us, O’Malley – and unless we can recover the other three mules, no chance of earning another one before spring.”

“Our stake? Pish-tush, boyo – all they took from us last night was some small coin, your revolver and my timepiece,” O’Malley’s countenance reflected such smug satisfaction that Fredi almost wanted to hit him, hit him again and again. “I took the precaution – well-justified you must admit now – of sewing the most of it, including the gold coins – into the hems of my coat, that very coat you are wearing now, leaving the lesser coin and notes as a decoy. You and Nipper between you, it was guarded well. I could not say anything to you last night. It was in my mind that Murrieta – I am certain that was him, being not dead but as alive as you or I – understood English better than he let on. Two may keep a secret if one of them is dead, you apprehend, Freddy-boyo; or one of them being a poor little doggie with no human speech at all.”

Astonished and overjoyed at this news, Fredi felt along the first hem of O’Malley’s heavy and many-caped woolen overcoat; yes, along that hem there were many small hard discs, buried in the doubled fabric. Only if you had thought to press the edge of that cape would one have detected their presence, and Fredi would have assumed them to be leaden dressmaker weights, inserted to make the ancient garment drape favorably.

“You could have told me,” he accused, and O’Malley sighed, a great and gusty sigh.

“Ah, boyo – there was not the time, and you are no actor, experienced in the intrigues among the wicked and lawless. It is indade a sadly wicked world that we live in … and the result of a bad performance is not a matter of rotten vegetables thrown upon the stage in disapproval – but a bullet aimed true at the heart or head.”

“Let’s go find those silly mules,” Fredi suggested, his heart already lightened considerably by the intelligence that O’Malley did retain a degree of low cunning about him. He set aside, with an effort, his previous conviction that O’Malley might have to be looked after as did Vati, who was dreamy and bookish, and lived life on such a high intellectual plane that realities such as Mexican bandits never impinged upon it.