Through the sweltering heat of a High Plains Wyoming September day, in an old wolver's cabin on the western slope of Medicine Bow Butte, two hours southeast of Rawlins, three men lazed through the day and only began to stir as the shadows finally brought some hesitating relief from the worst of the sun's punishment.
A rough plank table stood in the center of the one-room cabin, a wood stove against one wall, a double bunk against another, and a single bed under the window that opened west toward the setting sun. Both doors—the front one by the window, the rear one to the outhouse—stood open for whatever cooling relief they might admit. A whiskey bottle rested on one side of the table, in easy reach of each of the card players.
Men who had established a successful working relationship over months of labor felt at ease with each other and had no need of formalities. Thus, as he shuffled the cards, the man with the thick black beard, Dakota Hammond was his name, sat bare-chested in his summer-length drawers and stocking feet, as he had all day. If the thick matting of dark hair that covered his hard-muscled pectorals showcased the raw physicality that made 'Kota Hammond a man of power to which others must defer, it declared him the natural leader of the two young colts just getting a start in the business that he'd recruited in a Cheyenne saloon at the beginning of the work season, Hammond tossed in a white chip from his growing stack, shuffled and dealt the cards, five to each man.
To Hammond's right, the young Den Rogers had shirted up for the day, but the buttons were open to the waist and the shirt hung loosely from his slender shoulders. Only of average bulk, lacking the rope-scarred hands or healthy biceps of a working cowhand, Rogers had quickly acceded to Hammond's dominance. Getting the job done counted to Rogers, not some senseless rivalry for status. At least, that's what Den Rogers told himself whenever Hammond preened himself in his most imperious state.
The lanky Doug Stevens, too, eased at the table. Two years "more experienced" than Den's twenty-three, Stevens prided himself that his "questions" had usually prompted Hammond to organize their work effectively. Arrogant men like the one he and Den had recruited in Cheyenne for this year's operations were easy to control as long as you let them think they bossed the show, or so Stevens assured himself. Only Stevens, with a lifetime of high plains summer heat in his experience, was full-dressed with flannel shirt buttoned to the neck, boots on; he had even "gone formal" in the morning when he strapped on his gun belt, with its full circuit of .45 cartridges. Perhaps he thought the glistening of the shells in the lantern's light made Hammond take him more seriously.
Not likely. Hammond's fingers drummed impatiently on the table. "Speed it up," he growled. "Are you in or out?"
Stevens anted his white chip, picked up his five cards and let out a telling sigh. When Rogers opened and it came around to him, he matched Den's blue chip to stay in the game and tossed down three cards. "You can do me better than this, 'Kota."
"Means you're holding a pair—likely aces—and trying for three of a kind," Hammond commented as he tossed over the new cards. "Who knows," he smirked, "maybe you got a full house now. But you'll have to pay to see whether that beats what I'm holding."
Den drew two cards, but 'Kota only one. Two pair, that's what 'Kota's one-card draw likely meant, that or he hoped to fill a flush or straight. Or, Stevens considered, this being 'Kota, he was running a bluff. But it wasn't worth a chip to find out, not with only a pair of fives. Stevens tossed down his cards and reached for the whiskey bottle.
"Your cousin's due out tomorrow, if I counted the days right," Hammond said. "Now that we got our work done for the season, all that's left is the final divvy."
"Raked in a lot of money, working with you, 'Kota," Rogers said.
"Not a bad season, even cooped up with a couple of Wyoming would-be hard cases," Hammond reflected, "but now's when a man rewards himself for his long work. I'm heading for cold beer, good eats, and hot women in Denver. If you boys want to trail along, I'll show you the best places before we split up."
"Not us," Stevens said. "We ain't about fattening some Denver saloon keeper's money belt. We got our eyes on taking us up a ranch."
"Suit yourself. I'll be back when the business starts up again next spring."
"It's a plan all right, 'Kota," Stevens agreed, "it suit you, Den?"
Rogers let a puckish expression cross his face. "'Nother year listening to him grousing about nurse-maiding two kids?" Rogers punched Holland's bicep playfully. "How 'bout we just kill him instead, Doug."
Stevens appeared thoughtful for a moment as he played along. "That could work," he agreed. "We wait till morning so the meat don't turn rancid before we plant it. We'll just truss him up after last hand so he don't accidentally wander off overnight." He turned to Hammond. "That work for you, 'Kota?"
Hammond glowered at the juvenile frivolity. With the work season finally over, he'd be shuck of two boys who were not the serious fellows they pretended back in Cheyenne. He dealt out another hand of cards.
Before Stevens could fist the face-down cards, Rogers slammed his hand down over them and grinned at Stevens. "High hand gets trigger pull. That okay with you?"
After six months of robbing stages and express stations with his confederates, Hammond's impatience with Rogers' dark humor was exhausted. His antics had spoiled the last deal so Hammond gathered the cards in, shuffled, and redealt them.
"Poker's a serious game, boys. Ante up."
* * *
Dave Mitchell read the brief story in the Denver Union Democrat for the third time, trying to mine it for all he could learn. "Daring Daylight Payroll Holdup" the headline screamed. Newspaper talk never gave the full truth. To a pen-wielding scrivener bent over a desk who had never fanned a .45 in a stage driver's face, every holdup was "daring," but in the eyes of a man who had made his way in the world taking money from Wells Fargo stages for three years before Arizona sent him to his "vacation" at Yuma Penitentiary, Mitchell was trying to see what was daring about three masked riders waving down a wagon and taking what they wanted.
By the time a story gets reported, written, edited, and then condensed to three column-inches, important facts always get left out, while others are overtaken by an editor's literary ambitions, and even worse, false embellishments intrude into the report. Mitchell's task for the morning required that he learn what he could from the newspaper, while keeping his mind uncluttered from the chaff of fake news until he had confirmed facts on the ground. That's what Chet Collins had drilled into him from the time Mitchell's life had taken its unexpected turn.
Mitchell set the paper down on the seat beside him and let the rhythmic clickety-clack, clickety-clack of iron wheels over expansion joints lull him for the moment. He stared out the window at the peaks of the Rocky Mountains rising in the distance, shimmering brilliantly from their fresh coating from last night's early snowfall. Jagged and lonely, each peak rose in its own isolation, complete and whole in itself.
Mitchell envied the mountains their stolid, self-assured confidence. Today, the man who had once gladly robbed stages solo felt incomplete without his partner sitting on the seat beside him. The wire from San Francisco directing the team to Rawlins had been addressed to Collins, not to a junior agent not yet proven he could be trusted on his own. Mitchell had responded immediately, perhaps too fast. "Collins testifying Farley murder," he had wired back. "Proceeding to Rawlins." Now he had doubts. How would the suits in San Francisco react? Would his initiative be welcomed? Was this his chance to convince them they had not made a mistake in trusting a professional stage robber to carry a Wells Fargo badge? Or would he bungle through his inadequacy without Collins as his guide?
Mitchell turned back to the paper. In its essence, three robbers had intercepted a Wells Fargo special shipment on the road to Bridger's Pass, gun-blasted the box open, and ridden off with the payroll intended for Sand Peak's Mine. Reading it once again, Mitchell asked himself what Collins would make of it.
He turned from the skimpy "facts" about the robbery to the description of the robbers. There was a little more to go on, even if the story could be believed. "The gang leader," Mitchell filed that phrase for later thought, "was barrel-chested, a deep voice with a black beard showing under his kerchief," or so said the driver. A black beard among western men of the tall grass? Not much to go on. Mitchell ran his mind down the list of outlaws Wells Fargo had posters on. One stood out, a man who had worked stages in Colorado for two years but had gone missing. What was his name? Dakota Hammond, he remembered. A name wouldn't help much, but remembering details of how Hammond worked might.
The rest of the story told little more. Just a simple express wagon stop out in the middle of an uninhabited territory, a robbery he could have handled his first year in the business. The paper did not get to the real mystery: how had the robbers known this shipment was worth their time? While the size of the take finally got San Francisco's attention, South Wyoming had experienced a series of robberies during the summer. He ran down the list. Locations varied, some close into Rawlins, some as far as fifty miles out. One single unifying fact that left him envious: each of them carried a profit bigger than all but the luckiest take of his own career.
* * *
Doug Stevens greeted his cousin as he down-saddled at the corral. "Got the saddlebags waiting for you in the cabin," he said. "Been a good year for all of us."
A mug of steaming coffee welcomed the newcomer as he came in the rear door. "Thank you, Den," he said as he rounded the table and sat down across from the bare-chested man clad only in his underwear despite the briskness of the morning air. "Morning, 'Kota. You sure handled the pay wagon smoothly. Got attention all the way to San Fran." He pulled a piece of paper out of his shirt pocket, unfolded it and pushed it across the table. "They even doubled your price, you got them so worried, even if they got no name to go with it." He turned to Stevens. "Got a price on his two confederates too, but it's only $100, there's no description, and they only pay if the evildoers are still breathing when they're turned in." Stevens and Rogers returned his laughter.
The newcomer placed his hand on the saddlebags lying on the table. "Guess this is for the savings pile," he said. "This has been the best year ever, 'Kota. The boys piled up quite a stake."
"Den and me figured we got enough now to go buy that ranch the three of us have been talking about," Stevens told his cousin. "Now that operations are over, we'll be riding east and checking out the ranges around Laramie."
"We got us our eye on a spread just about the right size," Rogers added. "A widow woman with three young 'uns should take the price we offer."
"If she hasn't already sold."
"She ain't a widow yet," Rogers explained.
Stevens reached for the poster still lying on the table in front of Hammond. "Here's some good news, 'Kota. They don't even care whether you're talking when you come in." He looked over at Rogers. "He could pay for some prime breeder bulls for the ranch."
Stevens' cousin pulled another paper from his pocket. "There's one more job too good to pass up," he said. "There's a cash shipment going out on the afternoon stage to the Bank of Medicine Bow. Should be quick and easy." He looked across the table. "Guess you'll miss the fun on this one, 'Kota, but the boys should be able to handle it without you."
As his cousin got to his feet, Stevens handed him the saddlebags. "Toss them on the stack from the last three years," he said. "'Kota and us will be on the trail in a few minutes."
As the visitor walked around the table toward the door, he rested his hand briefly on Holland's shoulder and laughed lightly as he took his leave. "Have a good trip to town, 'Kota."
Even through the thick muffled gag, the meaning of the angry cursing was clear.
* * *
The Carbon County Sheriff was seated at his desk shuffling through wanted posters when Mitchell swung open the jailhouse door and stepped in. As he presented his credentials, he quickly sized up the lawman. A firm handshake, frank, steady eyes, a few years older than Mitchell, but still a man building his future, not a washed-up swivel-chair sheriff easing his way on the downslope of life.
"Think I got a name for that robber you're looking for," Mitchell announced. "Dakota Hammond. Wanted for his work in the Colorado mining district and done some work in Kansas, too."
Sheriff Cavendish showed less interest then Mitchell had expected. "Then that's the name we'll put on his grave marker."
For Hammond had already been brought in, the reward claimed, and the dead man now waited in the carpenter's shed for his cheap pine box.
"Man who turned him in, some fellow called Link Anders, saw the poster, figured out it must be a loner who had a tent set up near Anders' cow camp up toward Devil's Gate and went over to visit him this morning. Just getting up, this fellow you call Hammond was. Still in his undies." The sheriff shrugged. "Guess a man can die that way just as well as wearing his britches. When Anders told him to put his hands up, the other fellow went for his gun. All he got was a hole in his chest."
"You look at the dead man?"
"Enough to see he was sure enough dead. And the expressman swung by and identified him. Wells Fargo can forget him. Likely the others are no-account cowhands he picked up for the robbery, men without the gumption to hit a stage without him."
Case closed. Or was it? Collins had trained him not to accept loose ends, and too many nagged at Mitchell's mind. Where were the other two robbers, for starters? How did a veteran, like Dakota Hammond let himself be taken so easy? One man who might give some leads, this fellow Anders, could describe the outlaw's camp. But there were other leads he could get to right away.
At the Wells Fargo office, Mitchell shook hands with Efraim Fulmer, an officious little man, puffed up in his status the way he brushed aside Mitchell's credentials and dismissed the interruption. "Busy time," Fulmer told Mitchell. "Stage going out in an hour."
Being rushed never sat well with Mitchell. Sometimes it meant a man had something to hide, sometimes just that he never saw the importance of anyone else's job. "For now, a simple question. Was the payroll something folks knew about, being sent out every month on schedule, or was this special?"
"Special," Fulmer said. "I talked to Mr. Diamond out at Sand Peak's to make sure it never went at the same time." He bristled. "No one in this office goes around spilling to robbers, if you're slinging accusations." Fulmer signaled the end of the unwelcome interruption of his work by abruptly turning his back on Mitchell and returning to the manifest for the afternoon stage.
Outside in the staging yard, Mitchell found John Mantell checking over his horses and getting them into traces for the afternoon run to Medicine Bow. Stage drivers are blunt, honest, hard-working men, except when they aren't, so Mitchell listened as Mantell told the story, much as the Denver Union Democrat had reported. Dakota Hammond had fired one shot in the air as he rode out into the road in front of Mantell's wagon. "Them other two fired their rifles, so we knew we was surrounded." A good professional stop, but Dakota Hammond knew his business.
"Didn't say he was the leader," Mantell replied to Mitchell's question. "Just said he was the front man, the only one I could give a description of. The other two, though, they seem to know their business. Like they'd done stages a few times."
What did that tell Mitchell? Maybe he knew less now that he had before, three men, Hammond in the front, but maybe the other two weren't pick-up novices like Sheriff Cavendish assumed. But then, why was Hammond camping alone?
Mitchell's next stop was the carpenter's shed where he showed his credentials. The carpenter was gruff, busy at his work, and no happier at the interruption then Fulmer. He motioned Mitchell toward the bench in the rear where the lumpish remains of Dakota Hammond waited while the carpenter cut some scrap lumber to length and nailed together a rough box for the planting. The outlaw fit the descriptions from the Colorado jobs; Dakota Hammond could be scratched off their wanted list.
Working only for County pay with no one likely to care about looking inside the coffin, the carpenter hadn't bothered cleaning the body. Now Holland lay on his back in his soiled drawers, his chest covered with dried blood.
"Got a damp cloth I can use?" Mitchell gradually, gently stroked at the dried blood, exposing the flesh around the wound for a close examination. Whether what he learned mattered, Mitchell had yet to decide.
Mitchell found Cavendish in the Silver Spur Saloon matching whiskeys with Fulmer. "Having us is celebration for the end of Holland's robbing spree," Fulmer told him. "Join us?"
Business came first for Mitchell. "I need to find Anders, that man who turned Holland in."
"What for. He's already been paid."
Mitchell paused a moment, unsure of how much to tell the sheriff with Fulmer listening. "Anders lied. Hammond wasn't shot from across his camp just rolling out of his blankets. I washed off the blood. The muzzle flash burned chest hair from a two-inch circle. Powder burns cut deep into his flesh."
Cavendish shrugged. "Anders didn't say he was across the clearing from Hammond, just said Hammond went for his gun."
"With his hands tied behind him?" That brought sharp looks from both men. "Hammond's wrists were bloody and chafed raw. He struggled a long time against a rope. That man was murdered, sheriff. Executed. Probably by the men who are running this show."
"Mantell said Hammond was leader."
"Not if you listen close, Sheriff. Hammond was just a pawn sacrifice, murdered by his partners. Likely they're done for the season and didn't need Hammond anymore." He paused grimly. "I cell-mated with a man or two cold-blooded enough to play that game."
"Just an outlaw, anyway," Fulmer said with a dismissive gesture of his hand. "Wells Fargo put out paper on him dead. I guess it don't matter how he got that way."
Bile surged in the innards of the former outlaw. "It matters to Wells Fargo," Mitchell snapped. "We pay to stop crime, not to foment murder."
Cavendish had been silent, listening to Mitchell. Now he spoke. "Mitchell's right. If Hammond was bound and tied, Anders had no need to kill him." He shook his head. "Wish I knew where to find him."
Mitchell took his beer from the barmaid and settled back to try to think things through. Finding some so-called bounty claimant who likely used a fake name and had no ranch in the hills seemed hopeless.
Yet what else did he know? Hammond usually worked with pick-up partners from year-to-year, so a telegram to the agent in the Leadville would tell him nothing. He had the sheriff's description of "Anders," but nothing stood out. "Young fellow", but Wyoming was a country of young men. "Dressed for the range like a cowhand," but that also meant dressed like a long rider.
"Was Anders wearing riding boots, or a farmer's mud boots?"
"Riding boots," the sheriff replied. "Like I said, just a three-for-a-nickel ranny, likely mavericking for his own brand on the side where his boss don't know."
Another question had nagged at Mitchell from the start. "Never told no one about the pay roll coming through," Fulmer insisted. "That's confidential company business. You didn't neither, did you, sheriff?"
"Course, I can't promise what the Sand Peak's folks told people," Fulmer concluded.
Mitchell could see only one lead left. "I need to talk to Anders. If he's not one of the robbers, he can lead me to them."
"I'll ask around about Anders," Cavendish said. "Most I can do."
With sixty miles of open range between Rawlins and Devils Gate, it could take a week or more for Mitchell to scour the countryside. He felt the need of Chet Collins' experience to find a trail worth following.
"Sheriff Cavendish." The three men looked up at the newcomer. "I looked for you at the jail after I pulled into the Wells Fargo yard."
"Mantell, you should be fifty miles down the road by now," Fulmer said.
"Hit me not three miles out of town, they did. Pretty is you please. 'Would you kindly toss down the bank shipment.'" He looked resentfully at Fulmer. "Fire me, if you want, but I ain't paid to get killed."
"How many men?" Cavendish asked. "Tell me about them."
"Two of them this time. Maybe the two that sided Hammond, I can't be sure."
The sheriff seemed satisfied with what he had heard, but Mitchell had more questions. "Where were they from?"
The driver looked at him in amazement. "How would I know that?"
"They gave you orders. Did they have nice soft southern accents like me? Or a High Plains twang like Sheriff Cavendish here? Or a middle border sound like Fulmer?"
"One of them sounded a bit like Efraim. The tall one, the one who did most of the talking, he sounded a lot like the sheriff."
"Where you from, sheriff?" Mitchell asked. "Where did you grow up?"
"Grew up on a farm in Nebraska. My grandpappy died when I was fifteen, and Pa and my two uncles sold the farm and come out to homestead their own claims not long after the railroad came through these parts."
"Big city detective like you should have no problem tracking down a High Plains twang in Wyoming." The chuckle that punctuated Fulmer's words reminded Mitchell that no grizzled agent ever liked an interloper.
Mitchell asked the driver a few more questions. "Young, I'd say. Both seemed like they was enjoying themselves."
After Mantell finished describing the robbery, Mitchell knew what Chet Collins would do. "I'll ride out in the morning and look things over." He turned to the sheriff. "You coming, too?"
Cavendish waved a hand in dismissal. "What for? Mantell's told us what happened." By their exchange of smirks, Cavendish and Fulmer showed their superiority over the young agent from Wells Fargo. Cavendish gave a deprecating laugh. "When you been in this business as long as I have, you'll know you don't get anywhere running around the countryside, tiring out your horseflesh."
* * *
His morning ham steak and eggs did little to improve Mitchell's discontent. Wells Fargo had paid a bounty to the robbers themselves, of that he was convinced. Then a new robbery had been conducted almost under his nose. How could he explain that to San Francisco? Worse, how could he ever explain it to Chet Collins?
He paid for his meal and walked down Front Street past the Union Pacific depot to the Wells Fargo yard where he requisitioned a horse.
"Like Cavendish told you, it's waste of time, riding out to look at the dust where some holdup happened," Fulmer told him. "The Sheriff's been doing his business five-six years now."
"Likely he's right," Mitchell admitted. But any action would relieve his restlessness.
Three miles toward Medicine Bow, where the road dipped between two low-ridged hogbacks, Mitchell drew rein and tried to envision the scene through the eyes of his outlaw experience. The gradual upslope extended for half a mile, with the steepest part at the top where the horses would be winded and not ready to make an escape attempt when the robbers showed themselves. Whatever Sheriff Cavendish believed, Mantell had not been robbed by two amateurs riding in Hammond's slipstream, but by men who knew their business. Maybe that gave him a feel for them, but it didn't tell him where to find them.
After staring at the road several minutes with nothing much coming to his mind, Mitchell let his horse amble to the top of the hill where the stage had been stopped. There he sat his saddle and looked around. Things appeared just as Mantell had described. This is where Carmichael would have turned back to town, having learned nothing more than he expected. Chet Collins would insist that a robbery location had more to teach a man if he knew where to look. Mitchell let his mind drift back to some of his robberies in the Colorado mining district. He had never matched his arrival to the stage. He'd always arrived an hour, sometimes two before he expected the stage and waited out of sight of the road. Likely, these men did, too.
Mitchell kneed his horse off the road and made several slow, expanding circles. The grass where they must have hunkered down had sprung back to full height over night, but horses leave sign, and finally he found where the robbers had squatted waiting for the rattle of the stage to announce its approach. Little remained from their presence except a couple of stubbed-out remains of hand-rolled cigarettes, the leavings of horses, and a half-eaten sandwich which had been thrown away when the stage approached. Nothing more.
And so, an hour later he was back with Fulmer. "Horses left tracks heading north," he reported.
"Toward Devil's Gate, like Anders told Carmichael," Fulmer replied.
"Maybe. Followed them a few hundred yards to make sure they weren't leaving a false trail, but lost them when they waded the North Platte." Mitchell had been laughed at enough by the experienced agent, so he said nothing about horse patties or half eaten sandwiches. "I can tell you, they rolled their own cigarettes," he said and left it at that.
Rawlins had grown since the UP established its division point there, opening the trackless prairie to cattlemen and homesteaders alike. Now, several saloons catered to thirsty cowhands off the range and the noon time business was well underway as Mitchell began to make the rounds. Like saloons across the West, each had its own version of free lunch set out at the end of the bar, a loaf of bread and a slab of meat that could be sliced off for a sandwich to serve the summons of a man's stomach and give a cowhand no need to interrupt his drinking. The first saloon Mitchell entered had a ham roast set out for customers. The second had beef but dark bread. The third, the Spur and Saddle, had what he was looking for: roast beef and sourdough bread.
"Get any strangers in here yesterday around noon?" Mitchell asked the middle-aged man tending bar. "Some riders looking for free lunch?"
The barkeep shrugged. "Cowhands off the range come and go every day."
"Man I'm looking for would have come in with a pard."
"There was then two young cowhands yesterday," a voice down the bar said.
"Horsemen and men of the range, for sure, but not working cowhands." another beer drinker said. "They didn't wear gauntlets on their sleeves."
The next man down chimed in. "I seen them around. They got a cabin up in the hills out past the Brobeck place. Bounty hunters, that's the way I see them. One of those jaspers claimed that robber yesterday."
"Brobeck place?" Mitchell repeated. "Out toward Devil's Gate?"
The man gave him a long stare. "Nowhere near it. Out east near Medicine Bow Bluff."
"Need to talk to that fellow," Mitchell said. "Wells Fargo will pay for your time to take me out to see him."
Mitchell found the sheriff talking with Fulmer when he swung back to the Wells Fargo yard to saddle a horse for another ride. "Baylor here thinks he knows where Anders and the other robber are and will lead me out," he told Fulmer. "Says they got a cabin about twenty miles toward Medicine Bow Bluff."
"That's down east," Fulmer said. "You're chasing the wrong man."
"It's them," Mitchell declared. Quickly he told of tracing the half-eaten sandwich. "Their greed did them in. If they hadn't claimed Holland's bounty, we wouldn't have Baylor here to lead me to them." He turned to Cavendish. "Things go well, you'll have some men filling your cells tonight."
The sheriff got to his feet. "You're riding on Carbon County business. I'm going with you."
* * *
The riders splashed across the North Fork of the Platte River, only fetlock deep that late in the year, and angled southeast. Finally, Baylor drew rein, and stretched out a hand. "Old cabin is just across that rise as I recall."
"Remember, these men are killers," Mitchell reminded his companions. "They may think hot lead is the way to welcome surprise visitors."
The three men down-stirruped, ground-hitched and walked forward, rifles at the ready. As they topped the rise, the slanting sun was behind them. Down below, Mitchell saw a small cabin, an outhouse in the rear, and a corral with two horses.
And a man just coming back from the corral.
"That's him," Baylor said. "That's the man who turned in the robber."
"Sheriff . . . ? Mitchell probed.
"Could be Anders," the sheriff acknowledged cautiously. "Long distance to be sure."
The man was five steps from the cabin and Mitchell didn't wait any longer. "Raise your hands, Anders." he shouted. "This is Dave Mitchell, Special Agent for Wells Fargo. Got some questions you need to answer."
When the man dropped his saddle and broke for the door, Mitchell took his actions as an admission. His rifle swung quickly to his shoulder and blasted. The man, below—Anders?—broke stride, kept upright only when he slammed into the wall of the cabin, and staggered through the open door.
"Like I said," Mitchell shouted again. "I'm from Wells Fargo. Got the sheriff with me. Come out with your hands up, both of you."
Rifle lead flamed from the window and the three men dropped to the ground. Mitchell fired two shots through the window to no apparent effect. "We got them pinned down, but we can't rush the cabin until dark."
"You keep firing a couple of shots from time to time to keep their attention," Cavendish said. "I'll circle around back and see if I can get the drop on them through a window."
"Remember, we want them talking,"
* * *
Fifteen minutes later, Cavendish approached the rear of the cabin, carefully picking his way through pebbles, twigs, anything that could give warning of his approach.
At the back door, Cavendish rested his hand on the door latch and gently tried it. It lifted easily enough; he gingerly tested the door and confirmed that the bolt had not been rammed home. He waited until he heard the gunman inside fire two shots at Mitchell, and used that to cover the noise as he split the door open a crack.
"Rest easy, Doug," he said, "it's me."
Stevens looked over his shoulder as Cavendish entered. "You didn't you do us no favor leading them up here," Stevens accused as he turned back to fire again. "Them bastards gave Den a hard one, don't think he'll make it."
"You and Den brought the trouble on yourself, Doug. Working so sloppy that some green Wells Fargo agent could track you down in only twenty-four hours. I figured I'd best be along to make sure things didn't get messy."
"You could have saved Den and me a lot of trouble if you had gunned him before he got his rifle unlimbered. Why didn't you?"
"There's more money in the easy kills, Doug."
Stevens spun away from the window and that's when Cavendish killed him. A casual flick of the wrist toward the groaning Den Rogers made sure neither man would answer any embarrassing questions.
* * *
When their search of the cabin turned up the saddlebags with the bank shipment, the sheriff gave Mitchell his due. "You can tell your head office you broke up the gang of robbers."
As he stared down at the lifeless body of "Anders", thinking of the questions he could no longer ask, Mitchell knew the day's work would earn him credit with the men in San Francisco. But, uneasily, he knew that Collins would tell him he had left the real job unfinished. Of course, the inside man had to be Fulmer, but . . . Then came a flash of clarity.
"I'll take your gun now, sheriff." Mitchell's revolver was already leveled and cocked when Cavendish turned.
"Call it a citizen's arrest. A man just got murdered in my presence."
"He was shooting at you," Cavendish protested. "And then he turned his gun toward me when I came in."
"I'm talking about the man on the bunk, Anders, if that's his name. You see a gun anywhere near him, Baylor?"
When the sheriff had been disarmed and secured with his own handcuffs, Mitchell explained. "I couldn't figure how they always seemed to make good hauls," he said. "I never had it so easy in my stage-robbing days. I had my eye on Fulmer as their confederate." His hand on Carmichael's shoulder began steering his prisoner toward their horses.
"But when you snuffed out the lives of two men I understood. Fulmer told no one about the shipment, except the trusted local lawman. You came to make sure I could ask no questions. Likely you know where to find their stash. I'm betting we'll find the money in your basement."
Dave Mitchell would have lost the bet. The incriminating saddlebags sat in one corner of the sheriff's attic.