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Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
 
 
 

Gold Fever - REVIEW THIS STORY

Written by Karen Bruce
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 3

Moonshine Creek, California

1853

After the tent-towns Iíve been spending the last few months in, Moonshine Creek seems almost like a proper city. It ainít anything like my New Orleans, of course, but it has proper houses, a city hall, a jail, even a bank. It was built when there was still gold in these hills, when the first dreamers came from all over America to make their fortunes. Officially, accordiní to its mayor, sheriff and preacher, it was named for the way the moonlight shone off the waters. Everybody else knows better than that, because it ainít creek water they drink in these parts!

Personally, I think the name is appropriate for a whole, Ďnother reason. When I was a kid, my tante told me a story about a boy who fell in love with the moon. By day, he dreamt about it. At night, he stared it. In the end, he just wasted away to nothing. Became an echo or the will oí the wisp or something. I canít remember. With that kind of bedtime story, I guess it ainít a surprise Iím so screwed up. Thatís not why Iím telling it, though. Around here, there be a lot of people who have fallen in love with something a hell of a lot less real than moonshine. The idea of gold. Finding the big nugget and striking it rich. Being able to retire from the dust and the heat and the sweat of the mines. And they sure as shit donít care that itíll end up destroying them.

Personally, Iíd choose the gallowsí tree over the mines any day. Itís quick and clean at least, unlike the slow death of prospecting. The mine dust gets into you and chokes you from the inside. Take my word for it. I see men in the street every day, who died years ago. Itís enough to make me believe in zombies. Sure, they might breathe and eat and walk and drink and whore, but theyíre already dead. You can see it in their eyes. There isnít anything inside them except dust.

A long time ago, I made a promise to myself that, if I ever looked in the mirror and saw that dead look on my face, Iíd take a pistol and shoot myself. It wouldnít make a difference, because Iíd have been long dead already. And there wouldnít be nothing that could bring me back to life. When mine dust gets into your soul, not even all the water in the Mississippi can wash it out.

Itís ironic - I guess itís a lot like gold dust in that respect. . . .

*

"Ah still canít believe theyíre holdiní a million dollar poker tournament in this one cow town," Kate said, turning away from the hotel window out of which she had been looking and coming to perch on the desk at which Remy - if that was indeed his name - was idly shuffling a deck of cards. He had affected the look of a gentleman gambler, changing flannel shirt and cowboy-tight jeans for a crisp suit with the obligatory bow-tie and wide-brimmed hat. And she did not doubt that his native Creole would become a Southern drawl at the right time. She already knew he was a gambler, but he could have also passed for a gentleman, if she had not know better.

She shifted uncomfortably in her own costume - another prostituteís dress. It was different to the one she had worn in Fortune - this one was cut out of deep, black silk, and had pink rosebuds embroidered on its bodice - but no less uncomfortable for it. She had not chosen it for its comfort, however. She had learnt long ago that whores were invisible in all the ways that mattered. Decent men looked straight through you, or fixed their eyes on a point just above your head, as if they would commit a sin simply by seeing you. As for scoundrels, few of them were interested in anything above your neck, which excluded anything that could identify you to the sheriff.

"Gamblers know where to come, cherie. Datís all dat matters," Remy replied, looking up from his cards, "Besides, if dey held it in de big city, every crook would be dere within minutes to try deir luck. Dey figure itís safer in dese small towns," he paused in his shuffling to wiggle his fingers suggestively, "Or so dey think."

Kate arched an eyebrow, tilting her head at the blur of cards between his hands, "If youíre such a hotshot cardsharp, why the hell do you need to steal the money?"

"If I had any pride, I would say it is because Iíd rather be safe dan sorry," he replied with an ironic grin, "As I donít, itís because I ainít a hotshot cardsharp. I can shuffle, oui, but I only won five games in my life, and dose were lucky breaks."

Almost happy with his explanation, she strolled back to the window. Moonshine Creek might have been a sight to make eyes sore, but she wanted to check no sheriff was riding up to the hotel to arrest her. She still couldnít believe that the young man wasnít going to turn her over and claim the reward Midas had posted on her head. His talk about needing a partner seemed plausible enough, especially given the kind of caper he intended to pull, and he had no real reason to continue with his charade now that they were in a town with a jail, but she was still suspicious of him. She could not see how anyone could pass over a thousand dollars that could be gotten as easy as walking into a sheriffís office and saying that you knew who pulled off a heist. As yet, there was no lawman in sight, but that did not mean one might be coming and she did not want to be stuck in a hotel room when he did.

"Do you want to go downstairs and check out the competition, sugar?" she suggested lightly.

"Sure," Remy shrugged, folding up his cards and slipping them into his pocket, "It canít hurt to be prepared. . . ."

*

Tying his horseís reins snugly to the hitch, Sheriff Logan - whom everyone knew better as the Wolverine - stumped up the steps that led into the hotel. He was a short, ugly man with a temper to match, as the thick, livid scar slashed across the bridge of his nose seemed to testify. He had got it bringing a serial killer by the name of Creed to justice, and was as proud of it as he was of the dented, tarnished star on his barrel chest. He had never let an outlaw get away from him, there had never been a crime committed on his watch, and he had no intention of losing that reputation in a town like Moonshine Creek.

Tilting his hat to the woman behind the counter, he made his way directly to the adjoining saloon. Riding was thirsty work, and a man needed a beer to wash the dust from his throat. Besides, the banker had asked to meet him in the bar in order to make arrangements for the big tournament that began the next day. Logan grunted in disgust. The only arrangement he intended to make was to keep the money close and his six-shooters closer. It was the safest way of protecting cash he knew, and he didnít intend to change it for some paperpusher.

Unsurprisingly, given the noonday heat, the saloon was packed. Dusty miners, self-styled gentlemen in their pale suits, painted whores, cowboys greasy with cattle, all clustered around small tables and a long bar. The room smelt of sweat and stale perfume, and was swelteringly hot from all the bodies crammed into it. In the corner, a player piano tinkled out a jaunty tune. The man in front of it had given up all pretense of playing it, and was gawping openly at the show on stage. Logan couldnít blame him. On the platform, high-stepping hookers were sashaying and kicking their legs up into the air. Only a few feathers and a scrap or two of silk preserved their modesty. He licked his dry lips. If he was lucky, he might be able to persuade one to join him for the night. But, as he had always said, business came before pleasure.

Scanning the room, his eyes rested on a table in the corner. A young, somewhat fussy-looking man was sitting there and fastidiously sipping beer from a tankard. His face was flushed as he stared at the dancing girls, as if that was as close to a woman as he had gotten. He had dirty-blond hair that flopped down onto his forehead, and his brown eyes were framed by a pair of steel-rimmed glasses. He was wearing a pale, grey suit and red tie, both of which showed all the signs of hard wear. Logan snorted contemptuously. That had to be the banker whom he had agreed to meet.

He pulled his hat down snugly on his forehead, and made his way towards the table. Just as he was about to reach the other man, however, a woman crashed into him. Anger surged hot and acid in his stomach as he looked at her. By her whole appearance, she was one of the immigrants from the East. It was getting so that you couldnít walk down the streets without seeing one or more of them. They came to America in search of a better life, and ended up being swindled at the docks. Odds were that this one had been robbed of anything and everything except the robe on her back. Even grimy and stained, it looked like it had been expensive. It was coloured like an opal, shades of green and blue and silver mixing together in the cloth.

"Sorry, sorry," she fluttered, straightening his shirt with neat, bird-like gestures. He knocked her hands away and tightened his own around her arms, fingers pressing hard into her skin. Baring his teeth in a snarl, he leaned his face into hers. Her slanted eyes were wide, and her mouth was a Ďoí of fright. It reminded him of Mariko, of her horrified expression as he had pushed open the door and found her with . . . . He shoved the woman away with a low, disgusted growl, noticing without remorse the leopard-bruises on her arms where his fingers had pressed. She ran weeping towards the doorway.

Ruthlessly forcing down his emotions, he extended a hand to the man at the table, "Robert Drake of the First Bank of Moonshine Creek, right?"

"That was unnecessary," the banker accused him, as Logan sat down across him, "It was just an accident and she was just a woman."

Taking a pull of his beer, he wiped his mouth clean with the back of his hand before he spoke, "Aní thatís why ya chose me, bub, insteada one of those pansy sheriffs who play nice. Because ya know Iíll do whatever it takes ta look after ya money."

*

"Trouble at four oíclock," Remy murmured, brushing his lips against Kateís ear before moving down to kiss her neck. Her skin was soft and warm beneath his mouth, and she smelt faintly of the clean, sweet prairie-grass in which they had slept the previous night. There were worse ways of passing on a message, he reflected, as he planted a final kiss on the curve of her throat for effect. It might have been the two straight bourbons he had had against his better judgment, but Kate had turned out to be a surprisingly attractive woman.

It looked as if the saint of thieves had been watching over him when he had gone to Fortune that day. He had just wanted a hot meal and a cold beer, but he had ended up finding a partner whose sense of style and flair was equal to his. Getting the same guy, whom she had just robbed, to save her had been a masterstroke. He couldnít have set up something more beautiful himself. After that, he had known he had wanted to work with her.

If part of that work meant having her sit on his lap and whisper sweet nothings into his ear, he could accept that too. It might have been one of the hardships of the job, he thought wryly, but he would somehow endure it if it made their disguises look good.

"Trouble?" she whispered, frowning slightly and twisting to look in the direction he had indicated. He winced. Under normal circumstances, his response would have been entirely different and a great deal more complimentary, but he still was tender in certain, personal places from her attack on him the other day. The woman wielded a mean knee.

Her green eyes were wide with shock, as she turned back to face him.

"It canít be. Heís still in Texas."

"Datís what I thought, but dere be no doubt about it. De Wolverine is here."

"Shit" was Kateís eloquent reply.

 

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