Chapter 1

At a quarter to twelve they road into town. Most of the people were inside eating their lunch, but those who were outside saw two, tall men with hard handsome faces. One looked to be in his early thirty's, the other a little older. They were dressed for travel. By the dust on them and their horses, one could see they'd traveled far, though their horses were not at all weary.

Valentine Holiday was tall with broad shoulders and lean hips. He wore his bone handle, silver plated gun like a man who knew how to use it not tied down and low like those would-be gunfighters. A real gunfighter can ware his guns anywhere and still make a lightning draw. His hair was light brown and his gray eyes squinted slightly in the sun despite his black low crowned hat. He wore a faded red poncho tucked into his belt. His face was rugged and he had a slight growth of beard. A grin played on the corners of his mouth but he never allowed it to come out. His horse was a large stallion, born and raised in the mountains. He could go for days without food and almost as long without water. He was completely black and no less than eighteen hands.

Nobody recognized Riley Conners. He knew he'd see one of the hands from the Big Diamond ranch soon, but they would think nothing of him. Riley was short but solid, taking after the Irish side of his family. He wore a gun, but looked as if he relied more on his hands. His hat had once been a dark red but now it practically matched his black hair. His shirt had also been red once, but was now a dusty rose. His wary eyes swept the town, missing nothing; it was just as he'd left it. His horse was an old roan he'd had since, well, about forever. He was the laziest horse Val knew of until one day they were attacked by a band of Indians. That horse was faster than a jackrabbit with a fox after it.

They road up to the hitching rail in front of the Salt Lick Saloon and dismounted. They ambled inside and up to the bar. There were only a few other people in the place, some men at a table playing poker, and two just loitering at the far end of the bar. The bartender, a big, tough-looking bear of a man, was polishing glasses with an old rag.

"Better watch this guy, Val," Riley whispered to his friend. "I don't remember him."

"What can I get for you gents?" the man asked the two newcomers. His voice was deep had a rasp to it, but it still had that certain drawl only true southerners have.

"Two whiskeys," Riley replied.

"You're new around here," the bartender said, pouring the drinks. It was a statement rather than a question. Val glanced at his friend. He'd done a good job in keeping out of the way and unknown.

"Just passing through," Val said.

"Thinkin' of hittin' the trail myself. Either of you ever bartended?"

"Was a bouncer once," Riley reflected.

"Well, I'm looking fer a replacement. I'm gettin' out of here."

"Any particular reason?" Val inquired.

"Oh, no," the bartender said a little too quickly. "Just wanna be my own man fer a change." Both men finished off their whiskeys in one gulp and set the glasses back on the bar. "Think about it," the bartender said, leaving the bottle and moving down the bar to refill an empty glass.

"What do you think, Riley," Val asked as he refilled their glasses.

"I don't know, seems suspicious to me. But it would be one of the best places to set up, and we'd hear a lot from all the customers."

"Hey, there," they called the bartender back. "We've thought it over."

"That was fast."

"Can't afford to be slow in this country."

The man nodded. "Well, how about it?"

"We'll take the job," said Riley.

"Fine. Let's go find Leo." He walked out from behind the bar and led them towards a door in the back of the room.

"Who's Leo?" Val asked his friend quietly.

"Leo L'mond's the gent who owns the saloon, and just about everything else in the town."

Just before knocking on the door the bartender turned and said, "By the way, what'er your names?"

"I'm Riley Conners, this is Val Holiday." They didn't need to elaborate. Val and Riley were known throughout the territory as the toughest rangers ever to ride a horse or shoot a gun. No one really knew why they quit so sudden like a few years ago. The bartender was obviously startled, and a bit surprised. Without another word he knocked, and after the sharp "Come in!" opened the door and walked inside.

"Well, what is it, Bandy?" The man sitting behind the desk was slicker than oil and smoother than butter. He had short black hair that matched his sharp eyes. A thin mustache curled across his upper lip. 'There's a city slicker if ever I've seen one,' thought Val. And yet, there was something dangerous about him just hidden beneath the surface. Val exchanged glances with Riley. He didn't like him at all.

"You know about how I've been wantin' to quit my saloon job and head out to Californy?" said Bandy. Leo slowly nodded his head. "Well, these gents were driftin' through and said they'd take on the job."

"Is that correct?" Leo asked them.

"Yep," Val answered shortly.

"All right. Here's your pay, Bandy." Leo handed Bandy a bunch of dollar bills. Bandy stashed the money in his breast pocket.

"Thanks," he said. "Guess I'll be on my way then. Don't know if I'll ever see ya again, but it's been good knowin' ya, Leo." The two men shook hands and Bandy left the room.

Val and Riley soon figured out a deal with Leo. "You can start right now, if you want," Leo told them. "It's not busy just now, but it will be later on tonight."

They went to put their stuff away, leaving Leo with an uneasy feeling. "I just know I've seen that Riley Conners somewhere recently," he said to himself. But as he went back in his mind over the people and names he'd come across the last few months, he could find nothing. When Riley had come to town he had taken on a different name, and not many people even knew that.

As Leo said, the saloon was soon full of miners, cowhands, and other people from around town. Val took his place behind the bar and Riley stood near the door where he could survey the whole room. For Val this was his chance to get to know some of the people and learn what was going on around town. Nothing much came up until one old miner mentioned the White Rider. "Did you see him, Zike?" a young cowpuncher asked.

"I shore did. Up by the mouth of the canyon."

"What did he look like?" asked another miner.

"Well, I couldn't see his face, 'cause he was too far away, but he rode a white horse and wore white clothes. Kinda silly if ya ask me, anyone could spot him a mile away. Well, I just stood there, watchin' 'im 'til he was outta sight."

"Who is this White Rider?" Val asked casually.

The old miner's eyes about popped out of his head. "You mean to tell me you don't know about the White Rider?"

Val shook his head. "I'm new," he said simply.

"Well now, let me enlighten you." The miner finished off his drink and settled down to tell his story. "The White Rider is the ghost of Wilder Right. He was a ranger until somebody ambushed him down in the canyon. They searched the place where he was shot and found four bullet shells; two of them were gold, two were silver. They're still tryin' to figure out who done it."

"Did you bury him up there?"

"Bury him! T'weren't no body to bury. He just disappeared."

"How long ago was this?"

"Oh, about three months."

'Well,' Val thought after the old man had stumbled away. 'It certainly fits.'

That night, or early the next morning rather, Riley joined Val at the bar. "Well, what did you hear?" Riley asked taking the drink Val offered him.

"Not much," Val answered. "Heard a good story about the local ghost."

"Oh yeah, Old White Rider."

"I figured you'd know about him. Did you learn anything new?"

"Nope, just the usual thing. Leo's real annoyed about the Wilder Emporium across the street, though."

"How come?"

"It's just about the only thing in this town he doesn't own, as well as the most prosperous, besides this saloon. Was the stuff about the White Rider the only information you got?"

"No. The Mohawk boys have been gone for three months now. Everyone's hopin' they'll stay away for good."

Riley nodded his head. "Yep, that's what I'd heard too. I've never seen 'em but I'm sure I could recognize 'em."

"Say, you know that guy, Bandy?"

"Yeah."

"You were right about him. No one else in the town knows him."

"I thought so."

"One man, a townsman, said he'd seen him ridin' into town a couple days ago. Never saw him before."

"So, that means." Riley looked expectantly at his partner.

"It means that this guy was not tired of his job, if it was even technically his."