Chapter 14

John knew what he needed to do after Amelia had left with the Fredrickson. That man was up to no good, and unfortunately Miss Amelia wasn't thinking straight. He saddled up his own horse, a sturdy, reliable buckskin and rode directly to Mr Gordon's train.

He introduced himself to the chief engineer, a fellow named Orrin and they shook hands, both men with a grip that would sink a tender foot to their knees. John told him he was heading for the mining town with the full expectation there was trouble. He didn't know for sure if Mr West or Gordon were involved but if he was a betting man, he'd put his money on it.

John could see the engineer sizing him up, carefully considering his trustworthiness and motives. Orrin listened to his story and didn't say much but promised he'd make sure that whoever needed to know would get his message. He took clear directions to the old mining town and told John to be careful, there just might be some law men showing up. As John rode away he looked back and saw the engineer lead a chestnut mare out of stable car. He quickly slipped a bridle on the animal and took off at a swift gallop bare- back towards the city center.

John knew where the old mining town was and started off at a comfortable lope. No need to tire his horse out prematurely, they both might need some extra fortitude later. He wore his sidearm, something he seldom did but he knew when Mr Eastcott had sent him to St Louis with Miss Amelia to keep an eye on things, it was not for her business dealings, but for her personal safety. St Louis was the last civilized town before the wide open west, and it was always a question as to just how civilized it really was. He did not trust that Fredrickson character, and knew that Miss Amelia didn't either, but he also knew love made people do irrational things.

Miss Amelia's tracks were easy to follow. He could see they had ridden conservatively, at a slow canter. That Fredrickson man was probably busy grilling Miss Amelia with all sorts of questions and didn't want to get there too soon.

His old boxing days came in real handy when a lone sentry tried to stop him as he approached the town. He pretended to be looking for a lost horse, which was just enough of a diversion to catch the man off guard. A few well placed right jabs and a left hook to the chin, and he had the man tied up, and gagged in the shade of tree.

The old mining town was quiet. He tied his horse up in a thick grove of bushes, and he crept into the center. It was much as it had a year ago when he came out here, with the exception of the church which had been cleaned up.

He peered through what was left of a broken window, and saw signs of recent habitation. He could tell by the orderly arrangement of furniture and personal items it wasn't bums who were living there, but someone much more organized and purposeful.

It seemed no one was inside so he moved cautiously to the back of the building and was greeted by a soft nicker. Miss Amelia's dappled mare shook its head with anticipation of attention. He walked over to it alert for any sign of activity. The mare nuzzled his arm and he stroked her neck to calm his own nerves as much as hers.

He saw fresh wagon tracks running along a rutted well traveled path towards the old mine shaft. The mares ears suddenly flicked forward and she raised her head sniffing the wind. A second later he heard the sound of approaching horses. Hiding in its shadow, he ran to the front of the building to see the engineer, still riding the chestnut and another tall thin man holding a large rifle, the butt balanced on his knee as they reined their horses to a stop.

He called out, "Miss Amelia is here with that man, and by the looks inside the church, I think your Mr West and Gordon are here too."

The engineer spoke first, "We saw your handiwork on the sentry back there in the trees. This is Mr Jeremy Pike, he's another secret service agent sent out here to look for Mr Gordon. I'm not supposed to come on these things but I figured I would to even out the numbers a bit since Mr Pike says the police will be on their way but maybe not soon enough."

Still mounted, Pike said, "So I take it there is no one here?" The only sound was the a gentle breeze through the bit of scrub and small trees that had decided to move back in now that the humans had given up on the place.

"No, but there are fresh wagon tracks in the back, and Miss Amelia's horse is tied up there.

"West is here too. We found his horse in the barn around the side." Pike said as he surveyed the surroundings.

From the distance came a low deep rumble. They stopped, each staring at the others face as if the explanation would appear there. Another rumble followed accompanied by a slight quaking in the ground.

"The mine!" John shouted. "Follow the road out back!"

Pike and Orrin kicked their mounts to a gallop as they rounded the church with John running hot on their heels. He grabbed the reins of the startled grey mare and drove his heels into her flanks for a full out run.

Their noses were assaulted with the acrid smell of earth and explosives as they drew closer. A driverless wagon came careening down the narrow road pulled by a very frightened horse. John made a mental note to find that animal later. They managed to rein their own mounts off to the side so not to be trampled by the terrified combination of cart and horse. The rumbles had turned to thunderous roars and they had to fight their horses to continue towards the sound when the animals, sensing the danger, just wanted to flee.

The road straightened out and they could see dirt, smoke and tendrils of fire belching from the cave opening. John would remember later it was at that moment he began praying. Pike leapt from his horse and ran toward the cave opening, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket to cover his nose. Orrin was yelling something as he ran but his voice was lost in the chaos of explosions. John ran too, tears beginning to run down his eyes. He wasn't sure if it was the chemicals or the fear that was washing over him that he'd let Miss Amelia down.

From the hot, smoky breath of the mine it looked like four figures were emerging, running raggedly. It was just then that Pike's voice cut through the maelstrom, "GET DOWN!" Whether he dove or was crushed down, John would never know, but an angry gale of ash, smoke and fire rained down on them as the cave gave up the fight and surrendered to the power of a mad man's vision of revenge.