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Thomas R Barnett

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The Comstock Conspiracy
by Thomas R Barnett   

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Virginia City, the center of the great Comstock Lode, a yet wild and lawless place where miner's wages were won or lost at the single roll of a die, or with a bullet from a quick gun over a loaded hand of five card stud.

Four heavily armed horsemen headed north out of Virginia City toward Pleasant Valley, the Mathew Brothers: Brent, Joseph, William and Columbus, ruthless killers hired by Sheriff Hanley to take out Spud Page. The north wind howled and blew and the snow drifting over the road grew proportionally in depth. It was late afternoon on the third day when the Mathew brothers cleared the summit overlooking Pleasant Valley.Elliot stared out the window from his second floor room at the wind driven snowdrift and scanned the valley for any movement. His eye caught sight of the four horsemen at the crest of the valley. They did not belong here. It was late afternoon and the sun hung low in the western sky. Temperatures outside were approaching zero and the cold north wind continued to blow.He ran down the stairs and crossed the store where Mattie was standing. “Mattie I need to send a telegraph to the governor now!”
“Excuse me!”
“You heard me correctly.”
“Ok, here write it down and I’ll send it.” He began to write a series of characters on the telegraph paper that made no sense to Mattie whatsoever. They were five character codes spaced evenly across the page. It took Elliot ten minutes to write the note. “Here,” he handed it to Mattie.
“What the hell is this?” She asked.
“Mattie, I don’t have time to explain, but it is encrypted code, just send it. The governor will understand. Trust me. I’ve got to go now!”
As Elliot exited the store, Mattie sat down and began to bang out on the telegraph key the message Elliot had given her. Elliot’s mare was stabled behind the general store in a covered but open stall. He hurriedly saddled her then headed south down the valley toward Spud’s ranch house. At the gate, Elliot fired shots into the air trying to get Spud’s attention. Spud came out the front door and Elliot started to wave his hands in the air. Spud sensed there was a serious problem and quickly saddled his horse and sped toward his gate.“Elliot, what is the trouble?”
“Look,” he pointed north at the four riders coming down the valley in their direction. “I’m no expert, but that spells trouble.”
Spud unlocked and removed the chain securing the gate. Elliot moved his mare through the gate as Spud locked it once more. The riders were now less than a thousand yards from the gate. A shot fired ricocheted off the gate, splintering the wood structure. Elliot and Page galloped toward the ranch house, arriving as the four riders neared the gate.
Pointing his Henry at the lock on the gate, Brent fired a single shot that blew the lock off the chain. Columbus dismounted and swung the gate open and the other three brothers entered Spud’s property. The four brothers spread out across the open field using their horses for cover.
“Angie, get yourself and the kids into the basement, take the shotgun and load it, protect our children if Elliot and I can’t handle this!”
“Slim, you take the loft, I’ll defend the bay window; it has a great view of the entrance. Angie can handle herself. It’s against any code, but shoot the horses first, that will put a stop to their advancement.”
“Crude but effective,” responded Elliot.Breaking the bay window, Elliot lowered his Henry and took dead aim at Columbus’ horse and discharged a round. The bullet caught the horse just below the left ear and sent it sprawling to the ground as Columbus jumped backwards then fell into the snow behind the dead body of his horse.A second shot rang out from the loft taking out Brent’s mare. Then a third and fourth exploded from Elliot’s Henry taking out Joseph and William’s horses. Now all four gunmen were stranded some three hundred yards from the ranch house with no cover between them and their target.The sun rested over the western rim and the temperature rapidly dropped to below zero.“Let the bastards freeze,” Spud said. “Slim you can stay in the loft, I don’t believe they will try anything tonight, keep alert.”
“I would not want to be in their boots, but those guys will stop at nothing; there is no moon and they will move in stealth. Had they not been prepared to deal with this cold, they would not be here. While we have them trapped for the moment, expect anything, I really believe they will attempt an assault sometime during the night. Keep your wife and children in the basement. Get some rest Spud, I’ll take watch until midnight and you can have it then.” Spud agreed.
The early morning hours came fast as Spud awakened Elliot to tell him he had noticed movement at first light. The Mathew brothers had fanned out fifty yards apart and had made their way up to within a hundred feet of the house. The group had zeroed in on the location of the gunfire that had killed their horses and now two took aim at the bay window and two at the loft window then opened fire. Firing in repeated sequence, two darted for the barn and the other two hid behind the wood shed. Glass was spread over the floor in front of the bay and loft window as both Spud and Elliot lay prone waiting for the barrage to stop, then quickly rose and glanced out waiting for one of the Mathew bunch to expose themselves.“Spud,” Elliot shouted from the loft, “can they circle behind us without being seen.”
“They can exit the west side of the barn and woodshed, but will be wide open, you’ll just have to keep an eye on front and back loft windows at the same time. The bigger problem is I have kerosene in the barn, if they find it, won’t take much to create a firebomb! Keep your eye on the barn loft”
“Well that’s comforting.” Elliot glanced out the south window in time to see the barn loft door swing open and one of the Mathew brothers hurled a flaming bottle toward his position. Elliot fired off a shot and the Martin brother buckled and fell forward out the barn loft door, but the incendiary device broke through the window in front of Elliot and burst spreading fire throughout the ranch house loft. Elliot tried unsuccessfully to put out the flames as they rapidly spread across the room. He looked out the window one more time only to see a second incendiary bomb hurling his way. Once again he fired a shot toward the barn loft doors hitting another Martin in the shoulder; it was Columbus. He grabbed his shoulder and disappeared out of sight.The fire and smoke were becoming intense as Elliot burst out of the loft bedroom door and scampered down the stairway to the first floor.
“Spud we got to get your family out of here, this place is going to be burnt to the ground in a very few minutes. Get your wife and kids out of the basement, I’ll draw their fire, two are down and the other two must be hold up in the woodshed, I think I can take them if I act fast enough.”
“Don’t be a damn fool, Elliot, you step out that door and you are a dead man!”“I don’t intend to step out the door, I had something else in mind. Get over here to the window and watch where the first shot comes from then unload on that location. I’ll be ok, they cannot hit me, at least I don’t think they can. Stand ready!”
Elliot replaced the spent cartridges in his Henry, firmly fixed the weapon in his hands then sprung toward the bay window, diving through it like a circus tumbler landing on his shoulder blades on the front porch as shots rang out from the woodshed. Spud quickly opened fire at the flame from the rifles in the woodshed, repeating fire until his weapon was empty. At the same instance Elliot caught of the position of the remaining Chancy brothers and opened fire until his Henry was emptied. The sound of gunfire silenced and only the crackling fire of the ranch house burning broke through the cold morning air.“Spud, take care of your wife and kids. There is still one wounded Chancy in the barn, I’m going after him.”
“No Elliot, this is my fight, I’ll get the son-of-a-bitch, and he will rue the day he ever heard the name ‘Spud Page.’ Get Angie and my two little ones, if I am not out of the barn in five minutes, burn it to the ground along with this house!”
There was no stopping Spud, as he reloaded then burst out the front door of the ranch house, and began to march toward the barn. Elliot ran back in the house and down the basement stairs and told Angie to bring the children immediately. The four scampered up the stairs and toward the front entrance. The smoke from the fire was now thick and heavy and the flames had spread down the stairs and were licking at the ceiling of the first floor. Elliot, exiting first to make sure no one was waiting to gun them down, saw Spud swing the door to the barn wide open and stepped inside. It sounded like a war zone coming from the barn. Elliot could not count the shots as they came so fast. Then silence. The four stood on the porch staring at the barn door. Angie screamed and ran toward the barn. Elliot tried to hold her back, but she was too fast. He told the two kids to get away from the house and ran after Angie catching her at the entrance to the barn where she suddenly froze and stared in horror!
Spud stood facing away from her with blood streaming out of his left shoulder and the last of the Mathew brothers, Columbus, lying in front of him with half of his head blown away by the closeness of the rifle shots. Spud slowly turned around and Angie ran and jumped into his arms hanging on for dear life.The three walked out of the barn staring at two very cold and shivering children. Standing in the snow they all watched the ranch house crumble to the ground in an array of dazzling bright embers.      

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