Down The Rabbit Hole – Warriors of St. Antoni Chapter 15

This is the first of my new Portal Worlds series. The book is still being written and edited, so what you read today is subject to change without notice in the published version.

On St. Antoni you got tough or you died. The only defense is a gun; your security is your ability to use it. This is the story of three sisters and the choices they make to survive on St. Antoni. Bethany marries a mercenary warrior to shield her family from a predatory neighbor. To protect her sister, Iris chooses between an arranged marriage with a beloved friend and an outlaw. Jeanne and the son of her greatest enemy defy both their families to find love.

Technology to find and open gateways to alternative worlds was found on earth in the late 21st century. Those expecting to get rich off the tremendous resources on these new worlds controlled Access to them. People talk though, and it wasn’t long before the new technology became common knowledge and unregulated Portals cropped up. Illegal settlers passed through Forbidden gates looking for new places to live and find adventure and liberty.

With only the technology they could carry or build from raw materials on St. Antoni they built a new way of life.  To survive they must rely on themselves. The learned to master deadly plants and animals. On St. Antoni, Adventure was a one-way trip to a hardscrabble life and Freedom meant relying on yourself for food, a roof over your head and safety.

This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is unintentional and accidental. © Gail Daley 2017 All Rights reserved. Any duplication of this work electronically or printed, except for brief publicity quotes, is forbidden without the express written permission of the author. Cover Art © by Gail Daley’s Fine Art 2017

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays. Check in next Friday for the next chapter of Warriors of St. Antoni

Click below to Download a PDF copy and start reading Chapter 15 Down The Rabbit Hole

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THE THREE men sat there on their tricorns dumfounded. Red looked back over his shoulder at the bushy forest they had just left and then back down into the fertile valley. “What is this?” he asked.

“Beats me,” Durango opined, scratching his head. “It sure doesn’t look like any outlaw hideout I ever saw.”

“Oh, and you’ve seen so many,” Red retorted.

“Well, I haven’t seen that many either,” Carlos said, “but this place looks more like a prosperous farm than a place where outlaws would go to escape a posse.”

He studied the area for a few minutes and then started his tricorn over to a stand of Indigo trees. Silently, Red and Durango followed him. Once there, Carlos swung down off the glossy red striped tricorn. He loosened the cinch and let the animal drop his head to feed. The men followed his example and then sat down to wait. Carlos opened his saddlebags and took out a pair of binoculars. The binoculars were new and a rarity on St. Antoni where the glass had to be ground and set into the polished wood by hand. Michael St. Vyr had given these to him on his last birthday, but Carlos had seldom needed to use them. He sat down with his back against the smooth bore of a tree and turned the lenses on the farmhouse and garden. After several minutes, he handed the glasses to Red. “Have a look,” he said.

Red swept the gaze of the binoculars over the house and barn and then wordlessly handed them off to Durango, who did the same. After a moment, Durango handed them back to Carlos.

“There’s a woman and kids down there,” Red said.

“Yep,” said Carlos.

“Un-huh,” Durango repeated.

“Well,” Carlos said. “I guess I’m just going to have to go down there to figure out what the set-up is.”

“Ah—maybe you should let one of us go,” Red said diffidently.

“Why,” Carlos asked sharply.

“Well, the fact is Boss, you won’t pass as a tramp drover down on his luck,” Durango said.

“Yeah,” Red agreed. “I’m sorry, Boss, but no out of work drover would have a fancy ‘corn like yours.”

“He’d have sold him for eating money,” explained Durango. “Now, Red and me, our ‘corns don’t look like anything out of the way special. If that is an outlaw hideout, one look at your ‘corn and they’ll think you’re a bounty hunter or a lawman so they won’t talk to you.”

“Either that or tell you a pack of lies,” Red added.

Carlos looked at them in frustration. What they said made sense, even if it went against the grain to let them take the risk instead of himself. “Okay,” he said, “you’ve got a point. But both of you go. I’ll sit here where I can give you cover if you have to make a run for it.”

“Watch that place where we came out too,” Durango suggested. “They might get a visitor.”

Carlos nodded and got up to move his tricorn further back into the stand of trees. Durango and Red tightened up their cinches and headed down into the valley toward the farmhouse. Carlos sat back down against the tree and raised his binoculars.

He watched as Durango and Red rode up to the farmhouse. A tall, gaunt man with reddish hair stepped out from the barn to meet them. Although he couldn’t see what was said, Carlos could tell that man was telling them to move on by his gestures. Finally, however, he pointed at a small building near the edge of the cultivated property with an undersized corral, and the two rode toward it.

It looked as if they had talked their way in. Carlos rose and stretched. He had just straightened back up when he heard a branch crack behind him.

“Don’t move, mister,” a young voice said. He felt the pressure of a gun barrel against his back as his pistol was slipped from its holster.

“Can I turn around now? I’d like to see who’s holding me up,” he said.

When he turned, he found him facing the girl he had seen through the binoculars earlier. “Let’s take a walk,” she said, motioning for him to head down toward the farmhouse. “Leave your ‘corn. I’ll come back for him.”

Sourly, Carlos allowed himself to be herded toward the farmhouse.

“What’s your name girl?”

“Karin,” she said.

“You have a last name Karin? Mine is Carlos Madonna.”

“Smith. Our last name is Smith.”

“Smith,” he repeated. “I see. Is that your father down there or your husband?”

“My husband, not that it’s any of your business.”

Since the conversation appeared dried up, he said nothing more.

The man was waiting for him as they walked up. “He was watching us through glasses,” the girl said. “I thought that was a bad idea, so I brought him down to meet you.”

Smith nodded, looking Carlos over carefully. “Well,” he said, “You’re sure no out of work puncher.”

“That’s right,” Carlos agreed. “My name is Madonna. I was trailing two outlaws, and I saw them come down here. Have you seen them?”

“You don’t look like the law, neither,” Smith continued as if Carlos hadn’t spoken.

“No, I’m not the law. I was hired to find two outlaws who held up some miners a while back.”

Smith hawked and spat. “No one like that here. There’s two drifters just came by asking for shelter for the night. I told them they could use the old farm shack out by the trees.”

“You do that often, put up strangers?”

“Sometimes. Like the good book says, I cast bread upon the waters. Someday I might need it.”

“I’d like to meet these drifters.”

Smith gave him a suspicious look. “Don’t believe me? Well, they’re right over there. Go ahead, but I’ll have no shooting started here around my family.”

“Fair enough. Your wife took my gun anyway.”

“Well, you look peaceable enough. Give him back his pistol Karin.”

“Thanks.” Carlos took his gun, rechecked the loads, a fact that did not escape Smith’s notice, and re holstered the pistol. He walked down toward the shack, watched by Smith and his wife.

Durango came to the door of the shack as he approached. “Hello, the house,” Carlos called. “May I come in?”

“Come ahead,” Durango said, just as loudly.

As soon as he got within talking distance, Carlos lowered his voice. “You were right about not passing as a down on his luck drover. The Smiths think I’m a bounty hunter.”

“Who are you supposed to be hunting?”

“I told the truth there. Said I was hunting the men who held up the miners. Smith seemed to accept it. He allowed me to come over here anyway. Did he accept your story?”

“Seems to have. I think it’s best if we stay here and then leave early in the morning.”

Carlos nodded. “I’ll tell him that you aren’t the men I’m looking for, and ask if there is another way out of the valley. You do the same in the morning and we’ll meet up when we get out of sight of the farm.”

“Sounds okay.”

“Well, thanks boys,” Carlos turned and walked back toward Smith.

“They aren’t who I was looking for. They’ve been over in Tago Crossing for the last month working roundup on the K-B spread. Lost their pay in a gambling game.”

Smith nodded. “What will you do now?”

“Start over, I guess. Is there another way out of here?”

“Nope. Just the one you came in.”

“Okay, well, I guess I’ll start back then. I’d like to clear that trail before it gets too dark to see. Thanks.”

He turned and started back up the hill to where he had tied his tricorn.

Carlos took his time before tightening the cinch and heading back into the brush tunnel. He reached the mine camp where they had spent last night just as dusk was falling. Carlos picketed the tricorn and built a small fire in the fire pit used by the miners. As a precaution, he made his bed over behind the cabin and close to the tricorn, whose alert senses would warn him if anyone approached.

Back in River Crossing, a tall skinny man named Marvin Chamber stepped onto the docks and looked around. His rifle dangling from his hand, he slung a battered warbag over one shoulder and headed for the Hotel. Seth Lindsey, the desk clerk, eyed Chamber with disfavor, but he had been given a large tip so he led Chamber up the backstairs to the Johnson suite.

Johnson dropped a gold chip into the clerk’s hand, reminding him, “You didn’t see anyone.”

“No sir,” Lindsey said as he shut the door.

“Trip out here okay?” Johnson asked.

Chamber shrugged. “It went. What’s the job?”

“I need two men taken out. I’m not to be connected with either one.”

Chamber waited patiently.

“The first one is Alec McCaffey. Be careful with him. He’s gun savvy, so don’t let him spot you. He’s son-in-law to Michael St. Vyr. You’ll find him somewhere around the Golden Tricorn Ranch, east of town.”

“You got a description?”

“About medium height, brown hair and eyes. Usually rides a gold striped tricorn. He’s worth three pounds of gold chips.”

“McCaffey. Would that be the McCaffey that runs a range detection agency over in Bitterstone?”

“Yes, that’s the man.”

“Uh, huh. I know him. He’s going to cost you.”

“Three pounds is a lot of money.”

“Yeah, but the way I hear it, he runs with Henry Miller, and Miller is a tiger-bat on wheels in a fight.”

“Four pounds.”

Chamber nodded. “Alright. Who’s the other one?”

“Another of St. Vyr’s son-in-laws. Name of Carlos Madonna. He runs the Lucky Strike Mine. Dark eyes, dark skin, black hair. About six foot. Dresses nice. Not so gun savvy as McCaffey, but the word is he’s good with a knife.”

“Thrown or hand to hand?”

“Both from what I hear.”

Chamber nodded. “Twelve pounds silver, delivered to my account in Copper City.”

“Half now and half when the jobs finished. I set you up with a room here—”

“No thanks. Too high-toned. I’ll get a room across the river.”

“Suit yourself.”

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