Allies On A Redemption Trail (Preview)

Transcontinental Railroad, 1877

The Springfield railcar was unlike anything Everett Merritt had ever seen before he purchased the premier one-way train ticket out of Omaha, Nebraska. He sat in the luxury of the elite, surrounded by affluent men—most of them much older than Everett. The scent of cigar smoke lingered even with a few windows open along the passenger car. 

He found himself a comfortable two-person sofa where another man took up the back-facing seat across from him. The Pullman Palace passenger car was a unique find on the cross-country adventure. Everett had selected the perfect place among the other travelers in the ‘men’s only’ railcar where he could sit and sleep when the time came. The fifty-eight-foot passenger car had fourteen sections, with staterooms on either end. The plush upholstery and ornately decorated interiors had ample lighting for reading or relaxing, and Everett enjoyed the privacy and additional legroom afforded by the openness.  

Of the entire passenger car, only nine seats had occupants. Three men near the stateroom at the front of the car smoked cigars, talking and laughing about something that occupied the porters and the conductor. They were chatty businessmen, willing to splurge, with the train employees ready to serve them for additional tips. From the conversations Everett had caught before they boarded the train, the men were marketing mining equipment. One man reclined across a seat not far from the others. He had a book on his lap, paying more attention to the jovial talk between the businessmen and the conductor. 

Two men took up the seat sections near the center of the car and had newspapers to keep them company. Another man had already pulled the bowler hat over his eyes, crossed his arms over his chest, and presumably began napping before the locomotive picked up traveling speed. 

During the day, the parlor car sofas allowed men to relax and discuss business, politics, or more pleasurable topics in various seating. At night, the sofa bottoms slid out from the walls. The backs of the two-person seats were folded down, the upper berths lowered, and damask curtains drawn across sections for absolute privacy during the overnight hours. 

A thirty-six-inch aisle separated the sleeping berths, providing more than enough space for porters or passengers that needed access to the lavatory. The linen for the sleeping accommodations was equivalent to that of first-class hotels, and the passenger car rode on four, four-wheel trucks that helped reduce side-sway to nothing. Everett might have been in a pleasing hotel lobby if it wasn’t for the view outside with the passing scenery.   

“Show me that trick again,” said the man sitting across from Everett, still grinning. It had been on his face for so long that Everett thought it an ingenuine smile. He was the ninth man—the last to board the fancy rail carriage. 

The man had taken the seat near Everett shortly after they boarded the train in Omaha. He had introduced himself as Henry Swisher, shaking Everett’s hand using a firm grip that made Everett take special notice of him. He was a regal-looking man with groomed muttonchops and a hawk nose. His steely eyes peered into Everett so deeply they were like knives piercing his conscience. 

Everett had presented himself as Albert Monaco—an alias he sometimes used when he had to spend any stretch of time with another person. Monaco was the perfect alias for his needs recently. After Salt Lake, Everett intended to retire the name altogether.  

Since the trip across the country on the Union Pacific branch of the transcontinental railroad took four days from Omaha, he didn’t want anyone to know his real identity. Everett was a good judge of character too, and he had found Henry dubious upon his first interaction with the man.

Obliging Henry with another trick, Everett employed more practice. Card tricks were dangerous entertainment in saloons. On a train among more civilized men, it was a marvel enjoyment that was harmless fun. The shell game went everywhere, meant for all. Young and old, wealthy and poor appreciated the game of chance when its simplicity made it impossible to lose.

He cleared his throat and glanced around to check the status of the porter and other passengers. Everett had taken a sofa that had had no neighbors until Henry arrived. For the trick to work correctly, Everett needed incentive. He needed a friendly wager. Henry supplied two liberty seated quarters. He’d already lost one 25¢ piece during the previous game. 

“Please, pay attention to the shells,” Everett said, adding a disarming smile. He removed the varnished walnut shells from his inside coat pocket.

But Henry wasn’t paying too much attention, taking the beginning of the game to remove his smoking pipe and tobacco pouch from his own coat pocket. Everett took his time to start the game, waiting patiently as Henry packed the pipe with what smelled like cheroot and chicory once the pipe lit. He put the burned wooden match into the mounted ashtray on the arm of the two-seat sofa facing Everett. The man enjoyed the pipe, drawing in deep and blowing out white smoke as Everett continued with the game. 

“Now, sir, keep your eye on the pea,” Everett said, holding up the dried and varnished pea he had used for several months once he’d perfected the game. He dropped the pea on the seat cushion, placing the half-shell over the dried pea. He proceeded to spin the shells around one another several times. Commonly, when he did the trick for a crowd, Everett used a well-versed script he had memorized that helped put the public at ease with the game. But aboard the train, between friends, he didn’t want to draw unnecessary attention from other passengers or the conductor. 

“There, sir, where is the pea?” he asked, sitting back and allowing Henry to examine and choose one of the three half-shells. 

“I believe, let me see, perhaps it’s the center one—no, the one on the right.” He pointed with the pipe button. 

“Ah, so, you were paying attention, I see,” Everett said, lifting the walnut shell to expose the pea. He scooped up the game to put it away. He removed two coins to match the bet and handed over four 25¢ pieces to Henry.

“That was too easy, young man. I think we should up the ante,” Henry said. “You keep those coins. If I win the next round, I will take the dollar. If you win the next round, I’ll give you this.” He removed a brown leather billfold from the breast pocket of his blazer and put down a $50 banknote. “What’s the matter?” 

Everett had swallowed at the sight of the money. Apparently, his countenance had changed enough for Henry to notice. 

“Is that not a fair bet?”

“It seems too one-sided, sir,” Everett said. “I don’t think it’s a fair wager.”

“Are you worried I might lose the money?” Henry asked. “I’ve watched you play that game a few times now. I think I can deduce which shell has the pea hiding.”

Everett glanced around to check the location of the passenger car porters. They were still together on the far end of the car near the stateroom. Gambling wasn’t something offered aboard the train, and Everett didn’t know if wagers between passengers were frowned on, but the offer was too tempting to ignore. 

So, again, Everett went through the process of showing Henry the pea before carefully placing it in the center half-shell. He allowed the man to ruminate on the pea’s place before spinning the other shells around the center walnut. Everett felt confident that he had spent more than enough time going through the motions with the half-shells to stump or satisfy Henry. 

“Now, Mr. Swisher, where is the pea?”

Henry took his time looking at the three shell pieces. He put away the pipe and pinched his chin between a thumb and forefinger before pointing at the center piece.

“I followed the movements all along, Mr. Monaco, and I believe the pea ended where it started,” he said. 

That was precisely what had happened—or exactly what Everett wanted him to believe. The paisley print cushion was the only thing under the half-shell when he lifted it. 

“My word, that’s impossible,” Henry said, flabbergasted. “Where is it?”

Everett carefully lifted the left shell, allowing the pea to roll out on the cushion before he picked it up and put away the shell game. He hesitated to collect the $50 banknote.

“Take it,” Henry said. “You earned it.”

“Thank you, Mr. Swisher.”

Everett sat back, comfortable and wealthy. It was still two hours before dinner time, and he fully intended to purchase Henry’s meal when they left the palace car and went to the diner railcar. 

Henry looked out the window at the blurry landscape. “It’s fascinating,” he said absently. 

“What is?”

“That game is unique, and you carry it everywhere with you,” Henry said, staring at Everett in a manner that made him uncomfortable.

Sweat pricked at Everett’s back. He didn’t want to get into a heated conversation with a man who’d lost fifty dollars easier than he had probably earned it. 

“It serves to pass the time,” he said. 

Henry nodded. “Have you been a thimble artist long?”

“Excuse me?”

He wagged his finger at Everett. “That trick you do with the shells, it’s thimblerig. You’re very good at it,” he said. “I barely saw you palm the pea before you started.”

“Sir, I don’t mean any disrespect,” Everett said. He fished the $50 banknote from his pocket and offered it to Henry. “This is a very long trip. I don’t want any ill will between us. You’re welcome to take back the money.”

“Is everything alright here, gentlemen?” The conductor had appeared at Everett’s shoulder at the most inopportune moment. It looked like an exchange of services between Everett and Henry—very suspicious to the observer. “Can I see your ticket, sir?”

Without hesitation, Everett proffered the train ticket for the conductor’s inspection. As the man looked at it, Everett and Henry exchanged looks. He saw that artificial smile on the man’s face once again when the conductor returned the ticket. 

“Thank you, Mr. Monaco,” the conductor said. “Is there anything the porters can bring either of you gentlemen?”

“I’ll have hot tea with lemon,” Henry said. “Mr. Monaco is paying for it, and he’s also offered to purchase my dinner. Isn’t that right, Mr. Monaco?”

“Oh, yes, of course,” Everett said, suddenly wanting to hand over the banknote to the conductor. 

“You can pay for the dinners later, Mr. Monaco.” The conductor left the two men to stare at each other in private.

“Please, Mr. Swisher, I want to return the banknote, and I will still pay for your dinner.”

“Are you worried I might say something about you fleecing me?”

“Excuse me?”

“Fleece, you know what that is?” Henry asked, frowning.

“It comes from sheep, I believe.”

Henry laughed. “It also means to defraud, dupe, hoodwink, or swindle.” He lifted his finger. “Now, before you say anything you’ll regret, you need to hear me out. Don’t try to double-talk someone if they’re calling you a swindler, son. That’s a short walk to the gallows or a straight shot to the heart for a double-cross.”

Feeling the proverbial noose tighten around his neck, Everett did his best to make recompense. “Please, Mr. Swisher. I only play the game in jest. I don’t mean any harm.”

“Oh, no?” Henry asked, his prominent black eyebrows bouncing upward on his forehead. “What about in Omaha? I saw you fleece several people out of their money. You even had a shill—a drunkard that gave up a small fortune from you playing the crowd. How much did you take that poor old man for?” 

“What old man?”

“Don’t get smart with me, son. You don’t want to play any more games here. That conductor can toss you off this moving train in the middle of the night, and no one would miss you.” He allowed the idea to sink in before adding, “Now, when I ask something, you answer it. This stays between two honest gentlemen aboard a cross-country train. We will enjoy each other’s company for the duration while I give you a lesson in life. You will do well to pay attention and think hard before you open your mouth again.”

It took several seconds for Everett to compose himself. He eventually sat up and moved to stand, but Henry tapped the tip of his boot with his foot.

“You need to relax, Mr. Monaco—that is an interesting name you chose to use for your trip.” He didn’t wink or smirk, keeping a stony countenance that didn’t break at the mention of false names.

Everett intended to keep up appearances, but Henry was good at deception. They were still playing the shell game, only it wasn’t with walnut halves and shiny pea for banknotes. The man had something else toiling in the background that Everett hadn’t picked up thoroughly. 

“I could say the same about Henry Swisher,” he said.

The man nodded and laughed. “See, there you go. Now you’re getting it,” Henry said. “I think you might like what I have to say, son. I have something in mind that could make both of us very wealthy. If you’re interested, and since we’re both on a very long trip, I’d like to make a proposition. If you’re still game by the time we reach Wyoming, you and I will be on the road to wealth like you’ve never experienced.” He offered a hand to Everett. “Leo Cooke is my Christian name.”

“Everett Merritt,” he said, thinking it was pointless to keep lying to the man. 

“Well, Everett, I have a story to tell you, and I am feeling peckish. How about you buy us dinner with your banknote?” 

“You—you don’t want it back?”

“Consider it a modest investment. By the time we’re done, fifty dollars will be nothing,” Leo assured him. “And you won’t be fleecing old men out of their life savings anymore.” 

Everett rubbed the palm of his right hand against his trousers. It had begun to itch with anticipation at the notion of immeasurable wealth.  

Chapter One

Omaha, Nebraska Territory 1877

Trouble was brewing long before David Powell stepped off the Southern Pacific train. In Omaha, the ground under his boots was softer than the concrete of his hometown Chicago, and even with the stockyards several hundred yards from the depot platform, the air was much cleaner. Clear blue skies with wispy clouds stretched across the horizon instead of the coal-smoke-choked corridors above the steel and concrete buildings of the city. 

One of the locals that had ridden the last leg of the trip from Des Moines had had lengthy conversations with David. He’d said the best place to stay while in town wasn’t at one of the two hotels but a large holiday house for single men run by a kindly couple on Whittingham Street. The couple provided clean sheets and three meals daily for their guests. And on top of the tips, the friendly banter had helped pass the miles on his long trip. 

The gentleman had shaken hands with David before his family scooped him up once the train reached the station. He’d offered David a ride from the depot, but the surprised look on his wife’s face had made David pass on the invitation. He did intend to look up the couple on Whittingham for a place to stay that included meals. Hopefully, he didn’t need to wait too long to finish his business in the rural city. 

He carried the portmanteau from the train, switching hands often since it had considerable weight. The hard case leather bag had been issued to him by the agency.

According to the resident, the town had seen biblical flooding following a substantial snowfall that winter. When David arrived, the locals were still in the throes of rebuilding, trying to reclaim everything they lost. 

“That’s Cut-Off Island,” someone said to the passengers, pausing long enough to wipe his face with a handkerchief. The man had been sitting on the bottom of a wagon frame with its wheel jutting from the earth. He didn’t join in the laborers filling sandbags to shore up the riverbank. 

Some men had picks, others had shovels, and the rest had burlap sacks. They worked in teams of two and three for quick efficiency. Once a bag was filled and tied off, it went toward the shoreline where raging water lapped at the sacks. The silty brown-black waters of the Missouri River swirled, the heavy currents carrying debris in the aftermath. It was an astounding sight. Nothing had prepared David for the wreckage or the majesty that happened when the wrath of nature descended on a town site. 

“Over there is Saratoga,” the man said. 

David departed the train and waited for carriages into the city with other men and women. The local resident was too old to be part of the work crew. He sat on the remains of a wagon that had capsized in the torrent and sunk in the mud. The old man lit a smoking pipe after thumbing tobacco into the chamber.

“I ain’t sure what they’ll do with it now that the river bends around it.” 

“Did anyone perish?” a concerned woman asked.

“Yes, ma’am, I think a few missed getting out of the way. We lost a boy of nine here the other day; he got too interested in the river, and the water reached up and snatched him from the shore.” The man was having fun with the spectators, yet there was nothing humorous about death, especially regarding children. 

David took it upon himself to roll his shoulders and lift his chin before asking, “Where’s the sheriff’s office?” 

He had learned from his superiors to take charge of certain situations that might turn ugly. He’d learned how to look official and what to say to defuse and redirect. The old man glanced around at the lingering spectators, but he had already lost the crowd. They continued talking in low murmurs, though not directly to the local. 

“It’s still here,” the man said, cackling around the pipe stem. The other passengers wandered away from the overturned wagon, leaving the rest of the laborers along the shore to work without witnesses. “It’s up there and around the bend on Sherman Avenue, about a stone’s throw from Storz Brewery. If you find one place, you’ll see the other.” 

The man went back to monitoring the other laborers filling burlap with soggy dirt and sand. Taking another look at the ruins left by the floodwaters, David saw what looked like an outhouse bobbing along the river currents. Its roof and framework were still intact, though the opening had a missing door, and David hoped no one had been in the private outbuilding before it got dislodged and swept away.

 David strolled up the street away from the riverbank and the depot, enjoying the opportunity to stretch his legs as he touched his hat to a few people who made eye contact with him. The majority of the men he encountered were much like the men of Chicago. They didn’t have a need to carry a sidearm while running their errands with wives and daughters accompanying them. 

The wealthy parts of city had survived the floodwaters. Farther away from the roiling water, the higher elevation lent to stronger foundations of stone and concrete with larger structures.

Young men gathered around doorways in row buildings. General stores had large storefront glass with window dressings advertising the establishments. A crowd gathered where noise and music poured into the street through the heady tobacco smoke. The sign above the door read Max’s Tavern. 

A few young men brandished holsters, tapping their hats or touching the grips of their guns as David passed by them. Many of them had drinks and cigarettes. The streets had very few hitching posts, making walking cleaner and easier without stepping in horse manure. The few riders had reasonable control over their animals, and no one seemed in a hurry to get anywhere. Carriages and wagons rolled by David in both directions as he found the sheriff’s office following the entrance to Storz Brewery. 

There was a larger group of people outside the sheriff’s office than in the beer hall. David heard the heated exchange between bystanders and the sheriff as he approached.

“You got to do something, Lewis,” a man said, lifting his walking stick, swinging it wildly enough to make others around him duck for cover.

“Easy there, Philip, you’ll knock someone down with that,” the sheriff said. “I told you already. He’s left town. I checked the hotels and the saloons. No one’s seen him after last night.” 

The sheriff pulled at the gun belt around his hips. The leather vest was too small for his front, and the bracers held up the trousers, but the belt buckle hid beneath the swollen stomach of a man who spent more time sitting than moving around. 

“He took all my money,” someone said.

“Yeah, I got a bent ear from my wife,” another man said. “She ain’t going to let me sleep in the same room with her.”

“No one wants to sleep in the same room with you, Fred,” a voice said from the crowd, followed by scattered chuckles. 

The sheriff rubbed his forehead after removing the stiff-brimmed hat. The remaining patches of brown hair adhered to his sweaty head. He made eye contact with David working his way through the crowd. 

“If he’s gone, the best I can do is send word to the next stops along the railroad,” he said. “But I have no idea where he went or what he looks like. You give me conflicting reports, and I don’t have the time to sit down and work out a list of traits and names. Best I can say is to mind yourself when it comes to playing games with strangers.”

The men who had lost money began in earnest to raise their voices again, talking over each other, pushing closer to the sheriff, trying to get attention. The lawman sighed, showing fatigue from all the complaints, and did his best to quell the irate residents who had been duped by someone no longer among them. While it was disappointing, David knew it was better if the perpetrator departed before the angry crowd got a hold of him. When hard-working people were parted from their funds, they turned to violence to solve their problems. 

“Is there something I can do for you, young man?” the sheriff asked. “You passing through or looking for work?”

“I’m working,” David said. “And I might be passing through.”

“Well, enjoy your stay, and I hope you’re not a charlatan,” the sheriff said. “You probably figured we already had our fill of them around here.”

“Well, I might be of some assistance if you give me a few minutes.”

The sheriff scowled. “I suppose,” he said, retreating to the office and opening the door.

Angry men continued to murmur around David as he made his way through the last of them to reach the boardwalk in front of the building. He stepped through the doorway as the sheriff continued his baseless attempts to assure the groups of men they weren’t getting restitution from a thief who had already made a clean getaway. 

Once he closed the door on the people, the sheriff took off his hat, hanging it on the hook by the door. It was an effort to unbuckle the gun belt, and David situated his luggage, placing his brown fedora on the rugged bag. He wore a tweed suit and black shoes, one of three changes of attire he brought for the trip. 

“You’re a little outside your territory,” the sheriff said. “The last time I had Pinkerton agents come through here, they were chasing train bandits from Oklahoma Territory.”

David smirked, nodding. “What gave me away?”

“It’s the hat. I haven’t seen a city hat like that before or since then. That was three years ago.” He extended a handshake. “Sheriff Lewis McGee.”

“David Powell, Pinkerton Detective Agency,” he said.

“You got one of those fancy badges, too?”

David removed the leather fold with the silver shield with the eagle above the embossed Pinkerton National with a star at the center, followed by the all capitalized Detective Agency. It gave David immense pride, and Sheriff McGee seemed satisfied with the authenticity of the emblem. 

“So, who are you chasing this time? And where are the other agents?” McGee asked. 

David tucked away the badge. “I’m working this alone for a bit,” he said. “If it gets thick, I can wire other agents to assist. But so far, this man doesn’t warrant any more than me tracking him. And between us, it took my sergeant some hard convincing to make it this far. I was hoping I caught up to him.”

“Well, if we’re talking about the same man, I think you got here about the time he lit out.” McGee dropped heavily in the chair behind a desk. The lawman had sparsely furnished the office with double cots in the holding cells. The jail door remained open while the compartment remained unoccupied.

David nodded as he pulled the other chair from the side wall and slid it closer to the sheriff’s desk. He sat down but wasn’t comfortable on the hardwood seat. He wanted a bath, a shave, and a clean, soft bed to put his weary head on for hours. 

Unfortunately, before David could track down the boarding house, he needed to make sure the local lawman didn’t mind him wandering around in the man’s garden. Sometimes, local sheriffs and marshals didn’t like sharing their ground with other agencies. But Sheriff McGee seemed indifferent to David’s appearance.

“Well, Mr. Powell, I’m at a loss how to help people who are unwilling to help themselves,” he said. “You’d think they’d know better than to give away money. We got an ordinance about snake oil peddlers. And people are quick to let them know. But when it comes to betting, gambling is still legal around these parts.”

“We tracked a man a few years ago outside Illinois that went town to town down the rails,” David said. “He would check into hotels and call people into his room. He had an empty tincture of laudanum and claimed he had a wife that turned her back on him, or a child recently died, anything that pulled at the people’s hearts.” He sighed, shaking his head. “He’d get real attention when people thought he drank the entire bottle of laudanum to end his suffering. They’d summon a doctor, get him to an infirmary, administer emetics, and help him back to his feet.”

“I might have read something about that a few years ago,” McGee said. “What was his name? Joseph or John?”

“James Franklin,” David said. “He knew how to gain financial assistance from kind strangers and leave town before anyone got wiser for it.”

“You arrested him?”

“I didn’t, but the agency began staking out hotels along the railroad until he eventually wandered into one.”

“Well, from what I gathered from the victims—and you saw a good portion of them outside—this swindler likely made off with three to five thousand dollars, bilking men who should know better,” McGee said. “If it wasn’t thimblerigs, it was three-card monte. I feel sorry for them, but hopefully, they learned their—”

When the door burst open, David jumped. 

A woman clung to the door handle, wearing an ivory dress and an alabaster grimace. She’d been crying and still looked heartbroken when she took a haggard breath. 

“He’s dead,” she said, the words uttered from thin, trembling lips. She took a deep, hesitant gasp. “My father’s dead.”

“Allies On A Redemption Trail” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

David Powell has built a thriving career as a respected deputy sheriff. But even though he has successfully captured numerous criminals, none proved more elusive than a swindler with a long history of conniving and robbing citizens. In an attempt to catch him, he begins a journey that leads him down a dark, twisted path where the shell game turns deadly…

With bullets flying left and right, who will be left standing when the smoke clears?

In order to accomplish his mission, David will team up with Willa, a headstrong woman who is driven by her need for justice. While David’s closing in on the swindler though, something’s changed the rules of pursuit, making it nearly impossible to capture him.

Can David get to the man before someone else dies?

As the danger spirals out of her control, David and Willa’s combined skills will be tested once again. There is more at stake than money, and David’s life is at risk. When he takes it upon himself to right the injustices, will he put an end to the outlaw, or will he get swept up in the biggest con game to ever reach the frontier?

“Allies On A Redemption Trail” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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