The Prospector’s Gambit (Preview)

Chapter One

Elijah Roarke surveyed the crowd at his Prospector’s Paradise saloon, the biggest and best in all of Shimmering, only a day’s journey west of Denver in the Colorado Territory. The Rocky Mountains stretched out all around them, isolating Shimmering but for a few trails leading in each of the four significant directions. But the mountains were treacherous and few who survived long enough to make it so far West were anxious to continue the perilous journey. This brought in more than just prospectors, but new citizens of a variety of trades, from every hill and climb.

More customers, Elijah said to himself. More Johns, more suckers.

He savored the view from the second-floor walkway along the rows of rooms, separated by a horizontal banister that led to the staircase from both directions, the central artery to the main first floor below.

The piano jangled in the corner, the girls laughed loud and long at every joke their prospective Johns told. The men belched and farted and barked at each other like the wild dogs they truly were, some deeper down than others. Many of them were prospectors, reeking of a hard day in the streams, some in the mines, the dirt of their faces marking them as men of the earth. Others were farmers, notable for the smell of animal dung. The new shopkeepers come in with coifs and well-trimmed bears. Their postures also gave them away: the miners and farmers slumped over, the shopkeepers and new service providers had straight spines, shoulders back.

But Elijah marked them as no better nor worse than anybody else. Their finery meant nothing. In their hearts, the uprights were just as depraved as anybody else, just as ready to kill before being killed. The sins they got up to in private, while maintaining the façade of civility, were likely worse than anything any of the poorer miners could afford or even imagine.

Elijah had seen the like and worse. He’d killed men himself, out of need in most cases.

He closed his eyes and flashes of his life in California filled his memory. He could still feel the hot blood on his hands, still picture the frightened faces of men who knew they were about to die, fearful of what they would find on the other side, what they had earned.

Elijah opened his eyes and knew he’d have to ask himself the same question. Like all men, he too would die. Elijah knew he’d have a lot to answer for. What he did not know was how many years he’d have in life to make up for only some of the things he’d done, most of which he’d had to do.

Most, but not all.

But the days were long and the nights were many and they were profitable. They could also be dangerous, even within the walls of the Prospector’s Paradise. The place was filled with hardened killers, some of them in Elijah’s own employ. Big Hyram Schultz sat not far from the door, Winchester repeating rifle in his hands. Anybody who came in or out of Elijah’s joint had to make it past Hyram’s deadly gaze and his deadlier grip. He didn’t need the rifle to kill a man, but he was more than adept at using it.

Jimmy Clutter was behind the bar, always ready to draw a blade or a pistol, and everybody in the place knew it. Despite his slender build and youthful complexion, the little ginger was quick and deadly. And he wasn’t alone, either.

Elijah had hired guns to sit among the customers, gambling with marked chips, drinking the bare minimum, ready to launch into a defensive assault against anybody coming against the saloon and particularly against Elijah himself.

The Colorado Territory was far from San Francisco, in the new state of California, granted statehood just twenty years before in the fiftieth year of the eighteen hundreds. But it wasn’t far enough. And the past could make good distance in twenty years. But in the seventieth year of that decade, populations were swelling, and the past seemed certain to arrive with it.

Retribution was never far off.

A dude stepped into the saloon, turning to look back to the street behind him, tapping his pockets. “I… I think I’ve just been robbed!”

Elijah poured a shot and waved the man over. “Gunpoint?”

The man shook his head. He was dressed like a traveler, in a waistcoat and cravat. “No, two… two youngers. One bumped me from one side, one from another, and before I realized it, they’ve run off and I can’t find my wallet.”

“So you weren’t robbed,” Elijah said. He held the drink up and out to the visitor, but he did not hand the drink over. “You were mugged. Shame, happens all the time. And you’ve got no money.” When the dude reached for it, Elijah pulled the drink back.

“None.”

“Gold watch,” Elijah asked, “cufflinks, something like that?”

“I… no, actually.”

Downing the drink himself, Elijah said, “Get out.”

“Well, that’s… that’s hardly very hospitable.”

“Get out before I throw you out!” 

The dude looked Elijah over, dressed in a dark gray suit, worn but clean. He paused before Elijah barked, “Hyram!” The man looked over to see big Hyram Schultz, a bearded ginger mountain near the door, rifle in his hands.

The dude nodded and shrugged, turning to scurry out of the bar, likely never to return. Without money, he wasn’t welcome anyway.

Business went on, nobody caring about the man and his problems. It was nobody’s business but his own. That was the way it was in the Prospector’s Paradise, in the town of Shimmering, in all of the Colorado Territory and indeed all the nation.

“This game’s rigged!” A large man at one of the poker tables threw down his cards. The dealer, one of the best in the game with a deck of cards, put up his hands to show that his sleeves were clean of any plants, that he was palming nothing.

Elijah didn’t recognize the gambler, a bushy black mustache crawling down the sides of his face. He glanced at Hyram, sitting not far from the door but too far from the gambler to take a safe shot. He’ll need to move in close for a gutting. He looked at Elijah for the nod of approval, but Elijah shook his head.

It was important the customers saw that Elijah himself would deal with the men or women who upset things in his joint. He had to remind the people of Shimmering who was in charge at the Prospector’s Paradise. The others were there to back his play, but the play had to be his.

The crowd went quiet as the gambler shouted, “I won’t be cheated!”

Elijah stepped down the stairs. “You won’t be cheated here, my friend, you have my word on that.”

The gambler spun to face the stairs, silence around the two men as Elijah approached the lower level, the gambling floor.

The gambler demanded, “Who’re you?”

“Elijah Roarke, friend. And you are—?”

“I ain’t cher friend! You cheat cher friends?”

“I don’t cheat anybody,” Elijah said as he reached the floor and stepped toward the poker table, the crowd parting before him to clear a path. Everybody seemed to know what kind of hell was about to break loose. “I’d rather you not slander me in my own place.”

“This dealer, then,” the gambler said.

“That’s Martin Lewis, friend,” Elijah said. “He’s the best dealer west of New York City. He didn’t cheat you, I give my word.”

“Your word don’t mean squat to me, you dandy!”

“Dandy?” Elijah looked himself over. His waistcoat was buttoned over his body, still fit even in his mid-thirties. His black hair was resisting the encroach of the gray, his eyes still a brilliant blue. He hadn’t been untouched by the years, but he did present himself with a certain appearance meant to demonstrate his success, his ability, even to disguise his deadly capabilities.

“Gimme my money back, dandy!”

Elijah smiled as he approached. “The cards run hot and cold, friend; that’s the nature of the game. But I’m sure you know I can’t just offer refunds for every hand lost. Should I claim a refund for every winning hand that finds me paying out? What if I were to challenge you as a cheater should you have won? How would you take that… that insult?”

“Take it as you will,” the gambler said, thrusting his chest forward. The man was readying an assault. All Elijah needed to do was let him make his move. He had a Colt pistol in the holster of his gun belt, his fingers twitching, hand quivering just a bit.

Elijah said, “Why not just cut your losses and go outside, take the air?”

“Not… without… my… money!”

“You’re not getting your refund, friend,” Elijah insisted in a voice loud enough for all to hear. “Neither will anybody else who makes such bold accusations against my dealer, my joint, and me! I take those insults very, very seriously!”

The gambler sneered. “You’ll take that insult, and you’ll take this!” 

He grabbed his gun and drew on Elijah, but he wasn’t nearly quick enough. Elijah’s left hand launched out to grab the man’s gun and aim it harmlessly at the floor, where it discharged.

Bang!

The crowd gasped, everybody leaning back as the two men grappled in the center of the saloon. Elijah drew his knife and plunged it, hard and quick, into the big gambler’s belly. The blade sliced through the fat, the fibrous muscle, finding the tender organs behind them. The gambler’s face assumed that terrified expression, eyes wide and mouth open, sweat trickling down as the blood drained from his features. He shivered a bit as he dropped the pistol and then slowly sank to his knees.

Elijah watched him go down. He took no joy in the killing, which was clearly a fair fight in self-defense. Another death in his name, another necessary kill. What it was about their new nation, so recently reforged by civil war, about the nature of the human race and the human being that made killing so necessary.

But there didn’t seem to be any escaping it. And eventually, the price would have to be paid. He looked down at the dying gambler still sinking before him before he pulled the blade free, blood spurting in its wake. He couldn’t help but see his own face in the man he’d just had to kill. Someday, it would be his face, his death.

And something in his heart told him that day would come soon—perhaps too soon. 

Chapter Two

Elijah had one of his men go fetch Sheriff Dan Kayle, the thin, bald man finally arriving with one of his deputies, pudgy Peter Brown. The deputy loaded the body onto a wooden sled designed to drag corpses or injured people to the doc’s. The sheriff lingered in the saloon to inquire about the incident. 

Elijah poured the man his favorite drink, a cold beer with a shot of whiskey. The sheriff dropped the shot glass into the mug of beer and took a sip as the two drinks mixed in the glass mug.

“So…” Sheriff Kayle said, “I take it this was… self-defense?”

“The man drew on me, Sheriff. Everybody in the room saw it.”

“Let me guess… claimed he was being cheated.”

Elijah shrugged. “Some people can’t face the consequences of their own actions, I’m afraid.”

“Can any of us?” 

He had to nod, giving that some thought. “Anyway, Sheriff, how goes it with our… esteemed Mayor Beam?”

“Taking a keen interest in the affairs of the town,” Sheriff Kayle said. “He’s not happy with the violence that goes on around here.”

“Nor am I! Perhaps if the law enforcement in this town was a little more effectual, it wouldn’t be such a problem. I hear young punks are running afoul of my customers, stealing their purses and wallets right out on the street!”

Sheriff Kayle shrugs. “It happens.”

“It shouldn’t! Besides the fact that it gives the town a bad reputation, just when none of us need or want that, those are my customers. When those ragamuffins steal from them, they’re stealing from me. I won’t have that, Kayle.”

“And what might you do about it?”

“Not a damned thing,” Elijah said. “Unless one of those little rats tries to ply their wares in my joint.”

Sheriff Kayle looked at Elijah. He said, “Another case of self-defense.”

Elijah just cracked a little smile, knowing he didn’t really have to say more.

The sheriff took another sip of his drink and glanced around. 

Elijah said, “Stay a while, Sheriff, enjoy yourself. You know how popular you are among the girls, Lily in particular.” 

The sheriff nodded and shrugged. “That feller ain’t getting’ any deader.”

Elijah broke a real grin. “Words to live by.”

Blonde-haired Lily slinked up to the sheriff to grab his attention, and eventually his money. The sheriff didn’t seem to mind. The two of them faded into the crowd and Elijah turned to see a much more welcomed face.

“’Li, I saw the deputy drag a body out. Are you okay?” Pretty Sadia Malone rushed up to Elijah, her hands falling upon his chest. “I know how things get around here.”

“So do I, Sadia, believe me. But it’s okay for now, just a little dust-up.”

She glanced around, red curls falling over her bright green eyes. “I can imagine. Is the man alive?”

“Don’t know,” Elijah said, “might be for a while yet. But I don’t gut a man to improve his health or extend his lifetime, Sadia. You know that.”

“No, I… you’re right, I… I understand.”

He wanted to convince himself that she truly did understand, but she never could. She was the operator of the local telegraph, a spunky and independent spirit who still knew her place in the hardscrabble world of the Colorado Territory. She wanted to thrive, and she needed to survive. But doing both at once wasn’t always easy, and it wouldn’t always be possible.

Just like all of us, Elijah thought. 

He asked her, “Any news I need to hear about?”

Sadia glanced around the saloon. “You know I work under a strict oath of privilege to my clients. I share pertinent information only, and then… only under duress.”

“Oh, I know what kind of… duress you prefer. Shall I… imply such measures to get you to talk?”

Sadia stiffened. “I… I’ll never talk.” 

There was no secret to tell, of course, and Elijah knew that as well as he knew Sadia did. They both enjoyed their little games, however, a bright spot in an often dreary and miserable world. It may have been a manifestation of the violence that was ever-present around them, or it may have been born of something deep within them both, the need for some escape from lives both seemed to know were doomed to end in bloody defeat.

“I will not be denied,” Elijah said in a low, grainy voice.

“I… have my honor,” Sadia said, her voice quivering with melodrama. “Do as you must, but I’ll not weaken.”

“Suppose that should please me?”

“You beast!”

“You little snit!” They stood in the sexual tension that seemed to always follow them, except when they were relieving that tension in his private apartment, adjoining his office in the corner of the second floor of the Prospector’s Paradise.

“All right now,” Elijah said, “you get back to your cubby, see to your telegraph. I’ll come see to you in my own time.”

She stood before him, seeming to quiver with desire. Sadia’s breath was short, her bosom rising and falling. Elijah knew that reaction; he’d known it many times and fully expected to know it many times more. He was the only man permitted to enjoy that intimate familiarity with the lovely telegraph operator.

And Elijah considered himself lucky. She was only five years past twenty, ten years his junior. She would make a fine wife to any lucky man, young or not. It surprised Elijah that she hadn’t chosen someone else. But the young woman seemed to be drawn to him, and that wasn’t unusual. Elijah knew he had a mysterious air, a certain command and gravitas that frightened men and attracted women. Those were, in large part, a good deal of the point of his manner of carrying himself. He needed to be feared, and he wanted to be desired. To lose either could be to lose his grip over control over the saloon, over the town, in so much as he had it.

The sheriff, Dan Kayle, was little more than a lackey to Mayor James Beam, who wasn’t to be trusted in any case. He was too busy fleecing the local businessmen with bogus taxes and tariffs to notice that his sheriff was running the local road agents who robbed the travelers, as well as the muggers running through the streets. Neither man could be trusted, but both were in Elijah’s sights. Still, he couldn’t pull the trigger on either one. They’d only be replaced, and perhaps by worse, by forces more aggressive against his own position. 

It was better to secure his own place, to maintain the status quo. Things were fine enough as they were, imperfect but workable. Money was pouring into the Prospector’s Paradise; Elijah felt safe, secure, in control of his destiny. That had always been all he ever wanted, and he wasn’t ready to settle for anything less.

But he had the feeling that things were about to change, and not for the better. Things had been peacefully prosperous, more or less. That was all Elijah had ever wanted, more or less. And he’d have it, if he could.

More or less. 

Chapter Three

Shimmering’s town sheriff Dan Kayle stood in the mayor’s office. The office was furnished with the best desk and chairs and tables in town, pine bookshelves lining the walls. Mayor James Beam seemed older than his mere forty years, five years younger than Dan. Mayor Beam’s broad body and thinning hair gave him a soft look, jowls wobbling as he paced and spoke, thinking out loud.

“An assayer,” the mayor said, shaking his head. “Sent in from Denver! This is bad, Daniel, very bad.”

Dan shrugged. “Sounds like they’re makin’ a move.”

“You’re damned right they’re makin’ a move! They wanna see how much gold there is here so they’ll know what to do with us. They find anything good enough, Denver’ll either start buying us up or chasing us off… or both. I’m not letting that happen, not to my town!”

“Or to your gold,” Dan said.

Mayor Beam turned to face him. “I only have the town’s best interests at heart, Daniel. Don’t ever forget that!”

“I won’t, sir.”

“And don’t even suggest otherwise!”

Dan shook his head. “Didn’t mean to speak out of turn.”

Mayor Beams started pacing again, staring off into different directions as he reasoned things out. “I… the town’s still very young yet, early doors as they used to say.” In the silence of Dan’s lack of response, he went on, “The man who controls whatever resources are here will be the man in the strongest position, that’s clear enough to see.”

Dan knew the mayor would see things that way, and there was no way to change the way of thinking of the most powerful man in Shimmering. Already also its wealthiest citizen, he stood the chance of becoming among the wealthiest men in all of the Colorado Territory and beyond. But time was running out for that. Decisive action needed to be taken, and it had to be taken quickly.

“When is this man coming in?”

“He doesn’t say. The telegraph girl doesn’t know.”

Mayor Beam shook his head and paced. “That woman at the telegraph office, Malone—”

“Sadia,” Dan said.

“She’s… very attractive, isn’t she?”

Dan didn’t have to wonder too long about what the mayor was getting at. “She is,” he said. “I know Elijah Roarke would agree.”

The chubby mayor sneered. “That one, the saloon keeper. Can’t you get rid of that… that trash?”

“Not really,” Dan answered. “He’d be hard to get to and harder to kill.”

Mayor Beam shrugged. “Not you alone, Daniel! But… hire some men, send ‘em in, then just… sweep up the scraps.”

Dan looked at the mayor, his boss and the overseer of events in Shimmering as far as he could manage it. Elijah Roarke was an obstacle to Beam’s total dominance over every facet of the growing town, and he was a potential source of conflict and competition for power at just about every turn. What the mayor was willing to do to remove those or any obstacles inspired a chill to run through Dan’s blood and his bones.

“The woman, too,” Mayor Beam went on. “Either we… fold her into the ranks, or she’s gotta be replaced.”

Dan knew what he meant by the second part of his instruction. But the first part of his missive was a bit more vague and even more troubling for it. “Into the fold?”

“One of us, Sheriff, part of the team. She’s gotta play ball, this Malone woman. I’ve got a… a position or two in mind.” Dan knew then precisely what the mayor meant. “She’d be more… cooperative, give us the access we need to that… that wire, that contraption.”

He knew Sadia Malone well enough to know that wasn’t going to happen, not voluntarily. But he also knew the lengths to which to mayor would go, the depths to which he would sink. Those depths didn’t even bottom out at six feet, but that was where they would end.

“Hard as Roarke is gonna be to get at,” Dan said in a casual but certain tone, “she’ll be even harder.”

“And how’s that?”

“You’ll have the wire company, sending outsiders in. Pull one tooth, three more’ll grow back. I say it’s better the devil you know.” Mayor Beam seemed to consider, finally nodding, his jowls glistening with a glean of sweat. “Anyway, if you think the wire company’s gonna be hard to deal with, don’t even think about having to do with Elijah Roarke.”

The mayor seemed to consider that. “He likes her that much? They’re… they’re secret friends, are they?”

“I don’t think it’s too much a secret,” Dan admitted. “S’probably one of the things keeps her safe in that office alone. Most of the locals know to leave her be.”

“Or Roarke has to do with them?” When Dan nodded, and the mayor went on, “What about the local road agents, those mugger brats on the street? He’s in charge of all that?”

“Not that I can prove.”

“You don’t have to prove,” Mayor Beam shouted, “you just have to say!”

“Then I’d say I can’t say to a mortal certainty,” Dan snapped back.

“Then who? You? Are you running those punks… and then not kicking up my taste?”

“Umm, no, sir, no.”

Mayor Beam took two steps toward him, beady eyes locked on his. “Who then, Daniel? What’s going on in this town that I don’t know about?”

“I… I really can’t say,” Dan forced out. “Maybe something to do with the assayer?”

“The… the assayer? You think he sent a gathering wave of muggers and road agents to… to what? Soften the target?”

“Precisely that,” Dan was quick to answer. “Make the place unlivable in case they find anything worth grabbing.”

Mayor Beam seemed to think it out. “Maybe. What’s the name of this man, this… this assayer?”

“Knobb,” Dan answered. “Eugene Knobb?”

“Eugene Knobb? He sounds like a pushover.”

“He does… sound like that,” Dan said. But he knew enough never to underestimate an adversary, especially not on the basis of a name, which could always be faked and for just that reason. “Let’s wait and see what we get when he gets here.”

“And maybe you could get some of those muggers off the streets! I know the road agents are over your head… since you aren’t running them, they must have simply outmatched you.”

“Mayor, I—”

“Get… something… done!” 

A long silence echoed in the mayor’s office. Dan stood there, not sure if he’d been dismissed. 

“And start thinking about how we’re going to deal with that telegraph operator. If we need to handle her and the beer jockey at the same time, then that’s what we’ll do.”

Dan nodded, unsure of how compliant he would be and careful not to reveal that. 

“Keep her alive if you can,” the mayor added. “Bring her to me for a… a private consultation, in fact.”

Dan knew what the mayor wanted, what he was expecting would be delivered to him. So it was with a shrug that Dan answered, “I’ll let you know.”

“Let me know when,” Sheriff Beam said, voice low in his flabby throat, “not if.” 


“The Prospector’s Gambit” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Elijah Hart, once the most sought-after gambler in the Wild West, now presides over the legendary Prospector’s Paradise, his reputation a curious blend of enigma and notoriety. He’s a man with a past, the kind that tingles the spine, and he’s come to this remote town seeking solace and obscurity.

But can whispers of redemption ever silence the ghosts of his past?

A letter, brought by the enigmatic drifter Cole, speaks of Samuel, Elijah’s long-absent brother. However, it soon becomes clear that Cole, Samuel’s soon-to-be brother-in-law, harbors ulterior motives—a deep-seated vendetta linked to a crime Elijah once committed. Suddenly, Samuel becomes Cole’s unwitting pawn…

Can Elijah protect his brother, or will the sins of his past come back to haunt them both?

As Elijah navigates a labyrinth of deceit, an enigmatic young man steps forward with a revelation that could alter their fate. Torn between trust and doubt, Elijah stands at a crossroads: can he trust once more, forging alliances in the face of danger, or do the specters of betrayal still threaten to shatter the fragile bonds forming with his estranged brother?

“The Prospector’s Gambit” 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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