On a cool spring evening, in the year 1878, a train, recently departed Camp Hades in Colorado, steamed effortfully through the Northern Rockies on the way to Deseret and further parts; some known and others mysterious. On board were the usual collection of miscreants, miners, runners, absconders, scoundrels, soldiers and fortune seekers. There were women traveling alone to join their now rich husbands on ore claims and others seeking to claim their loved ones’ mortal remains and whatever material riches managed to make it through the human sluice of lawmen, undertakers, porters and clergy through which the civilized, un-harrowed dead must travel to their final resting place.
As trains go, the Deseret Skylark was small. It consisted of an engine, tender, freight car, a caboose, and two passenger cars that bookended a dining and social car. There was no sleeper on this run. It’s the rearward car, next to last upon which we will fix our attention.
Inside we find a handful of men and an affable border collie. Two of the men appear to be acquaintances. They are seated together these two and engaged in the easy patois of men who have seen a few miles pass beneath them and are comfortable in their manner one with the other. One of them, Nathaniel “Nate” Blackwell is a coastal North Carolina minister. Young and stern, his face carries with it an earnestness that mars what is a benevolent and pacifistic internal cant. He wears few trappings of the cloth other than a small white collar peeking out from beneath the dark gray shirt he wears under his coat. He is gritty and worn and his boots say more “cattle driver” than “Shepherd”.
The other, well dressed and looking for all the world like what can only be called a “dandy” is Harlan Reynolds; the scion son of South Carolinian Satsuma Plantationeer. A monocle of unusual scheme hangs from a gold chain around his neck. Half monocle, half jeweler’s loop, the device instantly identifies him as a scientist and quite possibly a mad one at that. In the rear, absently patting his faithful canine’s head is Greybush. Lost in his reverie, remembering the train rides of better times with his wife and children, we can observe him candidly. His name clearly comes from the furry fountain of hair that virtually erupts from not only his head but also his beard, under his shirt, ears and nostrils. His hat is battered and the front is flipped up in the fashion of prospectors and trappers. He wears no shirt but rather has a pair of suspenders holding up his breeches over his formerly red (now pink and soiled) long underwear. His oilskin coat is fashioned into a pillow at the window end of the bench seat. His dog, Marvin, is young and loyal.
The other man we want to notice is a Chinaman; O No Hon Kong. He’s tall and goateed and muscular. He is wearing the traditional Huan-Ko tunic and baggy trousers of his Cantonese heritage and he has dark bison moccasins on his feet. An opium pipe sits passively and unlit in his mouth.
These are our adventurers. These men are Ironbound.
Part I- The Big Ol’ Bang
We join our heroes en media res and hurtling into the setting sun. Inside the car with them sits another dandified gentleman; we’ll call him Pinky— and a rougher, more coarse gunhand in the rear. At the last stop, while attending to their particulars O No and Nate noticed a heavy presence of men in the caboose looking out of the windows and watching the townsfolk and passengers. After approximately a few hours the train started to slow and ground to a stop much to the agitation of Pinky and the gunhand and the trains conductor who let slip the train was carrying an item of great import to Deseret. An explosion could be heard close to the train from the rear and within seconds of the explosion, a great rush of armed brigands or soldiers or mercenaries burst forth from the caboose and rushed into the dining car. The heroes attempted to follow but were told to stay back under threat of gunfire and to ‘git ready!’.
‘Why suh,’ Harlan gently prodded. ‘whatever are we getting ready foah?’
Nate attempted to plead be allowed to progress forward but he was refused by Pinky and so our band set out to ready themselves for confrontation. Whilst they were making preparations and readying their arms, they noticed the forward cars of the train were moving away from them and the gunhand who had been with them was running like mad to catch up with the departing train.
A few minutes of uncertainty followed with Harlan finally walking back to the caboose and finding a General Orders ordering a US Government package be delivered at any cost to Deseret signed by General George A Custer himself. The now forged posse struck out to walk along the tracks. Several hundred yards away, the conductor was found with broken legs and severe injuries. He was put on a makeshift litter and he directed the group ‘….the nearest town’s Coffin (cough, cough) Rock.’
An hour into the walk towards town a hellish sound rises behind them and the posse takes cover to observe a giant metal steam powered diligence larger than anything they had ever seen come through the tracks at a phenomenal speed. Indians manned the top ports of the diligence with guns and eyes at the ready. A nasty metal blade that stood taller than two men made kindling out of anything on the tracks in its path. It whistled, belched and roared past them easily going twice as fast as the Deseret Skylark and looking for all the world like Cerberus unleashed upon a mortal rabbit.
Coffin Rock sauntered into view and the posse came into town to a gathering at the railway station. All the men were heavily armed and were overheard wondering aloud at why the train, er “trains?”, hadn’t stopped and picked up the week’s Ore Shipments, mail and dropped freight and needed supplies. “And the whiskey” thought Bryce. “The good stuff…”
The posse introduced themselves to the local lawman, Marshal Bryce and his deputies, Otis, Kink, Leroy M. Jenkins and Duck. Bryce wasn’t exactly warm to the idea of a group of unknown travelers sashaying into town but he seemed genuinely rattled by the train incident so he absently directed the group to Carl Testeverde’s Crystal River Hotel for a room and asked them to stop by to ‘…introduce yourselves all, uh, proper like.” on the following morning. He also pointed them in the direction of Doctor Osgood’s house in order to see the conductor gets ‘…proper medical attention. Such as it is..” His final goodbye to the posse was an incordial “I’ll take it you kindly remember… this is my town…”
Harlan, feeling rather tired and wanting a refresher headed to the Crystal River while Hon Kong and Nate bore the makeshift stretcher to the Doctor’s home to seek care for the Conductor.
At the Crystal River Hotel, the sign was faded and worn and some words had disappeared completely. The missing s, t and l caused the sign to read ‘Cry a River’ Hotel and Carl Testeverde seemed both surprised and a little alarmed by the bell when Harlan entered to check in. The innkeeper wasn’t friendly and Harlan began to be a little unsettled by a woman’s sobbing seeming to come from an indistinct direction in the downstairs (or perhaps upstairs). He retired to his room where the sobbing seemed to continue as loudly as before.
Hon Kong and Nate arrived a Doc Osgood’s home and seemed to have awaken the doctor from some slumber. “My, what beautiful skin… Of course I’ll take good care of him. Fare thee well, my friends.” And while the ‘good’ doctor was pleasant enough, the two posse members were off put by the cloying, oleaginous personality of the man of medicine. “Check back on him in the morning and I’ll be able to tell you his prognosis.” Was all the doctor said as he gently pushed the two out the door and turned back to his patient.
Greybush, not typically one for towns and the urban hustle and bustle had originally said he’d set up somewhere on the periphery of town in a small camp but the trees didn’t seem quite right and his dog whimpered and scooched around on edge.
‘daggum it i reckon we best bivouac in the town then marvin if youre a goin to git all raised at the neck out here in these here woods umhmmm’
And with that, a camp that hardly been started was broken down and Greybush quickly darted back into town to find his friends. Hon Kong and Nate checked into the hotel and met up with Harlan and all of them headed out for a dinner and drink at the local Saloon and Gambling Hall. In the Hall was the usual assortment of riff raff; 4 miners played poker with a gentleman of some sophistication. A single, overfed female languidly practiced looking simultaneously bored and seductive. A smiling piano player belted out Camptown Ladies with some skill and musical embellishment. He was talented and the posse soon found that Mike Hall was friendly and wearing a bandage from his recent “flensing” operation performed by Doc Osgood. This fact unsettled Nate and he suggested they try to check on the conductor. As they were heading towards the Doctor’s Study, Leroy Jenkins and Kink intercepted them and in no uncertain terms ordered them off the street until the morning. The posse abided but Hon Kong, feeling curious and stupid, decided to attempt to stealth up to the surgery and check on the conductor but in the unknown environs of the town, he alerted Leroy and Kink and they arrested him and locked him up. The next morning, not knowing where Hon Kong had gone off to, the three posse members visited Marshal Bryce’s office and to their surprise found Hon Kong and were told in order to quash the charges of loitering the Marshal had on him, they had to go inspect a mining property owned by the Marshal and find any evidence of a few men of his who had gone missing. Before they left, the posse indulged Nate and tried to enter the Church which was locked up tightly and the stained glass windows prevented seeing inside.