Chapter 1

Stanly Bromly was a very polite man. Only his closest friends called him Stanly, anybody else had to call him Mr. Bromly; otherwise he had to be a very fast runner or was dead! (However, since I'm a very special case, I'll call him "Stan.")

Money was a problem in 1850 California: there wasn't much of it around. Almost all trade was either barter or paid for with gold dust, carried in a "poke." That was why Stan held out his poke to the bartender when he said, "Another beer, Mr. Bartender, if you please."

"Certainly, Mr. Bromly. Coming right up!"

When the beer arrived, Stan turned his back to the bar, leaned back, and looked around. The "saloon" was the usual large tent with the bar consisting of several planks laid across the ends of some upright beer barrels. Crude tables and benches were scattered pretty haphazardly in the remaining space, except for the roulette and faro tables and wheel to one side. There was also a poker game going on in one corner and the tent was really crowded this evening.

The celebration was winding down. Bennett Riley, the military governor, had just declared California to be a state and word had had reached Wild River Camp that day. There had been a lot of drinking and a few fistfights, but no deaths, so Stan thought of it as a mild and restrained celebration.

Stan considered himself to be a troubleshooter. In fact, he had a business card, on which was printed, "Stanly Bromly, Esq., Troubleshooter, Palace Hotel, San Francisco, Calif." He had come to California from his home in the Virginia tidewater area to seek his fortune, not as a gold miner, but as a gentleman adventurer. He felt that mucking in the ground was not suitable employment for an educated gentleman, but helping others with their problems certainly was, especially those who could pay for the help.

Stan was in Wild River Camp on just such an endeavor. He had been hired by the owner of a large gold mine to investigate the series of mysterious accidents that had been plaguing his mine for the last five months. These accidents consisted mostly of equipment breakage, some of it very unlikely. Typically, a rope would break, allowing a bucket load of ore to fall down a shaft, injuring one or more miners and smashing the bucket. Ropes break, particularly under the heavy load of gold ore, but once a chain gave way, a very unlikely event.

Unfortunately, the "accidents" had been cleaned up and the evidence discarded before Stan arrived, so that he was simply waiting around for another "accident" to happen. This time, he hoped to examine the accident scene before it was disturbed by a clean up crew.

Stanly Bromly looked every inch the gentleman as he stood at the bar, He was dressed in velvet pantaloons tucked into highly polished high-topped boots. His shirt had just the right number of frills and his frock coat was in the height of fashion. His beaver hat was just the right height and tipped at the perfect angle. The only jarring note, could it have been seen, was the bowie knife as large as a short sword hanging at his side under his coat. He also carried four finely balanced throwing knives under his cummerbund, well hidden but easily reached at need.

He had just placed his empty beer mug on the crude bar when he was rudely bumped by a large lout who virtually shouted, "Why don't cha get outta tha way, ya damned dandy?"

This startled Stan, as he was not expecting trouble this late in the evening. "My good man, it was you who bumped me, not the other way around. You should really watch where you are going."

At this, the lout tried to backhand Stan, who easily ducked the wild swing. The man then drew his knife and lunged at Stan as if to gut him like wild game. Stan dodged aside and pulled his own knife. He feinted at his opponent's gut and then chopped as hard as he could on the man's wrist holding the knife. With a drawing motion at the proper angle, his heavy bowie knife was able to cut completely through his opponent's wrist and his hand, still holding the knife, flopped to the floor. With a quick follow-through motion Stan whipped his knife around and through the lout's neck. Adroitly dodging the spurting blood, Stan wiped his bloody knife on this opponent's shirt and walked out of the tent.

Stan spent a not completely comfortable night in the "guest house" of the mine, but he made up for it by the size of the breakfast he ate. Stan was one of those people who could eat as much of anything he wished without gaining excess weight (don't you hate that type!), so he was able to stow away an ample breakfast.

There was nothing of any interest to keep Stan at the mine that day, so he decided to ride through the countryside just to see what the scenery was like. He rode at random for a while until he was stopped by a man pointing a musket at his middle. "What cha doin' here, stranger? You're trespassin' on my claim!"

"I beg your pardon, sir. I was just riding for pleasure through these beautiful woods and did not realize I was trespassing. Please forgive me and point your weapon another way."

"OK, but git off my property!"

Stan quickly turned his horse about and rode away from the man and his musket. It looked to Stan like it was a good way to get killed just riding at random through gold country. He was really annoyed at himself for being so foolish; he should have realized the danger! He continued riding in his current direction until he came to a road; he followed this and succeeding roads to return to the mine. So much for pleasure riding!

That afternoon, there was another "accident." this time the sluice collapsed at its middle. The trough was about 40 feet long and supported as much as 10 feet off the uneven ground in places. There was a plank walkway paralleling the sluice for use by the workmen and one man had been on the walkway when it fell. He was not seriously injured, but he was mad as hell. "One more accident and I quit!" he grumbled as he was helped out of the mud puddle he was lying in.

Stan hurried up to the collapsed section of the sluice and carefully looked around at the supports. He found the broken support and noticed immediately that it had been recently sawed almost all the way through where it had broken. There was a saw cut on another adjacent support, but it had not broken in the incident. Stan casually walked away as if he had not found anything.

He stood to one side and watched as the sluice was repaired. The foreman took the broken support and the sawed, but unbroken, support and threw them both into the nearby trash fire. Stan found this to be very suspicious, but not really enough to make accusations, yet. However, he planned to keep a close eye on that foreman.

It looked like there was nothing left to do at the mine, so Stan returned to the saloon tent he had been in the night before. When he walked in, the bartender said, "Ah, Mr. Bromly. I am glad to see that you were unharmed during you little tiff last night. Sam Hudley was a real tough nut and there's many a man glad to see him no longer with us."

"Well, sir, I thank you for your concern for my welfare. I was sorry to make a mess of your establishment, but it seemed that I had little choice in the matter. By the way, I must apologize, I have neglected to ask your name."

"I'm Jake Summers, Mr. Brumly. Just call me Jake. Would you like a beer on the house as our apology for how you were treated in our establishment last night."

"Thank you, Mr. Summers. I really don't think that such familiarity would be appropriate, but I will gratefully accept the beer. What can you tell me about Mr. Hudley? I thought that he went out of his way to pick a fight with me."

"Could be, Mr. Bromly. Sam Hudley was a mean one. Many a man in Wild River Camp carries scars as a result of meeting him. He was a grand bully and liked to hurt men he knew could not hurt him back. He didn't have a regular job and he didn't prospect for gold; he did do odd jobs for some of the shop owners around the camp, but I don't know how he earned enough to eat. He sure was a strange one."

"Thank you for the information, Mr. Summers. I wonder if he was hired to kill me?"

Jake's eyes got wide at that, but he didn't comment.

The next few days went pretty much without incident, though Stan was getting pretty bored. Fortunately, he had brought along one of his favorite books to read, so he had something to occupy him while he waited for the next "accident."

As unobtrusively as possible, he kept an eye on the mine foreman, particularly after the regular workers had left for the day. There was only one shift, dawn to dark, at the mine, so Stan would notice if a worker stayed late or came back after work. Stan hoped to see the foreman doing something which would cause an accident, so he would have a concrete fact to work with, instead of his suspicions.

One evening, after the workers had left, Stan saw the foreman walk into the mine carrying a large sledge hammer. This was an oddity, so Stan decided to follow him. The foreman walked far into the mine and Stan lost track of him at a branch in the tunnel. Stan arbitrarily turned left at the branch, since he had no way to guess which way the foreman had gone. He had walked very nearly to the end of the tunnel when he heard a thumping noise behind him. He rushed toward the noise and saw the foreman beating on one of the mine supports with the hammer. Suddenly, the roof collapsed and Stan was trapped deep in the mine!

Stan admonished himself not to panic. The torches were still burning, so he still had some light. He also could see by the wavering of the flames that there was air circulating in his tunnel. With some trepidation, Stan neared the fallen rock and estimated that there was no way he could dig his way out through that much debris. Maybe he could escape if he could find the air shaft.

He could tell from the way the flames on the torches moved that the air shaft had to be farther down the tunnel, so he walked quickly in that direction. He finally came to the end of the tunnel and found an air shaft going both up and down. He leaned over and looked up the shaft, but he could only see darkness. Stan wasn't surprised, since it must be night outside, by now.

He couldn't see much of the shaft for the lack of light, but light must come down the shaft during the day. His best bet seemed to be to wait for morning and then try to climb out through the shaft. Just in case he might need them later, Stan went back to the cave in and started pulling torches from the holders and extinguishing them. He put the torches down in a pile and composed himself for sleep, since he had nothing else to do.

As was his habit, he awoke with the dawn and looked up the shaft. He could see a glimmer of light, so he knew that the outside was at the end of the shaft, if he could just reach it. He could see enough of the shaft walls to see that they were rough enough to form hand and foot holds if he was careful. Fortunately, he had spent some time in his youth rock climbing, so he felt that he had a chance of getting himself out of this predicament.

There was a small pool of water to one side of the tunnel and Stan felt that this was no time to be squeamish. He drank as much of the water as he could hold and relieved his bowel and bladder before he started his climb. He found that the shaft was narrow enough that he could rest by leaning back against the wall while his feet supported him on small ledges projecting from the wall.

Stan was afraid that he must climb all the way to the top of the shaft before dark, as he could not be sure of his ability to climb in the dark. He was sure that he would fall if he was forced to spend the night in the shaft. He was careful to pace himself; he did not want to become too tired. His back became painfully sore after a coupe of hours as he was forced to lean against the jagged wall. His fingers were worn raw by the rough rock as he climbed, but he finally made his way to the top of the shaft. He wiggled out of the shaft and lay panting on the ground for over an hour.

Wonder of wonders, he still had his frock coat. He had kept it on when he started his climb as extra padding for his back. He carried his poke in one of his coat pockets, so he had a little gold with him, enough for some food if he could get a little help. He was close enough to Wild River Camp that he could walk there, if he took it slow.

He wrapped his right hand with his handkerchief and used his bowie knife to cut a staff. Hobbling at a meager pace, Stan finally made it to Summers' saloon. Standing at the canvass wall behind the bar where Summers usually stood to wait on customers, Stan called out in a barely audible voice, "Mr. Summers, it's Stanly Bromly. Can you please help me?"

"Certainly, Mr. Bromly, I'll be right there." Stepping outside, Summers gasped when he saw Stan's bedraggled appearance. "What happened, Mr. Bromly? You look like a mine caved in on you!"

"It did, in a way. I'll tell you all about it in a few minutes, but I desperately need your help, first. Can you get me some food. I haven't eaten in nearly two days. Also, I need to remain hidden for now."

"You go into my tent; it's right over there. I'll get my swamper to bring food to you, there. Lie on my bed while you wait. You can pay me later." This last was said as Stan reached for his poke.

Jake went back into his saloon and Stan made his halting way to the indicated tent. He lay down and was instantly asleep, only to be awakened half an hour later by the swamper as he brought in a plate of food and eating utensils on a platter. Stan thanked him graciously and began eating right away. After he finished eating, he lay back down and was asleep when Jake came in about 2:00 AM. He was so tired that he didn't react when Jake lay down beside him and went to sleep.

The two men woke up the next morning with sheepish grins on their faces. Stan said, "I can't remember the last time I spent the night in bed with a man, but I am certain that I did not appreciate it as much as this time. By the way, Jake, please call me Stanly, you have certainly earned the right."

"My pleasure, Stanly. What happened to you?"

Stan told Jake the whole story, including the part about the foreman knocking down the roof support. Jake marveled at the story and told Stan, "You certainly were lucky to find an air shaft you could climb. We heard the story last night about how the roof had fallen in at one of the abandoned tunnels and there were no plans to dig it out, since there was no ore left there. It looks like you were supposed to be entombed in that tunnel with your body never to be found."

"Yes, I plan to hold a long conversation with that gentleman very shortly. I now have all the evidence I need to accuse him of causing all the accidents. Also, I would like to know what's behind the whole scheme. Do I have your permission to spend the rest of the day resting here? I would like to stay out of sight until I can face that scoundrel."

"Of course you may stay here. I'll arrange for meals to be brought to you, here, so that you can remain hidden for a while longer."

"Thank you, Jake. You are indeed a friend in need." With that, Stan lay back down and went to sleep. Jake grinned and went about his business for the day.

That night, Stan slipped back to the guest house at the mine for a change of clothes and his razor. He cleaned himself up and put on the fresh clothes; he felt as though he had completely recovered from his ordeal.

Stan waited until after midnight and slipped into the foreman's abode. The man was not married, so he was alone. Stan lit the lamp and drew his monster bowie knife. Holding it at the foreman's throat, he woke the man. Fortunately, the foreman didn't try to jump up, because, if he had, he would have cut his own throat.

Stan asked a few questions, and, after a few punches to the groin, got some useful answers. The foreman had worked out a deal with a financier in San Francisco to form a partnership to wrest the mine from Stans current employer. The plan was to cause all the mine workers to quit as a result of the accidents. This would make the mine worthless so that the partners could buy it at a fraction of its real value. They would reopen the mine and operate it, accident free, for the rest of its productive life. The foreman had indeed hired Sam Hudley to kill Stan a few nights before.

Stan tied the villain to the bed and went to bed, himself. The next day, Stan told the miners the story of the "accidents," and asked them to continue operating the mine for the week or so it would take to get a new foreman. They agreed, so Stan was able to leave that afternoon with the bound foreman for the trip to San Francisco.

Back in San Francisco, Stan turned in his prisoner to the authorities and went to see his employer. Stan told his story and was paid handsomely for his efforts. His employer said that he would take care of prosecuting the financier and the foreman, so Stan was through with the case except for testifying in court in a few weeks.

Stan went back to his hotel where he had a long relaxing bath. He was just getting comfortable in his sitting room with a cigar and a brandy when there was a knock at his door.

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Story tagged with:
Historical / Humor / Violent /