Brett headed in one direction and Jalen in the other and they walked along carefully watching for any signs they might see to tell them where the outlaws had gone. Jalen saw some small twigs broken and a stray partial hoof print that hadnt been completely erased by the branches the robbers had been dragging to obliterate them.
Brett had seen similar signs in the area where he had been told by passengers that the bandits had taken Dan and Dawn. When the Sheriff and Deputy got back together they talked.
Jalen said, Looks like they split up. From the partial hoof print I saw the horse was carryin something heavy Im thinkin they may be carryin the money.
Brett nodded. The one I saw also was deep; it may have been carryin two people. They probably are the ones with Dan and Dawn as some of the passengers said they thought the outlaws took them this way.
Jalen nodded. Makes sense, split up to travel faster and theyll all meet up someplace. We can either split the posse or spread out to attempt to cover both trails, but followin the trails wont be easy since it seems the one with the money is a pretty rocky one.
Brett sighed. I suppose youre right, but we need to act soon or theyll be so far ahead of us that we wont be able to catch up.
Jalen nodded. Yes, we need to make a decision and get goin.
Jalen went to the engineer and told him he was cleared to proceed to Diamond Springs, but that he was to hold the train there. He told him Kelcy Johnson, the telegraph operator in Diamond Springs could assist with sending any telegrams he needed to in regard to the train being delayed. Then he gathered the posse.
Gentlemen, There are two trails so we will split up. Stay with your group for safety, no wandering off on your own without either Deputy Montgomery or myself giving permission to do so.
The men of the posse nodded their heads in agreement.
Good. Jalen looked over the men in the posse and then said, Brett, you will take Jack Hillyard, Gabe Fairmont, Blake Sheridan, and Morris Hennings Hugo OBrian, Jim Duncan, Max Anderson and Cole Fairmont, youre with me. Jalen told them.
Brett noticed that Jalen had split up him and Cole and had also sent the more experienced posse members with him as well as the better shots. He frowned slightly, but remembered Jalen had had more experience and that he could keep Cole safe and that Hugo was a good shot and so was Jim Duncan. Max Anderson was also a fair shot and had been on posses before as well. He relaxed as he realized that Jalen had made good choices. Brett would have to deal with keeping Dan and Dawn safe so would probably need the better shots too. He had plenty of responsibility. Jalen was responsible for the money and probably would have to face the gang boss as well as those men the boss would have considered his best men to protect the money.
Jalen said, with a serious face, All right men, keep your eyes and ears open, if you find anything that can help us to keep to the trail, use your hand signals of a raised arm or the sound of a whippoorwill, you all know how to make that sound as well.
The men demonstrated their skill in both including Cole and Brett and Jalen nodded. All right, lets move out. If you find your quarry and have them secured, then let out three rifle shots to let us know.
Again all the men nodded and Brett said, Okay Jalen.
Then the Sheriff said, Lets move out.
The engineer blasted his whistle and with all the passengers now on board got the train going to Diamond Springs.
Falcon and his men rode hard and steady with the money split among them on the rocky ground. He knew it would be much more difficult for the law to find him this way. He and the men rode along streams and across as much rocky ground as possible to not leave an easy trail to follow.
Smokey led the way on the trail he had chosen and back tracked and crisscrossed to make the trail almost impossible to follow. He had no idea that his hostage was leaving another trail for the lawmen to follow as they rode along.
As they got ready to move out Jalen said to Brett, Ill take the trail that heads north and you take the one that heads northeast It may be that each trail may converge somewhere along the way, or hopefully end where ever the outlaws are holed up with our hostages.
Brett nodded. All right Jalen Ill keep my eyes peeled and hope to meet up with you somewhere along the way.
Jalen said, if you get into trouble and need help fire off three shots and well head your way as soon as we can get there.
Brett nodded. The same signal goes for you Jalen please dont take any unnecessary chances. The blue eyes reflected concern since Jalen had been shot.
Jalen put his hand on Bretts shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "I promise I won't do anythin' foolish this time.
Brett gave him a smile. All right or Ill have to find someone to teach you a lesson about that. He teased.
Jalen thought to himself that Dallas was still looking out for him and that would be enough, then wondered a bit curiously who Brett might choose for such a task. He shook himself mentally from his wool gathering and smiled. Well Im certain that wont be necessary. He smiled. Wed better be goin now.
Brett smiled and nodded. All right.
Jalen led his men along the rocky path and Brett led his along the dirt path.
Brett and his men rode along the trail. He was pretty good at tracking, but he lost the trail several times and was beginning to become a bit frustrated. He had seen the brown stains occasionally of blood. He remembered Cole telling him that Dan had been bleeding from his head and figured the stains were from that. He hoped Gabe hadnt seen them though. He knew the older man might be very worried if he did.
The other posse members kept their eyes out for any hoof prints and as they rode Bretts eye was caught by something brown on a bramble bush. He called a halt to the posse and slipping down from his horse went over to examine what he saw. He called the other men over. This looks like threads from a womens travelin skirt what do you think? He asked.
Each of the men went over and examined what Brett showed them. Id say youre right. Jack Hillyard said. The other men nodded. Yes, I agree. Gabe told Brett.
Brett smiled. Well it looks like Dawn is pretty smart and is leavin us a good trail to follow lets continue to watch for the threads instead of hoof prints and such.
The other men nodded and each took a good look at what they were watching for and they were able to move much faster along the trail.
Falcon smiled evilly as he saw Mountain Grove come into sight. Well head for the house. He said, Smokey and Stony should be here soon. He told the men. In the mean time we can sort out the loot and start countin and dividin it. The other men nodded. Yeah Boss. Falcon stopped in front of the house and the other men helped him to bring in the money and the things they took from the passengers on the train. When they unloaded
Whiskers placed the horses in the small barn, untacking them and caring for them. When he returned the others were at the table, everything spread out and Falcon counting and Fingers double checking the count. Looks like we did well Boss. Whiskers observed. Falcon nodded. Yes it certainly does. Whiskers joined Falcon and Fingers at the table as did Red.
In a while Smokey, Stony, Slouch and Chewy arrived. Smokey picked up Dawn who was gagged and he bound her and brought her into one of the bedrooms in the bosss house and tossed her unceremoniously on a bed. You can stay there until the Boss decides what to do with you missy. He said with an evil grin.
Dawns blue eyes glanced at the outlaw, but then she looked away. She felt numb and couldnt think past the moment.
Stony slid off his horse and dragged Dan off, allowing him to hit the ground hard. He took the rope from his saddle and tied the man and then hefted him over his shoulder and into the house. He went into the bedroom where Smokey was holding the door open for him, glancing at the Boss and the others at the table where the money and loot was spread out. Falcon jerked his head toward the bedroom and Stony carried his burden inside. He dumped Dan onto the bed and then began slapping him hard. Wake up buddy! Its time to stop sleepin. We want you awake to watch what were goin to do to your girl here! He continued to give Dan powerful slaps, jerking his head back as he did so.
Dan came to consciousness as his head exploded with the pain of it being harshly jerked back with a powerful slap. He almost lost consciousness again, but another hard slap made stars dance behind his eyes, keeping him from slipping away again. He groaned and his eyes fluttered open to see a stony faced man glaring at him and saying something he couldnt quite comprehend as yet.
Dawn watched as they brought Dan in and dumped him on another bed in the room. He was bound as well, but the outlaw who had brought him started smacking him and yelling at him to wake up. Dawns blue eyes sparked with anger at the abuse and with frustration at not being able to do anything to help her friend.
Whiskers came in and said to Stony, The Boss says thats enough come on out here and join the rest of us while we work on dividin up the loot.
Stony said, All right and gave Dan one last smack and then left the room, closing the door behind him.
Dan was relieved that the abuse had stopped. His left eye was swollen and his lip was split and bleeding to add to his head pounding unmercifully. His face was bruised from the hard slaps as well. He grimaced with the pain in his face when he tried to smile at Dawn. His throat was dry and with his lips swollen he couldnt speak at the moment.
Dawn, looking at Dan tried to convey with her eyes hope for them. She knew if there was any chance of help arriving it would come. She had faith in Cole and knew he had a horse on the train and hoped he would be able to get Jalen and Brett. If he did she had no doubt theyd come to help them. She had the utmost trust in the Sheriff and Deputy of Diamond Springs.
Dans violet eyes smiled as he nodded, letting her know he had understood. Then he closed his eyes and tried to rest uncomfortable as he was. His severe headache was making him sick to his stomach and he hoped that by being quiet and still hed start to feel better.
Jalen Brooks swore softly as he lost the trail yet again. They had crossed streams and traversed over rocky terrain losing the trail time and time again.
Jim Duncan arched an eyebrow hearing Jalen swear. It was rather unusual for their Sheriff to use profanity, although it was common among the men of the day. He had always found it interesting that their Sheriff curbed that tendency and it was one of the things that made the people of Diamond Springs respect and care deeply for their lawman. He realized it was also a revelation of just how upset Jalen was and frustrated. He went over to him and asked, How can we help Jalen?
The younger man looked up at the man speaking to him and sighed. I dont know Jim; weve lost the trail once again.
Jim nodded. Its been a hard trail to follow thats for sure. He told Jalen.
The Sheriff nodded. Yes I think if we all spread out a bit we might be able to pick it up once more. He glanced up at the sky. I hope we get a good hold on the trail soon. Its getting late and we dont want to lose the trail in the dusk when it falls. Id like to find these bandits before then. He told the general store owner.
Jim nodded. We all would Sheriff.
Jalen then gathered the men around him once more and told them to spread out and to call out if someone found another sign of the trail.
The men he was with nodded and they again spread out and began to search for the trail.
After a while Hugo OBrian spotted a hoof print and called, Sheriff! Over here I think I found the trail again!
Jalen rode over to Hugo and examined the partial hoof print and nodded. I think youre right Hugo. Lets follow this trail then.
The rest of the men joined them and they rode on again. As they rode along Jalen passed a couple of other trails that branched into the one he was riding on. He saw a rise and called a halt. Im goin to climb up that rise and see what I can tell from up there.
Jim and Max nodded. Hugo said, All right. Cole watched Jalen carefully.
Jalen slid off his horse and climbed up the rise and looked around. The terrain was becoming more flat, less mountainous and hillier. He could see Glenwood Canyon off to the southwest and more mountains off to the west, but the land was more suitable to farms and such toward the east. The trail they were following continued more Northeast. Jalen studied what he was seeing. He thought it looked a bit familiar and then remembered when they were looking at the maps of the area at the land office when he and Brett were looking to buy a place to live. He remembered that on the map there had been a tiny town located to the northeast of Diamond springs about ten miles away. He tried to remember the name of it it was Mountain something the name was on the tip of his tongue, but he couldnt bring it forward. He shook his head, but decided theyd continue northeast and not bother to try to follow the trail any longer. They had to make time and he was going to take a gamble that the outlaws were holed up there. He came back down to the others and said, The area looks familiar to me. I remember seeing this on a map at the land office. Theres a small town in this direction I saw on the map. It was named Mountain somethin, but I cant remember the name. I think the outlaws are holed up there.
Jim Duncan nodded. Seems to me weve had people come into Diamond Springs occasionally from a town that was named Mountain somethin, but I cant recall the name either. Its been quite a long time since anyone from there has come into our town.
Hearing Jims comments and listening to what the Sheriff had to say, the other men in the posse agreed to follow Jalens lead. Okay Sheriff. Max Anderson said.
Cole looked at Jalen and asked, Are you pretty sure thats where they are and have taken Dawn and Dan there? The younger man gave Jalen a worried look.
Jalen went closer to his friends partner and put a hand on his shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Im about as sure as I can be Cole. Im goin to do my best to get them both back safe and sound.
Cole nodded. Okay Jalen, I trust you, but I cant help bein worried.
The older man nodded and squeezed Coles shoulder once more. I know, we all are Ill try not to let you down.
The young man nodded and took a deep breath. All right. I trust you Jalen.
The Sheriff smiled and said, Thank you, and lets ride on now.
As Jalen rode along he came across a grove of trees along the side of the trail and then grinned. Mountain Grove! He said out loud, happy that the grove of trees had triggered his memory and that he had remembered the name of the town. The town is Mountain Grove! He called to Jim and the others.
Cole smiled. He was glad Jalen remembered and also glad he was riding with him. Hopefully it wouldnt be much longer and theyd catch up to the robbers and rescue Dan and Dawn.
As they continued along Cole saw something on the side of the trail and stopped. Jalen! He called. Come look at this!
Jalen stopped and turned Liberty back to see what Cole wanted him to look at.
Cole showed Jalen some brown threads on a bramble bush. What do you make of that? He asked.
Jalen looked more closely and said softly, I do believe thats from a womans skirt or dress He called, Jim come look at this and tell me what you think?
Jim Duncan rode over and looked at what Cole and Jalen were looking at and smiled. I do believe we have a very wiley young lady. Its threads from a traveling skirt or dress. My guess is that Dawn has tried to leave us a trail.
Jalen nodded. One we can follow without getting lost. We should make good time now Im goin to signal Brett. If hes close enough to hear the rifle shots he should be able to join up with us soon Id rather we all were back together before we head into Mountain Grove and confront the robbers.
Cole smiled. Shes a smart lady Jalen.
Jalen smiled at Cole. That she is. He unsheathed his rifle from its holster on his saddle and pointing it up and away from the men fired off three shots.
Deputy Brett Montgomery and his men were making good time now, following the brown threads. He paused when he heard three rifle shots not too far off to the east of their location. Thats the Sheriff they want us to join them. Theyre not too far from us either from the sound of those shots. He told the others.
The other men nodded, surprised as well at how close the two posses were. They had all known about the agreed upon signal. Brett pulled out his rifle and also shot off three shots to let Jalen know hed heard the signal and they were on their way. He kicked his mount into a lope and the others followed.
Jalen was surprised to hear the acknowledged rifle shots so close. He looked back down the trail at the ones branching off and figured Brett and the men with him would end up meeting them from one of the trails. He waited and watched.
Brett loped along and all of a sudden came out onto a trail and was almost right in front of Jalen and pulled Spirit up short. Jalen! He cried and grinned.
Jalen shook his head at the young Deputy. Well, Im glad you didnt take your time. He teased.
Brett grinned. I was surprised to hear your shot so close to us. He told Jalen.
The Sheriff smiled. So was I when I heard your return shots.
Jalen led Brett over to the bramble bush and showed him the threads. We found these. I think Dawn is trying to leave a clear trail for us to follow.
Brett nodded. Yes, I know We found these on the trail too and have been followin them. Its why weve been able to make good time. We havent lost the trail once since we found them.
Jalen smiled. Well, thats good to know. It shouldnt take us long then to head for where were goin. Do you remember when we were lookin at the land maps to buy our place?
Bret nodded. Yes, I remember.
Do you remember off to the northeast of Diamond Springs a little town called Mountain Grove?
Brett nodded. I remember. I also remember seeing that name in the old files in the Sheriffs office.
Jalen nodded and smiled at his Deputy. Im proud you remembered that. I think thats where our bandits are holed up.
Brett looked at Jalen. Do you really think so?
Jalen nodded. Its the only place that makes sense. I think we should continue to follow the trail. I think it will lead us there.
Brett nodded. We can all make a lot better time now that we have an idea of where were goin.
Jalen nodded. Yes, I hope we arrive before it gets too dark.
Brett glanced up at the sun and nodded. I think we might.
Jalen smiled. Lets get goin then.
The Sheriff, Deputy and the reunited posse all continued to follow the trail and headed toward the tiny town of Mountain grove.
Hiram ODonnell was harvesting at the end of his field when he heard hoof beats coming fast. He hurried to gather his equipment to head toward the house. He didnt want to be harassed by the Falcon Raiders. They had done enough damage to his fields, trampling crops and stealing what they wanted. He quickly walked toward his team, ready to climb up and drive them to the barn.
As Jalen rode along the trail he noticed they were coming upon more and more farmland. As he and the posse rode along the trail they came upon a field of corn ready for harvesting. They rode fast now. Jalen, seeing a man walking away from the edge of the field pulled up Liberty and called Hello!
Hiram, hearing the call continued to walk away. He wasnt going to stop for the likes of that gang. They did nothing but harass and steal.
Jalen, seeing the man continue to walk on as though he hadnt heard called again. Hello Im Sheriff Jalen Brooks from Diamond Springs Id like to talk to you please!
Hiram hesitated at the words. He thought to himself, a Sheriff? He turned slightly to see the man. He didnt trust anyone and when he saw the posse with him almost turned once more and walked off.
The Sheriff, seeing the mans hesitation called again, Sir! Theres been a train robbery and Ive been trackin the outlaws Id like to talk to you.
Hiram hearing the Sheriffs words stopped once again. He turned around and studied the man who was speaking to him. He was young, tall and had a friendly look about him, but he still didnt trust him. What do you want with me? He asked.
Jalen, seeing the man was at least going to respond to him called, Id like to know if you know where the bandits stay. They have a woman and man who are citizens of my town and I mean to get them back and bring the robbers to justice. He said loudly enough for the man to hear.
Hiram studied the young Sheriff. He noticed that the man had told him his name, wasnt coming any closer, although he could have. He was respecting him; callin him Sir and not infringing on his property without being invited he nodded and then said, What do you need?
Jalen asked, Are you familiar with the bandits and do you have any idea where theyre holed up?
Hirams grey eyes narrowed a bit, and then he nodded. Yeah I can tell you.
Jalen nodded and kept his distance. Will you tell me? He asked.
Hiram studied the Sheriff once more. Youre really plannin to get rid of him once and for all?
Jalen nodded. Yes, if its within my ability and me and my men prevail, then yes, your town will be rid of them once and for all. Jalen said firmly and sincerely.
Hiram edged a bit closer to the Sheriff and said, You can follow the trail youre on. Youll come up on the town proper. Hes holed up in a couple of ramshackle houses on the edge of town. The leader lives in one with three of the men and the rest of them live in the other. Id guess theyd go to the one the leader stays in. He told Jalen.
The young Sheriff listened quietly and carefully. Cole, Brett and the others stayed on the trail quietly while Jalen spoke to the distrustful skittish man.
Jalen acknowledged the instructions and the information, but didnt press for more. Thank you Sir. He said.
Hiram said, The names Hiram O Donnell.
Jalen said, Thank you Mr. ODonnell. Your help has been greatly appreciated. I hope we can rid your town of these outlaws so you can all live a more normal life.
Hiram nodded. Well see I hope you can do as you say Sheriff.
Jalen nodded. I do too. Thank you again for your help.
Hiram gave a curt nod.
Jalen signaled the men and he rode off along the trail.