Townsend emptied the pouch of gravel across the papers on which his partner had been diligently working. “It’s there,” he announced with quiet satisfaction.
Peter Mulloney spread the dust and gravel into a smooth layer, picking up a small nugget and holding it to the sun. His wide-brimmed hat hid his face in shadow, but a flicker lit the green of his eyes before he laid the nugget back on the table. “We’d better be certain the vein runs deep. Mountains don’t come cheap.”
Despite the rough appearance of his leather vest and faded denims, Mulloney spoke with a cultured accent that betrayed his Eastern origins. “Get your shovel. I think you’ve just found a surface layer. The good stuff will be deeper.”
The two men hoisted their tools and their packs and strode off into the rocks and evergreens, leaving behind their tent and supplies. The men were of equal height, but Townsend was the elder and carried a thicker weight around his middle. A bristly brown mustache hid half his face and a Mexican sombrero hid most of the rest. He looked almost disreputable compared to the Easterner with his clean-shaven, square jaw and immaculate Stetson. A closer look, however, revealed a clear, steady gaze beneath Townsend’s sombrero. The grim expression on Mulloney’s visage was that of a man on the edge of hell.
The next morning, Mulloney packed his saddlebags while Townsend set about moving camp.
“I can dig enough to buy the whole damned mountain in three months,” Townsend protested as he collapsed the tent.
“You go down there and try to pay the loan off with gold, and the old man will change his mind. He’ll know damned well where we got it. Right now he just thinks I’m a greenhorn with too much money and a bee in my bonnet about raising mustangs. Let’s just keep him thinking that. You know what happens when word gets out about gold. There’s enough money left to buy whatever you need until I get back. Just don’t use the gold for anything.”
Townsend nodded impatiently. “I don’t know where you’re going to find the kind of cash he’s asking for this place. You’d better have a money tree somewhere. I figure he’s making a living off what people pay him just to hold the damned mountain for three months, then when they can’t come up with the balance, he runs them off and sells it to the next one in line. It’s a pretty good con.”
“I can’t imagine anyone stupider than us trying to buy a mountain,” Mulloney said, testing the saddle straps. “We might even talk him down when the time comes. You just mine that gold while I find the money. Once we pay off the loan, there won’t be a damned thing he can do when we start hauling out gold. I think I can find investors willing to risk that kind of easy return.”
“It’s likely to be a deep mine. We’ll need timbers and labor and machinery to get at the mother lode,” Townsend warned.
This time, it was Mulloney who nodded impatiently. “We’ll buy them with what you’re going to dig out while I’m gone. I know this end of the business, Townsend. Are you sure you’ll be all right out here alone?”
Townsend made a rude noise. “Better off by myself than with some Greedy Gus who’ll stab me in the back first chance he gets. We’ve been through enough, Mulloney. We’ve got the right idea this time. Just us and nobody else. Just don’t forget I’m out here while you’re playing up to the girls.”
Mulloney managed a wry grin that almost transformed his hardened features into that of a real human rather than a grim statue. “There isn’t a woman alive who’s going to make me forget that gold. If I’m lucky, I’ll be back before you’ve got the first batch processed.”