OK, I was lost. That is, I knew I was North of the cow camp nine or ten miles, but I’d never seen this particular piece of prairie before and finding wagon tracks way out here just got my curiosity goin. The tracks were dim, maybe two weeks old, but clear enough to follow. Me and Hammerhead (my old roan) were amblin along watching clouds build up in the West. The day was getting gone pretty quick and I was startin to think about turning around, when we topped a little rise and saw a mighty strange sight.

  The first thing I noticed was the trees. There was Oaks and Cottonwoods and big Elms. They were all real old and seemed to be protecting the dilapidated old buildings all huddled in a bunch underneath. The odd thing was that even the Elms, which usually grow pretty straight, were crooked and bent. Every limb looked like it was about to throw a punch.

  The ‘town’ was made up of ten buildings in all; six on one side of where the street had been, and four on the other. None of them was taller than one story, kinda squatting like a bunch of stubborn old dogs. There were sheds and out-buildings, all of which looked like they were tired of standing there.

  I dismounted and led Hammerhead between the buildings. I think he was as spooked by the place as I was. It looked like the trees kept the place in shadow all the time, except maybe high noon. My horse began to shy and pitch his head. Now, a horse smells things and hears things a lot better than a man, and I had learned to listen up when he acted like that. I figured there was a wildcat or something hiding out there, so I reached in my saddlebag and got my Colt. I shoved it in my belt just as ole Hammerhead came to a halt and whinnied. We were in front of the last building on the East side, and something told me whatever was bothering him was in there. I tied him to a porch post and pulled my gun. Stepping lightly, I crossed the rickety old porch and eased open the door.

  The place must have been a mercantile or general store. There was a long counter along one side and shelves along both walls. The room was long and narrow. A dusty old printing machine way in the back was the only occupant. As I got close to the machine I noticed a trap door right next to it. The dust on the floor had been disturbed around that door, almost as if someone had tried to cover up footprints!

  Right about then a little voice in my head was saying “Don’t interfere with something that ain't bothering you none.? Outside, the wind had picked up considerable and things were rattling and banging. There was a moaning sound coming from the trees that made my flesh tingle. In spite of all that, I found myself lifting that trapdoor. I just couldn’t help myself. The door was counter-weighted, so it stood open. The light outside was failing, and I was looking into a black hole in the floor. I pulled a box of matches from my shirt pocket, lit one, and headed down the stairs.

  When I reached the bottom, I was standing on a concrete floor. The match burned my finger so I threw it down and lit another. I could see chairs and a table and some things covered up with blankets. On the table was a kerosene lantern. I applied my match to it, and it lit! Now I was able to see the room pretty well. It was about twenty feet square, and I saw right away someone had been there recently. This made me plenty nervous, but I was in too deep to back out now. I lifted the blanket on one of the objects. It was another printing machine, only newer than the one upstairs. There were metal plates on one end, and on those plates was the image of a hundred dollar bill! Somebody was making money down here the easy way, and I knew right now I didn’t want to know who.

  I turned around to go and found myself looking down the cold bore of the biggest handgun I’d ever seen, in the hand of the biggest woman I’d ever seen! She must’ve weighed three eighty, and I swear her eyes were glowing red!

  “Cowboy,? she said “you just made one awful big mistake.?
END OF CHAPTER I 
GHOST TOWN - CHAPTER ONE
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