The Lost Gold of Chuckwalla County
A VERY SINGULAR PERFORMANCE
FEW there were in Battle Mountain who had not heard tell of the lovely women who walked through the doors of “Silent Sam’s Scorpion Saloon”, one dusty day in late May. Indeed, there were several among the rough crew there that day, who recognized her from her youth, when she was known only for her lyrical voice and not for her desperate ways.
A low murmur of "Ruby" ran through the hall as the woman entered, proving that she was recognized by more than one. For, the beauty was, in fact, none other than the notorious, silver-voiced, bandit queen, known throughout the great Western basin territory as Ruby McFane!
In previous days, folk the length and breadth of the silver state had ‘oft heard Miss McFane’s melodious trills floating from the stage of the Golden Sagebrush Musical Hall. Among the denizens of Battle Mountain grouped round Sam’s counter that day, the desperado Texas Tom was one that recognized the woman’s comely visage and alluring form. Tom had formerly thrived in Virginia City, before taking in Austin and Battle Mountain, and he’d enjoyed many a pleasurable evening in the velvet-covered seats of that famed theatre.
Miss McFane had changed but little since she’d graced the boards singing her paeans to the Mockingbird and her romantic tunes of times past. Though rumors abounded in regards to her nefarious outlawed activities, her speech, mannerisms and dress continued to be those of a lady. Her curls were still the characteristic red-gilt of a Nevada gold nugget and she continued to move with a regal simplicity that was unique to her. Her buff-colored linen outfit, though suited to desert trails was neat and tidy. If there was any change it was in the sterner expression of her sad blue eyes.
Crude though the mining crowd might be, no man spoke disrespectfully. Yet they also made no move to include her in their lot. Ruby stopped before the rough-hewn counter and dropped a finely tooled leather pouch full of jingling coin before Sam.
"Yes it is I, Ruby McFane!" she stated boldly. "I can see I am not unknown even in this foul den. Better perhaps is it so, for you will have a clearer idea with whom you must deal. I depend on you good fellows, to tell me where The Dark Unknown may be found. I am sure you will say that you’ve seen him not, but I shall never be content with that tale. He told me to meet me here. I had it from him in a missive written over a week since, and I well know that he is one who holds to his obligations."
"An' so you’re wantin' him, eh?" Texas Tom grunted, from his perch on one end of the bar. "S'pose likely you're a pard o' his'n aire yah?"
“No partner, but see him I must,” she retorted in calm tones.
It was at that moment that Ginger Johnson peeked out from behind the screen that separated the public from the kitchen quarters. No comely coquette was she. Unlike the fair Ruby, the kitchen maid’s outfit had seen better days. Her heavily patched homespun garments were not only well-worn, they were stained with the grease of many a cook fire, and far from clean. Ginger pushed a dusky curl impatiently back from her brow with a care-worn hand, and studied Miss McFane in a decidedly unfriendly manner.
“What’s a dainty darlin’ like you donin’ here?” Ginger inquired boldly. “You should be croonin’ lyrics to the toffs who’ve come over Paiute Pass.”
“I cannot speak of my reasons, but see him I must,” Ruby stated. “And if I must pay to learn his location,” she pushed her leather bag towards the other woman, “then here is my due.”
This is the beginning of a low-brow dime novel, that the folks in my adventure-romance novel, FOOLS GOLD, are reading. And they're picking up clues to help them out with some of their own problems.
* * *
This story continues in the May radio-style podcast episode of "Unpolished Performances"
Download this audio show directly from the iTunes store with this link (or search the iTunes store with the term 'unpolished performances')
You can also listen to the streaming version of the show on the web at
* * *