Ace of Diamonds
Click on image to enlarge.
by Bruce Thorstad
Category: Historical Fiction
Description: The fourth installment of Bruce H. Thorstad's boisterous "Gents" series finds incorrigible scoundrels Cass McCasland and Riley Stokes in another lawless town and another heady situation. This time it's the mining village of Buckshot, Colorado, where the boys hope to find fortune in the underground caves belonging to Riley's Uncle Rufus. But once they arrive, they realize that their get-rich-quick scheme has turned into a get-suited-up challenge for their wits and their baseball skills. When Uncle Rufus' mine floods, the only way to save it--and their hides--is to win the big game against the Jersey Invincibles--a ball team in from the East with their throwing arms ready and their noses in the air. The Invincibles are serious challengers and the game is looking like a lose-lose situation, unless the Gents can pull off one of their signature miracle plays!
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, 1994
eBookwise Release Date: February 2009
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [428 KB]
Reading time: 243-340 min.
"Riley Stokes and Cass McCasland, ex-Union and Confederat soldier knockabouts, gamblers and dreamers, really are gents of the Old West?likable and memorable." -Dale L. Walker, The Rocky Mountain News "Thorstad wraps a keenly honed phrasing, engaging characters, and a pervasive, Twain-like sense of humor around a fast-paced plot?A fresh approach to a classic genre." -Cameron Judd "In The Gents, Bruce Thorstad has woven a complicated plot through which a whole mess of characters-good, bad, and ugly- ride. Read The Gents. You won't forget any of them." -Robert J. Conley "Bruce Thorstad offers us a great read, and breathtaking authenticity, based not only on careful research but an intuitive understanding of how things were?This is a grand book by an author who is destined for the top. Readers are going to treasure every page of The Gents and when they reach the last sentence they'll rush out to buy Thorstad's other books. He's that good." -Richard S. Wheeler
1 * Courting the Mark
"THWACK!" WENT THE BAT. THE BALL SHOT STRAIGHT INTO THE hands of the second baseman, where it stuck like glue. Supporters of the Leadville Lions yelled their heads off. On Buckshot's side of the baseline, all folks did was sigh.
Not me, though. My hinder warmed an empty dynamite crate. One eye I held squinted against the lowering sun. The other eye was not a whole lot busier. If I was lazing, dozing the day away, it was because baseball was Riley's passion, Riley's and his uncle's. It sure as hell wasn't mine.
The inning was the ninth, and Riley's team--the home team--was two runs down, already the owners of a pair of outs, and could not scrape up a base runner to save their souls. The last hopes of the Buckshot Rockies were poised to drop down the ol' privy hole. But then, so what?
Sweating vinegar over the outcome of a ball game was pure foolishness in my view. Oh, showing our bewildered English investor a hometown victory might've been nice enough. Success, I reckon, is always impressive.
But I was savvy enough to keep perspective. The truth was, our mission over the last few days had been to squire Mr. Roger Prescott, Esquire, the Englishman mentioned above and a bona fide moneybags, down the main shaft and into the drifts of the Testament Mine, or at least down as low as the flooding waters would let us. Meanwhile we talked potential, we talked opening new veins of silver, we talked of all the wonders that would be possible if only we could raise thirty thousand dollars, buy pumping equipment, and pump the Testament dry of the water that kept leaking into her.
When we weren't escorting Prescott through the mine itself, we were guiding him around the environs of Buckshot, a town that had two-bit stamped all over it, and introducing him to half her citizenry.
For Prescott, you see, was an investor. He was money incarnate. He held the town's future, you might say, in the fold of his wallet. He was also immaculately and expensively dressed, high-toned in manner, and sported manicured fingernails.
Of which the wonder was that this repository of cultivation and education professed to be delighted with just about everything we showed him. Hand him an assay sample and he'd treat it like diamonds. Buy him lunch in some flyspeck eatery and he'd exclaim over home cooking.
As for undeniable eyesores, of which Buckshot had plenty, Prescott didn't seem to see them. Or if he did, they merely put him in mind of something pleasant or interesting. Like that very morning, the three of us strolling down from the Mother Lode Saloon to the ball field, when a dog so scabied it looked like it'd been scalped crossed our paths. Was Prescott disgusted? Not so's you'd notice. He merely launched into the merits of breeding Airedales. It was like maybe our scabied mutt had a pedigree and a history of fox hunting.
"Cass," Riley hissed at me behind Prescott's back. Riley's expression was scowly.
"What?" At the plate, Gabe McClintock, the Rockies' catcher, bustled to the batsman's box, spat on his hands, shifted his tobacco from one cheek to the other, then thumped the plate. That's baseball for you--strong on buildup, weak on action.
"Let me give you a couple pointers on bat handling," Riley said.
"Just come over here," Riley said, letting some irritation show. "Mr. Prescott, if you'll excuse us...?"
"Strategy of the game, is it?" our Englishman said. "By all means."
Gabe McClintock let a fat pitch arc past him for a called strike. Riley groaned as he led me a few steps behind the ball field's inner sanctum, the half circle of chicken wire forming the backstop. On his way, he picked up a bat.
"What in the world...?" I said. "Don't tell me you're expecting me to play?"
"I'm worried you're forgetting our guest," Riley said, and to show how strongly he felt about it, he cut the air with the bat. Whoosh!
"Not at all," I said.
"The Englishman's our best prospect and you know it," Riley said, letting out exasperation.
"You're antsy as an old maid. Prescott's in the bag. Why worry?"
"Don't be too sure."
"As for your precious ball game, he claims he's enjoying himself," I said. "Beats me as to why. You ask me, it's boring."
"He claims that on account of he's polite," Riley said. "Anyhow, it wouldn't kill you to talk about the mine while you're watching. You know, reassure him."
"Look," I said, "when it comes to courting a mark, I wrote the book."
"A mark?" Riley said, getting outraged. "Dang it, McCasland, this is legitimate business, not one of your swindles."
"Same thing, more or less," I said. "The man's got money and we want it." Riley's scowl deepened. "Look, you hammer too much about business," I said, "you start sounding desperate."
We paused to watch Gabe McClintock study another fat pitch. "Strike two!" Reverend Righteous said.
"What in hell's Gabe want?" Riley groused.
"Relax," I said, taking my pard's shoulder. "Prescott's already sold. In a few minutes the train comes in. We introduce Prescott to your uncle. We feed everybody a nice dinner, then we sit back and sign some papers."
"What can go wrong?" I asked. "So smile. Don't give Prescott the notion we're arguing."
Riley tried on a smile that looked as stiff as if on a cigar-store Indian. We traipsed back to our dynamite boxes. The Englishman, in bowler hat, a splendid morning coat, striped pants, and a maroon cravat, hadn't budged. His face held a smile, a genuine one. The man was a treasure, a sharper's dream. Hell, he was worth two of Riley's uncle's danged Testament Mines all by himself.
"Looks like the game's about over, Mr. Prescott," Riley said, working hard at sounding cheerful. "Hope you haven't found it tiresome."
"On the contrary," Prescott spouted. Out on the field there was a minor miracle: Gabe McClintock socked the next pitch over the shortstop's head. The whole town of Buckshot jolted noisily awake.
"I'm enjoying myself immensely," Prescott added, having to shout over the rising din. "The azure sky, the vast openness of this high valley ... the selfsame openness, by the by, that I find in your western American."
"Really?" Riley said. He was wall-eyed, looking at Prescott and the game at the same time.
On the field, McClintock rounded first base, saw the ball relayed from the outfield, and wisely held up.
I threw in, "Us frontier types can be a friendly bunch, all right."
"Indeed," Prescott said. "One hears so much about the American democratic spirit. I find it particularly evident here in the West."
With the crowd quieting in expectation, I noted Blackjack Butler weaving his way to the plate, a player who'd been drinking since the second inning. Riley said over Prescott's shoulder, "Cass, I think Mr. Prescott's buttering us up."
"Why, not a bit," Prescott said. "Take these fellows at the ball match, now--miners and tradesmen all, I shouldn't wonder. Yet they look one in the eye and speak up as one's equal. So, of course, that is how one must take them."
"Hell, yes," I said. "They'd get sore otherwise."
Bleary-eyed Blackjack Butler got his first pitch and mashed it manfully into foul territory. A collective groan was hauled out of the home crowd. Leadville supporters hollered derision right back.
"Our British distinctions of class and so on can be damnably tedious," Prescott said. "Here in your country, I find it refreshing on occasion just to, um, rub elbows." He finished with a powerful laugh, surprising himself.
"Mr. Prescott," Riley said, his face taking on a shine, "you want to rub elbows, Buckshot's the place."
"Oh, I think so," Prescott agreed, and chortled again.
Blackjack Butler watched a pitch go by at earlobe level, which in frontier-style play was close enough. "Strike two," Reverend Righteous said.
"Speaking of democratic spirit," Riley said, and gave me a wink behind Prescott's back to show he was concentrating on money and not baseball. "If the train ever gets here, you'll finally meet my uncle. He's as common as they come. Likes to make out he's a tough customer, but that's all show. The fact is, he likes everybody."
"Excellent," Prescott said. "The prototypical westerner."
Just as we all glanced back at the game, a sound exploded--whock!--a marriage of leather and wood, and the ball shot out past the infield. The Buckshot crowd sucked in its breath, then erupted into frenzy.
"Go!" Riley hollered. Blackjack Butler charged toward first base. Leadville's right fielder gaped at the rising ball, then turned and galumphed deeper into the outfield in clumsy miner's boots. As the ball streaked past him, he chased it in full panic.
"Home!" Riley screamed. "Home, you ninny!"
Prescott held his palms to his ears. Gabe McClintock loped around third. The ball rebounded off the board fence and disappeared into weeds. The Leadville right fielder hunted frantically, then grabbed it up. As McClintock capered across home plate, the outfielder's throw was to second base, calculated to nail the galloping Blackjack Butler.
"Slide!" Riley yelled. So did almost everybody else. Butler set himself horizontally, miner's boots leading, a human missile aimed at the second-base bag. There was a collision of objects: the sliding batsman, the second baseman, the ball. Their meeting threw up enough dust to hide a courthouse.
But when it drifted, Blackjack Butler lay hugging the busted bag, while the second baseman was left with no more than loose straw to step on. "Safe!" came the reverend's verdict.
The home crowd, grasping the improved situation, put their voices into it, whooping like redskins. They fired volleys of pistol shots. They sailed up hats in flocks.
"For Pete's sakes, I'm up," Riley said in real surprise. Prescott, good fellow to his bone marrow, slapped Riley's back. With the celebration dinning around him, my partner got up and picked himself out a hand-whittled bat.