Dawson City, Yukon, during the Klondike
The horse sped by and kicked up chunks of manure that struck the front of Albin’s Mackinaw jacket. He shook a fist at the rider and blued the air with curses. His foul mood further soured as he slogged along the muck-slimed boardwalk to Heaven’s Hearth Inn. He began to contemplate the madness that had driven him to come here. All the best claims had been staked.
Hen cackles pierced his thoughts, just seconds before he heard the rattle of glass panes. The front door of The Gilded Bruin Saloon had smacked against the outside wall after being given a hard shove.
A young bull, his massive head squished into a wide-brimmed hat stumbled outside. His twiggy sidekick was slung over a granite outcrop shoulder like the strap on a haversack.
A pair of scurvy-plagued down-and-outers, one draped in a threadbare horse blanket that fell across pyramid shoulders, the other, a gargoyle with moth eaten gloves that exposed frost bitten digits, pleaded with the corned louts for a handout.
The sidekick waved a boney arm dismissively, slurred them to eternal damnation and ordered them to pull foot.
The bovine, however, whispered in his ear and gave him a wink. His partner chuckled before his mouth curved into a crescent moon.
“Can you stand, Tom?” It was a rhetorical question because Tom was dumped onto the porch before he could answer. He wobbled on new-born fawn legs and had to grab the nearest awning post.
“Ya gotta ‘nuff dust Gabe?”
Gabe nodded. “Plenty.” He squeezed a meaty hand into his pocket and pulled out a caribou-hide poke, after opening the draw strings, his sausage fingers removed a pinch of gold flakes. “You ready for some fun!” He winked and tossed them into the filthy spittoon beside the door.
The beggars raced for the spittoon, shoving, and punching each other, they knocked it over, spilling the vile liquid over the porch. The pair landed in a heap and continued to battle with the ferocity of feral cats, alternatively clawing at the opponent’s eyes and the liquid. The philistines howled with delight.
Disgusted, Albin averted his gaze. The fires of Hell were being stoked for these two. God’s wrath would fall upon those who made a mockery of starvation. His eye caught something that confirmed the Creator’s justice and His benevolence towards Albin. Something glittered in the muck, just an inch from the porch. The fool had unwittingly dropped a significant amount of gold. The combatants were entangled, and the devils were too drunk. Temptation called for immediate action, but Job came to mind . . . patience was always rewarded.
The wait had the lifespan of a sneeze. The gasping corpses tired quickly and agreed to an even split. Both ruffians gave a final whoop and stumbled off, no doubt on the prowl for harlots.
Albin moved swiftly, scooping the gold, he placed it in his red handkerchief. The Lord certainly does work in mysterious ways. As in everything, this had happened for a reason. The gift wouldn’t be squandered, he knew what to do.
He entered the den of iniquity. At first, the patrons took little notice of the large man in the filthy coat, but as Albin wandered past the bar, even the most inebriated threw him looks of revulsion. He side-stepped a painted lady who straddled her client’s lap. She wrinkled her nose and demanded the head of whomever had let this pig inside.
Albin paid no heed to any of them. His focus remained fixed on the vault style door at the far end of the room. A solid slab of oak, it was leagues out of character with the typical match-stick construction that littered this shanty town. The most impenetrable portal in Dawson, complete with a heavy deadbolt, its only weakness was a small peephole. Behind it was the fortified lair of Dawson’s Klondike King, Karl Jackson.
The door wasn’t the only thing barring unsolicited entry. Two behemoths stood guard, both armed with Smith and Wesson revolvers. The one on the left appeared to be around thirty. He fell three inches short of Albin’s six-foot-two stature, but every square inch rippled with muscle. His hair was black as Satan’s heart, heavily coated with Macassar Oil and parted just above the left eye, one of a pair that were darker than a mine shaft. His face would have caused a swoon among the fairer sex, had those peepers been less soulless.
His back up had an extra inch of height and an equal portion of muscle. Close-cropped brown hair spiked above hazel eyes that signaled a generally docile disposition that would turn murderous if provoked or commanded to do so by Jackson. Probably mid to late thirties, but the weathered face, and the sizeable scar under the left eye suggested the accelerated aging of a hard life.
A phantom hand gripped Albin’s stomach and he questioned if this truly was God’s plan. He slowed his gait to a shuffle and prayed silently and swiftly for guidance and deliverance. The effect was immediate; a surge of confidence that removed doubt and relieved pain.
There were two powerful motives to see this ordeal through. One practical, the other was the need to lay eyes on a beast who profited from misery and death.
The guards had noticed him, and Albin sensed the entire patronage holding its collective breath. All were hungry for blood. The door men sized him up. How must he appear? A big man covered in horse crap with a wild look in his eyes, headed straight for them.
In unison, their hands moved to rest on their pistols. Neither displayed emotion beyond amused curiosity. The reach for the guns was purely instinctual. No morale code would prevent them from killing him, as one might a pesky rat, but shooting would be bad for business, so unless he made a grievous error, he should remain on this side of eternity.
Albin raised his hands to show that he was unarmed. The larger man nodded and relaxed his grip, but Macassar Oil repeatedly clenched and unclenched the pistol butt. His ambivalence stretched Albin’s nerves.
“Whoa there, partner. Where do you think you’re going?” Mister “docile” stepped forward and raised a hand the size of a Clydesdale hoof, the other had returned to roost on the pistol. His voice had the quality of one who gargled with stones on a daily basis.
Albin came to an abrupt halt, arms still vertical. “I’m requesting an audience with your boss.”
To be continued . . .