The Obsidian Serpent
Book #2 in the Pigeon-toed Horse series, follows Collin Mitchell as he investigates a strange disappearance high in the Wasatch Mountains. It’s the fall of 1868. Two men are missing, and the ghosts of long forgotten conquistadors haunt the hills above the small mountain town of Heber City. Rumors of Spanish gold permeate the atmosphere of the town, drawing outlaws and treasure hunters in a desperate hunt for Aztec gold. And in the foothills south of Heber City, a grisly scene of murder and greed begins to unfold as Collin Mitchell hunts the aspen forest in search of a killer and the treasure of the Obsidian Serpent.
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Wasatch Mountains —22 September, 1868
Collin Mitchell slapped a four-inch long ironclad from his pant leg and watched as the big grasshopper tumbled wildly for a moment then snapped its wings open and clattered off into the brush. The insect’s twin rumbled past his ear, and Mitchell felt a sudden foreboding. He reined the dun gelding to a halt, spinning the animal one-hundred and eighty degrees. The dark cloud filling the western sky was nearly upon them.
“Ironclads!” He bellowed.
Sarah Mitchell started from the uneasy dream of Aztecs and the Spanish siege of Tenochtitlan, yanked hard on the reins, and dragged the team to a halt. Before she could move, her motley-colored dog leaped from the wagon’s seat and pounced on the nearest insect. Quickly, she locked down the brake and began closing-up the canvas at the front of the wagon.
Mitchell slid from the saddle, dropped a loop over the dun’s head and tied the end of the rope to the rear wheel of the wagon. “Help me get the tarps out!”
At Mitchell’s yell, Daniel Pratt spun his own mount and raced back to the wagon, arriving just as Mitchell dumped the rolled canvas from the bed of the wagon. “Throw one over the team and tie it off somehow,” he told the kid. “That horde will be on top of us in no time.”
The Pratt kid dragged one tarp to the front of the wagon and fought the canvas until Mitchell grabbed one corner and helped drag it forward, covering the team. The team shifted uneasily at the sudden change in their situation. The four saddle horses were even less amenable and struggled in the confinement of the canvas, but Mitchell ignored their stamping feet, tossed the dog into the wagon, and climbed in behind the Pratt kid.
Inside the wagon, Sarah and had barely snugged down the last of the ties when the heavy insects began pelting the wagon like a living hail storm. The sound grew to a continuous roar as insects by the thousands hammered the canvas.
In the dimness, Mitchell watched both women closely. Neither seemed overly concerned as the insects pounded against the canopy. “Tell me about that letter again,” he suggested, hoping to divert their attention from the plague hammering the canvas walls.
“Lynne Campbell wrote it,” Sarah said, raising her voice over the sound of the insects. “She heard how you found Melinda Tolson.”
“That was only two weeks ago,” Mitchell objected. “How did she hear about that, way up in Heber City?”
“Lynne’s father was in Ogden the same time we were,” Susan replied. “He told everyone in town when he got home last week.”
Sarah, the older of the two sisters, brushed at her hair with one hand. Again, Mitchell noted how alike the two women were. Had it not been for the difference in age, the sisters might easily be taken for twins.
“Lynne sent the letter as soon she could,” Sarah added. “She wants you to find her missing fiancé.”
“Probably got cold feet and run off,” the Pratt kid suggested. In the dimness, his close-cropped hair stood like a tangled crop of weeds on top of his head.
Susan frowned and shook her head. “Lynne doesn’t believe he would do that,” she argued. “They’ve known each other for a long time and they’ve made some definite plans. She says that’s why Aaron was going down to Salt Lake. He was going to pick up a stove and a few other things for the house he was building.”
“How long ago did he disappear?” Mitchell asked.
“A little over a year ago,” she answered. “Lynne says she just fell into a routine of watching and waiting for him to come back. Weeks passed, and she started to panic. Finally, she went to the county sheriff. But winter hit the town hard and no one could get through to Provo or Salt Lake until spring. The sheriff finally told her there just wasn’t anything he could do.”
“Then some boys found a human skull,” Sarah chimed in. “That got her wound up all over again. And when the sheriff told her it was just an old Indian skull, she decided to have you find Aaron so she can get on with her life.”
Mitchell frowned. “A year is a long time,” he muttered. “He could be anywhere, if he’s even alive.”
With a rolled up newspaper, Susan knocked an ironclad senseless and shoved the stunned insect under the edge of the canvas wall. “Lynne doesn’t expect a miracle,” she argued. “She decided months ago that their relationship was over. She just wants to know what happened.”
Sarah adjusted the wick of the kerosene lamp and leaned back against a stack of folded blankets. “Lynne says the Stokes family has tried to find their son, but the family has a farm to take care of, and they’ve only been able to spend a few days searching since spring. She says they’re frustrated and unhappy with the sheriff.”
Susan leaned back against the rolled up tent, rubbing the dog’s black and gray speckled ears. “The sheriff isn’t happy either,” she added. “He told Lynne the boy got cold feet. Just like Daniel said.”
“It ain’t that hard to believe,” Daniel muttered defensively.
“But he never came back for his belongings,” Sarah concluded quietly, “and he left a small bag of gold with Lynne.”
Mitchell looked up, and the smile left his face. “Gold?”
“Just a small bag of ore,” Sarah said quietly. “Wire gold mixed with quartz.”
“Gold’s like stink on a polecat,” Mitchell growled. “Find some, and folks can smell it for miles. Someone’s probably killed him for it.”
South of Heber City … near The Obsidian Serpent
- New Western Novels (jtflemingbooks.wordpress.com)