“Justin, finally!” Mitch exclaimed as he stood up and walked over to the door of the cell. “I’ve only been in here about ten minutes, and I’m already ready to leave.”
“Well, well, well. It looks like you two have got yourselves into a predicament,” Justin said with a smile.
“Never knew it was criminal to protect one's sister,” Chad muttered.
“Protecting is not. But I’m afraid starting a fight is,” Justin said as Sheriff Tate unlocked the cell.
“See, all we needed was a good lawyer, Mitch,” Chad joked.
Mitch nodded. “He does come in handy.”
“Now, what was that you came busting into my office about?” Justin asked as they left the jail.
“That fellow, the same one who was messin’ with Melinda, he came and told everyone who was working in Chinatown to stop.”
“That’s right,” Mitch chimed in. “He said he’d been sent down by the State to find a place where a new ditch could be built to help with the flooding problems. Then he said the ditch was going to be dug right in Chinatown. We thought you could look into it.”
“Hey, where is he, anyway?” Chad asked, realizing for the first time the second cell had been empty when he passed it.
“Sheriff Tate said that someone had come in and bailed him out,” Justin replied.
“Where’s Melinda?” This time it was Mitch who asked the question.
“She's back at the office. Lucy was trying to calm her down when I left. She was pretty shook up.”
“Sorry for interrupting you earlier today,” Chad apologized.
“There’s no harm done. Let’s head over to the depot. I’ll send a wire to Sacramento and ask about . . . What did you say his name is?”
“Ben Rodgers,” Chad growled. “But I say his name is 'trouble.'”
“Oh, don’t be too harsh, Chad. Wait until I get a reply,” Justin admonished.
“And while we’re there, we can see if there’s a letter from Andi,” Mitch reminded them
“Ben Rodgers does not exist,” Justin said dropping the telegram on his desk. “At least, he doesn’t exist as far as the State is concerned. Furthermore, the State has no plans to dig a ditch . . . or any other kind of irrigation or drainage here in Fresno, as helpful as that idea maybe.” He sighed and sat down in the chair behind his desk.
“I knew it!" Chad exclaimed. “Now we can get him out of here.”
“Now, hold on a minute, big brother,” Mitch interrupted. “Why in the world would he be here cooking up some big story about an irrigation ditch? He’s got to have some reason to be in Fresno. And why would he want to run the Chinese off their property?”
“Because he wants their land.” Justin sat up as though he suddenly had had an idea. “The Chinese aren’t legally protected by the United States, sadly. They could be run off any time, and as long as it was by the 'government,' no one would question it.”
“But why would anyone want that part of town?” Chad asked. “It’s not like it’s useful. It’s not more than five acres and tucked away on the edge of town. It’s not like they could do much there.”
“Unless it’s a cover-up to hide something.” This time it was Melinda who spoke. Lucy had gone home less than an hour ago, followed shortly by Tim, leaving the Carters alone.
“The other man, the one who came in the alley, had you ever seen him before?”
Melinda shook her head. “I’d never met either of them. There was something about the first man, Ben, that didn’t seem right. He was friendly, too friendly, but his eyes kept darting around as though he was hiding from something or someone.”
“This isn’t making much sense,” Chad admitted. “Why in the world would someone go to all this trouble just to hide something?”
“Wait.” Mitch suddenly sat up and turned to Chad. “Why don’t we go down to the depot and see if there have been any unusual shipments coming into Fresno. If they’re planning on hiding something, they had to have gotten it here one way or another. The agent there would know.”
“But who would be crazy enough to ship it on the train? Surely they would have suspected that someone may catch on.”
“It’s a long shot, but it’s a good idea,” Justin said. “You two can go do that, while Melinda and I go see Sheriff Tate. He needs to be notified about this.”
“Will, has there been any unusual shipments coming in lately?” Chad asked as he and Mitch entered the depot.
Will, looked up. “Well hello, Chad, Mitch. Unusual shipments? What exactly do you mean?”
“Oh, you know. Anything out of the ordinary. Shipments that don’t usually come into Fresno,” Mitch explained.
Will scratched his head. “Unusual shipment. Well, now that you mention it, there have been some crates coming in pretty regularly lately. We’ve had then back in the store room because there were no instructions on where to send them. But then today a man come in and said they were all his. They matched the name on the shipping labels so I took him to them. There were a couple dozen of them. Like I said, they’ve been coming in pretty regularly.”
Chad and Mitch glanced at each other, but it was Chad who asked the obvious question. "Where’d he take them?”
“Not quite sure. He came in about an hour ago. Had two other guys with them and they loaded them into the wagons and drove off.”
“What was his name?”
Will shuffled through some of the papers on the desk. “Here it is. Ben Rodgers. Said he was someone from the State. Rumor around town has it he’s been evicting the Chinese from Chinatown 'cause the state’s planning to build a ditch. Boy, it sure will help when the creeks all overflow!”
“Thank you for the information, Will,” Mitch said as they hurried out of the depot.
“Well, what's that tell you?” Chad asked as they hurried toward the sheriffs office.
“It tells me we better go and talk to Justin. . . and the sheriff.”
They had started down the boardwalk when Chad suddenly pressed himself flat against the front of the depot and drew his pistol out of the holster.
“What is it?” Mitch whispered
Chad put a finger to his lips. Then Mitch heard it too: voices talking in the alley behind the depot.
“Something’s wrong . . . the gold needs hid . . . not yet!”
Suddenly one voice became clear. It was one they both recognized.
“I’ve got us this far, and I’ll take us to the end. Now that we’ve got those Chinese moving out, we’ll have all their land to ourselves. If you haven’t noticed, they’re almost already gone.”
“What good is that gonna do us? We won’t be here more than a day. Why did we have to make this such a big deal? Everyone in the town is going to expect us to start digging the ditch.”
“And we will start digging . . .but not for the ditch. As soon as we get this buried tomorrow night we’ll leave; send a message that the State decided to quit the project. But this gold has got to be hidden and forgotten about. It’s been fifteen years since the the Confederate states lost the War. I’m tired of the headache of it. As soon as it’s buried, we can forget about it and get on with living. And the other gold? Well, I figure we can take out enough to live comfortably and then hide the rest.”
“And what about the Chinese?”
“Your conscience starting to bother you? As soon as they realize we’re not going to build the ditch they can all come back. Until then, I say good riddance.”
Chad turned to Mitch. “Get Justin and the sheriff. I’ll stay here.”
Mitch nodded, replaced the gun in his holster, and quietly hurried off the boardwalk. The sun was beginning to set, and the night air was cool in contrast to the hot day it had been.
Mitch opened the door to the sheriff's office.
“Justin, Sheriff Tate,” he called out. “The men are in the alley behind the depot.
Sheriff Tate and Justin both stood. up.
“Melinda, you stay here," Justin said.
“No buts. He’s right, little sister. You can’t be out there,” Mitch said.
“Do you both have a firearm?” the sheriff asked.
“I do, but Justin doesn’t,” Mitch answered.
“I don't usually need one in my line of work, if you know what I mean,” Justin said, catching the pistol the sheriff threw to him.
“You need one now, big brother," Mitch said. "We all know you can shoot straight; all the Carters can. Well, except for Andi, that is.”
At that Justin chuckled. “That’s true. She and Chad have had their arguments on that subject once or twice.”
“Alright, let's go,” the sheriff said. “They’re behind the depot, Mitch?”
“They were when I left.”
The three men left the sheriff's office and hurried over to the depot.
As they got closer, Mitch stopped. “Chad's not here” was all he said before hurrying to the depot. Leaning up against the side of the depot, Mitch listened for the voices they had heard only minutes earlier.
“To bad . . . you listening . . . gotta keep you . . ."
“They’ve got Chad,” Mitch whispered as Justin and the sheriff caught up. The sheriff crept toward the entrance to the alley. Pulling out his pistol, he cocked the hammer. Justin and Mitch did the same.
“I suggest you throw down your guns and put your hands up.’’
Without warning a shot rang out. Justin, Mitch, and the sheriff quickly ducked behind some of the crates and fired at the men that were now only shadows in the moonlight.
Suddenly there was a cry as one of the men fell to the ground. For a split second the other two men turned toward their fallen companion. That was all the time they needed.
The sheriff stood up and cocked his gun, focusing it on one of the men while Mitch did the same to the other.
“Now, drop your guns.”
The first man threw down the pistol and put his hands up. The second man turned slowly, then suddenly whirled around and fired a shot toward Mitch. Mitch dropped his gun and groaned as the bullet caught him in the shoulder.
Justin fired and the other man dropped to the ground. “Mitch, are you alright?” Justin asked as he hurried over.
“I’m alright,” Mitch said between clenched teeth. “Just don’t let him get away.” He motioned to the man still standing.
“Justin, cuff hi,.” the sheriff said as he tossed Justin a pair of handcuffs.
Justin caught the handcuffs, cocked his pistol, and walked toward the man. “Just don’t move and you’ll be fine.” He placed the pistol in his holster and pulled the man's right arm behind his back, snapped on the cuff, and then reached over and snapped it on the left wrist.
“You know, we didn’t have to go through all this trouble. You could have put down your guns when the sheriff told you to.”
“You got a problem with me, counselor?”
“Well, I normally do have a problem with anyone who breaks the law.” Justin chuckled. “It comes with the job.”
“So, all of it was a cover up?” Mother asked as the family sat down for breakfast the next morning.
“Apparently Ben and his gang have been hauling around the gold for nearly fifteen years. They got tired of it and decided to get rid of it once and for all. But it wasn’t only the gold for the Confederate states that they had. They’ve been robbing stagecoaches for the last ten years. There have been several Wanted posters out for them, but, interestingly enough, they never robbed any stagecoaches in California.They’d rob one then lay low for a while, then there’d be another robbery. I guess they just decided they were done. They were planning on going down to Mexico and buying a ranch. They'd shipped everything in on the train, but there was only a little of the treasure in every crate. It was less suspicious than to have three or four heavy crates,” Justin explained.
“The flood here in Fresno provided a perfect opportunity. They needed to bury it in a place no one would look.”
“So all this about working for the State and a new ditch was part of their plan?” Melinda asked.
“Yep. They thought it would throw off suspicion,” Chad said as he placed another piece of ham on his plate.
“Hungry, Chad?” Justin asked.
Chad looked up. “Being kidnapped is hungry work. Besides, we got home so late last night all anyone wanted to do was sleep. I’ve got to catch up on the eating part today.”
Mother sighed. “It’s sad what lengths some people will go through to try and cover up their sin. Even to the point where people get hurt.”
Justin nodded in agreement. “It is. Because of this, one of them died, another is badly hurt, and Ben, their leader, faces life imprisonment. Like it says in the Bible ‘Be sure your sin will find you out.' Those who aren’t following the Lord are bound to be caught in the twisted pathways they’ve created for themselves.”
There was silence at the table as everyone pondered Justin’s words.
“And I face a couple of weeks where Mitch won’t be able to help me out on the ranch,” Chad said, breaking the silence.
“Hey, it’s not like I asked for it! I’m just afraid I won’t be much use to you with my right arm in a sling.”
Melinda laughed. “Since you’ll be at the house all day, Mitch, maybe you can help me with something.”
“Sure, what is it, little sister?”
“I can’t decide what the best choice of fabric would be for my new dress. And I can’t choose a color.”
“Uhh, maybe you should get Mother to help you with that. I wouldn’t be any good. I think you’d look beautiful in a feed sack.”
Everyone at the table laughed.
As they quieted down, Mother said, “Let’s take a minute to thank God that everything has turned out alright, that no one is badly injured and that we’re all safe. Justin, can you lead us in prayer?”
The room became quiet as the family bowed their heads and Justin lead them in a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving.