Chad took off his hat and wiped the sweat off his forehead before once again replacing it on his head.
“It sure is hot out here,” Mitch commented, pausing in his work. “How many more cattle do we have to move to the pasture?”
“This bunch here is the last,” Chad said, kicking his horse onto a trot. “Mitch, over there.”
Mitch looked where Chad pointed. Sure enough, a straggler had drifted away from the herd. Mitch pushed Chase into a gallop and quickly chased the ornery cow back to the herd.
“Mother, Mother you here?” Chad asked as he walked into the house and slammed his hat down on the parlor table. Mitch followed, closing the door behind them.
“What is it, Chad?” Mother asked as she slowly descended the staircase.
“Just wanted to let you know that Mitch and I are headed into town. Anything you need while we're there?”
“No, no I don’t think so. You could see if Melinda wants to go with you.”
“Well, where is she?” Mitch asked.
“I’m right here.” Melinda answered as she hurried in from the Parlor. “Yes, I’d like to go into town. How’s the clean up going?”
“Now, wait a minute, sis. You sure that’s a good idea? The streets are still pretty muddy and, well, it doesn’t smell too good.” Chad commented.
“I think I can stand it,” Melinda assured them. “How soon are you leaving?”
“We were planning on leaving right now. I told Paul Goodwin we’d be into town this afternoon to help in the Chinese section of town. It got flooded pretty badly, and it’s taking a little while to get it cleaned up,” Chad explained.
“It would go faster if more of the men from town would help,” Mitch commented.
“Why aren’t they helping?” Mother asked.
“Because the people they’d be helping are Chinese!” Chad exclaimed. “That’s about the only reason.”
“But surely if we offered to pay them, they’d be willing to help. I’m sure some of them are worried about getting back to their jobs.”
“We’ve tried that, Mother, “ Mitch interrupted. “Didn’t make any difference.”
“Well, I'd better go and get ready. I’ll be down in minute,” Melinda said, hurrying up the stairs.
“And I’ll go saddle Snowflake, little sis,” Mitch said, giving her a grin.
“Now hold on a minute! I’m not---”
“You are now,”Chad interrupted her. “With Andi gone, you’re officially the 'little sis' around here.”
“Mother!” Melinda protested.
“They don't mean anything by it, Melinda.” Mother smiled. “Chad, while you’re in town, see if there’s a letter from Andi.”
“Will do. Mitch, let’s go saddle the horses. Better hurry Melinda!” he yelled as they hurried out the door.
“Well, why don’t you head over to Justin’s and we’ll meet you there in a couple hours,” Mitch suggested as they rode into Fresno.
“Yeah, sis. That might be a good idea,” Chad chimed in.
“I’ll do that, but I want to go to the mercantile first and see if they have the new issue of Godey's Lady's Book.”
“I wouldn’t get my hopes up. Not too many trains have come through since the flood.”
“Well, it doesn’t hurt to check. I’ll go to Justin’s when I’m finished,” Melinda said, pushing Snowflake into a trot.
“We’d better head over to Chinatown,” Mitch said as Melinda disappeared around the corner.
Chad nodded. “Lets go over to the livery and see if Sam Blake’s coming. We need to get the shovels that are there, anyway.”
They wheeled their horses around and hurried over to the livery. “Hey, Cory,” Chad said, dismounting. “Is your pa home?”
“I’m right here, Chad.” Mr. Blake said walking out of the livery.
Chad hurried over and shook his hand. “Good to see you, Sam. We’re just on our way over to Chinatown. You going to be coming over?”
“I was just saddling Cloud. Cory can look after things here for a while. We'll need the shovels. They’re around back.”
“Can I rent a horse here?”
All three turned at the new voice. Behind them stood a tall, young man with blond hair and piercing blue eyes.
“You must be new here,” Sam said, shaking his hand warmly. “I’m Sam Blake and this is Chad and Mitch Carter. My son Cory is over there.” He motioned to where Cory was leaning against the hitching post.
“My name is Ben Rodger. I got here on last night's train and I was wondering If I could rent a horse to have a look around the town. You see, I’m here with the orders to find a convenient place to build a ditch that will hold the excess water when the river floods without costing the State a lot of money.
“Well, I’ll get you a horse and then why don’t you come along with us? We’re on our way over to Chinatown to help with the cleanup there.”
Ben nodded. “That would be just fine.”
As they rode into Chinatown, Chad and Mitch, as well as Sam, dismounted and tied their horses to the hitching post at the edge of town.
“If it's okay with you, I think I’ll ride around a little,” Ben said.
Sam nodded. “When you’re done with the horse you can just take it back by the livery. And be careful. It’s still pretty muddy in some places.”
“Alright. It was good meeting you,” he said, then he wheeled his horse around.
Mitch grabbed two of the shovels and headed over to where the men were working--well, where they had been working.
“What’s going on here?” asked Chad.
Paul Goodwin stood up. “Chad, Mitch, good to see you.”
“Paul, where is everyone?”
“You mean other than the Chinese? Well, they all decided to quit working.”
"Well, about thirty minutes ago a man rides in here and says he’s from the State. Trying to find a place to have a ditch dug to run the water off when it floods. Then he said it was going to be dug right here in Chinatown. He said we may as well stop working.”
“In Chinatown? But he can’t do that! Where will all these people go?” Sam asked.
Mr. Goodwin shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“This doesn’t add up. What was his name?”
“Said it was . . . Ben. Ben Rodgers.”
“That’s what I thought,” Mitch said. Turning to Chad, he asked. “Didn't’ he say he had just gotten to town?”
“Yep, came in on last night’s train.”
“Sam, did he come to the livery earlier and get a horse?”
“Nope, he sure didn’t. This was the first time I had seen him.”
“This doesn’t seem right,” Chad said with a frown on his face. “I’m going to go over to the office and see if Justin knows anything about this. He should at least be able to find out whether Ben really is from the State or not.”
“Yeah, I’ll go with you,” Mitch agreed.
They hurried over and mounted their horses. Then Mitch turned around. “You may as well go home. We can’t do anything until we figure out if he is from Sacramento or not.”
“Justin, I need to talk to you.” Chad hurried into the office with Mitch close behind him.
“Uh, Mr. Carter, I don’t think that would be a very good idea.” Tim interrupted.
Chad brushed him off and hurried toward the closed door.
“Chad, Mitch, what is it?” Melinda stood up and walked over to them. “Lucy’s here, I wouldn’t think you should---”
But Chad wasn’t listening. He threw open the door then drew back in surprise. Lucy sat across the desk from Justin. They appeared to be in an animated discussion.
“Oh, hello, Lucy. Sorry, Justin, I didn’t realize she was here.”
“Well, if you would have listened to me, you would have known!” Melinda exclaimed.
“Never mind, Chad. What is it?”
"It can wait a few minutes. I’ll come back later.” He closed the door then turned, only to see Mitch grinning at him.
“What are you laughing at?” Chad asked in a perturbed voice.
“Mitch raised his hands. “Nothing. Nothing at all.”
“Well, keep it that way,” he snapped as he hurried out of the office.
Mitch looked at Melinda and they both burst out laughing. “Oh boy, that was interesting” Mitch exclaimed when he caught his breath.
“No, it was downright funny. I’ve never seen Chad so flustered before,” Melinda answered
“Well, what do you say we head down to the mercantile and get some lemonade and then go see where Chad’s gone off to”
“That sounds wonderful.” Melinda grabbed her hat off the chair and hurried out after Mitch.
“Do you think we should get one for Chad?” Melinda asked as Mitch handed her the cold lemonade.
Mitch considered it a moment. “Sure. One more lemonade please, Jack,” he said, pushing another coin across the counter.
Jack nodded and handed Mitch another cup brimming with the tart, cool liquid. As they walked back outside the sore, Mitch turned to Melinda. “Why don’t you stay here in the shade while I go and find Chad?”
Melinda nodded. “Alright. Want me to keep your lemonade for you?”
Mitch grinned. “Yes, please, little sis.” He gave Melinda a wink as he hurried away down the boardwalk.
Melinda sat down on the bench outside the mercantile. I may be in the shade, but it’s still not cool, she thought. Standing up, she began to walk. She stepped off the boardwalk and turned into the alley behind the store. Well, it's a little cooler.. The tall buildings on either side blocked any beams of sun from finding their way into the narrow alley.
Suddenly Melinda stopped. Footsteps? But who else would be back here?
Melinda turned. Behind her, and blocking the entrance to the alley, stood a man she had never seen before. Suddenly realizing she was alone and no one knew where she was, she instinctively took a step back. “C-can I help you?”
“Well, I was just taking a walk around the town and I saw you come back here. I thought that there must be some reason a pretty girl like you would use the alley. Would you like to go out for supper sometime?”
As he had been talking, he had been slowly walking closer toward her.
“Please,” Melinda said trying to step around him. “I’m waiting for my brothers.”
“Your brothers? Now why would they leave a girl like you alone?” He took a step over, blocking her from leaving. “How about you show me around the town?”
“No, p-please . . .” Melinda started.
At that moment, both Chad and Mitch hurried into the alley. Mitch reached out and pulled the man away from Melinda.
Chad punched him squarely in the face. “I knew you were up to no good!” he exclaimed as he recognized the man.
It was Ben Rodgers. “Now, wait a minute! I didn’t do anything to your sister.”
Neither Chad nor Mitch paid any attention.
Suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, another man entered the alley and, seeing what was happening, punched Chad in the face. Chad, stunned, flew backwards.
Mitch let go of Ben and rushed over, greeting the other man with a punch as he turned.
“All right, all right. Break it up,” Sheriff Tate said, entering the alley. “What’s going on here?”
Melinda hurried over to Chad. "Chad, are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” he answered as he sat up rubbing his jaw. “A bruised jaw isn’t that high of a price to pay.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to pay a higher price than that.” the sheriff said.
The conclusion coming soon!