A Neverending Race for Glory (Preview)

Prologue

Montana Territory, 1887

It was a simple plan but needed everyone involved to pay attention and do what was asked in order for it to succeed. It took three months to work out the details and something that had made P.W. Winkley proud because no one suspected a thing. 

It had been a coarse winter with the miners feuding and fighting in Lonetree saloons instead of taking out their frustrations on the granite and quartz inside the mines. It was a heavy winter with drifting snow of more than six to ten feet in spots. Overnight snowstorms dropped three to five feet at times, with wind chills so low a hot cup of tea could vaporize outside. It delighted the children around town but something that worried most adults. 

Among the prominent men that had made the community of Lonetree a place worth living, even in the hardest of weather, was P.W. Winkley. As one of the founding members of the township, with over three hundred of the original five hundred settlers still living in and around Lonetree, Winkley had pride in the community and what they had achieved following the War Between the States. 

The Montana Territory still had much to offer anyone willing to venture beyond the everyday comforts of the bigger cities, exchanging the coal smoke-filled air for the wide-open starry skies of the frontier. He had helped bring more settlers into the community than most of his fellow council members. As the former fire chief and then the city marshal, many people respected P.W. Winkley, thinking he was an outstanding community member. He had an upbeat demeanor and willingness to keep the peace or lend a hand shoveling out neighbors when snow overtook their dwellings. Everyone looked up to Winkley. Some of the young men in the community, still unsure of their directions in life, admired Winkley and aspired to be like him. 

For a select group of young men, Winkley had tasks for them — something that would set them apart from others because they were orphans and young men without direction. Winkley had a pride in the community that was undeniable. He harbored no ill-will toward most of Longtree’s citizens. During the harsh winter months, people worked together to help those less fortunate. People broke bread with neighbors; they shared linen and firewood. They kept each other company on long wintery nights when the only thing in the cabins was the stovepipe or chimney poking out of the drifts. Someone had to tend fires all night to keep warm and stay alive. 

But it was the winter of ’86, the last winter Winkley wanted to spend in Lonetree. He devised a plan, something easy to follow, something no one would believe happened until he and his few select young men had already left the area. They had to wait until the pass cleared, when the railroads began their ascent into the mountainous terrain around the territory, before the day came when they could implement Winkley’s scheme and leave the community altogether. Winkey needed enough men to follow him, helping in the strategy. But once they left Lonetree to rendezvous fifty miles west of town at a designated spot on the shore of the Missouri River, Winkley intended to go his separate way. It didn’t matter where the others went. As long as they followed directions, everyone would end their time together with better finances than when the day started.

The day had arrived in mid-April when the weather broke, spring rains melted the highest peaks, and mountaintops finally showed black and brown mountainsides instead of the dull gray of winter snow still clinging to the rock face. Once the termination dust began to subside, and the meltwater filled the river basins, the stagecoaches began arriving again in the out-of-the-way community of Lonetree. 

The mayor and the councilmen used the spring thaw as a celebration day. The merchants and town folks agreed to celebrate the coming days of summer with the annual spring festival with the dance held at the community center on Saturday. The following Sunday, most of the townsfolks attended the services at the church, with family get-togethers afterward. It meant most people on Sunday were recovering from the Saturday night celebration or busy at their homes following the church services. Downtown Lonetree had very few pedestrians, and no one went by the bank. 

Marks & Company was the only savings bank in seventy miles of Lonetree. Everyone who did business with the bank had something put away at home. While Winkley wasn’t opposed to stealing from the mining company, his long-time acquaintances with other community members meant he wasn’t interested in robbing them. 

“Is everything all set?” Winkley asked. 

John Toney nodded, standing in the shadow of the hardware store across the street from Marks & Company Savings Bank. Toney was the only other important member of the group — Winkley didn’t like to use the term: gang, because it implied he was among a group of criminals. That was further from the truth. Winkley believed in second chances, and times were lean. Work was scarce; more miners were expected to leave the community with their families before the following winter. If they lost another one hundred or so settlers, Samuel Marks would likely close the bank altogether. 

For the foreseeable future and the benefits of current events, the bank was closed Sunday, and Marks had spent all Saturday evening fawning over the Widow Hayes. The two of them had hot-shoed through the dancehall, making the most of the celebration to get better to know each other. 

Winkley knew Widow Hayes had intentions of her own to make the most of what the town had to offer. Samuel Marks wasn’t the most inventive or interesting bachelor in the community — Winkly thought of himself filling that category. However, Marks had a viable and financially secure lifestyle. Owning the local bank meant she didn’t have to make a living on her back since her husband had died three years ago in the mines. She intended to accept Marks’ offer for marriage the moment he proposed. Everyone in town anticipated that happening within the coming months. Winkley wanted to be as far from Lonetree as possible by the end of summer. 

“Yeah, Mr. Marks is still had Widow Hayes’ house.”

“How can you say that when you’re here now?” Winkley asked, thinking the only other significant person in the group wasn’t exactly the brightest.

“Well, I just left there,” Toney said. “And Two Times Jimmy promised to come to get us if Mr. Marks and Widow Hayes go anywhere else besides church.”

Winkley sighed and nodded. It wasn’t the best part of their plan, but putting Two Times Jimmy in charge of watching wherever Marks went was better than allowing him access to the bank.

“Do you have the keys?” Winkley asked.

“Yeah, right here,” Toney said, lifting them from the wool coat pocket. Even with the snow dissipated, the brisk morning air meant everyone wore layers, collars, up, and each word out of their mouth came with puffy clouds surrounding them. Before Toney could put them away again, Winkley snatched them.

The noise of scuffed boots on gravel caused them to pause, listening, while Toney attempted to retrieve his pistol from under the coat. Someone approached their location but was still out of sight. 

“What the hell are you doing?” Winkley asked, slapping Toney’s arm away before the man could undo the coat toggle. He scolded Toney in a harsh whisper to keep his voice low, not wanting to alert the “You need to relax. Don’t you go for that gun. I mean it. We talked about that; nothing’s changed.”

Toney was twenty-seven, had the hands of skilled labor, dug granite for a living before Marks found out he had a head for arithmetic. Toney was the newest employee of Marks & Co, which would have been alright with him. Only Toney had to take direction from A.C. Bingham, the chief financial clerk at the bank.

It was a glorified title for the twenty-year-old who got lucky in life. He had wealthy parents — investors in the gold mine — and got an education from Chicago. When he returned to Lonetree, A.C. Bingham intended to take over his father’s business. But Bingham Senior had other plans. He wasn’t interested in giving up daily operations at the mine because it kept him away from Bingham Junior’s mother. 

No one in Lonetree liked Mrs. Bingham, including A.C. Senior and Junior. There wasn’t a place for Junior at the mining facility until his father cashed out and retired. Given the likelihood of an early demise for Mrs. Bingham, Senior intended to hold out until hell or high water happened.   Junior had to wait until that happened to move up in the company. 

Until that happened, Junior accepted the distinguished position at the bank as Marks’ second in command. It hadn’t mattered to anyone outside the bank since Marks, Bingham Junior, and Toney were the only employees. However, Toney despised taking orders from the yelp. 

A.C. Bingham Junior was an educated pretentious know-it-all who liked giving orders to Toney — a man seven years Bingham’s senior. Numbers came easy for Toney. Patience for listening to the sniveling young man’s mundane demands took its toll on Toney. 

It was close to six in the morning. Winkley had arrived at the lookout at five before the sun paled the sky over the eastern mountains. Toney had just come with no sign of anyone else wandering through the downtown business area. The merchant across the street didn’t open the shop on Sundays. He kept the shades closed in the store and the apartment above the store, exiting from the rear of the building before Sunday service. 

When the boots made an appearance, pausing long enough for Winkley and Toney to see the outline of the young man, Winkley sighed. Frank Whipple was the third member of their group, with Two Times Jimmy and Mario Forbes making up the last members of the group. Forbes had already checked in with Winkley and set out to his destination outside town, watching for any newcomers that might head into Lonetree on that Sunday morning. No one anticipated travelers on Sunday — not from the north. The other settlers in the area came up the south and western roads when they went to church. No one came from the north — at least, not in Winkley’s experience. 

“Hey, I was up by the mine like you told me, Mr. Winkley,” Whipple said. He was seventeen and still too young to grow a proper beard. Most men in the territory wore beards because whiskers kept their faces warm for the winter months. Whipple had tuffs of wily hair on his chin and cheeks, trying to look more grown-up than his years. 

“Was there anyone there?” Winkley asked. 

“No, sir.”

Winkley had heard through several miners, and Bingham Senior that the most recent shipment of wages had arrived at Marks & Co. Toney had confirmed seeing the safe filled when two armed escorts carried the steel lockboxes into the bank from the stagecoach on Friday morning. It was the first quarter wages from the mine. 

“The offices were all dark, and the guard at the tunnel was asleep wrapped in a blanket.” 

Stealing from the gold mine wasn’t in anyone’s best interest. Even if the guard slept through someone sneaking into the mine, no one got out again without making enough noise to wake the dead. Sifting gold from granite and quartz took hours — days even. It wasn’t like gold coins or banknotes waiting for them inside the vault.

“Is it right we’re taking that money?” Whipple asked. He had a good head on his shoulders but a moral compass that always pointed toward others’ best interests. 

“I told you before that the insurance company will cover the losses once the bank reports the money gone. They’ll have the replace wages for the mine sent up as soon as the bank letter reaches Helena.”

“If you say so, Mr. Winkley,” Whipple said. 

“I say so, Frank.” 

“When was the last time you saw Junior?” he asked. 

Toney rubbed the scruff of his chin, shaking his head. “I saw him at the dance last night with his father. I ain’t seen him since maybe around ten or so.”

“That’s about the time I saw him last too.” 

Bingham Junior was the only wild card they couldn’t track or account for his whereabouts. When he wasn’t at the bank, he spent time with the minister’s daughter or home. Sometimes he worked late at the bank. It was never on Sunday, but Junior frequented enough of the downtown businesses that he could show up at the dry goods store or the butcher’s shop at any time, no matter the day of the week. 

“Well, I don’t expect him this early.” Winkley had to settle the flutter in his chest. It wasn’t excitement. It was trepidation. Once they committed to the plan, they had to follow through. “Listen up, and this is important, especially for you, Frank. Under no circumstances are you to pull that pistol from your holster. We’re not going to shoot anyone. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, sir,” Whipple said. 

“What about you, John? You need to relax when you go in there. You can get the safe open, right?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Toney said.

“Wait, you think so?” Winkley frowned. 

“Well, I ain’t never opened it before. But I know the combination. I saw Junior and Mr. Marks open it a hundred times. I think I can do it.”

“You know the combination for sure?”

“We talked about this before,” Toney said. “You’re starting to sound like Two Times Jimmy.”

The poor young man had a reputation for doing things twice, even saying something twice. Two Times Jimmy was fundamentally the weakest part of Winkley’s overall plan, but someone dedicated to him. Jimmy would throw away his life if Winkley asked him to stand in front of a locomotive. If he could do it twice, more than likely, Jimmy would too. Jimmy was someone Winkley could get to do anything, and with forty years behind him, Winkley knew people like Jimmy were few and far between. 

“Look, this is a big deal,” Winkley said, trying to justify his behavior and questioning everything. “I know you got a job to do. I know we couldn’t do anything without you. But if you pull that gun, if you kill someone you know for certain, you’ll regret it. They will get a posse and hunt us down. When they catch us, they’ll hang us. They won’t throw us in prison.”

“Are they going to hang us?” White clouds came out of Whipple’s mouth, the same color as his alabaster skin, once Winkley mentioned the possibility of dying. 

“No, Frank. No one’s going to kill us as long as we stick to the plan.”

“Alright, Mr. Winkley.”

“Are you ready?”

“Yeah.” 

“You go first,” Winkley said. 

“Why me?”

“You got the keys to the bank.”

He handed off the bank key before Toney’s feet could lift from the frost-covered ground. Winkley had helped steal them from Junior last night at the festival. While Junior had danced with the minister’s daughter, Winkley kept an eye on the young man while Toney lifted the front door key from the winter coat pocket. He had to remove the key from the ring — a ring with a collection of other keys, including the bank office manager, a key to the mining offices, and other trivial keys. 

They anticipated Junior wouldn’t miss one key from the collection. They waited throughout the evening, watching Junior’s behavior to make sure he wasn’t suspicious. 

Winkley snatched the key from Toney, huffing — blowing white fog over the others. 

“Wait here until I get the door open. Remember what I told you. Don’t run, don’t think about running. People see someone running; they’ll get suspicious. Walk across the street like you’re going to church—”   

“Are we going to church, Mr. Winkley?” Whipple asked. 

“No, Frank, I was making a statement.” He sighed, glancing between the two young men waiting for him to make a decision. 

Once they entered the bank, there was no going back. He could end it right there, tell them to walk away. It would be difficult for Toney, given his insufferable experience working under Junior’s thumb. But Whipple could go on and perhaps bring up the fact Winkley intended to rob the bank through various conversations with others around town. That was risky too. But maybe they wouldn’t put a lot of faith in Whipple’s stories. Winkley considered ending it there. But the thought of spending another winter in Lonetree freezing his ass off didn’t appeal to him at all. If they got caught, he could spend time in the territory penitentiary in Deer Lodge — which had milder winter months.

“Alright, sit tight,” he said, checking the vacant street once again before stepping into the open. 

Winkley strolled across the street. He kept glancing around without looking obvious. Once he reached the steps to the bank, he hesitated. He tried to calm himself before making his way to the front door. When he put the key in the lock, Winkley thought it was a mistake — Toney got the wrong key. The lock didn’t loosen immediately. The tumbler stuck until Winkley wiggled the key enough to dislodge it. The door opened, and he stepped into the stale, cold quiet of the bank. He waved over Toney and Whipple. 

“It’s cold in here,” Whipple said. 

“Don’t worry about it,” Winkley said, pulling the boy all the way into the bank before closing the door. He used both hands to turn Whipple facing the street. “You keep an eye out. You wait here and let us know if you see anyone coming.”

“What if someone comes?”

“Well, you let us know, alright?”

“Alright, Mr. Winkley,” Whipple said, smiling before gazing out the slice between the door and the pulled shade. 

“Come on, John.”

They reached the interior door that separated the public lobby from the tellers and the owner’s office. Toney stopped short, not going for the doorknob.

“What is it?”

“Um, it’s locked.”

Winkley grabbed the handle, testing the latch. The locked door didn’t move. The solid oak door had a reinforced frame with inlaid iron bracketed to the interior of the door. They’d need an ax or a pick to break their way inside. 

“That key doesn’t work,” Toney said as Winkley tried it in the lock.

“Damn it, John. Why the hell didn’t you take the key.”

“You told me you only needed the front door.”

“I thought this key opened this door,” he said, holding up the key. 

“No.”

“Why didn’t you say something before now?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t think about it until we got inside.” 

“How the hell are we supposed to get to the safe now?”

The wall had no other access. The teller windows had an iron bar framework that separated the patrons from the clerks. The window space was too narrow. 

“I can get in there, Mr. Winkley,” Whipple said, still standing sentinel by the door. 

“How?”

He pointed to the nearest teller window. “I can fit through that space.”

“Are you sure?” Toney asked.

“Do it, Frank. Show us.” 

If Whipple got stuck, they were caught. If he slid through, they could still get away with a fortune. Toney helped Whipple climb onto the high counter where the clerks faced the public. Three windows gave access to the lobby. They were rectangular openings with barely room underneath to pass funds. 

Whipple checked the space, crouching on the counter. He squatted more, slipping his right arm through the narrow opening. Toney took the boy’s hat before Whipple pressed his face against the space, turning his head to allow access. It was like watching a raccoon get into a whiskey bottle. First, one arm, shoulder, and head went through. He had to pause, out of breath. 

It took effort for Whipple to get his flailing right hand something to grab on the other side of the counter. Once his fingers grasped the ledge, he managed to pull himself further through the impossibly skinny space. Even if he got stuck there, it was a marvel to behold. Whipple’s left shoulder dropped as his body slid forward over the countertop. Once he got both shoulders through the rectangular opening, face down, he had both hands available to pull the rest of him through the wedge. 

“Um, Mr. Winkley, can you push on my boots?”

Both Winkley and Toney took a leg and pushed until the young man’s middle got caught against the opening. They increased pressure, making the boy cry out. Out of breath, head down, folded on the other side of the clerk window, Whipple got as far as his middle. 

“Take off the gun belt,” Winkley said, thinking he was a fool for not seeing it sooner. 

As Toney fumbled with the bucket — difficult since it was Whipple’s front against the counter — Winkley pulled off Whipple’s boots. He grabbed the young man’s trousers, yanking them off as soon as Tuney got the gun belt free. He put the belt and holster with the gun on the teller counter. Whipple passed through the opening unhindered. 

“Can I put on my trousers?” Whipple asked, standing on the far side of the counter, covering his nether region with both hands. He wore un undergarments, and Toney ran to the door. 

“Go open the door,” Winkley said, balling the pants to push through the opening. 

As Whipple fumbled with his trousers, one leg at a time, he stumbled toward the interior door and unlocked it. Toney and Winkley went through when the door swung open, closing the door behind them. 

The pressure was on Toney as he removed his deerskin gloves to put his fingers on the bank vault. It was a heavy steel door with flaking stenciled paint over the manganese steel. Marks called it a strongroom, boasting that it weighed more than two adult elephants. But it was nothing more than an intricate armoire with a complex locking mechanism. Winkley didn’t know what an elephant looked like but took the man’s word for it. Marks had suggested the safe was impenetrable, that no one could break into it without using ten sticks of dynamite. 

Since Toney had the combination, they didn’t need dynamite from the mine to get into the safe.

“Hey, look here?” Whipple said, pulling one of the messenger shotguns from the cubby under the teller counter. He lifted it with his finger on the trigger.

“Put that down,” Winkley said.

“There are more shotguns here,” Whipple said, intrigued with the prospect that every teller station had loaded messenger guns available for the clerk.

“Stop it,” Winkley said before Toney’s hesitating made took his attention from Whipple. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s cold in here,” he said, crouching in front of the safe. He had lit a lantern; put it on the floor at his feet to see the combination easier. Toney slapped his hands together and rubbed vigorously before blowing into his palmed cups. 

“I can start a fire.” Whipple pointed at the cold potbelly stove. He still had a shotgun in his other hand. 

“No, you can’t,” Winkley said. “You can’t have any smoke come out of that pipe on the roof. People will know we’re in here.”

Whipple’s face squished for a moment before opening up with a smile. “Oh, yeah,” he said, nodding. 

“What’s going on?”

“I told you, my fingers are cold.”

“Did you forget the combination?”

“No, I didn’t forget it.”

Toney turned the dial again, back and forth, and tried the steel lever. It remained closed and locked. 

“Well, shit, John, I thought you knew this,” Winkley said, thinking they still had time to leave, lock up again, and make it to the Sunday sermon before anyone knew they were absent. 

“I got this,” Toney said. 

He settled into a crouch facing the safe. Spinning the dial a few times counterclockwise, he set to work with the first of the three digits. It took another minute that felt like an hour before something clicked. Grinning at Winkley, Toney spun the valve dial, and the vault door opened. 

“Shit, shit, shit,” Winkley said as he removed one of the canvas bags. It immediately dropped to the tiled floor, cracking the marble. 

“Hey, what are you doing, P.W.? You broke that,” Toney said. 

“What is the matter with you,” Winkley said, standing upright again. “Do you think they will care about the broke tiles when they find out we robbed the bank vault?”

“No, I suppose not. What’s the matter?”

“They got more coin bags here than banknotes.”

“So what?”

“Lift that bag.”

Toney grunted as it took two hands to pull the sack off the floor.

“We can’t carry all that out of here,” Winkley said. 

“How much is in the banknote bag?”

Winkley squatted on the floor with the safe door open. He rummaged through the banknotes feeling they might still get away with a reasonable sum after all. 

“I don’t know, maybe a thousand dollars.”

“There’s more than a thousand in there,” Toney said, yanking the bag away from Winkley. He went through it quickly and efficiently. “You got five thousand dollars in here.” He pointed at the canvas money sack again. “Each one of those coin bags holds two hundred and fifty dollars. We’ve got this and the gold coins. If each of us can carry this and a couple of sacks, we’ll have—”

“What is the living hell is going on in here?”

Winkley heard the voice, realizing the wild card got drawn. One of the few reasons Bingham Junior would arrive at the bank on Sunday would be to rekindle the fire in the stove, so it wasn’t the icy cold first thing on a Monday morning. 

As Toney and Winkley turned toward the voice, Whipple used the shotgun in his right hand to point out that someone wasn’t watching the door, and Junior waltzed right into the place during the robbery. Junior ran to the counter, pulled the pistol from Whipple’s gun belt, and randomly fired. 

Startled by the gunfire, Whipple squeezed the shotgun’s trigger in fright. The loaded gun with set hammers discharged. Some of the lead pellets ricocheted off the iron, peppering Winkley and Toney. The majority of the double shot passed through to the lobby. Junior dropped out of sight. The pellets stung, digging into the flesh of his shoulder, smacking the wool coat before falling to the marble floor. 

Winkley pulled his pistol, thinking it was the wrong thing to do. As he thumbed back the hammer, Toney did the same.

“Junior, you need to put down that gun. Let us out of here,” Winkley said, shouting over the cover of the counter. He motioned with his head for Toney to sneak around to the side so he could pass through the interior door and cover Junior from a different position. 

Junior, you hear me?” Winkley yelled. “We don’t need to do this.” The chance of someone hearing the gunshots made him anxious. They needed to get out of the building. Everyone carried a gun in Lonetree. It was one of the reasons why robbers rarely held up banks in more towns — opting to crack safes in the dead of night. Getting shot by well-armed employees or gun-toting patrons wasn’t the easy way to make a lot of money. 

“Junior, are you listening to me?” Winkley shouted.

“Hey, P.W., you need to come here,” Toney said, standing up after opening the interior door. His face had paled. 

Winkley didn’t holster the pistol before peeking around the corner of the lobby. Junior lost Whipple’s gun when the shotgun blasts went through the iron bars. 

“Ah, no,” Winkey said once he saw Junior lying in a quickly spreading pool of blood. He put away the gun and walked across the lobby, squatting by the young man’s corpse. Steam rose from the flesh wounds. Junior Bingham lifeless eyes stared at the ceiling. 

“Damn it.” No matter what happened or the surging regret, they were murderers, and Montana marshals tracked down murderers to be sentenced and hanged for their crimes. “Get the money,” he said. “We need to get the hell out of town.” 

Winkley ran through the interior door again, passing down the small corridor where he found Toney facing away from the safe, not helping to remove the bank sacks. 

“What are you doing?” Winkley went to him and saw what had distracted Toney. He rushed forward, grabbing Whipple’s arms. 

Whipple had lost most of the color in his face. He had slumped against the back of the counter. The spent shotgun at his hip. He tried smiling for Winkley. It took both hands against his throat to stem the blood. Winkley looked through the drawers and cubbies behind the counter until he found two handkerchiefs, tying them together. He wrapped it around Whipple’s neck, cinching it tight to stop the blood loss. The one-shot through the bars had grazed Whipple’s neck. 

“Come on, stand up,” Winkley said. “We need to go.”

“Yes — yes, sir.” 

“What are you doing? He needs to get to the doctor.” 

“Shut up, John. Frank will be just fine, won’t you, Frank?”

He kept his right hand pressed against the blood-soaked handkerchief around his neck while lifting his bloody left hand for Toney. 

“See, he’ll be fine.”

“What are you doing, P.W.? This is wrong.”

“It won’t matter. We’ll get what we can get and leave here. We’ll take Frank to the doctor in Helena. What do you say, Frank?” 

Again, weakly, the young man lifted his hand. He needed to use the counter for support. 

“We can’t stay here. It’s too late now,” Winkley said. “They’ll hang us if they catch us. Do you understand?”

“Yeah, P.W., I do.” Toney went to the safe. He removed the money sacks, pouring gold and silver coins into one bag, combining to weigh more, but they could carry twice as many.

“I’ll carry your share, Frank,” Toney said. He struggled to stand upright with hefting two bags. 

Winkley had Whipple carry the banknotes bag while supporting the young man and dragging two sacks of coins toward the front door. Whipple dropped the banknotes bag when he saw Junior’s body. 

“You can’t worry about that anymore,” Winkley said as the group reached the front door. “You can’t do anything for Junior. We need to get you help. You’ll be fine.”

Toney went back for the rest of the coin bags and carried them to the door. 

“How long before Two Times Jimmy gets here with the horses?” Toney asked. 

“I’m not sure. Why don’t you go see what’s keeping him? He was supposed to come by at seven.”

“I think it’s a quarter after now,” Toney said, pointing to the mantle clock perched above the teller windows. 

“Well, maybe he can’t tell time.” Winkley glanced around outside before leaving open the door, helping Whipple through outside. The cold air slapped his sweaty face. 

Whipple struggled to get down the steps. Toney carried coin bags outside, heaving them to the ground from the stairs. One of the overstuffed bags burst as soon as it hit the compacted gravel, spilling gold and silver coins. The precious metal glinted in the early morning sunlight. 

Winkley helped Whipple sit down on the bottom step while he scooped coins, dropping them into his trouser pockets. 

“What are you—”

“Go get the damned horses, John.” He hadn’t intended to shout. 

He ignored Toney, hurrying toward the area where Jimmy had to wait before leaving the widow’s place to collect their horses. Winkley had saddled four horses, and the young man needed to bring the horse to the bank at seven in the morning. 

“You’ll be alright, Frank. I promise,” Winkley said as he pushed handfuls of coins into Whipple’s coat and trousers pockets as the young man sat woozy on the steps, holding his neck. Winkley didn’t want to see the ghastly white complexion or the crimson-soaked linen cloth around Whipple’s neck. “We’ll get you to the doctor.”

He stood a moment, allowing the cold air to wash over his face. There was time to get Whipple to the doctor in Lonetree. If Winkley helped the young man, he might still get away with a comfortable sum of money. But it was hard for Winkley to turn his back on the boy. 

“Do you want to stay here?” he asked finally. 

Whipple sucked air, sighing as he shook his upper body. He couldn’t shake his head directly without disrupting the gash. 

“I can get you to Helena,” Winkley said, thinking Whipple had vindicated him. “I’ll make sure you’re safe.”

Whipple attempted to smile again. 

Toney and Two Times Jimmy arrived on horseback. Jimmy gave Whipple a curious look. 

“What happened to Frank?” he asked. “What happened?”

“Just get the bags,” Winkley said, transferring the coin sacks from the ground to the saddlebags on the horses. 

Toney and Jimmy got the rest of the money as Winkley helped Whipple onto the horse. Once he mounted his stallion, Winkley took Whipple’s horses’ reins, leading the animal out of town. They didn’t see anyone. The gunfire inside the bank hadn’t brought out anyone curious about the sound. Once they discovered Junior dead in the bank, it would be another day before they could get together enough volunteers to track them. Since they had planned to head to the river, they weren’t taking the roadways. Posses were men who had lives waiting for them, sometimes families and wives. They’d spend another day, maybe two, before giving up returning home and earning wages again. The territory marshals would never stop looking. They got paid to hunt murderers. They earned income when they returned people with bounties on their heads. 

***

It was another hour or slower riding north where they intended to rendezvous with Mario Forbes. Whipple had to grip the saddle horn as they headed north. During the ride, Toney watched for anyone following them. So far, five to six miles away from Lonetree, they didn’t hear anything or see anyone pursuing them. 

Winkley smelled tobacco smoke before seeing Mario Forbes waiting for them in the high grass overlooking the northbound trail. Forbes was as trustworthy as a hungry dog watching the picnic table. Once someone walked away and left out the food, the dog could snatch something from the table. Winkley needed Forbes because the man had contacts in Helena that could get everyone new lives through forged documents. Forbes agreed to the robbery quickly — it took barely any convincing. Forbes wanted inclusion in the bank robbery, but Winkley had convinced the man he’d receive his cut of the money once they got out of town. 

“What happened to him?” Forbes asked once he led the horseback to the trail. He gestured to Whipple. The steep incline caused the animal to falter. It managed to stay upright while Forbes smacked its head for taking the tumble. 

Winkley held back from saying anything to the man. Anyone who mistreated a horse — it wasn’t the animal’s fault — wasn’t as trustworthy as they appeared. 

“Mr. Winkley,” Whipple said before he could no longer hold tight to the saddle horn. His fall from horseback was painful to watch. Winkley got off the horse along with Toney. They gathered around Whipple, moving him bodily to the roadside grassy knoll where he didn’t have to rest uneasily on the hard ground. “I don’t feel so good.”

“I know, Frank. We can rest here a while. I think we’ll be alright for a spell.”

“Thank you, Mr. Winkley. Can I have some water?”

In his planning, Winkley had packed bedrolls but someone overlooked the canteens. 

“What’s he doing?” Two Times Jimmy asked behind Winkley’s back while he focused on Whipple. The light in the young man’s bloodshot eyes began to dim. “Why is he doing that?” 

“What the hell are you doing?” Toney asked.

Winkley turned to see Forbes pulling the saddlebags from Whipple’s horse. “He won’t need—” the weight of the saddlebags caught him by surprise. 

It took all of his energy to heave it over the horse’s rump. The animal didn’t like the rattle of coins or the weight of the leather on it. The horse turned, sidestepping away from Forbes. The man heaved the last weight on the horse before kicking the horse’s stomach.

“Why did you do—” The fire gunshot cut Jimmy’s words short.

“Hey—” The second gunshot cut off Toney. 

When the gunshot went off, Winkley threw himself over Whipple’s body protectively. Feeling responsible for the young man, Winkley wanted to cover him. He reached for the pistol as Toney’s body dropped to the ground next to Winkley at Whipple’s feet. 

Whipple’s eyes widened as Winkley turned, trying to cock the Colt. Forbes was faster, firing a shot at Winkley. The impact on his back thrust him against Whipple on the ground. The young man grunted. He managed to get his sidearm free and lifted it, shooting without aiming. Winkley flinched — the gunfire so close to his ear. He rolled off Whipple as Forbes shot again, killing Whipple. Winkley moved through the roadside brush, using the embankment for leverage, getting to his feet. He fired a shot. Not sure if he hit Forbes or not. 

Winkley leaped from the rise to horseback without hesitating, landing hard and heavy in the saddle. Forbes shot again. It felt like a cannonball striking Winkley’s back. He let the horse gallop, racing away from the noise and confusion. Risking a look back, Forbes had kneeled on the road, firing the remaining bullets in his gun. Each of the shots struck the fleeing horse. The terrified animal continued galloping away as it screamed.



“A Neverending Race for Glory” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

The War Between the States has made Elijah Hastings grow up orphaned. While life after the war wasn’t easy, Elijah managed to live hand to mouth and still has courage to stay on the right side of the law. Nevertheless, his allegiance to the law is challenged when he stumbles upon a dying man clutching a bag of money. The man insists that he take the banknotes, but Elijah knows better than to keep the ill-gotten gains.
 
Even though he tries to do the right thing, the money proves to be a burden and leaves him with two men hunting him down…
 
Naomi Woodard is a laundress and the daughter of the city marshal. Her father is a good man with a noble heart, but he’s outmatched in a town that doesn’t respect him. When a handsome young man arrives in Great Falls with a story about roadside robberies and murder, Naomi’s father will do everything in his power to put things right again.
 
Choosing the right side of the law takes strength and courage…
 
Will doing the right thing lead Elijah into more trouble? Or will the city marshal stop the troublemakers and the corruption before more people end up dead over money? In this unforgiving and cruel world, only the strongest will survive…

“A Neverending Race for Glory” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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