A low rumble woke the townsfolk of Bristol, Wyoming, sometime around three in the morning. Dogs scampered from yards, tails between legs. Roosters crowed, annoyed at their early wake up call. In the houses up and down Main Street lamp lights slowly came on, low and almost imperceptible at first as the flame took, then building quickly to warm glows that leaked out into the street as the wicks were raised from the base of their lamps. In ones and twos people began to step out of their homes, to look around, to assess the situation. They were comforted at the sight of Sheriff Gabe Morrison when he emerged from the jailhouse, still pulling on his left boot.
“Morning, Gabe,” Makenzie Wilson called from the front porch of the general store. “Guess we had another temblor?”
“Mac,” Sheriff Morrison greeted in reply. “Seems like. All your merchandise still on the shelves?”
Makenzie nodded. “No damage that I noticed. Reckon I’ll get a better sense of things in the daylight.”
Gabe gave Mac a general wave and began walking down the street, checking to see if everything was still copacetic, exchanging pleasantries with those he met, reassuring folks that everything seemed to be fine, go on back to bed. As he passed the saloon Celeste asked if he’d like to come in and relax a spell. He turned down her offer.
By 3:30 the last of the oil lamps went out and the little town of Bristol went back to sleep.
Everything seemed to be normal to Henry Jackson Jefferson when he opened the bank at 9:00am. But when he opened the door to the vault he fell to his knees in shock. The bank had been cleaned out. Splintered floorboards surrounded a gaping hole near the back wall. He was still struggling to his feet when Kerwin Jones, his lead teller, stepped through the front door.
“Kerwin! Quick, run and get Sheriff Morrison. We’ve been robbed!”
Kerwin stood there, mouth agape, trying to comprehend what he’d just been told.
“Get!” Henry shouted, and at that Kerwin turned and dashed for the jailhouse, just two doors down. A few minutes latter he returned panting, all out of breath.
“Sheriff’s not here,” Kerwin said as he tried to catch his wind. “Note on the door says he’s out at the Double Bar. Some cattle missing.”
“Get Deputy Wentworth, then. For crying out loud, son, don’t you have any sense?”
“Can’t find the deputy,” Kerwin explained, trying to forestall Henry’s wrath. “Jail’s locked up tight as a drum. He’s not in the saloon or down at the stable neither. I looked!”
“That can’t be right. Who’s watching the prisoner?” Last he heard there was one man in lock up being held for the US Marshall. “Well then, send the O’Mally boy out to the Double Bar. We need Sheriff Morrison right away.”
While Shawn O’Mally was away a group of men descended into the tunnel to see where it might lead. They did not go far before finding the cause of the previous night’s earthquake. The tunnel had been blown, the smell of black powder still strong from the blast.
Shawn O’Mally returned just before noon, his horse almost spent from the hard ride. He reported that Sheriff Morrison was not at the Double Bar, that no one had called for him, and no one had seen Deputy Wentworth.
It was well after noon before they finally pried open the front door of the jailhouse. It was empty. No sheriff. No deputy. No prisoner. No weapons. No key for the locked cell. It took another good hour for the blacksmith to get it open. Behind the bunk, almost expected by then, they found the other end of the tunnel.
The three horsemen pulled up at the crossroads to consider their options.
“Well, Wenny, what do you think?” Gabe Morrison asked of his partner.
“I hear they’ve struck gold up Alaska way,” Wentworth proposed.
“Alaska’s cold,” the third man replied. “I say we try California.”
“Alaska’s safer,” Wentworth countered.
Gabe Morrison considered the options silently for a bit before making a decision. “We got plenty of money that’ll keep you warm, Carl.”
With that the three riders turned their horses and headed north.
© 2014 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.
Image from the state of Wyoming, A Book of Reliable Information, published 1905, no know copyright restrictions via Flickr Commons.