Ab Catton gathers his family together to avenge his father's murder and find his gold
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
W. Michael Gear, who holds a master's degree in archaeology, has worked as a professional archaeologist since 1978. He is currently principal investigator for Wind River Archaeological Consultants.
W. Michael Gear and his wife, Kathleen O'Neal Gear are co-authors of the First North American Series and Anasazi Mystery Series (USA Today bestsellers) and live in Thermopolis, Wyoming.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Big Horn Legacy
Chapter 1 Robert Campbell caught his reflection in a darkened window. Through all the years, he'd come to dread this day--knowing it lay inevitably just over the horizon. The butterflies in his stomach wouldn't leave him in peace. Fortunately, they didn't show in his face. He studied the reflection in the dark glass. He'd grayed since the old days. His face seemed longer, lined, nose becoming more bulbous, and pads of flesh lay under his hard brown eyes. "It's harder than you thought, isn't it?" Filling his lungs in the cool damp air, he walked on, turned the corner, and found the little white sign indicating the AC Freight Company. Abriel Catton Campbell wouldn't expect him to come strolling in out of the Saint Louis night this 21st of March 1850. Abriel had just "purchased" the AC Freight Company from old Andy Crank, who owed Ab a littlemore money than his poker habit could stand. Turning the company over to Ab had settled the accounts, which beat having to call him a deadbeat in public. Saint Louis still lived too close to the frontier and its unforgiving ways. Campbell reached for the doorknob, seeing the yellow glow of lamplight through the smoke-stained window. He hesitated, fighting the urge to simply walk on--forget this hanging debt from the past. The brass knob lay chill under his fingertips. Heart in throat, Campbell entered, booted heels sounding hollowly on the hardwood flooring. Ab peered up from a set of ledgers. All the years on the river toting Campbell's freight from hither to yon and back again had built beef on his shoulders. The hard plains sun had darkened and lined his face. He stood, the sudden familiar smile lighting his lips. "Good to see you, sir! Just trying to figure out what Crank did with all his money." Campbell nodded, words stuck in his throat. "You look ... fit. Being a man of property seems to agree with you." Ab laughed heartily, pouring a tin cup of thick black coffee from the battered pot gurgling on the heat stove in the corner. "When a kid goes up the trail, be it to Fort William or Taos or if you chunk wood into the steamboat boilers bound for the Upper Missouri and the Montana lands, you stay fit. It's not the business, sir." Campbell nodded as he stared absently into the coffee in his cup. "You're a man, Abriel. You can take care of yourself--in more ways than one." Ab's eyes narrowed. "I've had some go-arounds, and with some big and mean men too. I wouldn't swear I could clean up a full-grown grizz with my bare hands but he'd know I'd been earnest!" Then the lines in hisforehead tightened. "You look like the army just welched on a twenty-thousand-dollar deal." Campbell chuckled. "You know me pretty well, Ab." "Ought to. You raised me. What's wrong?" Robert Campbell took a deep breath and looked around. A shy sort of office, it beat the rented corner of rat-infested warehouse he'd started with back in the prime beaver days. One little window looked out on Olive Street, a desk, a safe that might have withstood the curious efforts of a five-year-old, a stove, and back door that led to the stable and the jakes made Abriel's empire. A couple turn-legged chairs lined a wall. "You've done well, Ab." Campbell remembered his own scrambling existence. He'd come from Ireland and gone west with Jed Smith in 1822 as a lunger, a man dying of consumption. In the Rockies he mended, tussled with the Blackfeet and Crow and helped build the American fur empire in the Far West. He unbuttoned his gray broadcloth coat and hung his tan beaver hat on one of the nails serving for coat hangers. "You didn't come all the way down here to tell me that." Abriel leaned back against his battered desk, patient, waiting. Campbell hitched up his trousers and sat, crossing his legs and sipping at his coffee, trying to find a place to begin. "No, Ab, I didn't." Campbell frowned, staring at the grain in the floorboards. "You had ... I mean, you were raised knowing some pretty interesting characters. Tom Fitzpatrick, Gabe, uh, Jim Bridger, Os Russel, Kit Carson, Clyman, Liver-Eating Johnston. Men who had the bark on." "If you're in trouble," Ab said, face darkening, "you just tell me and I'll--" "Now, Ab, you've always been that way. Impetuous.Too ..." His face tightened. Say it. Go on, get it out. "Too much like your father." There, he'd said it. Abriel's frown deepened. "I never thought you were impetuous. You've always been a keen trader. But impetuous?" The boy still didn't understand. Campbell felt the beginnings of a headache as he looked up into those honest amber eyes. Campbell's voice stumbled, hesitant. "For years you have been ... been like my son. I've loved you like you were my own boy. Tried to give you the best, like I did my own." "But I don't ... What are you saying?" Ab shook his head, confused. "I've talked about Web Catton." Campbell sipped his coffee, meeting Abriel's serious look. "Yes. Sometimes until I couldn't stand to hear it. Said he'd always been one of your special friends. Named me after him." Abriel gestured with a hand. "So? You'd better go on, I'm having trouble reading this trail you're laying." For a brief instant Campbell itched to simply stand up, apologize, cover his tracks with some cock-and-bull story, and walk out. "Abriel, what do you remember when you were very small?" Ab Catton chewed his lip for a few moments, eyes lost in old memories. "Well, there's a lady with golden-blond hair," he said. "I remember other kids, littler than me. Somebody was always crying in the background. I can remember the lady with golden hair picking me up and making me feel better. She kept me from being afraid." Campbell snorted amusement, the image drifting into memories of Abriel scrapping with every kid in Saint Louis. "I doubt anyone ever needed to keep you from being afraid!" Then his voice turned soft. "That was yourmother, Ab. A very beautiful lady. Her name was Laura. Laura Catton. I married Virginia just before you came to live with us. You are so much older than my own children. Still you've become very special to me. I'm so proud of you. But Web Catton is your real father." Campbell cleared his throat. "Ab, you'd better read this. This is the last will and testament of your father, Web Catton. Kit Carson wrote and told me he was long overdue from a trapping expedition." From an inside pocket, he handed Abriel the oil-paper envelope. Abriel swallowed as he looked at the creased, stained papers. With cautious movements, he lifted a letter out and unfolded it. Nervous fingers clutched the foolscap as he studied the strange scrawling writing in the lamplight. My dear Abriel: By the time you read this, two things have happened. First, you have reached your majority, and second, I am dead. I have left you in the care of my best friend, Robert Campbell, for reasons he will explain to you. Upon the death of your mother, it was no longer possible to raise you or your brothers safely. I'm afraid your uncle, Branton Bragg, blames all of you for your mother's death. I can't kill him. I promised your mother. At the same time, I'm not the father you boys need. I can't stay in one place and farm or run a business the way men like Campbell and Sublette can. I'm called to the wild lands, Ab. I'm doing the best thing for all of you. I hope to God you'll understand. You have four brothers and Arabella. I placed each of you where I thought you would do the best and where Branton wouldn't think to look for you. I guess I tried to make up for what I didn't give you. Each of you has a section of map to what I hope will be a satisfactoryinheritance of fifty thousand dollars in gold. I don't suggest that you take any of it to Santa Fe as Governor Armijo's heirs might want to argue ownership. To find it, you must reunite the family. Robert will tell you how. Ab, don't hold what I did against me. I've done the best I could. With All Love, Weberly Catton Ab looked up, a haunted expression on his face, seeking an explanation in his foster father's eyes. "Abriel, don't hold it against Web. Branton would have killed you. All of you. The Braggs were a very wealthy family in Kentucky once. Web killed Laura's father--your grandfather--here in Saint Louis. They fought a duel one morning down on Bloody Island. Used sabers. No one would have thought Web knew anything about sabers." Campbell's lips curled with a smile. "I won't say what I thought of old Bragg's manners. Branton went berserk over his father's body. Needless to say, Web offered to take him next. Branton backpedaled most adroitly and Laura went ahead and married your father anyway. Branton disapproved, but he couldn't stand up to his sister--let alone Web--who would have killed him outright. "Dear Laura, she was quite a woman. Her death left us all ... Well, never mind. It happened, is all. Died in childbirth ... Tom's. Web wasn't the man to raise five young boys--let alone Arabella. He left you with me. Jeremiel he left with a family recommended by the missionary Marcus Whitman. Jake went to Colonel Oord and his wife. Bram ended up with One-Eyed Mike." Campbell's face twisted with contempt. "I'll never understand that!" "And the last brother?" he asked, looking shaken. "Tom." Campbell nodded, running slow fingers through his gray-shot brown hair. "Tom was left with the Cheyenne. I think you'd better look up Tom Fitzpatrick to find him. Fitz usually knows where White Wolf's band can be--" Abriel stuttered, "O-One of my brothers is an Injun?" Campbell felt his gut tighten. With the blood-chilling tone of command he'd used to organize his fur caravans, Campbell said, "White Wolf was your father's blood brother. Since you weren't there, I suggest that you keep your own counsel." ...
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