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Phantom Rider: Chapter 1.

06 Oct

Author’s Note: The fifth book published in the Clint Mason series, Phantom Rider was published on this blog serially beginning in October, 2013, running through June, 2016. The book’s full contents may someday return to this site. Please consider picking up a copy of Phantom Rider and all the other Clint Mason books for yourself and a friend, and also look for the contents of these books on this site. Thank you very much for your interest.

Phantom Rider

Learn more about Phantom Rider: Book Five of The Clint Mason Series

Copyright William F. Martin. All Rights Reserved.

Chapter 1.

The talkative gambler had no idea of the trouble he was stirring up. While his tale of two families being driven off their ranches by rich land grabbers from St. Louis and Chicago was a common occurrence on the gold coast of California, what this gambler did not know was the amount of personal interest in the families held by one of the listeners.

The lean, tall, olive-skinned cowboy showed no outward signs of the turmoil churning deep within his chest. His stone face masked completely the raging thoughts going through Clint Mason’s brain. A very observant gambler may have picked up on a tightening of Clint’s jaw muscles, but other than that slight sign, the poker game continued without a change. A more delayed reaction was the steady flow of chips into Clint’s stack. The possibility that his two young families had been cheated out of the ranches that Clint had set them up on changed his game. Knowing that his gambling skills were far above this group, he had been playing for pure fun, taking it easy on the other players at the table. His new anger turned against the messenger, even though he knew that was not logical.

It only took an hour or so for the talkative messenger to be wiped out of his table stakes. Clint followed the newly broke gambler to the bar to buy the man a few drinks. The tales of the young California ranching families continued to pour out of the messenger as Clint kept their glasses full and his ear attentive. The man said that he had been in Sacramento, California, when he first heard the story, almost two months ago. He had joined a table of cards which turned out to be dominated by several poker players from the Starr Ranch, just south of Sacramento, down toward San Francisco. The Starr Ranch cowboys were trading stories with two other players, stories about Senator Crane and the Phillips Freight Company out of St. Louis.

These Starr Ranch cowboys had relayed the story that it was just one gun-slinging gambler who had killed several Starr Ranch cowboys and then taken possession of two cattle and horse ranches from Mr. Starr, their boss. The story did not reveal that the real economic loss to the Starr Enterprise was the lucrative timber contract to the railroad based on these acres of range.

Senator Joseph Crane was a major supporter for the westward extension of the railroads into California. It was also rumored, but had never been proven, that his brother-in-law, Julius Phillips, along with Senator Crane, had made huge fortunes through contracts with the railroad for timber, land and freight. Following that gunfight, the sheriff from San Francisco had identified one of the bodies he found in the streets of Bay Town as that of Charles Martinez, the lone gunman. The top gun hand for the Starr Ranch, John Hayes, left town and was reportedly seen along with his large Appaloosa stallion in Carson City.

The story continued that the Starr Ranch killing of Charles Martinez in Bay Town was a wasted effort because Señor Martinez had already transferred ownership of the two ranches to two ex-Army soldiers and their ranch hands. The storyteller continued that this had all happened almost six months ago. It had taken all this time for the Starr Ranch to recruit new gun hands and renew its quest to own those two timber-rich ranches.

As he listened, Clint’s mind went back to his time in San Francisco where he had been known as Charles Martinez. It seemed like years ago, even though it had been less than 12 months since he had set out to buy a ranch to breed top quality horses and cattle, marry and settle down. He had found two ranches side by side that were going broke due to consistent rustling by neighboring Starr Ranch gunmen. Clint, in his role as a dignified businessman and excellent poker player using the name of Charles Martinez, purchased the two ranches with his gambling money. The two previous owners were glad to take the money and head back to Tennessee and family.

A pleasant thought passed through Clint’s mind as he remembered the total domination he had achieved over the Starr Ranch and their crooked plan. However, not a hint of expression showed on Clint’s face as the messenger, the gambler from Sacramento, finished his stories. He even thanked Clint for being such a good listener and for the free drinks. The thought that Clint had just wiped him out at the poker table must never have entered his thinking.

Clint had spent considerable effort to leave his past, cover his tracks and start looking for a new life. Any plan to return to help those two young ranch families could bring the late Charles Martinez back to life. This could be dangerous, as there had been too many hints of Charles Martinez being linked to the young killer known as Clint Mason of Manatee County, New Mexico territory. A plan must be developed that would help his friends, but not bring the law and his past down on their heads. In fact, his own life would be worthless if his true identity was discovered. A return to Bay Town, California, was in his future unless a better plan could be developed to protect those young ranch owners.

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