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Jacks or Better
Based upon the Brando classic western “One-Eyed Jacks”, the outlaw Rio is on the run in the Northwest, determined to make his way back to Monterey and Louisa, the young girl he loved more than life itself and who was carrying his child.
Every step towards his goal is obstructed by a determined bounty hunter who traces his journey from Oregon to San Francisco and local lawmen eager to take him down.
Western Oregon – 1885
The blizzard was blowing snow so hard it snuck into every crack of the freight car. Rio wrapped the buffalo hide as tightly as he could around his shoulders but the bitter draft penetrated him to the bone. The two hobos were shivering even more but never took their eyes off the shotgun that Rio had trained on them. “Sorry amigos. Don’t have any blankets to give you. You’ll just have to tough it out til we get to Corvallis.” Rio did feel a little sorry for the two but their mistake was getting caught. Rio was earning his money on this trip and the extra he would get for the two prisoners would keep the whiskey flowing. “I bet Mr. Hogg is a tad more comfortable in his personal car”, Rio voiced out loud to his audience.
The Oregon Pacific was celebrating its fifth birthday this month and the owner, one Thomas Egenton Hogg, intended to make it a memorable occasion. He instructed his entire team of “detectives” to get things cleaned up immediately. Rio was doing what he did best and was respected by Hogg as a facilitator…a problem solver no matter how untidy the mess might be.
Five years ago he found Rio passed out in an alley in San Francisco behind the brothel he often visited. Sally, the madam, was trying to revive him as Hogg was exiting the establishment. “Thomas, can you give me a hand? This fellow saved one of my girls from getting a beating from one of the clients before more ruffians jumped in and did this to him.” Hogg told the carriage driver to grab Rio’s legs and together they hoisted him into the back of the wagon.
Hogg’s mansion in the Nob Hill district was the smallest among the “Nob” railroad families of the Central Pacific. “Avoid Chinatown” he instructed the driver not wanting to confront the growing Chinese population he relied upon to lay the track. If he was recognized, no telling what a mob of these little devils might do.
Rio regained consciousness during the long ride and had no idea where he was or where he was going. He reached quickly for the pistol in his waist band but it was missing. “Relax my friend” Hogg said, reassuring Rio he was no threat. He noticed the deformity of Rio’s right hand and the unusual leather straps holding the index and middle fingers in place. “How did you hurt your hand?” he asked.
Rio just smiled, asking “Who wants to know?” Not a day had passed that Rio didn’t remember Dad Longworth smashing the rifle butt into his shooting hand in Monterey. The handicap turned into an asset as Rio was now just as fast with either hand, a talent that had served him well on his journey up the coast.
And so an unholy alliance was formed between the Railroad baron and the scrappy gunman who appeared at just the right time to help the Oregon Pacific give birth to a new line up the Oregon coast to Seal Rock.
Life in San Francisco was much different than the years he had spent in Sonora robbing banks and dodging Rurales bullets. Mingling among the genteel aristocrats required a more subdued look and so the six gun on the waist gave way to a shoulder holster rig that was hidden under a jacket or duster. Rio’s skills were not at all diminished by the new harness and just the act of pulling back his jacket to reveal the Colt M1877 often ended an argument that might have gone south otherwise. Rio’s .41 caliber sported the pearl grips he added, a touch he copied from Dad Longworth’s days as Sheriff of Monterey, and the gun he was carrying when Rio killed him.
As the railroad expanded, Rio spent more time in the outland than in the toney city of his benefactor. He often had to assume the role of temporary foreman and drive the workers to focus on their back breaking work. He made many enemies along the way but even those that hated him had to respect his fairness and work ethic. Rarely was he called upon to brandish his weapon but when necessary, he showed no hesitation.
The intended termination point was to be Seal Rock. Once that destination was revealed, the local town magistrates began investing heavily in resort hotels and public spaces designed to accommodate the expected influx of train travelers. It was here that Hogg planned to celebrate his five years since launching the line. Rio was put in charge of security for the event and took his team ahead to inspect the entire town, from brothel to barber shop. Satisfied that everything was in order and to Hogg’s expectations he took the train back to Corvallis, picking up the two hobos along the way.
Rio dusted off the snow from his boots as he knocked on Hogg’s private car door. “Mr. Hogg, its Rio. You doing alright in there?” Hogg often traveled with one of his favorite whores from San Francisco and this trip was no exception.
“Give us a minute.” Hogg replied before finally opening the door and letting Rio in from the blizzard. “Run along now Mona” Hogg instructed the petite brunette with a gentle pat on the ass.
“Looks like you’re picking them younger these days” Rio said with a smile as the girl jumped to the platform below.
“The younger the better laddie. Let’s me break them in just the way I like them.” The girl looked eerily similar to Louisa and Rio’s mood changed instantly. “Something wrong Kid?” Hogg asked, sensing the change.
“Nah, I’m fine.” Rio answered. “Just worn out from the work in Seal Rock getting ready for the celebration.” Hogg gave him a manly hug.
“I understand my boy. Go to the hotel and get a nice hot bath and slab of ribs for dinner. I guaranty you will be rejuvenated in no time.”
Rio took the boss’ advice after escorting his two prisoners to the nearby lockup. The snow had not let up and it took some time to sludge through it to the warmth of the Crystal Palace Hotel where he kept a room. “Have someone draw me a bath, Charlie,” he instructed the desk clerk as he climbed the stairs.
“Sure thing Mr. Smith”, the clerk responded respectfully. Only Hogg called him Rio. To everyone else he was Mr. Smith from West Texas. He was considered to be a private person but with an air of confidence no one saw fit to challenge…at least not when they were sober.
As he lay in the bath, the hot sudsy water eased the tension in his muscles and he was as relaxed as a baby suckling his momma’s breast. His mind wandered to Monterey and Louisa and the child they created. He longed to see the baby which by now was almost five. Boy? Girl? It didn’t really matter. He was weary from his journey and hoped the dark memories would fade once he held his future wife and child in his arms. His work for the railroad allowed him to earn enough to cover a steamship ticket to San Francisco where he would saddle up for the long ride back to Monterrey.