Great Falls, Montana: June 12, 1871
Captain Aldo P. Chester leans back in his chair contentedly. It has been a long time since he ate a proper meal, a steak with all the fixings. Holding his wine-glass deftly between two fingers, the military-man compliments his host in a booming voice, "A fine meal, Judge. I do declare: it was first-rate cuisine."
Positioned across the dinner table from Capt. Chester, Harold Wilks smiles graciously. "Well," he intones, "I couldn't let your fine work with the savages go unrewarded. You make our land safer with each passing day." Wilks lets the words come out slowly and sweetly. He gladly allows the Captain to bask in undeserved self-importance for a moment. . . If the judge is ever going to get a gubernatorial appointment in this God-forsake country, he will need strong advocates. A heroic, Indian-killing soldier is a fine start.
"Thank ye' for the comment, Judge Wilks. . . I don't give 'em Indians any quarter. Some of the folk out East complain that what I'm doin' is not precisely 'humane.' Well, I say we drop those people in a Cheyenne camp for a week and see if they come out singing the same tune. I reckon they won't."
Wilks chuckles politely and pours the Captain another glass of wine. Compliments and alcohol are the two surest ways to get into the favorable graces of a military-man.
"Precisely," agrees Wilks, "The people out in Washington haven't the slightest idea how to manage things here. That's why the governors they send out are never particularly well-suited to their posts."
"Aye!" bellows Capt. Chester, who has partaken in rather too much wine, "That slicker they've got running the show now - what's his name, Barrack? Barnack? - he's a spineless fool. Ain't got half an idea how to deal with the savages. What we need in the government is a man like you, Judge: an upstanding sort of Western-born man."
Wilks leans back in his chair and grins contentedly. He's got the Captain in the palm of his hand now. It's only a matter of time. Just a subject of when, not if, he will seize power.
Fort Shaw, Montana: June 16, 1871
Bang - the gunshot echoes vibrantly upon the prairie wasteland. Then: silence. Everyone holds their breath as the bandits brandish their pistols menacingly. The warning-shot still ringing in their ears, the stagecoach’s passengers scrabble down onto the sandy ground and keep their heads bowed. Silently and efficiently, the robbers go about their sordid business. They gather the valuable cargo within minutes.
As the desperados prepare to depart upon their heavily laden horses, one of the men finally speaks, "Much obliged for yer' good behavior folk. If all our customers were as nice as you, I expect we wouldn't be needing to use these 'ere guns so much. . . Now, we had best be getting off before the law comes riding on up." Cackling manically, the bandits gallop away. Bang - they signal their departure with another shot into the cloudless Montana sky.
Kentucky: June 20, 1871
“Please, sir!” John pleads desperately, “I’m begging you to take us along. I’m good with a hammer and a mighty fine shot. And I – swear it upon my mother’s grave - will reimburse you for expenses. I’ve just gotta’ get out West where the work is before I can pay. . .”
“Why should I trust an oily little rascal like you?” growls Jeremiah Fritz, “Don’t answer that, boy! I reckon it wasn’t a real question.”
“Please, Mister Fritz. We ain’t got no other path to follow here!”
The wind suddenly rushes out of John’s lungs. The young, strong man is thrown several feet as Jeremiah smacks his squarely in the chest. Standing over John’s limp frame, the burly mountain-man appears ready to end the discussion by spilling blood onto the damp, verdant Kentucky earth.
“Why you not listening to me, boy? . . . I told you not to say nothing and you go and blabber on about the subject anyhow. I oughta’ tear you up right good for that! . . . But, well, I suppose it does take some gumption to come up here an' plead as hopeless a cause as you got on your hands. . . That's especially true if you're pleading that case to a man that looks mighty prone to bash your head in – make no mistake, boy: I am ready to bash your head in. . .”
Jeremiah spits derisively down onto John’s face. Like the overgrown wolf-hound he is, the frontiersman is marking his territory. As he walks away - the young, black man is still sprawled prostrate on the cool ground - Jeremiah shouts over his shoulder, “We’re leaving town tomorrow. Be ready, or I reckon I’ll shoot you something nasty in the head.”
Regardless of the threat, John smiles. He has won himself and his sister, Cora, passage on a wagon-train to the West. He has won them passage to Eden. . .
Jeremiah Fritz, meanwhile, has won himself two de facto slaves. As the mountain-man gulps down whiskey, he wonders how he can make the most profit off of John. He reckons he'll keep Cora for himself once the boy is gotten rid of.