Pete, grumbling to himself, pushed his two unstable groaning partners toward their horses tied at the hitching rail. After a struggle to get them mounted, the trio road out of town toward Sunrise. The conversation was nonexistent, and the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Red and Frank, Pete’s not so bright partners, were still recovering and trying to figure out in their feeble minds what had taken place just before everything went wrong. They were sure the advantage was in their favor. Pete, on the other hand, was fuming and being the vengeful coward he was, he was already conjuring up a plan to get even.
Blackjack was sitting at a corner table dealing a crooked game of cards when Pete came busting through the saloon doors.
Blackjack had told all the boys not to act like they knew him and not to hang around together in any groups larger than three. But Pete, with such a mad on, either forgot the orders or just plain ignored them. Whatever the case, Blackjack had to act and act fast.
Pete didn’t slow his pace, shoving people aside as he headed directly for Blackjack’s table, but before he had a chance to open his mouth, Blackjack jumped to his feet, pulled his gun and swung it hard. The blow caught Pete above the left ear, dropping him to the floor like a hundred-pound sack of feed. Pete didn’t move. It was obvious he was either out cold or dead. The incident took less than a few seconds and was over before anybody knew what was happening, including the two miners Blackjack was in the process of fleecing in a friendly game of poker.
“Get this troublemaker out of here. Throw him out back!” Blackjack yelled at the barkeep while sitting back down at the poker table like it was normal to knock someone unconscious for no apparent reason. He apologized for the interruption as if he had just swatted an annoying fly and started dealing a new hand. In a moment all was forgotten, and the activities at the “Sluice Box” resumed without a second thought. It was, after all, an everyday occurrence, and men who frequented such places expected fights to break out, and generally they weren’t disappointed.
Blackjack dealt a few more hands, then made up a lame excuse to end the game and abruptly left the table. Even though the miners still had a little gold sitting in front of them, there would be another time.
He stopped at the bar, whispered something to Big Mike, and then sauntered back to his office where the barkeep had unceremoniously dumped Pete on the floor. Blackjack walked over to the washstand, picked up the pitcher of water normally used for washing, and rudely threw it on the unconscious man’s head.
Pete jerked up, spitting and sputtering and reaching for his gun. As it cleared the holster Blackjack kicked it from his hand and viciously yanked him up by the shirtfront.
While still gripping the shirt in a twisted ball, he pulled the man’s ugly face within inches of his own.
Blackjack’s face contorted into a hideous mask, his entire body shaking with anger, barely controlling his voice, speaking through clenched teeth to the petrified man.
“I should have killed you . . . If these fools around here figure out we all know each other, the whole plan will blow up. If that happens I will kill you, you fool! Do you understand … do you?”
Blackjack violently shoved Pete away from him and tried to compose himself.
“Most of them,” he continued with a little more self-control, “around here aren’t smart enough to come in out of the rain, if they were, they surely wouldn’t be up here looking for something, probably only one-in-a-hundred will find. There are, however, some a little too smart for their own good. Like that fool called Dusty Sourdough …”
“Yah!” interrupted Pete. “That’s who I was comin’ ta tell ya about. I was fixin’ ta teach one of them worthless, good fer nothin’ prospectors some manners at that Grub Tent over in Hope when he stuck his two cents worth in. He acts like he’s the law, but we didn’t see a badge . . .”
“What do you mean, we?” Blackjack interrupted in a menacing voice. “Who else was there?”
“Red n’ Frank, we were about ta cancel that Dusty feller’s ticket when some others took a hand in it. One of them was a big Indian who had the drop on us. We got run out of town and told not ta come back!”
Blackjack’s anger started to boil again, and he was about to erupt like a volcano. He had nothing but contempt for the man standing in front of him, “GET OUT!” He exploded, “you and those two worthless idiots go out to the hideout and stay there until I send for you . . . If I see you or them in town again, I’ll make you regret the day you laid eyes on this place.”
By now, even Pete was smart enough to see how livid Blackjack was, so cautiously, not turning his back on this mans’ fury, he started backing toward the door leading to the alley. He reached for the handle, yanked the door open, and without another word, or any wasted motion, made a hasty retreat down the alley, never knowing how close he had come to meeting the Grim Reaper.
Pete slowed to a walk as he reached the end of the alley. He wanted to pull himself together before finding his two friends; it wouldn’t do to have them see him in such a cowardly state. He had to tell them they had to leave town, and it needed to be in such a way it would sound like it was his idea; it wouldn’t due to have the boys think he cowed down to Blackjack, or anybody else.
For a moment, he reflected on the sequence of events and his face twisted into an ugly smirk, he’d show ‘em, nobody pushes Big Pete around and lives ta talk about it, Blackjack included, he’d get his too and he wouldn’t even see it comin’.
As a young boy, Pete was a bully. He was bigger than other kids his age and took pleasure in pushing them around, beating them up when they didn’t obey him. It wasn’t until Billy Taylor, a new boy his own size, came along. Did he show to be the coward he was? One day when he started picking on a smaller boy, Billy, who didn’t like bullies, stepped between the two and showed Pete for what he was. Of course Pete backed down with fear, begging not to be hit. The next day he refused to return to school and in the end he ran away from home. It wasn’t long after that his life of crime began. Through the years it escalated to where it was now, still a coward who took all he could from the weak and unsuspecting without concern for human dignity or life.
After finding his two cohorts and explaining the situation, his version, of course, they headed out of town. Unbeknownst to them, they weren’t alone, more trouble was following very close behind . . .
 In truth, only about 1% of the gold rushers who came North ever struck it rich.
To Be Continued…