Nevada Rails

In the 1870s, Nevada and California are very much a part of the “the wild West.” That’s especially true if you’re Lily, the adopted daughter of the notorious outlaw, King Callahan, who has managed to get himself—and her—in the sights of the Southern Pacific railroad’s most relentless detective.


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In 1872, the notorious outlaw King Callahan adopts an orphan after Lily’s father is killed in a botched robbery in Virginia City. They flee to Los Angeles, where Callahan tries to make a better life, but his talents all run to robbery. He runs afoul of the Southern Pacific Railroad, which is moving in on the south coast, bringing money, corruption, and inevitable social changes. A railroad detective relentlessly pursues the outlaw, which means he is also chasing Lily.

Five years later, Lily has grown up. Part of an acting troupe, she goes to San Francisco, the golden city, a mix of extreme wealth and desperate poverty, limitless opportunity and instant disaster. There, she searches for the mother she only dimly remembers, and encounters again the railroad detective who had pursued her through Los Angeles. The railroad strikes, rioting and uproar that consumed the whole United States in that summer reaches San Francisco and Lily is caught up in the turmoil of a free-wheeling society that is making itself up as it goes along.

Lily looked through the open door; in there she could see people moving around, she heard them talking. They seemed to be doing something interesting, but before she could see what it was her father grabbed her arm and towed her off along the boardwalk.

“Don’t gawk. Carry this.” He thrust the black valise at her. “Make yourself useful. Don’t hang back, keep up with me.”

She clutched the sack full of her books in one arm and took the valise with the other. Her father strode away ahead of her, his saddle slung over his shoulder. Jewell Viner was skinny as a fish bone; the saddle made his shape monstrous. He would yell if she did not follow. She went after him along C Street, the main street of Virginia City, looking eagerly all around her.

Plastered up against the side of Sun Mountain, the city was long and narrow, laid along a steeply sloping ledge that faced east over the Washoe Desert. The sun was just coming up. The fresh young daylight was spilling across the street, shooting up through the alleys; the glass windows on the upper story of the hotel up ahead of them glared back at the rising sun. The wind had died down for a little while and the air was filmy with dust. Across the roofs of the next street down, B Street, she could see a dozen rising wraiths of smoke from the mouths of the mines.

She thought she felt the ground trembling under her feet like a drum. Over all of Virginia City lay a blanket of sound, the clatter and boom and bang of the engines of the mines, an interminable rhythmless crash. Her father had told her that Sun Mountain was made of silver; Virginia City was steadily gobbling it up, bringing out the ore through miles of tunnels and drafts that ran directly under the streets and buildings. Lily imagined the ground beneath her to be holey as old cheese; she wondered why the city didn’t just collapse down into the center of the earth.

She went on along C Street, trying to keep up with her father. The buildings she passed were crammed into the narrow space; where on either side of the street the boardwalks ended, the front walls of the buildings began, as if the boardwalk took a right turn upward.

The city was stirring alive. Down below, where the mills were, a horn tooted, and then several. In the building behind Lily a door slammed, and someone called out. A cat stood up on the sill of a window and stretched. The boardwalk filled up with people, mostly men in workpants and boots, carrying picks and shovels and the pails with their lunch. One went by her still buttoning his shirt.

“Keep up, will you?” Jewell shouted over his shoulder.

Lily was looking all around her at the steady tide of people rushing by her. Across the way, a man leaned out a window and emptied a pot into the street. An Indian struggled up the street past her, bent double under a bundle of wood. In the street an empty ore wagon rumbled by. A whistle shrieked almost overhead; out of a doorway rushed half a dozen men, pulling on hats and coats, who hurried off down the street and disappeared into the steady tramp and rush of the crowd.

She trotted a few steps to catch up with her father. Up ahead, in among the general clatter and clang of the city, she caught the sound of hammers banging. “What are they building?”

“Stupid fools,” her father said. “It burns down, they build it up again. You’d think they’d give up, leave it the way Nature wants it.” He gripped her arm and hustled her along. They passed a gap in the wall of buildings, laced across with a framework of raw lumber. Already the yellow lumber was flecked with grainy black soot. As they went by she watched two men raise a piece of the wall up into place and nail it fast. Through the empty frame she could see the steeply tilting hillside behind. The smell reached her of pitchy green wood.

Her father hurried her around a man sweeping off a section of sidewalk, another opening the door of a barbershop, the red and white pole slowly turning. She was looking around again and not paying attention and when her father stopped abruptly she nearly collided with him.

He was reading a sheet of newsprint stuck up on the barbershop wall. Lily stood on her toes, trying to see over his shoulder. All she could make out were the words SOUTHERN PACIFIC in fat black type. That was the Railroad. Her gaze strayed; beside the newsprint was a poster, illuminated with two dramatic masks.

She lunged toward that, just as her father wheeled away, banging into her so she staggered back. Without seeming to notice he caught hold of her and piloted her on up the boardwalk.

“Damn the Railroad!” he said. “They’re wrecking the country. First they done in California and now they’re after Washoe.”

Lily pushed at his hands, twisting to look back at the poster. “Dad,” she said. “Hamlet. Look. There’s a play. Shakespeare.”

Paying no attention, he crowded her on ahead of him, fuming against the Railroad. “Everything’s money, money, money. Used to be a beautiful country. Now it’s just money all the time. Damn the Railroad. They’ll strangle this country in a steel noose.” One hand on her arm, he steered her past several men lying neatly up against the wall of a saloon. “Here’s the hotel. Do you remember what to do?” He pulled her to a stop in front of a double door. There had been glass panes once in each wing of the door, but one glass was cracked across and the other boarded over.

“Yes, Dad,” she said. She had done it often enough before. Her father was poking around in his pockets, and she turned to look out into the street. “There!” she cried. “There’s a woman riding a horse. I don’t see why I—”

“No daughter of mine is going to fork a horse. The whole idea disgusts me. I don’t even want to think about it.” He held out a ten-dollar piece. “Remember, don’t say anything about me at all. Don’t give our right name, where we’re from, nothing.”

“No, Dad.” She put down the valise to take the money from him. He turned and went into the narrow slit of the alley between this building and the next.

Lily pushed her hair back under her hat; she squared her shoulders, so she would look older, and went in through the double doors.

That took her into the lobby, with its unpainted walls and plank floor seeming as if it had been built yesterday. So early in the morning, the lobby was empty. The walls muted the racket of the mines to a distant thrum. Beyond the wide doorway on her left the barroom was nearly empty, the swamper dozing over his broom, somebody in the back tunelessly singing. She went on to the hotel desk, on her right, and rang the bell.

Through the open door behind the desk, she could see the clerk in the back room playing cards. The bell brought him out. She said, “I want a room. Two beds. In the back, by the stairs.” She looked him in the eyes, to show she meant business, and slapped the ten-dollar piece loudly on the desk.

He scratched his nose, his eyes sharp with curiosity. “You’re just a child. You alone?”

“Do you have a room or not?”

He studied her a moment longer, and turned the ledger book around toward her. “Can’t give you the room by the stairs. You can have the back corner.”

“That’s all right,” she said. She took the steel pen out of the inkwell and wrote “John Smith” on the last line of the book. The clerk gave her a key and three dollars change.

“No parties, card games, or animals in the rooms, no fires in the rooms, out by noon or you pay another day.”

She nodded. She knew all that already. “Thank you.” He was already going back to his card game. She took the key, stooped for her sack full of books and the little black valise, and went to the stairs. Before she reached the top step her father caught up with her. He had sneaked in the back door.

“Any trouble?”

“No. It was seven dollars.” She gave him the change and the key.

“Seven dollars. Last time it was five.” He frowned at her, suspicious. “You palming money on me, Lily?”

“No, Dad. Last time was another hotel.” She climbed the stairs, her father close behind her.

“He cheated you,” Jewell said. “He took advantage of a girl.”

“Dad,” she said. “It said seven dollars on the sign behind him.” She went down the corridor. “I got the corner room.”

“I like the room by the stair,” he said, on her heels. “You forgot that, didn’t you?”

“No, Dad,” she said. She stopped by the door and waited while he put the key into the lock. He pushed the door in, and now, before they went inside, before he closed the door on her, she said, “Dad, I want to go downstairs for a while.”

Jewell wheeled around toward her. “You’re not going anywhere. Get in here and shut that door.”

“Oh, Dad, come on.” She hung back; if he even hesitated, she could slip away and be gone. “We haven’t been in Virginia City for such a long time, I just want to go down and walk around and see the people. Can’t I?”

“No,” he said. He grabbed her wrist and hauled her into the room. Two iron frame beds with blue plaid covers stood against either side wall, taking up most of the space. Jewell gripped her arm tight. “You’re lying to me, Lily. What do you really want to do?” He moved up past her and put his palm against the door and shut it, hard.

“I told you,” she said, defeated. “I just want to look at the people.” But she knew he wouldn’t let her go. She had walked in the front door, rented the room, signed the register, done everything right, and still he would not reward her. She went to the bed by the wall and sat heavily down. She threw her hat onto the floor. “What are we doing here, anyway? Why didn’t we just stay in the mountains?”

“Is there somebody you were gonna meet?” He moved up toward her, menacing, his head jutting forward. “Don’t lie to me, Lily. I can always tell.”

He couldn’t. She lied to him all the time and he believed it. She said, “Leave me alone, Dad.”

“You’re an ungrateful worthless little slut,” he said, and whacked her, backhanded, open-handed, across the side of the head. She yielded to the slap so that it didn’t hurt. She turned her gaze toward the wall, her throat tightening. Everything in her yearned toward the city out there; she willed herself that way, through the solid wall, into the real world.

“Don’t you sulk on me, or I’ll really hit you.”

“I’m not sulking,” she said between her teeth. “I just want to go outside.”

He was leaning over her, talking into her ear. “Listen. I’m your father. I’m the most important person in the world to you. I gave you life. I’m always working, getting by, keeping you alive, buying you everything you want and need. All I ask is you be faithful, obey me, and you won’t even do that.”

“Sure, Dad,” she said to the wall. Her cheeks and throat felt hot.

They had been up in the hills for three months, she had seen no one but him for three months, and now here they were in the city, people all around, houses and stores and theaters, and she couldn’t even go for a walk. She foresaw the entire day, maybe their whole time here, spent sitting in this little room, washing out their dirty clothes in a pail.

She had her book, at least. She turned, reaching for the sugarsack on the floor by the bed. Her father slapped at her hand.

“Don’t get into that, there’s no time for that.”

“Time?” she said, surprised. “What’s going to happen?”

Jewell leaned down and got her by the arm, pulling her up onto her feet. “You got to keep your mouth shut, right? And stay away from these hardcases.”

“Hardcases,” she said. Then someone was coming here. Her father made her stand up. He looked her up and down, gave a little fretful shake of his head, and plucked at her shirt, making it hang loosely around her.

“What are you trying to look like a whore?”

She pulled away from his grip. When he got like this there was nothing to do but stay clear and wait. Maybe he was planning something big, some scheme, some plot; a lot of complicated things going on at once always made him nervy.

“Damn it, stand still.” He reached out and pulled her hair down over her face, like a disguise. “Don’t say anything, remember? And stay out of the way.” Somebody knocked on the door.

Jewell backed off, looking at the door, and then pointed imperatively from her to the bed. She sat down on the bed again. He went to the door and opened it, and two men came in from the hall.

“Well, well. Got here right on time,” her father said, suddenly hearty and loud, his face red. “Come on in. Shut the door.”

“I’m always on time,” said one of the men. “You know Pigeye, here. Who’s the girl?”

“My daughter.”

The other man was smiling at her, his head bobbing. “Nice to meet ya, miss. I heard Jewell had a daughter.”

Jewell said, “Let’s keep this between us, understand?”

The first stranger went to the bed by the window, pushed the valise off, and sat down in the shaft of strong sunlight. He threw his hat down. He had shaggy dark red hair, but no beard. He was smiling, as if Jewell amused him, and he said, “Then just between us, whyn’t you send her out while we talk business?”

“No.” Jewell swung around, his arms out, fencing her into the corner. “She stays here, where I can watch her.”

The redheaded man, still smiling, looked past her father at Lily. “You know how to keep your mouth shut, darlin’?”

Jewell swelled, furious, but said nothing. Lily realized he was afraid of this man, who wasn’t even very tall or heavy, just an ordinary man in muddy boots and a long coat. Under the coat, she saw, he had a gun on his hip. The other newcomer had gone over by the window; he was pale, balding, what hair he did have pale and limp, his brows and eyelashes too, so that his tiny eyes looked insignificant against the broad pink expanse of his face. Pigeye, his name was. She looked at the redheaded man again.

“I’ll be quiet,” she said. “I’ll read.” She cast a quick look at her father and leaned down from the bed for her sack of books. She worked her way back into the corner and opened her new book.

The redheaded man said, “All right, Jewell. This is the deal. You know Cantrell, the silver boss in Pioche? He had a bargain with the Southern Pacific went sour and the Railroad put the arm on him and he had to pay them twenty thousand dollars in silver bullion. The Railroad sent Brand out to Pioche to pick it up—you know Brand?”

“The railroad agent,” her father said. Lily turned a page, to keep up appearances. “The crip.”

“Yeah,” said the redheaded man. “You call him a crip to his face. Anyway, he’s bringing the silver on the stage here to Virginia City. Cantrell’s offered me six thousand in gold to get it back for him.”

Jewell grunted. He sat down on the foot of her bed; the mattress sighed. “Whyn’t just take the silver?”

“You want to drag around seventy-five pounds of silver? We can carry six thousand in gold in our pockets. The trouble is Brand.”

“Kill him,” Jewell said.

Lily licked her lips. She turned another page.

“Trouble is,” said the redheaded man, sounding amused again, “is how easy it would be for the wrong people to get killed, him inside the stage, us outside it coming at him all in the open, you know. You know?” The other mattress crunched now. The redheaded man had some kind of accent, some sounds drawled, almost lilting. Now his voice dropped to a purr. “Only, seeing your girl here, I’m thinkin’ there’s a nice way to manage that.”

“What?” Jewell said. Lily put down the book and looked up.

“Can she use a gun?” the redheaded man asked.

“No,” Lily said. “I won’t hurt anybody. I won’t do anything where anybody gets hurt.”

The redheaded man turned his attention to her. His mouth still curled, but his eyes were hard and not smiling; the intensity of his look made her uneasy. She realized she didn’t like him. She wondered what he wanted her to do. She wouldn’t do anything to hurt anybody, but she knew her father needed money.

If they had money, they would stay in town longer.

He said, “The whole point in this is, nobody’s goin’ to get hurt. Except the Railroad, and they deserve it. Very likely you won’t even have to fire a shot, just look like you’re about to. Can you do that?”

“She’s in,” Jewell said harshly. “She’s a good girl, she’ll do whatever I tell her.”

The redheaded man ignored him, only watched Lily so hard she shifted her weight a little on the bed, getting her feet under her. He said, “If we don’t do it this way I’ll have to shoot everybody on the stage. You want that on your conscience? Do it my way, nobody gets hurt, we each make two thousand dollars.”

Jewell said, “I told you—”

“Shut up,” said the redheaded man, watching Lily. “Well?”

She gathered herself, her arms around her knees. Now her father was staring at her, and when he caught her looking at him he nodded twice, hard, a command.

She looked back to the redheaded man. “You have to promise not to kill anybody, even if it goes wrong.”

He said nothing for a moment, and she straightened, ready to argue. But his smile widened a little and he nodded. “I promise.”

“Then I’ll do it. I can shoot.”

“Good,” said the redheaded man. He turned toward the other two men, drawing them toward him. “Now, pay attention, this needs some timing.”

At midafternoon, the stage from Pioche stopped at the foot of Six Mile Canyon to change teams for the last hard haul up into Virginia City. So far everything had gone without a hitch. Brand got out to stretch his legs, the while keeping an eye on the only other passenger, a drummer in a bowler hat, who bounded off as soon as the wheels stopped rolling and headed for the tent saloon.

Powell, the shotgun guard, climbed stiffly down from the box; he took off his hat and beat the road dust out of it. “We made it. Ain’t nobody gonna take us on this close.” He glanced at Brand beside him. “Buy y’a drink.”

“In Virginia City,” Brand said.

“Suit y’self.” One shoulder kinked, Powell hobbled painfully away after the drummer. Maybe he had piles.

Brand circled around the coach to walk his stiff legs loose again. In the distance he could hear the roar of Virginia City, like the thunder of a storm that never broke. Being this close was no guarantee of anything. Still, he thought Powell might be right, for once: they had moved quickly, and few people even knew about the silver. He came around the front of the coach, where the driver had unhooked the team and led the horses away, and stepped across the whiffletree and leaned up against the wheel.

He looked out over a collection of shacks and tents tucked down in an angle of the hillside, out of the constant vicious wind. Once a stand of cottonwoods had grown here, now nothing was left but a few chewed stumps. Mining claims pocked the bars and side canyons all around, but a lot of the miners seemed to be going after easier loot than silver: the tent where they sold liquor was packed, the side walls rolled up in the midday heat. The solid block of shadow under the peaked roof churned and waved arms and shouted. The roof itself sucked and bellied in the wind.

The stage office was an unpainted wooden cube glorified by a high warped false front. A web of ropes held the false front upright against the whims of the Washoe zephyrs. Everything was covered with a grime of yellow dust. Half a dozen men clogged the roofless porch of the stage office, gawking and chewing and spitting and calling out to the driver as he brought out the fresh wheelers and settled them to their harness. Brand shifted his weight against the side of the coach, wanting to get going.

A tall slender girl came out of the stage office, clutching a ticket and a lumpy sugarsack. At her appearance all the men stopped talking and stared at her. In the harsh dusty sunlight she stopped a moment to draw her sack up onto her shoulder and look around her. She wore a long ruffled dress that looked way too large for her; a gaudy tasseled shawl was wrapped around her shoulders. On her feet, like some kind of joke, were heavy muddy man’s boots. She had no hat; she put her hand up to shade her eyes from the sun.

She was tanned like a boy, and her eyes were large and dark. She looked around her with a burning eagerness, as if she expected to find her life’s desire somewhere in this desert. Brand could not take his eyes from her. Tall and slim, she was beautiful, he thought, as a young birch tree, an idea that startled him. It was not her looks that fascinated him, but the passionate eagerness in her eyes.

He was working, he reminded himself. He looked elsewhere. The driver came up beside him.

“Ain’t that pretty, now? And she’s all ours.”

Brand’s attention snapped back to the girl. “She’s coming on this coach? Not if I can stop her.”

“Hey,” the driver said.

The girl was looking around; she saw the driver and held out her ticket uncertainly. “Is this the stage to Virginia City?” Her voice was high and light. Brand tried to guess how old she was: sixteen, seventeen, maybe even younger. He wondered what kind of family she had, who let her travel around by herself. The other men were eyeing her in ways that made Brand want to knock a few of them in the face.

“Yes, miss,” the driver was saying. He reached for her ticket. Brand barged up in between them.

“Look, miss, you can’t take this coach.”

“Come on, Brand,” the driver said. The girl stepped back, startled, and frowned at him.

“I have a ticket. I have to go to Virginia City. I have a sick uncle there.”

“You’re going to have to wait,” Brand said.

“Why?” she said.

The driver said, “Come on, Brand, the next coach is tomorrah. You’re gonna leave her here alone overnight?”

Brand shook his head; he knew there was no place for her to stay here. “How’d she get here?”

The girl stepped forward, all the fire of her look fixed on Brand. “I have to go to Virginia City. I have a ticket. I’m taking this coach.” Pushing the ticket into the driver’s hand, she went to the coach door.

Brand reached out his right arm and put his hand on the door latch, barring her way; he glanced past her, saw everybody watching, and lowered his voice to just over a whisper. “You don’t understand. I can’t tell you why, but you could be in danger.”

She said, “Let me on the coach.”

He gave up. Stubborn bitch. “Just don’t get in the way.” He pulled open the door for her.

“Thank you,” she said with enormous dignity. She climbed on board, and her foot slipped on the iron step. Brand, holding the door with his right hand, put out his left arm to catch her.

“Thank you,” she said again, nicer, and then she caught sight of the stump that ended his arm. She blushed and jerked her gaze away, and scrambled the rest of the way into the stage. The drummer had come out of the saloon and now hustled along after her, with Brand still standing there holding the door with his right hand and feeling stupid. The driver climbed up onto the box.

Brand stepped back, looking toward the saloon. “Where’s Powell?”

Mac, the driver, was settling himself on the box. “Oh, he’ll be out in a minute.”

They waited. The shotgun guard did not come out of the saloon. Brand said something under his breath and strode across the yard to the tent. Pushing and shoving his way through the press of bodies, he found Powell in the back, slumped against the side of the ore wagon that served as a bar.

“Come on,” Brand said. “We’re going.”

“Go without me.” Powell raised a chipped cup full of whiskey. “I’m done for the day.”

“The hell you are,” Brand said. He reached out and took the cup out of Powell’s hand and tossed it over the ore wagon. “You’re getting on up on that coach and riding shotgun all the way to Virginia City.”

Powell wheeled toward him, swaying a little; he was taller than Brand by some inches. Their eyes met. After a moment Powell’s gaze wavered. He turned away and walked toward the nearest open wall of the saloon. Brand followed just behind him.

“They ain’t paid me in a month,” Powell said over his shoulder.

“You do your job or they won’t pay you at all.” Brand herded him to the coach and watched him scale the side up to the box. Mac the driver grinned down at him and unwrapped the leather ribbons of the reins from the brake handle sticking up beside his knee.

Brand got into the passenger seat, next to the girl, and pulled the door closed. Almost at once the coach rolled off. Glad to be moving again at last, he tried to loosen himself up. Before sundown they would be rolling down C Street. The job was nearly over.

Not over yet. He paid attention to the other people in the coach. The girl had pressed herself into the angle of the seat, with her sugarsack between her and Brand, and was reading a book. Brand tipped his head a little, trying to make out what was on the spine; the only word he could see looked like brunt.

The drummer sat opposite her; Brand had hoped he would be staying back at the mining camp and was annoyed to find him here again, jouncing along in the stage. Brand braced himself on the flat hard bench. There was no comfortable way to sit. He turned his face toward the window and watched the country roll by.

They rattled down out of the wash and forded the river. The land here was hilly and the road did a lot of twist and turn. The winter rains had ended and the sage had bloomed and died back; the whole country seemed to be fading away, dull as dust. Brand caught himself rubbing the palm of his hand over his stump. He could not settle himself on the seat. He noticed how the drummer, round and red-faced, was watching the girl; the drummer’s mouth curved into a grin like a Toby jug. Suddenly he leaned toward her.

“You hear me? You the prettiest thing I seen all year.” He reached out to pat her knee.

The girl recoiled from his touch. She gave the drummer a hard look and went back to reading. Brand hoped she remembered what he had said to her. She needed a lesson and he decided against helping her out right off. If it got bad he’d stop it.

“Now, that’s not friendly,” the drummer said. “Seems to me, a man gives you a compliment, you should at least say thank you.”

“Thank you,” the girl said, her nose in her book. She rummaged in the bulky bulging sugarsack, found a pocket watch, and looked at it. When she turned back to her book, she kept the little round watch in her hand.

The drummer craned his neck. “What time is it?”

“One-fifteen,” the girl said, without looking up from the book.

Brand gave a snort of amusement. The watch was off by hours, or she was deviling the drummer.

“Well, thank you,” the drummer said. “Thank you kindly, little miss, and you don’t mind me saying so, you’re pretty as a prairie rose.” His hand stole slyly toward her knee.

The girl swiped at him. “Stop touching me.” She glanced at Brand, who did nothing; he had warned her. He could see she was terrified, pressing herself as far back into the corner as she could get.

“Now, now,” the drummer said, drawing his hand back. “I didn’t mean no offense, miss. No offense at all.” She was reading again, or pretending to, but Brand could see the sheen of her eyes. Under the brim of the bowler the drummer sneaked a look at Brand, sizing him up, and when he made no move, turned back to the girl.

“When we get to Virginia City, I know some real fancy places.” He put out his hand again toward her. “I’d surely like to take you places, little miss.”

The girl lifted her book and hammered at his hand with it. With a squeal he jerked back his arm, glanced quickly at Brand, and grabbed hold of the book and wrenched it out of her grip.

“Let me have that! What’s so—”

Brand reached out and snatched the book away. “All right, pin-peddler. I’ve had enough of you. You say one more word to her, I’ll throw you clean off this stage while it’s still moving.”

The drummer let out a yelp; with a whine of indignation he scrambled along the seat out of Brand’s reach. “Whyn’t you mind your own business?”

“Miss.” Brand twisted around toward her, saying, or beginning to say, “Do you want me to throw him off the coach?” but he only got half the words out. The gun in her hand stopped him. It was a big Remington .46, looking in her slender light-boned hand like a cannon.

He said, “Now, come on, miss, he won’t hurt you,” and the gun moved to point at him.

The girl said, “Give me my book.” Her voice was tight as a strung wire.

Brand’s jaw dropped open. He still had the book in his hand; the gun was aimed at his wishbone. Her voice was light and high like music, but under the wings of her brows her eyes blazed.

He said, “Now, come on, miss, you know you aren’t going to shoot that thing,” putting his hand out slowly to take the gun away from her.

She shot; in the confines of the stage the report stunned his ears. He never saw where the bullet went. The drummer whined and wrung his hands together, cowering down on the opposite bench.

“Give me my book!” The girl reached past the leveled gun and plucked the book out of Brand’s grasp.

From outside and above the front of the compartment there was a quick hammering, and Powell called, “Hey, Brand! What’s going on?”

Brand said, “Now, look, girl, whatever you think you’re doing—”

The drummer whimpered. “Sweet Mother of God. How did I ever get into this?”

Powell pounded on the compartment again. “Hey, Brand?”

The girl said, “Don’t move, or I’ll blow your brains out.” She glanced at her watch again. She was crazy, Brand thought. There was a high shrill note in her voice, and her eyes shone. His back tingled. No telling what a lunatic might do.

He shouted, “Keep going, Mac, Powell, I’ll handle this!” He leaned toward the girl, keeping his voice even and hard. “Put the gun down. You’re getting yourself a whole lot of trouble.”

“Shut up,” she said, “and sit still.”

The coach slowed, leaning around a bend, then suddenly jerked to a stop with a lurch that threw him off balance. He grabbed the window frame to catch himself. The fist thundered on the compartment above his head. “Hey, Brand, the road’s blocked.”

He froze, staring at the girl, putting all this together now. The drummer twitched, and the girl shot his bowler off, without even seeming to look. She said, “Get out. Now. You first.” With the octagonal muzzle of the Remington she jabbed at Brand. “Keep your hands up!”

“Hey, Brand,” Powell called.

Brand slid back across the seat, until he could see out the window, and looked. They had been rolling up Six Mile Canyon; here the gorge narrowed, the banks high and stony on either side. Craning his neck, he could see a long jumbled pile of rock blocking the road in front of the stage. He faced the girl again, her level, implacable gaze; the drummer was sobbing on the other seat.

“You can’t get away with this,” he said. He began inching his hand along his thigh, toward the gun on his hip. “There’s a man with a scattergun on the box.” He realized Powell was probably worthless. He wondered if he himself would shoot a girl.

He had to. It was his job.

Outside, from the top of the bank, a voice yelled, “You with the shotgun! Throw it down or I’ll blast you!”

“Please,” the drummer whimpered. “Please.”

Brand heard something hit the ground, just outside the window, and looked; Powell’s shotgun was lying in the dust. Over his head, abruptly, there was the loud thud of somebody jumping onto the roof. He wondered how many robbers there were.

“Get!” the girl said. “Now!”

Brand gave up; they had him cold, this time. He pushed the coach door open and got out. As he stepped away from the coach the drummer rushed out behind him and sat down abruptly in the dust. “Holy Mary Mother of God,” he said.

Brand glanced at the top of the stage, but all he could see was the back of the man who was going through the baggage. Mac sat slumped in the box, the reins slack in his hands. Beside him Powell had both hands up in the air. Brand swung around to look at the top of the bank of the gorge.

There, half sheltered behind a rock, was a man in a long duster, a bandanna over his face and a shotgun aimed down into the road. He said, “Keep your hands up. You, One-Hand, throw your gun down.” Brand squinted at him, trying to pick up something to recognize him by; slowly he took the pistol from inside his coat, stooped, and laid it on the ground.

“Kick it.”

Brand put his foot to the gun and moved it a little way down the road. The girl got out of the coach beside him and his eyes switched toward her. His temples throbbed. She looked so small, so harmless. He was going to catch hell for this.

“It’s not here,” said the man on the coach roof.

“It’s there.” A third man, this one on horseback, rode around the rear end of the coach. Like the man with the shotgun, he had a bandanna covering his face. “Keep looking,” he said to the man on the top of the stage.

“There’s nothin’! And no more place to look.”

The rider went up beside the girl, who turned and held the Remington six-gun up to him. Brand lifted his head an inch, his gaze hard on the rider. He knew this man, masked or not. His temper flared. He said, “I might have guessed this was your game, King. Using a girl.”

The horseman swung around; the Remington in his hand lined up straight at Brand’s chest. Brand sucked in his gut. Above the edge of the bandanna the robber’s pale eyes glittered, and Brand saw that he was going to kill him.

The girl launched herself across the space between them. “No!” She spread out her arms, shielding Brand from the man with the gun. “You promised me. No killing.”

Behind the screen she gave him, Brand dove for his pistol in the dirt. The rider bounded down out of the saddle and knocked the girl out of the way. The muzzle of his gun thrust into Brand’s face. Brand knelt in the dirt, his hand outstretched, the pistol just beyond his reach. An inch from his nose, the bore of the Remington looked big enough to crawl into. He lifted both arms up and slowly straightened, and the muzzle of the gun stayed level with his nose the whole way.

“Good,” said King Callahan. He pulled down the rag of his mask. His eyes were snake’s eyes, hard and cold even though he was smiling. He said, “I know I’m going to regret this, but I did promise her. Sit down by the wheel there and put your hand on your head, and the other arm let hang.”

Brand went to the rear wheel of the coach and sat down. The drummer came over and sat next to him. The man on top of the coach was looking over the edge and whistled.

“You ain’t gonna kill him?”

King said, “Find that silver.”

“It ain’t here, I’m telling you.”

King did not take his gaze from Brand. “You think he’s along for the air? Break up the coach.” He turned and spoke to the man on the bank above him. “Come on, help him. Get inside, break up the seats.”

Brand’s stump tingled and throbbed. He wished King had killed him. He would never live down being taken by a girl; he’d have to hear all the old jokes all over again.

The outlaw on the roof swung down into the coach. A moment later, wood broke with a splintering crunch. The horses spooked forward a few steps and the wheels rolled. The driver lifted his hands; on the bank, the man with the shotgun stopped on his slow way down and wagged his gun in a warning.

Inside the coach came a yell. “Here it is!”

Brand threw his head back. He gave an oblique, angry look at King Callahan. “That silver belongs to the Railroad. You take it, we’ll get you, if it takes the rest of the century.”

“Well, hell, Brand,” the outlaw said, “I’m pleased to give you something to do.” His faint brogue curled the edges of the words. The strongbox sailed out the door and hit the dust; it was so heavy it dug a hole into the hard-packed road.

“That’s the elephant,” said King. “Come on out, let’s get out of here.”

The other man jumped out of the coach; the man carrying the shotgun came down the bank with some speed now and helped drag the chest away up the road, behind the stage. King spoke to the girl, who was standing beside his horse holding the reins. “You leave anything inside?”

She gasped. “My books.” She dropped the reins and dashed into the coach, reappearing at once with her sugar sack. King swung up into his saddle and holstered his pistol. Brand twitched; but the man in the duster had reappeared by the back of the coach and stood watching him. The girl handed her sugarsack up to King and he hung it by the string loops from his saddlehorn and leaned down, reaching for her. She gripped his arm and he drew her smoothly up to sit demurely sidewise behind him: a joke, like the muddy boots. A joke on Brand.

Brand stared past her at the outlaw. “You’re dirt, King. Using a girl like this.”

The rider swung his horse around; the girl clung to his belt. “You keep talking,” he said. “I’ll just spend the money.” His horse bounded away up the road.

Brand darted toward his gun. The driver said, “Hell’s bells, Brand, don’t get yourself killed.” Brand ran back past the rear of the coach, out into the broad and empty road.

There was the long fresh dent the strongbox had made as it was dragged over the ground, a carpet of fresh hoofprints, nothing else. He ran up the road a hundred yards, looking up at the high bank on either side, and then stopped and held his breath. All he heard was the wind keening off the rocks.

The strongbox. That was heavy: they wouldn’t travel far before they did something about that box. That gave him somewhere to start, anyway. He put the pistol into its holster under his coat and jogged back toward the stagecoach.

Powell was standing by the coach. He said, “They got the drop on us. Wasn’t anything we could of done.”

“You could try staying sober,” Brand said to him. He went to help Mac the driver haul the jumble of rocks and boulders off the road. “And I’m not done yet.”

Lily Springbreeze Viner was fifteen years old, and she had never had a home.

She could not remember her mother. When she asked her father about her, Jewell got angry and sad and wouldn’t tell her anything, and she had begun to think maybe she had never had a mother, but only Jewell.

All her life, she and her father had drifted from place to place, putting up sometimes alone in the wild, sometimes in the tents and shacks of mining camps, sometimes in cities, in hotel rooms, in the backrooms of saloons and brothels, once in a graveyard. Her father was a gambler and a robber. He had taught her to shoot, but he would not let her ride a horse. He made her do robberies, but he wouldn’t let her go to school.

She knew that most people did not live like this. She saw ordinary people often enough, but only from the outside; she never got to know them. She knew the other way of life best from her books. She liked novels: the girls in those stories lived in houses and visited other people in their houses, large and beautiful houses with furniture, that had belonged to the family forever. They danced. They gave plays in their living rooms. They rode in carriages and walked in gardens. They played cards, like her father, but nobody ever got shot. There were no fistfights. Nobody got drunk. The girls worried mostly about getting married, and they always did, although that outcome seemed doubtful for most of the book. None of them ever carried a gun. None of them washed pots, or cooked bannock, or wrung out her own underwear. Much less her father’s underwear. She longed with all her heart to be a girl in one of Jane Austen’s books.

Right now she was changing her clothes in a storage shed tacked onto the back wall of the same hotel in Virginia City where she and Jewell had met King and Pigeye. The books were in their sack beside her on the storeroom floor. Once she got dressed she could read a little. Here the light was bad, but it was better out in the middle of the storeroom, where the men were. Standing on one foot, she stuck the other into the leg of her pants. She had hated the loose, sloppy feel of the long dress; she was glad to get back into her own clothes.

She could hear the men’s voices out there in the middle of the storeroom, but the crates and barrels piled up around her gave her a little privacy. Near the sloping ceiling a tiny window showed, nearly blocked behind the boxes. The daylight was fading. In a few minutes, with lots of money, they would go off and find something good to eat. For a while, her father would be in a wonderful mood.

The man from Pioche, whose silver they had recovered, had finally come in. She went around the stacked crates toward the middle of the storeroom; she had never seen a silver boss before, although of course she had heard stories.

The light came from a single lamp suspended from the rafter. The men were standing directly under it, the strongbox in their midst.

“Pretty good deal,” said the man from Pioche. He was short and fat and had a big belly. She was disappointed; she had expected someone more imposing. “Six thousand dollars in gold for twenty thousand dollars in silver.”

“I’m content with it,” said King Callahan.

“Yeah, well.” Jewell Viner leaned forward over the strongbox. “I’m not. I say we should get more.”

King’s head snapped up. Lily watched him narrowly. King scared her. After promising her he would kill no one, he had nearly killed the one-handed man. Now his voice grated, the drawling accent stronger. “I told you we’d each make two thousand. You didn’t complain then.” He nodded at Lily. “There’s your girl. Let’s go. We got to move out of here, this is taking too long.”

Jewell said, “I’m going to get what’s due me.”

Lily gritted her teeth. She thought: Come on, Dad. Let’s get the money and just go. She cast a glance at the nearby door, which led into the hotel. He had said they might stay in another hotel tonight, a fancy one, with carpets and mirrors and people who brought you things. Her father tramped toward her, his eyebrows kinked over his nose. He was breathing hard, as if he had been fighting.

“Come on,” he said to her. “You ready?”

She said, “I have to get my shoes on.”

She went back into the little hollow among the crates where she had changed her clothes. Her father followed her. She lowered her voice to a whisper.

“I hate them, Dad. We don’t need them, let’s go.”

“Damn him,” Jewell said. “Damn him!”

Lily stuffed her dress-up clothes into the space between two crates and sat down to put her boots back on. Her father’s jumpiness worried her; he did bad things when he was like this. Even in this tiny space he was pacing back and forth, and now he bolted out to the middle of the storeroom again. She gathered up her coat and her sack of books and followed him.

The shed was slapped up against the hotel; besides the door going inside, there was another opening out to the alley, through which the man from Pioche was now leaving. He had a helper with him, to haul the strongbox full of silver. When he was out, Pigeye shut the door behind him. Under the hanging lantern in the middle of the room, on an overturned crate, King was dividing gold money into stacks. He was in a hurry, every move spare, compact; he didn’t even count the coins, but just leveled the stacks.

Jewell said, “Should be four, given as Lily did most of the work.”

King said, “We agreed on three.”

“Yeah, well, I changed my mind.”

King straightened. He had lost his smile. “We agreed on all this beforehand. Don’t front up on me, Jewell, I’ll make you sorry.”

“Dad,” Lily said. “It’s all right.” She went up behind her father and put one hand on his arm. He flung her violently off.

“I don’t agree to anything that’s losing me that kind of money!”

King glanced at Lily. His face was expressionless. He reached for his coat, which was slung over a box behind him, and put it on; he carried a gun in a holster slung under his left armpit and he reached inside to adjust it. His gaze flicked toward Lily again and back to Jewell. “This way we’re out quick and easy. Or we would be if you’d shut up. Take your money, let’s go.”

Jewell shouted, “Not until I get what’s due me!” With a wild swing of his arm he swept the stacks of money off the table into the dirt.

“You stupid son of a bitch!” King dropped to one knee and grabbed with both hands for the money in the dust. “Get it yourself, then, you bastard!” He crammed money into his pockets; Pigeye started forward from beside the back door to gather up the fallen coins. Lily moved away, her breath short. Her father was standing back from the scramble, his eyes glaring and his lips drawn back from his teeth. His hand was on his gun. She held her breath, afraid of what he would do next.

“Dad, come on, let’s go.”

Then, behind her, so loud she jumped, came a thunderous banging on the hotel door.

“You in there. Come out with your hands up!”

All the men whirled around. Jewell gawked at the hotel door; his eyes looked all white. Without a word, he spun around and plunged toward the opposite door, which led into the alley. Lily started after him. King yelled, “No!” but Jewell threw the door open.

In from the outside darkness like dragon tongues licked two streaks of red flame; the double blast packed Lily’s ears and set them ringing. Jewell staggered back. His eyes were wide and popping, and his mouth gaped. Lily screamed, “Dad!” Between her and Jewell, King reached up overhead to the lamp; suddenly the room was thrown into darkness.


Lily started blindly forward, toward where she had seen her father fall. In front of her guns crashed, the red muzzle flashes licking through the dark. Then somebody ran into her and spun her around.

“Come on! Climb! Get to the window, quick!”

The hand on her back propelled her around toward the wall. Still clutching her coat and the sack of books, she scrambled up the irregular stack of the crates toward the window. Below them a swath of light leaped into the room. The hotel door was opening. The man climbing after her wheeled, sticking out his gun, and shot into the light-filled opening. Another shotgun blast bellowed in the dark beyond the crates. Lily’s foot slipped on something loose and it tumbled toward the floor. At the top of the wall she reached the little window, covered with oiled paper; she had to duck her head because of the ceiling.

King slid past her. With one hand he smashed out the paper window, pushed himself headfirst into the opening, and eeled through. “Come on!” he shouted. She stuck her head and shoulders through the window, out into the cold clear air, ten feet above the alley.

Below her men milled around in the alley; as she came out, one was pointing up, and the others were turning to see,

“Lily!” King shouted, above her. “Up here!” From the roof above her a gun roared, twice, three times. The men below her scattered, yelling. Half in and half out of the window frame, she twisted to sit up, reaching up toward the eave above her. With his free hand King gripped her wrist and hauled her onto the roof. Pigeye came after her, his harsh breath panting loud in her ears.

Lily got her feet under her. “My father,” she said, looking back.

King grabbed her arm. “Run!” He towed her across the sloping roof.

She clutched her books and her coat; her feet slipped and slid along the shingles of the roof, and only his grip on her arm kept her from falling. Her father. Where was Jewell? She turned her head to look back, half thinking he would be coming after them. To her left, down below the edge of the roof, the haze of streetlamps glowed, and she heard someone shouting, “Up there! Up there!”

A cold fear rushed over her. She turned forward. King was still towing her along by the arm and he pulled her to a stop at the edge of the roof. Just beyond her toes a chasm yawned, a gap of five or six feet between her and the flat expanse of the next roof, behind a square false front. The wind thrust into her face. The monotonous thundering of the city machine banged in her ears. Pigeye was pounding after them. In the street the excited uproar sounded louder and harsher.

King yelled, “Jump!” and pushed her.

She leaped toward the next roof; he gave her an extra boost as she went, and she lost her balance and landed flat on the roof, the books under her. A moment later he was landing next to her. She got up, looking back again.

“My father.”

“He’s dead, girl. Believe me.” King got up, stooping, bent-legged, and took off across the roof.

Pigeye rushed past her after him and she got up and followed them to the far side of the top of the building. Across a narrow space another building loomed, a story higher than this one, a wooden stair going zigzag up the side. King flew across the narrow crevice of the alley and landed sprawled across the railing of the stairs.

Lily leaped after him and landed on him. All the breath popped out of her. They were hanging across the railing, their legs dangling over the alley: they would slip and fall; they would die. She dove forward, over his head, onto the safety of the stair landing.

He rolled himself over the rail and got up, gasping for breath. “Thanks,” he said to her. “Next time, don’t lead with the goddamn books.” He bolted up the stairs. Pigeye came hurtling through the air and slammed into the railing just beside Lily, and she ran away from him up the stairs after King.

As she went, she fought one arm through a sleeve of her coat. Behind them, people shouted. A gun barked. Halfway to the top of the stair King was diving in through an open window.

Inside, a woman screamed. Lily paused long enough to get her other arm into the coat, bent her head, and stuffed herself into the square space of the window frame.

The room beyond was dark, but inside it a strange man’s voice was shouting, “What is this? What is this?” She scrambled in through the window. A far door opened and she dashed toward the faint glowing wedge of light.

She stopped. Her father. She turned to go back, and somebody grabbed her arm and dragged her along through the door. Outside was only a stair landing, dimly lit from below, and piled up with old wooden chairs; King let go of her and ran straight across to another door and threw that open.

Pigeye was coming after her. Lily followed King into a darkened room. Somebody yelled, “Hey! Hey!” Ahead of Lily a piece of the dark peeled away from a square of faint light, which King’s head and shoulders immediately filled. Lily scrambled up onto something in her way. She wobbled over something soft, which twisted under her feet and shrieked, and knew she was walking on people. She scrambled headfirst out the next window.

There was nowhere to go, no stair, no landing, a three-story drop to the ground. She climbed out onto the narrow sill, clinging to the frame. In the dark she could not see King. Pigeye, behind her, shouted, “Go on, damn it!” She saw the next roof, lower than this one, and leaped.

This roof tilted; she hit the slope and rolled; King caught her. He grabbed for the sack of books. “Drop ’em, damn it! Come on!”

“No!” She bundled the sack of books to her chest. He turned and ran, and she struggled after him, her breath like a fiery liquor in her lungs. He ran down the roof to the back edge and jumped. Lily, sliding after him, simply fell.

She sank to her knees into a pile of garbage and dead leaves. The back of the building came up nearly flush against the mountainside; the space she stood up in was no wider than she was. She leaned on the wooden wall, gasping for breath. Pigeye crashed down next to her. At her feet, barely visible in the dark, King was stooping, pulling trash and leaves out of the way with both hands, and suddenly he began to disappear, feet first, under the building.

Pigeye shoved her. “Get going.”

She crouched, saw the gap under the building, and went through it after King.

The dark beneath the building was complete. She could see nothing. The great mass of the building above her muted the racket of the city to a hum. The dry air smelled bitter. She banged her head against the building above her and after that crawled along on her belly, her head down. She pushed the sack of books ahead of her.

Her father. Her father was back there somewhere all bloody. Her chest hurt. She realized she was crying. King had stopped crawling. She reached out in front of her and touched a rough wooden slat; in front of her a little skirt of split slats filled the space between the bottom of the building and the ground.

Behind her Pigeye said, “Can’t stay here.” He was panting.

“How far you think we’ll get on foot?” King said. Under his voice she could hear an intermittent clicking: he was reloading his guns. Lily pulled her coat closed around her and did up the horn buttons in the front. Suddenly a clatter sounded, just beyond the skirting, growing louder and louder and then passing by and fading away into the general roar.

That was the boardwalk, out there; those were people running by, people hunting for her. She lowered her head to the ground, thankful for the dark.

Pigeye said, “We should have left her up there. They wouldn’t hurt her, a girl, and she’ll just slow us down.”

King said, “She made a fool out of Brand. He won’t forget that. I’d say she’s in considerable trouble.”

“We shouldn’ta come right into town. Why’d we come back here, anyway?”

“Everything would have gone slick as cow shit if Cantrell hadn’t been late and Jewell hadn’t started to argue,” King said. “If everybody had done what I told ’em, we’d all be rich.”

They were just voices in the dark. She lifted her head. She could not sit up; she could only lie there and think of her father while the tears dripped down her face. Then abruptly a hand fell on her arm.

“I’m sorry about Jewell,” King said.

She said, “You can leave me if you want. I’ll take care of myself.” The tears splashed on her hands. All she wanted was to climb back up into the open air and go find her father.

The hand stayed on her arm. King said, “We got to get some horses.” They had left their horses at a livery stable corral down on D Street.

Pigeye growled, “Yeah, well, too bad we came back here, isn’t it? You shoulda shot him out there on the road.”

“Told her I wouldn’t.”

“Yeah! Her again, see. This girl is trouble big, I’m tellin’ ya. She’s the reason they caught us. They prolly recognized us afore we even stepped out of the saddle. I say leave her.”

On her arm the hand tightened; she moved, trying to shake loose, but he held on to her. He said, “I want that sorrel horse of mine, that’s the best horse I’ve had in a year.”

“Well,” Pigeye said, “Brand will be all over the place waiting for you to come claim it.”


“Damn, King, don’t take it for a dare!”

“Sshh. Here.” King let go of her. In front of her wood ripped and broke. He was pulling out some of the slats. Her eyes had adjusted somewhat to the dark, and she could see movement. He squirmed away from her, forward, through the skirting, and his voice came back, slightly muffled. “Here. Look. The boardwalk’s raised up nearly two foot off the ground. We can crawl out under that, and I bet make it as far as the alley.” He pulled backward again, out through the hole in the skirting, back under the building. “Get in there, Pigeye.”

“Oh, God, you’re crazy.” Pigeye sounded despairing. “Why did I ever leave New Jersey?” He was moving, scraping and dragging himself along the ground; he grunted with effort, and his voice sounded from behind the skirting. “Which way?”

“Go left,” King said, beside Lily. “Wait for me.”

She said, “You can leave me. I’ll take care of myself.”

His voice fell to a murmur. “Maybe, but I’m not about to let you try. You stay here. Although, if we aren’t back by daylight, I guess you got to take your chances.” He fumbled around in the dark, and then the hand on her wrist was turning her hand up and a weight of coins slid into her palm. He said, “Stay away from Brand, girl, whatever you do.” The hands left her and he was pushing out the hole in the skirting and gone, and she was alone.

1 review for Nevada Rails

  1. William Scott (verified owner)

    An interesting tale of a young outlaw turned actress trying to find her mother and herself in late 19th century California.

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