The sound of the train whistle sounded lonely as it sifted into the heavily fortified government gold car in which ten million dollars in gold bars was being transported. The fact that the gold was being transported, as well as the amount of gold, was highly secret. In fact, three of the four men stationed inside the car, guarding the gold, didn't even know their destination. Only the senior agent, a tall man with graying hair, knew where they were going.
Sam Messer looked at the three other men enclosed in the train car with him then glanced down to finish rolling a cigarette. He expertly finished the job and stuck the cigarette between his lips. He struck a match, lighted the cigarette, and then looked through the smoke, squinting his eyes in the dim light, as he said to the other men, "Reckon we should be coming up on Waukon Tunnel anytime now. You boys pay strict attention 'cause the last two times a train was hit, it were in a tunnel."
Two of the three men automatically checked their guns, making sure all was in readiness. Each man had a holster strapped to his right hip in which resided a Colt M1911 .45 automatic. However, the main weapon that each man carried was a double barreled shotgun. These men meant business.
The third man hadn't moved a muscle. He just stared at Sam.
"Heard you was there for one of them parties, Boss," said the tallest of the three men.
Sam nodded. "Sure was, Lank. There was only two of us guardin' the money. A group a six men had blocked the tracks by dropping a tree across the far end of the tunnel and before the train was fully stopped they was ahollerin' fer us to open up or else they'd blow us out with dynamite."
Another one of the men, called Bull by anyone who could stay out of his reach, cocked his head to the right. "What'd you do?"
Sam grinned at the heavily built man. "We killed the bastards."
Lank and Bull stared at their boss a second then started laughing. Slim Jones, the only one of the three that hadn't yet spoken, or checked his guns, didn't laugh. In a low voice he said "Sounds easy when you say it like that."
His grin fading, Sam looked into Slim's eyes and could tell from the haunted look buried there that Slim had done his own share of killing. "Yeah, it does make it sound easy. What weren't easy was the three rounds I took. Jimbo weren't so lucky. Took a shotgun blast full to the head."
The two laughing men closed their mouths, glanced at each other, and then started checking their guns again.
As he was making sure his Colt had a full magazine, Lank mumbled "You'd think this was still the old Wild West. Hell, it's 1923, not 1880!"
Removing the cigarette from his mouth and flicking ashes onto the floor, Sam agreed, "You're right 'bout that Lank, it is 1923. Only thing is, some a them sons a bitches don't know it!" He held up his shotgun. "So we gotta show'em."
At that instant the dim light entering through the small, heavily fortified, windows, disappeared. The inside of the gold car became as black as night in a coal mine.
Bull's voice, normally very loud, was subdued as he complained, "I sure wish you'd let us have some lights in here, Boss."
"And be sitting ducks if we had to open the door for any reason. Better fer it to be dark in here, makes it harder fer someone to see us and easier fer us to see them." Sam's voice wasn't loud, but it seemed to have a strange quality that allowed it to penetrate the rumbling of the steel wheels over the rail line.
"Yeah, well, that don't mean I have to like it."
Sam chuckled, "Well, it'll only be another minute or so and we'll be out of the tunnel. Now hesh up. I don't wanna hear another complaint."
The click clack sound of the wheels seemed to grow louder and louder in the darkness until suddenly light streamed through the windows. The train had left the tunnel.
"WHAT THE HELL?!" Sam ejaculated, spraying ashes as the cold but nearly completely burned cigarette flew from his lips.
"Well, I'll be!" Lank spun around, pointing his shotgun in various directions.
"Where'd it all go?" Bull whispered, his ruddy face turning white.
Slim shook his head, then looked at the stunned face of his boss. "Don't make a lick a sense, Sam."
The men stared around in confusion. The train car was empty! Each of the 276 boxes containing the bars of gold was gone! Somehow, during the trip through the tunnel, the gold had disappeared!
". . .and that's exactly what happened, Bogart. Craziest thing I ever saw." Sam leaned back and pulled out a rolling paper and his bag of tobacco and started a cigarette. His eyes never left the face of the man for whom he worked, his hands constructing the cigarette on their own, performing a set of actions ingrained from years of experience.
Bogart Sims, a large beefy man with a ghostly white pallor, looked at Sam and snorted. "You really think I'll buy that load of hog wash Sam? Do I look like an idiot? That much gold just doesn't disappear without a little help. Hell, without a LOT of help!"
For the first time since the gold disappeared, the usually imperturbable agent showed concern, the hand carrying the cigarette to his mouth paused. "Hog wash? You think I'm lyin'?" He pointed the unlighted cigarette at his boss. "You know me, Bogart, I've worked fer you fer over 10 years! From well before you got this fancy government job!"
Sims leaned forward and slammed his fist down on the desk. "I swear to God, Sam, if you don't tell me where that gold is, I'll bury you under the latrine of the prison after you hang! I'll be damned if I'm going down for this! That shipment of gold was for a top-secret government project and someone's ass is gonna burn for it coming up missing!"
"I tell ya, I don't have any idea where the gold is. It disappeared just like I said! If I was gonna steal somethin' it sure as hell wouldn't be high profile government gold. Do I look stupid?" Sam leaned back and struck a match, lighting his cigarette.
"Well I'm afraid that's not good enough, Sam." Looking towards the closed door of his office, Sims raised his voice. "Come on in boys and take him!"
Turning in his chair, Sam saw the door open and two younger men, apparently new agents because they were unfamiliar to him, walked in, one walking to his left side and one to his right.
"You don't wanna do this, Bogart," said Sam as he turned back to face his boss. "I ain't going to jail fer somethin' I didn't do. Give me a few days and I'll see if I can figure out what happened to the gold!"
"Too late, Sam. We've already arrested the other three that were with you. If they don't talk then we'll make sure you do. Make it easy on yourself; tell us where the gold is." Sims leaned forward and gazed intently at Sam. "Or else it's gonna get bad real fast, and you don't want that."
Sam sat still a couple of seconds then nodded his head. "All right. I see there's not much I can do. I'll have to show you." He stood up slowly and looked down and across the desk at Sims.
His eyes widening, Sims leaned back in his leather chair with a slight look of surprise on his face and said "Show us?"
"Sorry about this Bogart."
The look of surprise changed to one of puzzlement. "Sorry for what?"
In answer Sam reached up to remove the cigarette from his mouth, but just as his left hand reached his mouth, he shot his elbow back and up, clipping the agent there hard on the chin! At the same instant his right fist shot backwards into the crotch of the agent to his right. Both men dropped to the floor almost simultaneously, one out cold, the other holding his crotch. Neither would be up to bothering anyone for quite awhile.
Taken by surprise, Sims still wasted no time in reaching his hand for the drawer in which he kept a service revolver.
"I wouldn't do that Bogart."
Sims eyes shifted from the desk drawer. A Colt .45 revolver stared back at him from Sam's fist. He slowly pulled his hand away from the drawer.
"Stand up and turn around."
"Now look here!"
"Do it! I got no time to waste and if I'm gonna hang fer stealin' government gold then I might as well hang fer murder!"
Sims gulped then stood and turned around.
Reaching across the desk Sam clipped Sims in the back of the head with his revolver. Sims dropped to the floor like a sack of wet potatoes.
Quickly, Sam searched each of the three men, removing their weapons, placing them into his coat pocket. He then opened the office door, stepped out into the room beyond and shut the door behind him.
Smiling at Sims secretary, he said "Bogart says he don't wanna be bothered fer any reason, he's discussin' somethin' important with those other two agents."
"Sure Sam thanks!" The blond beamed up at him and then added. "You're looking a little peaked, are you okay?"
Removing the cigarette form his mouth as he made for the exit, Sam threw back over his shoulder "You bet, couldn't be better. See ya later Clara."
"Bye Sam." The secretary waved and then turned her attention back to the very important job of filing her nails.
It was early morning and a young man wearing a white shirt and khaki pants tucked into black books walked up the sidewalk. Although he was enjoying the growing sunlight his face was shaded by a broad-brimmed grey, western style hat. The holstered Luger that rode his right hip didn't seem out of place at all, it fitted the young man's personality.
He turned off the sidewalk and entered a door under a sign that read "T & S Detective Agency." As he entered the small reception area he removed his hat and threw it on a desk. As he unconsciously patted the ever present cowlick that stuck up from his blond hair, trying unsuccessfully to make it lie down, he noticed that his partner was already in his office. He shook his head, wondering how his partner always managed to get to the office before he did.
A grin on his face, the young blond headed man named Tom Sandy grasped the doorknob of the door to his partner's office and twisted it to the left. Pushing open the door he stepped into the sparsely furnished office and said without preamble "Looks like I've got a case for us to work on." He reached into his right pocket and removed a pack of Wrigley's Spearmint chewing gum.
The man sitting behind the large oak desk that occupied a large portion of the office was reading a newspaper. He seemed to take no notice of Sandy, apparently concentrating on finishing whatever article he was reading.
Sandy stood there for a few seconds his jaw working furiously chewing the gum, then grew impatient and asked "Don't you want to know what it is?"
The newspaper lowered and dropped onto the desk. The man that appeared from behind the paper was wearing a black business suit and under his coat was a bone white collarless shirt. The suit hung on his tall, gaunt form, almost as if it were too large for him. The man looked as if he might be in his early sixties and even though his hair looked as if it had once been jet black, it was now shot through with gray. Reaching up to remove reading glasses from his expressionless face, he queried, "Is it a paying job?"
His jaw working even more furiously than before, Sandy nodded, then paused. "Well," he laughed, "it might be."
"We didn't start this detective agency to take on charity cases, Sandy."
"I know, Bill, I know, but this case could earn us quite a tidy sum!"
William Toombs looked more like an undertaker than anything else, but at one time he had been a very famous gunfighter. He had sent so many men to the grave that someone had given him the moniker "Graveyard." Sandy was the only person that called him Bill.
Shaking his head Graveyard said "Tell me about it."
"As you know, I stayed late last night so that I could write up the report on that case about the missing bird."
"Unusual, but true," Graveyard said dryly.
"Hey, I stay late a lot!" Noticing the doubtful expression on his partners face, Sandy grinned. "Well, okay, maybe not so much, but last night I did and received a telephone call. It was from a man named Sam Messer and he's got a boatload of trouble."
Sandy nodded. "Ever hear of him?"
"Seems like I ran into a Sam Messer at one time or another. What did he say?"
"Oh, nothing much. He's just been accused of stealing ten million in government gold!"
"Seems like a right smart amount."
Sandy stared at Graveyard for a couple of seconds and wondered how it was that nothing ever seemed to surprise him. "Yeah, I'd say so. Over eleven hundred bars of gold!"
"And he says he didn't steal it."
"Not only that, but that he was helping to guard it and that it all disappeared right out from under him and three other men while they were all locked inside a moving train car!"
One of Graveyards eyebrows went up slightly. Sandy knew that was the same as anyone else shouting "What?!"
Tilting his head to the right, Sand inquired "So, you interested?"
Graveyard pursed his lips a second then nodded. "Give me the details."
Because Sandy loved gadgets and was always tinkering and creating new things to help him and Graveyard in their investigations, he'd removed the back seat of the Nash and modified the space to carry his gear.
Stepping out of the passenger side door, Graveyard reached back into the car and grabbed his black coat and slipped it on. "Messer is supposed to meet us here?"
"Yeah, that's what he said. And after here he's going to take us to where the train car the gold was being shipped in is being kept."
"We have permission to look it over?"
Sandy grinned as he got out and shut the car door. "Well, nobody said we couldn't look at."
Graveyard shook his head slightly. "That's what I figured."
Sandy laughed as he popped a stick of spearmint gum into his mouth then looked around. "I wonder where Sam is. I figured he would have already been here."
"He's probably keeping undercover as much as possible. The government don't take kindly to someone stealing its gold." Reaching into the car again Graveyard pulled out a flashlight and then started walking towards the tunnel. "Might as well start checking things out while we wait on him to show up."
"Sounds good to me." Sandy opened the left rear door of the Nash and removed a fairly large suitcase and a flashlight of his own. "I checked the schedule and there shouldn't be another train through here for quite awhile, on either track. We shouldn't have any problem checking out the tunnel."
The only reply from Graveyard was the crunch of his lace-up boots in the loose gravel as he walked between the two sets of tracks. He had entered the tunnel and was playing the beam of his flashlight around.
When they had reached the midway point Graveyard paused and kneeled down so that he could examine the ground more closely. "The gravel here looks displaced. I'd say something has disturbed it."
Setting the case down on its side, Sandy pointed his light to where Graveyard was kneeling and said around the spearmint gum he was chewing furiously, "Well, while you check out the gravel displacement, I'm going to run a few tests. I've brought along my brand new portable field laboratory. I've been working on it awhile and just finished it a couple of days ago." He kneeled down, flipped up the latches on the case and pulled open the top.
Graveyard stood up and glanced down into the case. It was lined with all sorts of small bottles, boxes, and various apparatus, most of which were unrecognizable to him. "You do that Sandy. I'm gonna have a look at the rest of the tunnel."
Already absorbed in selecting items from the case, the young inventor barely seemed to hear him. "Sure, sure, go ahead."
Shaking his head, Graveyard turned and started making his way down the tunnel, zig zagging from side to side and going much slower than he had been before. He was closely observing the ground, looking for any signs of disturbance.
Nearly thirty minutes later he was nearing the end of the tunnel when the sound of someone running reached his ears. Reaching into his coat pocket he pulled out a revolver and held it in his right hand while he stepped against the wall. As his back reached the wall a thin man burst into the tunnel, running for all he was worth!
It was only a second before he neared Graveyards position. Graveyard, not seeming to speak loudly, yet his voice carrying very well, growled, "I'd stop right there mister, if I was you."
The man reacted instantly, stopping so quickly that he slid in the gravel a couple of feet.
"Aw, hell! How'd you beat me in here?" the man gasped, his breath ragged.
The gun in Graveyards hand was steady as a rock and the light drifting in from the mouth of the tunnel was just enough to illuminate it so that the man could see it. "If you're Sam Messer then you told us to meet you here."
His eyes widening, the man blurted "You're Tom Sandy?"
"I'm his partner, Bill Toombs."
Wiping his forehead on his sleeve, Sam glanced nervously over his shoulder. "I'm glad as hell to meet you. Only we better get outta here. They's on my trail and gonna be here faster than a redbone on a coon!"
"Well, they's after me too, thicker than ever after what just happened, but I don't know who these sons a bitches are. They tried to bushwhack me up the road aways but I got away from 'em. I was tryin' to get here as fast as I could.
"What just happened to make the government even more interested in you?"
Sam spat into the gravel and growled, "I just heard that my boss Bogart Sims was killed and that his secretary was kidnapped and they're blamin' me!"
"Everything okay down there?" Sandy's voice echoed from down the tunnel.
Raising his voice a bit so that Sandy would hear him Graveyard said "Sam's here and looks like he brought trouble. Head back to the car and we'll be right behind you."
Motioning to Sam with the revolver, Graveyard commanded, "Let's move." He and Sam moved quickly down the tunnel.
Sandy was standing beside the Nash with his case in hand when Sam and Graveyard exited the tunnel. "What's the trouble?
Sam pointed over his shoulder. "Was nearly bushwhacked back there and the thugs what done it are a followin' me!"
Cocking an eyebrow the blond detective asked, "What do they want?"
"Want?" The lanky agent scratched his forehead. "Hell, I think they wanna kill me!" Just as he spoke the sound of a car engine drifted down the tunnel. Sam spun around. A shadow passed over the far end of the tunnel and suddenly the silhouette of a car appeared. "They're here!" He and Graveyard moved over to the far side of the Nash, to put the car between them and the mouth of the tunnel.
Sitting down his case and then opening the rear door of the Nash, Sandy reached into the car and pulled a large rifle from a scabbard attached to the back of the front seat. "Here ya go Bill," he said as he handed the huge gun to Graveyard. The gun was a bolt action .375 H&H Magnum Nitro-Express. Some called it an Elephant Rifle. Large and powerful rifles had always been Graveyards preference which had made him different from the typical gunfighter that most people envisioned.
Sam looked at the rifle. "That's one hell of a rifle. I ain't seen a rifle that big since..." Sam's eyes grew large and he ejaculated "Graveyard Toombs! By God that's who you are!"
Chambering a round, Graveyard admitted "People call me that."
"I thought you died years ago! Dang if it ain't been twenty years since I ran across you." He looked at Graveyard's face more closely. "I'd swear you don't look a day older than you did then."
Nodding his head toward the tunnel the old gunfighter said "If we don't watch out I might not get another day older."
Kneeling down beside the other two men, Sandy pulled his Lugar out of its holster. "Sounds like they shut the car off. Think they'll come down the tunnel? It'd be pretty easy for us to just shoot down the tunnel at them."
"You might even hit one of them too," Graveyard said wryly.
Sandy smiled, knowing that was his friend's version of a joke. The young detective practiced quite a bit with his Lugar but just wasn't a very good shot.
"Course, we'd have to be in front of the tunnel and they might get a good shot at us as well," Graveyard mused.
"Sure enough," muttered Sam who had pulled out a revolver.
"You two keep covering the tunnel, I want to check something."
"Where you going?" Sandy asked as his partner turned to step into the brush along side the tracks.
Graveyard seemed not to hear him, a quirk that had annoyed the young man many times. The gaunt form of the gunfighter entered the brush and he instantly vanished. There appeared to be no trace of him.
"I hate when he does that," said Sandy as he turned back to watch the tunnel.
Sam glanced at him. "Some of the things I heard 'bout you was hard to believe, but if I'd knowed you was partnered with old Graveyard I'd have believed anything!"
"Yeah, he does seem to be something of a legend." Sandy said distractedly and then rubbed his jaw. "I wonder what they're doing down there?" He reached into his right pocket for a fresh stick of spearmint gum.
At that instant the sound of an automobile engine drifted out of the tunnel. "Sounds like their about to skedaddle!" exclaimed Sam.
Sandy cocked his head, stopped chewing his gum, and listened for a second. "Sounds more like they're coming down the tunnel."
Sam shook his head. "That's crazy!"
A gunshot rang out just as a bullet whined past the heads of the Sam and Sandy. Spinning around they saw four men coming out of the trees that bordered the train tracks. Each one carried a revolver and looked ready for murder.
Sandy grabbed the handle of his case and spat "Run Sam!" He snapped off a shot from his Lugar and bounded around the Nash, headed for the brush covered ditch on the far side of the railroad tracks. The shot from the Lugar went wild but the four men ducked.
Wasting no time, Sam was right on the heels of the much younger man. Both men dived into the ditch, landing on their stomachs. They turned around and peeked over the edge of the ditch to see the men quickly move to the side of the Nash and kneel down.
"Damn it!" Sandy cursed, his jaws furiously working, chewing the gum. "They're using my own car for protection."
"You boys might as well give it up," called a voice from behind the Nash. "You can't go anywhere and we got more men coming."
The sound of the vehicle moving down the tunnel suddenly grew louder, backing up the truth of the thug's statement. The vehicle, a Model T Ford, burst from the tunnel, crossed the far set of tracks, and skidded to a halt beside the Nash.
"Hell, Jim, pull around to this side!" One of the men kneeling beside the Nash shouted.
Gears clashed and the driver, a very young looking man, quickly moved the Ford to the other side of the Touring car.
"Come on you curs, give it up. You ain't goin' nowhere!" Another of the men shouted at Sandy and Sam.
The explosion of sound from a round being fired from a massive rifle was followed by the sound of metal striking metal. The engine of the Ford died with a sputter and water started gushing from the motor.
"What the hell was that!?" The driver of the Ford looked stunned.
"Get down out of there, Jim! Someone just killed the car with what sounded like an elephant gun!"
The driver glanced around. "We're sittin' ducks here. I didn't sign up to get killed!" He jumped down from the Ford and jerked open the passenger door of the Nash.
"Aw, hell," one of the thugs groaned, and then followed the driver into Sandy's car. Sam pointed his gun over the edge of the ditch to take a shot at the men as they climbed into the car.
"Don't shoot at my car!" Sandy hissed.
"What?" Sam glanced at the younger man. "They're gonna get away!"
"It's a brand new car," protested Sandy. Before he could say another word the driver started the engine, slapped the car in gear, and spun the tires as he accelerated away from the tracks and onto the dirt access road which had lead to the tunnel.
"I told you!" said Sam as he stood up and stepped out of the ditch. He reached into a pocket with his left hand and took out the makings of a cigarette.
A second later Sandy stood up beside him, his case still in hand. He sat the case down then reached up and tilted his hat back. "You out there Bill?"
In response, the brush next to the tunnel parted and Graveyard stepped out carrying his rifle.