'The Great Turquoise Strike'

By Phineas Redux


Summary:— Henrietta 'Harry' Knappe and Sally 'Snapshot' Nichols, Deputies and lovers in 1870's Red Flume, Arizona Territory, USA, become entangled in an ongoing drama involving turquoise gemstones.

Note:— Influenced by the 'Wolfville' stories of Alfred Henry Lewis.

Copyright:— copyright ©2023 Phineas Redux. All characters are wholly fictitious representations, and the overall local geography may be questionable, too.


The Great Turquoise Strike of 187-, in the magnificent Territory of Arizona, happened slowly, over a lengthy period of some months during which the originators of the scheme charmed their way into everyone's good natures by promises of profits beyond compare; supplying for Public scrutiny, like manna to the Israelites, scientific Reports and Assays of the richness of the gemstone seams so providentially discovered just outside the thriving township of Red Flume.

For many years the renowned turquoise mines in the north-west, close to Phoenix, had been famous for the quality of their beautiful blue gems; now, apparently, it was the turn of the till now ignored south-west. News of the strike did not produce a Rush as the existence of gold or silver would inevitably have done, but it still enticed a fair number of enthusiastic, if brainless, amateur prospectors to try their luck. Which is where the Lawmakers of the district came into their own—but it all started six months earlier when Loftus Sanford arrived in Red Flume with good news for one and all.

"Name's Sanford, Loftus Sanford, no doubt ye've heerd o'me a'fore?" The big man, big in every way, standing foursquare in the small interior of the Sheriff's Office, only inmate presently Henrietta Knappe, Deputy and part-time bear hunter.

Henrietta stared at her visitor with little of the milk of Human Kindness in her dark eyes, it being that kind of a morning for her; she having had a slight tiff over breakfast with her fellow Deputy and live-in lover, Sally Nichols, which had the look of running through the rest of the day if not hurriedly resolved beneficially to both parties.

"So, what kin I do fer ye, friend? Lookin' fer a Hotel, or whatever? By the way, if yer armed hand 'em over, thanks—there bein' a new Law thetaway fer all visitin' citizens."

This last request making the big man raise thick eyebrows in wonder.

"Takin' possession o'a party's firearms? Here, in a border shanty town ful'la deadbeats, banditos', Bank robbers, rustlers enjoyin' their down-time, an' other gen'ral scum o'the earth? Ye surely mus' be jokin'?"

From leaning back, head comfortably against the rear wall, Henrietta sat forward with a crack of her chair's front legs on the dusty floorboards where she was seated behind the desk.

"Red Flume, fer yer information buster, be a thrivin' community o'go-ahead citizens an' ranchers all out fer a lively, but law-abidin' time. We here be goin' places, at a pretty rapid rate—an' we're nowhar's near the dam' border, OK?"

Sanford, easily spotting his mistake, turned on the charm; having no idea such would have even less effect.

"And a very fine job you are no doubt doing thar. Especially ye bein' a woman, an' all. Cain't be easy fer a purtty lady sich as yersel' t'excel aginst the mighty wall o'male superiority thet no doubt confronts ye on a daily basis. I give's ye my regards in thet line, I surely does, ma'am!"

Henrietta, having faced-off and killed grizzly bears single-handed with a Bowie knife in her time, as well as shot same from a range of near a quarter a mile with her faithful Henry rifle, looked at her visitor with an expression that filled Sanford with both curiosity and a slight chill.

"—er, thet is—"

"Mister Sanford?"

"—er, yeah?"

"Ye came in h'yar on a mission—state same fer the record, then sling yer hook, OK?"

Having unsuccessfully tried Sybaritic opulence and excess of manners Sanford, feeling himself on unexpected shaky ground, hurriedly switched to a dry plain clipped Spartan tone.

"Prospector by occy'pation; waal, investor'd be more accy'rat'; gold, silver, copper, an' other things. It bein' the other things thet's gained my interest as of t'day. Came h'yar t'let ye know official of the Great Strike's, all!"

It was Henrietta's turn to raise a curious eyebrow.

"Mister, ye talks in riddles; speak plain, if'n possible, me havin' a busy day ahead o'me!"

Twisting his wide-brimmed hat in one hand and looking round as if for inspiration, that was not forthcoming, Sanford finally got down to the facts in the matter.

"Name's Sanford, Lof—"

"Mister! We've a'ready established yer moniker; what we want's now's what we're presently chasin' after, if anythin'!"

Having made a false start Sanford gulped and tried again.

"Finance prospectin' expeditions—my trade! Not jes' any prospector, o'course. If'n I did thet I'd be a dam' pauper in weeks if'n not days. No, I takes note serious of plans, makes scientific enquiries, aroun' the natur' o'the ground, an' likely possibilities of strikin' what's looked fer; an' not jes' some thin seam thet'll wash out in days, but solid areas thet'll give months if not yar's of deep minin', with profits ter match. D'ye see whar I be comin' from?"

Henrietta, old hand as she was in all matters of Law and Order, could see perfectly well where he was coming from; curling a critical lip to snarl her reply.

"Sure does, friendo! Yer a dam' carpetbagger! One with a mite more brains an' initiative than the average, sure; but still a dam' carpetbagger! Thinks I'll run ye out'ta town pes'nal—needs some exercise an' fun t'enliven my day!"

Saying which she rose to her feet, confronting her visitor like an angry Valkyrie just noticing a nasty smell in her vicinity. At which delicate point matters were made worse by the office door swinging wide, heralding the advent of her better half—though Sally was still in a mood about their earlier argument and had no eyes or interest for present circumstances or persons, cutting to the core even before she was completely through the door.

"So, I still thinks yer wrong, sis! An' there be an end o'it, far's I'm concerned!"

"Sal, this h'yar's Loft—"

"Don't care, not interested!" Sally taking no prisoners as she threw her hat on the desk while adjusting her double gunbelt for comfort. "I'm stickin' with these h'yar Smith an' Wesson thirty-eights through thick an' thin, an' any other criticism o'them ye may feel fit ter utter, baby. Ye can take yer dam' Lefaucheux thirty-two's an' stick 'em—"

"Baby!" Henrietta attempting to make herself mistress of the rapidly deteriorating situation. "This h'yar's a present an' clar danger, OK!"

Sally, coming to a mindful awareness of her surroundings for the first time, glanced at Sanford with no sign of liking.

"Who be ye, mister?"

"Sanford, Loftus Sanford." He making this assertion with far less confidence than he had on his first arrival, looking from woman to woman with an increasing doubt and apprehension. "Say, ain't this joint got a Sheriff, at all? Whar be he, if in fac'?"

"Sheriff Charles Donaldson, a good man!" Henrietta supplying the relevant information in a dry threatening tone. "Presently laid up with the lumbago—me an' Sally h'yar bein' the sole protectors o'the township as we speaks!"

Sanford looked, as he well might, appalled at this revelation.

"Shi—thet is, dam' my—er, I mean god'da—ah—Goodness Me!"

For a significant allowance of passing Time the three people stared at each other in silence, each trying to work out what the hell was going forward, before Henrietta, taking the reins of power in her capable hands, spoke out again.

"What in tarnation was it ye wanted ter get off yer chest, Sanford? Makin' same short, sharp, clar as a crystal stream in Spring, an' usin' as few words as ye may! Come on, spit it the dam' out; some o'us havin' work o'importance t'the community ter get along with."

Encouraged in such a forthright manner Sanford did indeed spit it out.

"Struck an ore bed fifteen mile west o'Red Flume. Turquoise! Deep strong seam, high quality gemstones; looks t'be a real goer! Make me rich—hell, make everyone in Red Flume rich beyond yer wildest dreams once it's up an' runnin'! Match those mines out'ta Phoenix easy, if not better! What yer think o'thet, leddies?"

Their ongoing silence, and expressions of stunned astonishment, said all that needed to be said about what the two women thought of this untoward news; Sally being first to grasp the coat-tails of Reality again, enough at least to form a coherent reply.

"Ye sure o'thet, stranger? Thet turquoise stuff bein', so I'm informed, mighty like a mite o'other rocks o'no account."

Sanford brushed this enquiry away like a fly in Summer.

"Got my own assayers on the job, good men all. Put the raw ore through a series of scientific tests; end result, turquoise o'the highest quality, an' a seeming bottomless seam, too! I'm in the money, leddies! Or will be when I've established enough backin' ter get the show on the road. Thet same bein' why I've come here 't'day—t'drum up interest in the whole thing an' get it up an' runnin', t'everybody who contributes profit an' gain guaranteed on an epic scale."

Henrietta, still harbouring thoughts of carpet-bagging within her soul, was more than a trifle suspicious of this statement.

"Got anything t'back up these h'yar boasts, mister? More'n jes' hot air, thet is?"

For answer, he feeling more confident now he had his audience's attention, Sanford stepped forward and, reaching into his jacket pocket, distributed a handful of gems on the desk-top.

They were small in size and weight, but of a wonderful deep blue which instantly set them off as being genuine turquoise of the highest quality even to an amateur on first sight.

"Whoo!" Sally convinced right off.

"Ummph!" Henrietta allowing she was in the presence of astounding beauty but unwilling to gush about it.

"Thet handful thar's worth over five hundred dollars!" Sanford's tone reflecting his pride in his good fortune. "An' from whar they come thar be bucket-loads more fer the pickin'. All I needs is money behind me t'bolster my costs an' we're up an' runnin'. Say, gim'me three months, an' the dollars'll start flowin' like river water in a Spring flood, leddies!"

Sally, convinced, was obviously up for the whole show; but Henrietta, allowing her cautious nature to surface, was unwilling to submit to fame and fortune without a fight.

"Better let us see the source o'these supposed riches beyond compare, mister! I wan'na see an' investigate the mine they came from; talk t'the assayer who studied 'em, compare 'em t'others from Phoenix, an' get independent confirmation of jus' how kosher they be, OK?"

Sanford seemed entirely accepting of these measures, smiling broadly at his audience as one who had sold his first stock share in a silver mine in Bolivia to unsuspecting customers.

"Keep 'em, then. Do what ye sees fir with 'em. Jes', I needs 'em returned, purely fer accountin' reasons; say, by the end o'the month, OK?"

"It'll do." Henrietta trying to sound like an old hand uninterested in the whole scheme.

"Cain't wait ter see the source of all these treasures!" Sally, flicking the small pile of gemstones on the desk with an idle finger, already making plans about what to do with her future riches.


Four days later at least some answers were forthcoming; the gems provided by Sanford had been taken to the Red Flume Assayers Office, relic of the town's early days when it was, in its turn, a silver rich area. The report just given to the Deputies was short and precise.

"Turquoise all the way through, top quality, much like Phoenix specimens," Henrietta reading from the Report in the Sheriff's Office to her sole companion. "but slightly different in chemical make-up an' visual details, like colour an' texture an' grain specificity, whatever the dam' thet may be."

"So, they're real, then?"

"Yeah, all the gems provided by Sanford are real, seeming."

"Well, thar we be, then." Sally obviously making a decision based on these facts that may or may not have been a trifle premature.

"Hold hard, thar, sis." Henrietta taking a wholly more doubtful route. "We ain't finished yet, not by a far ways! So the gems is real, still don't mean they came from this supposed mine Sanford sez he's discovered sum'mers west o'our fair city."


"So, next stop, the mine! Whar'd Sanford say he was holed up?"

"Bryson's Hotel, on Munniford."

"OK, let's go thar right now, get him t'scout our way t'this mythical mine o'his."

Sally wasn't much taken with a long ride across the desert in the middle of the day however.

"Must we?"

"Seein's believin', babe, an' I dam' well wan'na see, thet's fer sure!"

"Oh, sh-t!"

Not to bore the reader with a long typographical lecture covering the western desert of Arizona suffice to say that, three hours later, covered in sweat and feeling the heat, the three rode up to an innocuous ridge of bare grey granite rocks heaving itself some fifty feet above the general level of the surrounding uneven desert, Sanford waving a proprietorial hand towards it as they arrived.

"H'yar we be, leddies; welcome, one an' all!"

Dismounting and tying their reins to some nearby sagebrush Henrietta and Sally took a formative look around, little to their advantage.

"Not much goin' for'rard, fer an active gem mine, mister!" Henrietta making, for her, the first criticism of the day apropos the site. "Whar're all yer workers?"

"Not much t'do as yet. Only workin' a skeleton crew so far, eight men in shifts." Sanford coming back with an appropriate answer. "Like I said, takes a mite of backin', lots o'dollars, t'get one o'these h'yar mines runnin' smooth an' profitable. This h'yar's jes' the bare beginnin's, only a few hands at work as yet."

"Thought ye said it was a big mine?" Sally peering myopically all round. "Al'lus I see's is a scratchy trench over thar. Whar's the dam' mine, then?"

"Patience, ma'am!" Sanford strolling across to the trench in question. "H'yar ye sees the start o'the whole thing. Turquoise beds often come mighty close t'the surface, t'begin with; ye finds single lumps o'crystal lying free amongst the gen'ral stones, sand, pebbles, an' what-not. Then, if'n lucky, scraping a trench'll open up the top o'some seam; the which is what's bein' done h'yar. Y'may not see much—"

"I don't see nuthin', but ord'nary sand an' stones." Henrietta keeping up her critical outlook, turning the corners of her mouth down gloomily.

"Thet's because we've a'ready cleaned this strip." Sanford full of answers now they were on the scene. "This h'yar ridge is sandstone, overlying a bed o'limestone, which is the normal environment whar turquoise is gen'rally found. The area's also rich in copper deposits, which is another sign thet turquoise may be present, as in this case."

"Copper?" Sally interested in the details as usual. "Enough ye could open a copper mine?"

Sanford shrugged.

"Could be, takes a lot'ta copper t'form a few veins or pockets o'turquoise. Might, as ye say, be more profitable ter mine the copper itsel'. But I'm focusing on the gems fer the present, thar bein' so thick a seam o'sich, apparent."

"So, what about the actil mine, then?" Henrietta keeping her attention on the facts that mattered.

"Over this way, cain't see the entrance from this direction."

The entrepreneur led the women round an outlying outcrop of high boulders to reveal, on the other side, the entrance to the actual shaft, leading horizontally into the ridge's interior.

"Looks pretty ord'nary." Sally voicing her opinion as she faced the dark mouth somewhat squeamishly, it looking as if it might well be, like Avernus, a further entrance to Hades' Realm itself. "Thinks, mysel', I'll stay out h'yar in daylight, thanks!"

"Waal, I means ter see what-all thar is ter see." Henrietta making her purpose plain.

"Sure?" Sanford looking doubtful. "Jes' the ord'nary workin's, so far. Lots o'dust, dirt, loose earth, an' the walls an' roof may not be quite safe, as yet!"

Called out to her face in this manner Henrietta scowled horribly, taking a step towards the dark entrance.

"After ye, mister, make it snappy!"

While her partner was lost to sight deep in the interior of the mine Sally took the opportunity to reconnoiter the rest of the mining camp. Set behind another line of high boulders she discovered the camp itself, consisting of a group of canvas tents wherein four men were taking their ease, obviously the shift at present off-duty. Clad in dusty, somewhat dirty, denim and red shirts, they all sported beards of varying tones, thickness, and length, but all looking like escapees from a local prison; all taking little interest in the presence of a woman, clad as she was in jeans and shirt herself, before returning to their tin plates of beans and bacon, coffee mugs by their sides.

A broken-down shanty made of loose logs making-up a stable for two horses and a small buggy being the only means of transport visible. A pile of thin metal rails each about ten feet long showed how the miners transported equipment inside the mine, while another pile of wooden beams showed how they meant to hold the interior up from collapsing on their heads, if they were lucky. Having toured this dismal setting, and taken in everything worth looking into, which was mighty little in itself, Sally made her way slowly back to the mine entrance just in time to greet the return of Sanford and her lover from the stygian gloom of the Underworld.

"How'd it go, baby?"

"Pretty well, nuthin' much t'see, like ye sez, mister." Henrietta greeting her paramour with a wide grin. "Seems t'be kosher, far's I kin tell. OK, so think Sal an' I'll jes' get on back ter Red Flume, Sanford. Ye comin', too?"

"Thinks I'll stay awhile, leddies. Got some official business t''transact a'fore returnin'. See ye both later."

"OK. Let's go, Sal."

Ten minutes later the women rode along in the wilderness, seemingly without another human being in sight within ten miles or so.

"What's yer opinion o'the whole set-up, then?" Sally anxious for her partner's view.

"Everythin' seemed t'be in it's proper place, sure." Henrietta still not wholly on-board with the situation however. "All laid out as ye'd expec'; but, I don't know, sumthin' still don't seem right, all the same."

Sally shrugged at this half-hearted attitude.

"See any sign o'turquoise in the mine, anywhar's?"

"Sanford took me right up t'the head of the workin's; he havin' a lamp. Only aroun' fifty feet in; thar he pointed out a sort'a seam or placin' of spotty blueish quartz-like material, stickin' in the surrounding dark rock here an' thar. Said it was turquoise, so I took his word fer same."

"Oh, well; thar ye be, eh?"



The posters stuck on the sides of buildings and street corners all over Red Flume had proclaimed, for the last week, the forthcoming lecture to be given to those interested by Loftus Sanford in the Gallion Theater on Broadside Street on the coming Saturday evening; subject - how to get rich quick by investing in a turquoise mine!

To say there was strong interest would be hardly adequate; seeing that any member of the Public was allowed into the Theater for free for days previous to the lecture to examine, on a closely guarded trestle table on the stage, a selection of gems totaling, so they were informed, over two thousand dollars; tested and certified by their own local town assayer Abraham Blau as being the true material and none other. This, of course, all falling back on the town Sheriff and Deputies' shoulders without fear or favor.

"Looks like John Faulkes, over t'the Gallion'll have a full house, Saturday." Henrietta stating the position as it sat on Thursday evening.

"How many's thet, then?" Sally always searching for the fine detail in any approaching disaster.

"Eight hundred plus." Sheriff Donaldson allowing of this terrifying statistic with a heavy sigh for emphasis.

Sally was shocked.

"Ain't thet twice the population?"

"Nah, thar bein' some aroun' four thousand souls putrefyin' the surroundin' area as we speaks." Donaldson up on these useful details.


"Those gemstones on view at the Theater really real?" Henrietta still not wholly convinced, even by the evidence of her own eyes. "I mean, t'be actil real!"

"Abraham's said so; so thar!" Sally putting the tin lid on that argument.

Henrietta moved to another subject, one just as important.

"What about security? We gon'na have'ta be thar in force all evenin'—all three o'us?"

Donaldson shrugged his wide shoulders as he sat at his desk in the poky office, the ladies taking the two visitors hard chairs for their discomfort.

"Boyle's down with a broken ankle, Sharpe's got the flu, Richardson's on holiday up t'Phoenix, an' Morgan's got'ta stay h'yar, lookin' after Billy Boakes, back in cell three, till he's hung in the town sqwar this comin' Monday sennight."


"Sanford's employin' his own bunch of security men, anyhow." Donaldson covering this fact with another shrug. "Five men inside the theater, another five outside at strategic pints. Suppose we kin make an official appearance sometime, jes' ter show willin', but I don't expec' any riot or whatever."

"Jes' as well!" Sally scowling horridly. "I feelin' one o'my burnin' headaches comin' on—should be firin'-up nicely by Saturday evenin', jes sayin'."

Sally's propensity to suffer from infrequent but all the same painful migraines had been worrying both Henrietta and Doc Thompson for the last two years past; he trying a mixed grill of sometimes surprising antidotes, to no good result so far. Her tonic standby lately being, to no-one's happiness, a large bottle of Laudanum from which she swigged deep mouthfuls every couple of days or so. Henrietta, at least, already noting a small but noticeable change in her partner's personality which had begun to worry her enormously.

"Waal, we'll see." Donaldson, unable to affect this problem instead simply passing it off for the duration as the easiest way out.


Saturday arrived as per the calendar, and so did the crowds; near enough the full 800 seats being filled that had been prophesied—making the manager John Faulkes grin from ear to ear as he stood in the foyer mentally counting the citizens passing through to the main auditorium. Standing beside him Henrietta gazed at the many with a sour eye, she only seeing incipient crimes and wrongdoings in the faces of almost all whom she glanced at.

"Figure you can retire a rich man after this, Mister Faulkes? New York? Chicago? Meb'be Europe? London, perhaps?"

Faulkes wasn't having any of this, however.

"More like jus' enough t'pay fer my dinner at Ronaldo's Eatin' House t'night! Ye'd be surprised how many expences soak up money in a Theater these days. The roof needs fixin', the gaslight's actin' up, the seats on the balcony need repairin', an' backstage there's all sorts o'bits an' pieces thet need money poured in'ta 'em. Gim'me three thousand dollars, an' I kin spend it all down t'the last cent in a week, sure!"

Henrietta nodded, hoping she seemed to exude some iota of interest in the manager's grumbles.

"Waal, I'll head in'ta the auditorium, stand at the side o'the stage an' listen t'the speakers."

Faulkes smiled widely in reply.

"Professor Noah Jones's thar, all the way from Phoenix College; also Doctor Graham Deeley, big man in geology, an' others. Sanford's brought out all the Big Nobs fer this evenin', sure as green lizards!"

Finally the seats were filled, the doors closed against late-comers, the gaslights flickered at the front of the stage, casting wavering shadows over the line of speakers sitting at a long table there facing the eager audience, and Sanford stood up in front to address the crowd formally.

"Ladies, an' gents, welcome to this lecture platform. Perhaps it would be best if I jes' jumped right to the main theme—turquoise! Now, many here'll be familiar with the said gemstone, it bein' mined some enthusiastically up t'Phoenix. But many other o'ye won't have seen the gem in person a'fore, 'ceptin' those few I've had on show from my new mine jes' outside Red Flume. Which is whar we comes t'the core of t'night's meetin'. I want t'mine turquoise; I've found a mine literal swimmin' in the best high quality examples o'sich; al'lus I needs now, ter be able ter dig 'em all out an' become rich beyond the dreams of Croesus, Midas, or any other New York millionaire, is financial backin'!"

Here he was interrupted by a hearty gale of applause as the audience, swept up in his enthusiasm, regaled themselves with how rich they might well become for the minor outlay of a few dollars—it always being the habit of the majority to act first and then regret so doing at a later date.

"So's, ye've all seen the examples I've had on show this last week h'yar in this Theater." Sanford progressing with his spiel. "As high quality gems as could be wished. Assayed by experts from Phoenix, an' your own local assayer, as bein' indeed the top o'the range. An' so I'm h'yar t'tell one an' all thet, with appropriate backin', we can make millions—yes, Ladies an' gents—millions from this h'yar mine o'mine, once it be up an' runnin'. But first, a'fore I asks fer contributions t'the expence chest, it would be only right an' proper fer ye t'hear the opinions o'some experts on the matter. So, first, may I introduce Professor Noah Jones, from Phoenix College; he bein' renowned across 'Meriky as the best in the line o'what's called geological morphology relatin' t'the gem in question. Professor, floor's your'n."

Now, the citizens of Red Flume had lived in their fair corner of comfort and relative Paradise all their lives, so were perfectly familiar with the wide desert, sandhills, larger ranges of rolling hills, jagged piles of raw rocks, and absolute mountain ranges clustering around this corner of the Territory of Arizona. But what they had never realised was the curiously complicated nature of the terrain as viewed by experts in rocks, and geology. Now, as the Professor expounded these details they were made familiar, whether wished for or no, on the various beds of rock that made up their local landscape. Jones talked of the PreCambrian Aeon, to no-one's advantage; he spoke warmly of the Proterozoic, to everyone's dismay; he enlightened his stunned audience on the incredible ages of the Paleozoic as opposed to the Mesozoic, frightening many of the women present in so doing, especially the Bible enthusiasts; ending with an enthusiastic appreciation of The Great Unconformity and inevitable subduction of the Farallon Plate that gave many incredulous listeners nightmares for weeks afterwards. Then he sat down, not to loud applause but a stunned silence—the majority of his audience never having been exposed to so much education in so limited a time before, and feeling the strain thereof.

Sanford, noticing this tendency in his listeners to slump back in something close to terminal coma, drew on his reserves of Public Speaking like a hero.

"Now, may I introduce Doctor Graham Deeley, who knows all thar be t'know about turquoise in their native habitat. He's a'gon'na tell us all h'yar why turquoise chose this region ter show willin', an' exact what made 'em in the first place; then go on ter tell us jes' what the best way o'extractin' 'em from the bedrock may be. After which I'll give a short talk on jes' how they're cut an' polished; what they're used fer in the way o'jewellery, an' what sort'a price sich'll bring in the open market. Followed by jes' how much ye can expec' from investin' various amounts, backed by stock certificates I have ready waitin' fer this golden opportunity."

Henrietta, having stayed through the first geological lecture with staring eyes and open mouth, now turned to a nearby stagehand sure of her next move.

"Hey, Jimmy! Tell Sanford, when ye get's a chance, I've got work ter do elsewhar. I'm off!"


"The what?"

Back in the Sheriff's Office Sally was interrogating her partner on the content of the lecture, and finding the answers mind-boggling.

"Protozoic." Henrietta, not that she realised, mispronouncing the newly learned term.

"Never heerd o'sich." Sally shaking an uncomprehending head. "What the hell's thet, when it's live an' kickin'?"

"An Age o'Time itsel'; approximate, so Professor Jones said, ter millions o'yar a'fore the Old Big Monsters!"

"Piirph!" Sally giving her expert opinion on this rash of nonsense. "Last time I looked in'ta the Good Book—which was some ago, I got'ta admit—I recalls it had somethin' ter say on thet subjec' which flat contradicts thet layout across the board."

"Professor Jones didn't seem ter think so?" Henrietta only recalling what she had heard.

"Hah!" Sally ready to hit this into the long grass. "What's he, a Professor, know o'it? Only a dam' Professor! I mean ter say, how kin he possibly know thet sort'a thing? Was he thar, in those times? I think's not, baby!"

Henrietta, assailed on all sides, gave up the argument, ungraciously.

"With thet sort'a outlook I worries over yer continued edy-cation some powerful, leddy! Only sayin', don't get het up over same! So, ye goin' over t'do yer shift at the Theater? It bein' open till 'leven o'clock."

"Hell no," Sally sure of this if nothing else. "if the rest o'the lectures're goin' t'be anythin' like what you've jes' suffered, think's I'll give the whole consarn a miss, thanks."

"Suit yersel', lover, suit yersel'!"


A week later Sanford made a hurried visit to the Sheriff's Office, carrying a thick ledger and two heavy canvas gladstone's, beaming from ear to ear.

"Hi'ya, leddies, how's the day goin fer ye? It's goin' mighty fine fer me, I allows!"

Sally, just having recovered from a bout of migraine and still being under the influence of a heavy intake of Laudanum, peered at her visitor from below only half-open eyes, the mind behind which was still experiencing some difficulty in comprehending reality as opposed to a familiar happy dream-state.


"Yeah," Sanford, realising her position, carried on bravely. "So, I've brought my ledger of investors an' their individual investments, as ye required. Ye may study same at yer leisure, me not returnin' till next month from Phoenix; settin' up a mine operation bein' dam' time consumin' all ways ter Hell'n back, I assures ye both!"

"What's in the gladstones'?" Henrietta taking note of more mundane issues. "Yer dirty laundry, or what?"

"Close ter twenty thousand dollars!" Sanford admitting this with a note of pride. "Didn't think I'd squee—er, manage ter mil—er, convince the Public in'ta investin' so thoroughly—but thar ye are!"

"Bully!" Henrietta astonished in turn.

"Ye can spread soft melon on bread instead o'butter, y'know." Sally muttering incoherently to no-one in particular. "Make a fine beef sandwich thet way. Wan'na I make an effort fer us all? Got the makin's out back in the kitchen, I think. Have we, Harry?"

"Have we what, gal?" Henrietta already moving over to place a comforting hand on her lover's shoulder where she sat behind the desk.

"Got melon, o'course!" Sally nodding somewhat distractedly. "If not, crushed rhubarb'll do jes' as well."

Sanford paused to give the seated Deputy a frown filled with curiosity.

"She, er, quite the thing, Miss Knappe? Fancy she might benefit from a lie down in a dark room. She bin takin' an over-doin' o'thet thar Laudanum, or what?"

"Thet's OK, mister." Henrietta quickly becoming maternally protective towards her partner. "I'll see t'her jes' fine. Ye on yer way, then? Thanks fer the ledger."

"Yeah, jes' got time ter hit the train in a few minutes. Suppose I better be on my way. See yer in a month."

"OK, 'bye."

"Wonder if creamed rice'd work instead?" Sally still off on a tangent only she could comprehend.

"Come on, gal, we're goin' home ter get ye in bed fer the rest o'the day. Jenny, our part-time servant'll look after ye while's I'm workin' h'yar. Come on. An' no more dam' Laudanum, OK? Yeah, OK!"


The following weeks came and went in line with accepted convention, but Sanford didn't. In the middle of the sixth week after the famous lecture, and raking in by the businessman of profits unimaginable, several investors anxious for their till then family fortunes, these now strayed far from home supposedly working for their expected future fortune in Phoenix under the now long absent Sanford's authority, began to start worrying. Gabriel Armstrong, fruit and vegetable retailer, and Frederick Jameson, Dry Goods salesman, coming together to enquire of the proper authorities.

"Al'lus I'm sayin' is, whar the hell is he? Thet's all."

"Yeah, he's got most o'my hard-earned savings, amountin' t'near two thou, in his pockets—an' I ain't heerd sight nor sound o'him or his doin's since the week after thet thar lecture. Whar the dam' is he, I asks, some rightful!"

Henrietta herself, just that Monday morning, had let it be known to those within the Sheriff's Office—Sally alone—that she too was beginning to worry over the continued absence of the speculator.

"As indeed ye should, Mister Jameson." She nodding in agreement. "Tell's ye both what! I'll put in hand a sweep o'telegrams across Phoenix's environs thet'll wake everyone thar up like Billy be dam'med! OK? See if it flushes him out'ta his burrow some sharp; get back t'ye both meb'be tomorrow mornin', OK?"

As the two worried citizens left Sheriff Donaldson entered, fresh from his morning stroll round the town, letting everyone see he was still alive and kicking, not that all that many cared if truth be told.

"Wha's up?"

After being filled in with the latest gossip he took a stand, giving out formal orders like the leader he was.

"Sally, telegram office, right away. Tell Sheriff Naughton up ter Phoenix thar ter wake up an' start huntin' Sanford out'ta whatever hole he's dug his'self in'ta. Also, get on'ta Phoenix College, ask if Professor Jones nor Doc Deeley can provide any clarity. Harry, how's about ye ride on out t'the mine in question? He migh'ta gone thar previous without comin' in'ta town? Meb'be wait till Sal returns an' take her along?"

"Got'cha, Charlie!"


The desert all round, as the women rode along towards the turquoise mine, quickly began to lay its eternal atmosphere on the riders, to no good effect.

"My head hurts!"

Henrietta was instantly attentive.

"Feelin' the heat, baby? Wan'na stop an' take a drink o'water or what?"

"Nah, not thet bad, thanks."

"Ye feelin' better after thet last attack o'the Blue Devils?"

"Yeah, migraine's gone, at least fer the time bein'."

"Doc Anderson did say thet phosphate mixture he's given ye has a great repy-tation fer doin' the business fer yer complaint."

"Waal, we'll see." Sally not yet convinced of the new medicine's efficacy.

As they rode up to the environs of the ragged bare boulders and stones that made up the long ridge where the mine was located Henrietta gave forth with another concern.

"Some worried about this h'yar mine; waal, at least the sity-atin it's in."

"How ya mean?"

"This h'yar ridge, the whole community o'rocks an' ground all about, is granite."


"From what I recalls Professor Jones tellin' us, thet night, turquoise is only t'be found under sandstone an' limestone! Ain't any o'they rocks anywhar close these twenty mile or more, in any direction. This'all round hereaways bein' granite an' nuthin' else."

Sally shook her head, raising an arm to wipe her brow with a gloved hand.

"Y'sure? I mean, ain't rocks jes' dam' rocks, wharever they be?"

"Rocks is mighty devious thet way, baby." Henrietta giving of her personal experience amassed over several years of failure to be a successful prospector herself. "Y'know how gold hides in rocks, silver in different rocks; an', apparent, turquoise in yet another kind! All I'm sayin' is, this h'yar rock don't seem t'be the host rock it ought'a be if turquoise is the thing round these part's, is all."

Rounding the last corner and coming in sight of the mine entrance and ancillary buildings they were instantly advised that something was wrong. Silence reigned supreme over all, there being no movement nor sign of life or human activity in any corner of the setting.

"Whar're the hosses, an' buggy?"

Henrietta gave a long glance round the property before replying.

"Not h'yar, thet's certin. Come on, let's take a survey o'the whole place."

Half an hour later the women stood before the supposed office, off to one side of the mine entrance.

"Nobody h'yar at all; place's abandoned."

Henrietta giving the official conclusion of their search all round.

"An' don't look like thar's bin any attempt at business fer the last few weeks, neither." Sally allowing of her own observations.

Henrietta pondered the situation for another minute or so.

"Anythin' in the kitchen over thar?"

"Some empty coffee tins, an' meal sacks, nuthin' else. Even the tin plates an' mugs're gone."

Henrietta, having braved the mine tunnel itself, held in her hand a lump of blueish rock taken from deep in the interior, which she now began to juggle in her hand.

"Thinks we better get back t'Charlie pronto, get this rock assayed t'see what the dam' it really is, then set a search fer the bum in progress. Looks mighty like we've bin pan-handled by an expert."

"Sh-t!" Sally instantly seeing the likely outcome. "Folks back in Red Flume'll be incandescent! They'll likely try'n lynch us, fer sure! I mean, he took dam' near every red cent Red Flume has ter offer! We'll, al'lus us, be paupers fer yars t'come if'n we don't get the money back!"

Henrietta glanced round one last time.

"This place's dead an' abandoned, thet's fer sure. OK, let's get back home quick's we kin ride. Sooner Charlie knows the better."


The swelling sense of outrage associated with the news that Sanford had been nothing more than a dam'med carpet-bagger all along swept through Red Flume's community like wildfire. A couple of further days, spent in unnumbered telegrams between Phoenix and the small town, finally clarified several points of interest; or more realistically points of notoriety.

"An' I thought the Witch o'Endor was a bad case!" Charles Donaldson trying to come to terms with the unfolding drama in his Office four days later.

"How's things stand as we speaks, Charlie?" Henrietta searching for clarity. "Thet lump o'rock I brought in bein', so Abraham at the Assay Office sez, nuthin but somthin' called chrysocolla quartz, whatever the dam' thet be—worthless in itsel', anyway, Abraham said."

"Waal, far's I kin make out, from all these dam' telegrams, it's bin a dam' hoax from day one! No-one, Sheriff Naughton in Phoenix sez, knows Sanford, no-one in Phoenix College's ever heerd o'either Professor Jones nor Doc Deeley. Seems the trio were in the thing t'gether from the very beginnin'! Far's we kin figur' it, they took the money an' skedaddled off t'whar we has no clue! Could be anywhar in the States an' Territories by now!"

"What about the twenty thou they squeezed out'ta near everyone here?" Sally frowning over this appalling crime.

Donaldson shrugged fretfully.

"If'n we never finds the culprits, thar ain't much chance o'findin' the money; stands ter reason, don't it?"

Sally, she having in a moment of mental aberration handed over $150 herself, matching Henrietta's contribution, flared-up uncontrollably at this suggestion.

"G-d'd-m it!" She raging like the Medusa during an eclipse of the Sun when no-one could see her. "Never did think much of the Law over t'Phoenix! Gon'na go up thar an' kick some butts, get some real work done thet'll make waves folks'll recall when they're ninety-one, dam'mit!"

Donaldson put a stopper on this idea right off.

"Cain't be done, Sal! Naughton's a good man, he knows what's what. If'n he cain't get a lead on the varmints, no-one kin, thet's all!"

This latter opinion proved correct in the long run. The Red Flume Scout, the Firbank Mercury, the Phoenix Observer, and even the mighty El Paso Messenger, all newspapers of note, finally together unable to resolve the matter to anybody's satisfaction. Apart from disseminating the details of the dastardly crime and descriptions of the perpetrators, nothing more could be done until information could be found from folks who might have fallen in with the thieves. This, in the end, proving a lost cause, there was nothing further to be done but file the story in the appropriate pigeon-hole and get on with life.

"A hunner an'fifty f-ckin' dollars—all mine!" Sally raging against the Light in the Sheriff's Office a month later, a bottle of some unidentified medicine at her left elbow; her attacks of migraine having become more common over the last few weeks.

"I got stung the same, baby?" Henrietta thinking she might be included too, just out of common curtesy.

"Yeah-yeah!" Sally not mollified in the least by this dual victimisation.

"What the hell's thet medicine yer swallowin' like sugar-water?" Charles Donaldson watching as his Deputy took another deep swig of the light brown mixture. "Looks disgustin', an' from what I kin tell from h'yar, don't smell like roses, neither!"

"Doc Thompson gave it me, sez it may help my migraine, if taken reg'lar. It's called Excelsior Cough an' Bronchial Remedy, but's useful fer other ailments too, apparent; got a mixture o'distilled alcohol, cannabis, an' tincture o'cocaine. Don't know quite what those latter two 'gredients be, but Doc Thompson seems ter swar by it bein', near enuff, the nectar o'the Gods, unrivalled!"

Donaldson and Henrietta looked at each other, over Sally's head, both shaking their heads in mutual doubt.

The End


Another 'Red Flume' story will arrive shortly.