Chapter 1- 1903
The railroad tracks glistened from the night rain and ran straight as an arrow for about a mile before they made a bend to the south and crossed the newly-constructed stone trestle that had just been built a year earlier by migrant European stone masons. The limestone structure was built over a small stream that emptied out into the Elk River right at the sand bar.
The two men were hunkered down in a ditch alongside the new C&O Railroad route that ran out of the hills of Kanawha County. Clyde Franklin’s eyes widened when he saw the bright headlight of the midnight freighter which originated in Hillsburg and was running right on time out of the hollows of Blue Creek. The train then made the turn towards them and lit up the mile-long stretch of parallel steel.
The night sky was illuminated with lightning as rain poured on them as if it were being dumped out of buckets. Water washed off the hills above them and thunder crashed every few seconds. Clyde was worried that the matches wouldn’t light the oil lamp for being too wet. His partner shot him an icy look and then slowly nodded his head.
Clyde reached into an inside pocket of his long overcoat and pulled out a scrap piece of sandpaper that he stayed crouched over to protect it from the rain, and then one of the long matches. With rain running down over his hat and his overcoat and onto the ground, Clyde managed to keep everything dry as he quickly scratched the match across the sandpaper and it instantly fired to life. He kept his coat arched around the flame as Arthur maneuvered the old railroad oil lamp into the protected area of his partner’s coat and opened the glass door to the lamp. The lamp then came to life and both men grinned.
The scruffy-looking man nodded once again.
They crawled their way up out of the ditch and onto the tracks as the train rounded the curve nearly a mile from them. Arthur, the older of the two, held the lantern high and swung it back and forth to signal the train in an official-looking manner.
Both men were close in age, somewhere in their fifties, Clyde Franklin being the more socially accepted of the two. He was clean-shaven, held a regular job and upheld the law most of the time…up until this point in his life, that is. Clyde lived in a modest little house along the side of the road that paralleled Blue Creek, a rather large creek really, which poured out into the Elk River. It was at the intersection of these two waterways that earlier pioneers had erected a small store for trading and buying dry goods, and also had constructed a few small houses, calling their town; Blue Creek, just like the creek itself.
Clyde’s partner Arthur was, on the other hand, a rough mountain man-looking type. Sort of wild-eyed and crazy in appearance, he lived in the mountains with very little in the way of extras. His full, un-trimmed beard, long hair and large, bulging eyes gave him a very intimidating demeanor. Most kids were afraid of him and would stay close to their parents in those days, when he would come down from the mountains and trade his furs routinely every month at the little crossroads General Store in Blue Creek. He had a real nasty side to him, folks would say, and Arthur Otis was a man whom you didn’t want to be on the other side of the gun that was pointed at you in 1903.
The train flashed its light and Arthur stood his ground and waved the lantern back and forth in the stormy night as the train cut its engine with a whoosh of steam and started grinding to a halt on the cold steel tracks.
The engineer certainly didn’t want to stop the train, considering the additional high-value cargo they were secretly hauling that evening, but felt safe with the added security men on board. A swinging train lantern sometimes indicated track trouble ahead such as rockslides or mudslides in these hills during a bad storm, and the veteran engineer would, of course, take no chances. After all, the lantern light and signal style did seem to be official-looking and they were in an area of frequent rockslides.
The train finally came to a halt at the beginning of the turn that would point them east. After a few puffs of steam from various relief valves on the old engine, the white-haired engineer stepped out the side of the train to a small platform and called “Yonder there...Hello!”
While going through the routine of braking, stopping and shutting down the train he had lost track of the light that had waved him to an urgent stop. The engineer grimaced at the thought of leaving the protection of his dry surroundings and called again “Yonder out there…What seems to be the problem ahead?” He heard or saw no response—only the sound of the hard rain that pinged off the steel engine broke the silence of the night. He swallowed hard and glanced over at his fireman as three armed security men stepped into the engine. “What seems to be the hold up, gentlemen?” the first security man inquired officially.
“We had some sort of track warning signal waved to us.” He paused. “I don’t ….seem…to see….the signal…man …now, though,” the engineer responded slowly as he stared out the front. A few seconds of silence went by and the engineer mumbled something and swallowed hard once more.
The three security men gave each other a quick glance and the first one nodded to the other two to return to the area of the train which they were assigned to protect. The engineer reached for his overcoat to step outside as the three security guards opened the door to return rearward.
It was at that second from outside and behind them that it happened. As the engineer opened his door, a sizzling, short fused full stick of dynamite flew onto the floor of the engine room at the feet of the engineer, the fireman, and all three security men, none of whom got out quite fast enough.
The explosion was deafening to the two heisters outside the train, but with one lucky toss at a very lucky moment, Otis and Franklin had taken out all five of their objectives on the seven-car freight train.
The Gold was theirs!
It had been as easy as that, but as fate would have it, only one man would carry it off the hill on that stormy, rainy night. Only one man would know, that night, the whereabouts of the 162 pounds of Confederate treasure that had been locked up for 38 years in a Mountain County bank vault waiting to be placed in a Washington, D.C., museum for a temporary show. And only one man would know the truth that night— who killed five men in cold blood so quickly, and with not a moment’s remorse. Only one man would know because the killing wasn’t over. One more had to die. They were partners no more.
The treasure would now belong to only one man as a single gunshot ended a night of murder and greed and number six fell dead on the tracks of the C& O Railroad.