I closed my store early that day. Mrs Strickland came by just before I locked up to give her daily update on her husband's condition but I was in no mood. He'd been struck down by some mystery illness for months now and every day she came by to tell me whether or not he died so I would be ready to take his corpse. My personal thoughts were that he was faking a sickness in order to avoiding conversing with his wife on a regular basis.
"He'll drop by tonight, I'm sure, Mr Tupper!" she squealed as she hurried past. I simply rolled my eyes. It had become my usual response to her rhetoric rather than highlighting her ignorance. Deranged as she was, she would eventually be a source of revenue.
The man with the gold nugget was named Lawton and he asked me to meet him at the saloon further up the street later that afternoon, hence my early closing. I did feel foolish to agree to such a meeting I have to admit, but I was also captivated by this man's tale of woe.
It seemed he had procured the gold from his father's claim in Black Falls, Wyoming. After years of prospecting, his father had hit the jackpot and found this monster nugget on the south end of his claim, washed up in a recent rainstorm. The rain had dislodged decades of soil and granite to reveal the gold and almost gave Lawton's father a seizure when he saw it. But before he could lay claim to such a an amazing bounty, he was shot and killed by a group of men who stormed onto his claim and demanded he hand it over. As luck would have it, his father had already given the gold to his son and told to get the next train out of town. Somehow expecting his killers, it seemed. Lawton only learned of his father's demise when he received a telegram a few days ago. As he explained this to me, nervously standing in my office, I remember thinking that I wished he'd brought his father's body to me. The undertaker in Black Falls was a shylock bastard who would charge grieving people hundreds of dollars while burying their loved ones in faulty, broken coffins made of cheap ply wood.
I hurried up the street to the saloon, not quite knowing why I'd agreed to such a meeting. The closest approximation I could come to was that after three decades burying bodies, an exciting tale of murder and treasure over a few drinks was good enough reason to close early as any. The saloon doors stubbornly pushed open and I stepped forward towards the bar, asking for a small beer. There weren't many patrons at this time of the afternoon. Sproadic groupings of sullen prospectors huddled in the corners, wanting to drown their sorrows before heading back to their claims. One bored whore clipped her toenails behind the bar until the barman told her to go back upstairs.
Lawton was hunched over a bottle of whiskey at one of the window tables. His satchel was in his lap with one hand gripping its handles. His other hand helped him with the whiskey. I paid for my beer and wandered over to his table. If only I had known the sheer hell that awaited me.