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Prologue

June 12, 1897

The concussion rocked the walls of La Plata Canyon far away from the blast site. There, fire and smoke careened out of the hole and added more soot to the already blackened cave mouth. Deep within the mountain, one could hear the rocks reestablishing their equilibrium. It was as if the mountain were alive. To further the illusion, one could hear the mountain rumbling long after the blast, like an awakened grizzly settling back into sleep.

Jeb stood up from behind his barricade and watched as the last of the smoke seeped out of the mine. It looked like a fire breathing dragon sleeping, snoring smoke through one open nostril. Jeb liked the thought for he remembered fairy tales from his childhood which told that dragons' bellies were covered with gold and jewels. Jeb grabbed his lantern and pick and prepared to head back into the dragon.

Jeb had been prospecting for over thirty years. He had missed the big strike in California, shown up too late for the one in Alaska, and was just barely in the right century for the Colorado strikes. He had been late for the strike on the Blue, just missed the boom on the Tarryall, and had shown up in La Plata Canyon about twenty years late. And while some might argue he didn't know it very well, prospecting was the only life he knew.

Not that he hadn't had a couple moments of glory. For three days once he had been a millionaire—on paper. That had been up near Tincup, or was it Alma? He couldn't rightly remember. But three ladies depicted on stiff paper had forfeited his millions to a man holding four monarchs depicted on similarly stiff paper. Jeb always held that it had been a blessing—that all that money had encumbered him—but the truth was that he sometimes wished he'd never gotten into that last hand. Jeb's life could be summed up with the phrase, "If only I'd left earlier."

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