Authors: High on a Hill
This book is a work of historical fiction. In order to give a sense of the times, some names or real people or places have been included in the book. However, the events depicted in this book are imaginary, and the names of nonhistorical persons or events are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance of such nonhistorical persons or events to actual ones is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2002 by Dorothy Garlock
All rights reserved.
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First eBook Edition: June 2002
A Gentle Giving
After the Parade
Love and Cherish
More than Memory
Ribbon in the Sky
River of Tomorrow
Sins of Summer
The Edge of Town
The Listening Sky
The Searching Hearts
This Loving Land
Wild Sweet Wilderness
Wind of Promise
This book is dedicated to
(affectionately known as Winnie)
She is my constant companion, my guardian,
my faithful friend.
She also eats my leftovers.
Another Annabel Lee
We came here in the dark of night,
Another step in our constant flight.
In secrecy we packed and fled.
“One last move,” my father said.
I woke at dawn to sunlight streaming,
Looked down the slope to the river’s gleaming.
A wooded glen, a pasture green,
The calmest place I’d ever seen.
Though my name is Annabel Lee,
I yearn for no “kingdom by the sea.”
I want to stay here, quiet and still,
And make my home high on a hill.
And if “a love that is more than a love”
Should find me ’neath this sky above,
I’ll rejoice in it with a heart that’s free
And take from each day its own poetry.
E KNEW THE INSTANT THE MEN APPEARED out of the river fog and blocked his way that he was in trouble. At the time it didn’t occur to him that their intentions were not to rob him but to kill him. He braced his hands on his hips and, with a sneer on his face, waited. None of the three spoke or made a move toward him.
He had been foolish to linger with his friend until after midnight. He had enjoyed the conversation and sipping a legal wine called Vine-Glo—grape juice that, when put in the cellar and nursed for sixty days, turned into wine that was fifteen percent alcohol. More time had passed than he had realized.
He peered through the fog at the men confronting him: one tall, one short and stocky, the other one a mere boy. All wore the look of experienced brawlers. Their caps were set at an angle, their feet spread wide to give an impression of immovability.
This was obviously not an accidental meeting. They had been waiting for him; waiting before confronting him until he was a good distance from the house of his friend and in an area fronting the river and boxed in by a warehouse and boat sheds.
“I’m not a bit surprised that ya come in packs of three, being the cowards ya are,” the man taunted the silent, ominous ruffians.
He would not let them know that he was not at all as sure of the outcome of this set-to as he pretended. He was confident he could hold his own with one or two of them. But three was another matter. When the attack came, he would have to dispose of the third one right at the start to partially even the odds.
“Varmints.” He shook his head in a gesture of disdain. “Varmints who attack in packs.”
Still none of the three uttered a word. He heard nothing but the gurgling splash of a fish in the river and the faintest murmur of the wind in the pines. Then, in the far distance, the sound of a motorcar reached him and the barking of an excited dog. The night was impenetrably black. The fog that had settled down along the river shut out the sky and the earth beneath it.
He stared at the silent men, suddenly oppressed by a sense of unreality. For years he had expected this. He’d had his share of barroom brawls; this was not a brawl, but a serious life-and-death matter. These men were cold sober and intent on doing him in. It was apparent in their stance and their silence.
His eyes settled on the man in the middle, the big one with wide shoulders and long arms. He couldn’t see the face clearly, but he could see that the man was in his prime and built like an oak tree. He would be the one to take down.
“Is there a one among you with the guts to take me on man to man?”
He felt a sudden, vast impatience. He knew that if they did not kill him they would cripple him so that he would be of no use to himself or to anyone else. The only chance he had, and it was a slim one, of leaving this spot alive was in his pocket. His fingers curled around the brass knuckles. They were a weak defense against three men, but they were all he had. He cursed himself for not being better prepared.
“Who is the cowardly son-of-a-bitch who sent you? At least you owe me that.”
The younger man let out a giggle, which was cut short by the jab of an elbow. Without even turning his head, the middle man had moved his arm swiftly.
“Bastards! What are you waiting for? Make your move or get the hell outta my way.”
Nothing. Not a sound from any of them.
They were playing with him now. Well, hell, he might as well get it over with.
He lowered his head and charged the man in the middle, boring in, driving, stomping on insteps when he got close. He swung the fist with the brass knuckles at the face of the short man standing next to him, connected with flesh and heard him yell. He took a blow to the side of his head as his other hand grabbed the sex of the man he had butted and held on, twisting, pulling, squeezing.
He felt no pain, but suddenly the strength went from his arms, his legs. He felt himself sagging to the ground and a black cloud of darkness settling over him.
“Annabel,” he whispered, drifting in and out of consciousness. He was vaguely aware of hands on him, probing, searching his pockets.
It was his last thought as he was lifted from the riverbank and tossed into the roiling waters. The strong current of the mighty Mississippi seized his body and carried it downriver with the rest of the floating debris that rode the muddy waters.
Henderson, Missouri, 1925
HE HAD NOT SEEN THE HOUSE IN THE DAYLIGHT, as they had moved in in the middle of the night. But she knew that it was high on a hill and as remote as all the other places where they had lived during the past five years.
“I know ye’re disappointed to be movin’ again, darlin’, but this time we be stayin’ for a while.”
“It’s all right, Papa. I’m just tired.”
“Boone and Spinner will be bringin’ in the furniture and helpin’ ya get settled.”
“Are you leaving?”
“I’ll be back by noon tomorrow.” He put his arm across her shoulders. The lamplight shone on his worried face as he peered into hers. “Ye’re not afraid, are ye?”
“No,” she said with a tired heave of her shoulders. “I’m not afraid.”
“Boone and Spinner will be here and ye’re not to be worryin’. Boone will be keepin’ a sharp lookout.”
“Why should he do that?” she asked sharply. “Are you expecting someone?”
“No. I’d not leave ya if I thought that there would be the slightest chance that ya’d be in any danger. Look over the house and see where you want things put. Boone will be settin’ up yer bed.”
An hour later Annabel lay in her bed with the covers pulled up to her chin and listened to the sounds of the men unloading the furniture from the two trucks. They worked without speaking, but one time she heard one of them swear.
“Dammit to hell! This cabinet’s heavy!”
“Ain’t as heavy as them boxes with the jars of canned stuff and that damned iron cookstove.”
“Horse hockey! The dang icebox ain’t no feather bed.”
Annabel gazed out the window at the star-studded sky and tried to count the number of times she and her father had moved since her mother’s death back in 1920. She knew the moves were necessitated by the circumstances of her father’s business.
Soon we’ll be havin’ enough money to buy a fine house and ya can live in style. I always wanted it for yer mother but couldn’t swing it while she was alive. But I’ll get it for ya. I swear that I’ll get it for ya.
Her father’s words echoed in her head.
I don’t have to live in style to be happy. I want to live in a place long enough to feel that I belong somewhere.
How could she make him understand? He was one of ten children born to a poor couple who had carried the stigma of “poor Irish trash.” Hard work had sent them to an early grave. Murphy was determined that that would not happen to him or to his daughter. He knew the risks he was taking. The federal marshals would love to get their hands on him.
Annabel had told him a hundred times that she would rather be dirt poor with him than rich without him. What would she do if something happened to him? There was money put away so that she would be able to get by; her father had seen to that. But she would be without another person in the world to care if she lived or died, except maybe Boone.
Annabel drifted off to sleep worrying, as she had done almost every night since she was sixteen years old, about what tomorrow would bring.
The house looked better in the morning light, even though it was badly in need of a paint job. It was a frame building with four large rooms, a loft, a small porch stretching across the front and one in the back. From the porch Annabel could see not only the winding road going south to Henderson, but in the distance, over the treetops, a portion of the mighty Mississippi River. Behind the house, beyond the barn, a shed and another ramshackle building, was a thick forest of trees.
The two trucks that had transported their belongings from Ashton to north of Henderson were nowhere in sight, nor were Boone and Spinner. While she slept, their furniture had been put in place. Her kitchen cabinet was set up against the wall, and the boxes containing dishes, utensils and food were sitting on the big square table waiting for her to sort and put in their proper places. A bucket of fresh water sat on the wash bench beside the door. She had no doubt that her father’s bed and bureau were already in the other bedroom.