Authors: Ann Parker
"How do you know all this? He only arrived Tuesday."
Bridgette clunked the cover back on the iron pot and attacked a skillet of sausages. "I read the papers. And I hear things, I do."
Inez shook her head. "I’m in awe, Bridgette. And not just of your culinary skills. I hope your information travels one way. In, not out."
"Oh, ma’am. No need to worry about me blathering about who comes, who goes, and who says what. I couldn’t keep my five boys in shoes and shirts if it weren’t for you. Why, with the prices in this town, I couldn’t take in enough laundry to pay for a tent! Not with the mister gone down the shaft of the New Discovery and on to a better place."
Her eyes misted for a moment, then cleared. She pointed her long-handled fork at Inez. "Along with you. And I want a report back as to whether the good Reverend J. B. Sands is as fine a gentleman as all are saying." She smiled, her anticipation not at all marred by a missing left incisor.
After locking the front door behind her, Inez walked to the corner and turned up Harrison Avenue. She pushed against a surging, restless tide of humanity, ninety-nine percent of it men. Even at this early hour, most were turning down State Street, searching for entertainment and liquor to numb the ever-present cold, lingering homesickness, and the pangs of silver fever. Long accustomed to the peculiar glitter of hope mixed with despair that branded nearly every face in the silver boom town, Inez lost herself in private ruminations even as her feet automatically adjusted their pace to the uneven elevations of Harrison’s boardwalks.
Sunday. A day of rest, when the saloon was closed. She and Abe had stood together on that, united against Mark’s initial enthusiasm to keep the establishment open around the clock, seven days a week.
She remembered when Mark had won the saloon from a Denver fellow with piggish eyes. During a break, and before the poker game in which he’d staked all their savings—hers, Mark’s, and Abe’s—against the business, Mark had pulled her aside.
"Now darlin’," he’d murmured into her ear. "I know when he’s bluffing and when he’s holding a good hand. I’m just waitin’ for the right play. You remember that assayer, Joe Rose? He says this place is the next silver bonanza, the biggest yet. I figure we’ll settle into business with this saloon and mine the miners. We’ll celebrate tonight, sweet lady!" He’d kissed her hard, winked, and returned to the table, leaving her mouth tingling.
Mark had parted that fellow from his property, smooth and neat. Later that night, he’d twirled her in a wild polka across the empty saloon floor. Afterward…ah yes. Celebrate they did.
Oh Mark. Why did you leave? Without a word?
The steeple of the small white church beckoned. Shaking off the memories like she shook the mud and ice from the hem of her dress, Inez mounted the church stairs. She slipped into place next to Joey and Emma Rose and smiled at Joey. The five-year-old was already losing the battle against the urge to wiggle and kick at the pew in front of him.
"Joey." She opened her hand, revealing the candies. Joey’s twitching stilled. "One when the sermon starts. The second when it’s done. Deal?"
With his dark blue eyes and slicked-down black hair, Joey looked like a miniature version of his father. "Deal, Auntie Inez." He snuggled between the two women, muffled by their wool cloaks.
Inez took advantage of the general buzz to lean over Joey. "Emma?"
Emma Rose turned to Inez. The freckles across her nose stood out against her pale skin. Her red hair, wound up under a black velvet hat, still managed to wisp about her face, framing eyes close to tears.
"Emma?" Inez leaned over a fraction further, keeping her voice low. "What’s wrong? Are you feeling ill?"
Emma turned to gaze straight ahead, her gloved hands clasping the small prayerbook in her lap.
Inez persisted. "Is Joe all right?"
Emma’s hands twisted around the book, burrowing into the folds of her Sunday dress. "He didn’t come home last night." She faltered. "He’s never done this before."
As Reverend Sands strode to the pulpit amid anticipatory murmurs from the congregation, Inez heard a rustle of petticoats and felt a faint pressure to her right. Susan Carothers sank next to her, panting.
"Hello, Inez," she whispered, tucking a strand of shiny black hair behind her ear. "Sunday morning sittings are always a mistake. It takes forever to pose the clients and expose the plates."
Susan pulled her prayerbook out of her reticule and straightened her crooked hat, eyes darting around the church before settling on the man at the front. "Have you met Reverend Sands yet? He has the nicest smile. I was part of the welcoming committee that took him to tea at the Clair-mont on Wednesday." She leaned sideways, gaze still fixed forward, and softened her voice another notch. "He’s handsome, don’t you think? I’m glad he doesn’t have one of those ugly soup-strainer mustaches that all the men wear."
"Shhh! Susan, later, please. After the service." Inez scrutinized the reverend, standing at ease and waiting for the arpeggio of murmurs to die.
Her first impression was not of a man focused on the ethereal or spiritual side of life. Far from being an attenuated, pale cleric, Reverend Sands appeared physically fit and well acquainted with long days in the sun. He rather reminded her of the circuit riders who would snowshoe in sixty miles to preach to the lost in Leadville.
Other than that, Reverend Sands struck her as fairly ordinary looking: medium height, mid-thirties, light brown hair, clean-shaven face, a faint but pleasant smile. A mien designed to blend into the crowds. Nothing about him would have caused Inez to glance at him twice if he’d strolled through the Silver Queen’s doors. Nothing, that is, until he spoke.
"Let’s all stand." Reverend Sands’ voice rolled over her. Warm, almost sensual in its invitation. "And turn to hymn sixty-three."
Something about his timbre reminded Inez of butter spread on one of Bridgette’s just-baked biscuits. She stood, shaking off the spell of his voice.
I should have had something besides coffee for breakfast.
Emma opened the hymn book but didn’t sing. Joey shuffled, but not too much, obviously mindful of the promised treat. Inez’s attention shifted from the music to the Roses.
"…a pleasure to join your community, even if only for six months." The reverend’s intimate tone surrounded her, brought her back to the church. "At the earliest opportunity, I hope to become acquainted with each and every one of you."
"Ha!" Susan nodded toward a woman with hennaed hair coiled beneath an extravagant hat. "I bet Catherine DuBois would love to have him drop in for a ‘cup of tea.’ When did she take up religion anyway?"
Sure enough, the owner of the Crystal Belle Saloon and Leadville’s leading parlor house sat with two of her "soiled doves" in the front pew, as bold as you please.
Inez twisted a little to her right.
And there was Harry Gallagher with his diamond stick pin and impeccably tailored frock coat, looking rich as a banker and friendly as the Devil himself. His glacial blue eyes froze on Inez, then slid back to the pulpit.
"…As our Lord says in chapter eighteen of the book of Matthew, ‘If a man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?’"
Joey wiggled a bit. Inez fished out one candy and surreptitiously handed it to him, saving the second for later. A small crinkling sound of paper, and Joey sat still, one cheek bulging like a squirrel with a nut.
The service ended not a moment too soon for Joey. "Greet your neighbors!" concluded Reverend Sands, gathering his notes. Joey grabbed Inez’s skirts in a hug, then wiggled past her to join a gaggle of children heading outside.
Emma, following Joey with her eyes, frowned. "Is that the marshal?"
Lounging by the door, Marshal Bart Hollis scanned the crowd, his jaws working rhythmically on a plug of tobacco. A thin man with the look of a hungry rattlesnake, he hunched his shoulders as if expecting a bird of prey to grab him by his collar and haul him away. His gaze snagged on Inez, and he began elbowing his way through the congregation, a tin star winking on his sheepskin vest.
Inez watched his approach with growing unease. "What’s he doing here? Hollis probably hasn’t been in a place of worship since he was a babe in arms."
"Miz Rose?" He looked the three women over, stroking his drooping tobacco-stained mustache.
Emma took a half step forward, dread on her face.
"Ma’am, I’ve got bad news."
Emma clutched Inez’s arm. "Does this have to do with my husband?"
Marshal Hollis sent a stream of tobacco juice angling under the pew, just missing Inez’s skirts.
"Well, mebbe." He paused. "At least, we’re thinkin’ it’s him."
Inez put a steadying hand over Emma’s. Emma whispered, "Something’s happened. Has he been arrested? Is he hurt?"
Marshal Hollis cleared his throat. "Ma’am. I don’t rightly know how to say this, but, about an hour ago, we got word about this body."
Emma closed her eyes.
"Findin’ a deceased fella or two ain’t anything rare after Saturday nights." He floundered. "But this one, we think he’s, uh, your husband, ma’am. It’s a little hard to tell."
"Joe." Emma’s knees buckled.
Inez helped her sit in the pew.
Marshal Hollis belatedly removed his battered Stetson. "Right sorry, Miz Rose. If you’d come along with me, he’s in Tiger Alley." He shifted his narrow eyes, pinning Inez. "Mebbe Miz Stannert here can tell us what he’s doin’ propped up behind her saloon, the Silver Queen."
Disbelief flooded through Inez. "That’s impossible! How dare you insinuate—"
"Deputy." The reverend escaped from a knot of schoolteachers. "I’m Reverend Sands, the new minister of this church. Until June, that is. I don’t believe we’ve met. Is something amiss?"
"Marshal!" snapped Hollis. "Marshal Bart Hollis. And I got a heap a trouble, but it’s none of your funeral." He stopped, his face squeezing in several degrees further.
Inez turned to Susan. "Take Joey. I’ll go with Emma."
Susan swiped at her eyes with her wadded-up gloves. "Marshal, I hope you’re wrong." She moved quickly out the door, calling, "Joey! Your mother says you can visit my studio. Come, I’ll show you how the camera works."
"What’s this about?" Reverend Sands’ voice took on an edge.
"Reverend. A moment, please." Inez moved to one side, motioning him over. She spoke softly, with emphasis. "I’m Mrs. Stannert, a friend of the Roses. This entire business is probably a ghastly misunderstanding and doesn’t bear repeating. Given that you’re new to town, it might be best if I deal with this…problem. If we need your assistance, I will send word to you within the hour. Where are you staying?"