Authors: Ann Parker
Reverend Sands seemed to weigh the question before answering. "I’ve a room at the Clairmont."
Inez suppressed an involuntary shudder. "Within the hour then, Reverend Sands."
"Very well, Mrs. Stannert." His voice was level, the warm quality that had infused the service, gone.
Inez guided Emma outside. The sky, so brilliant blue two hours earlier, now pressed down a soft, doleful gray. The temperature had plummeted, bringing biting cold.
"Now, Emma, it’s most likely a mistake." Inez pulled up Emma’s fur-lined hood, as if the red-haired woman were a child. "With the marshal so new in town, I doubt he’s ever met Joe."
Hollis bristled as he gingerly stepped up and down Har-rison’s multi-level boardwalks. "Been here almost three weeks, feels like three years. Your cook, what’s ’er name, says it looks like Joe Rose."
"Marshal." Inez’s voice was venomous. "Bridgette is a wonderful cook, a dedicated mother, and an honest woman. But I don’t think she could pick out her own parents from ten feet away. Her eyes are worse than a mole’s above ground."
The trio maneuvered down the crowded thoroughfare past tobacco shops, saloons, a book store, and a jumble of mercantile shops. Except for the recently completed brick opera house across the broad street, most of the buildings had the raw look of wood structures, hastily constructed to beat Leadville’s early winter. Up north on
, sounds of construction mingled with the clatter of horse- and mule-drawn wagons and the thunder of a thousand boots on wooden walkways. A hollow boom signaled that someone had set off a charge to break through the frozen ground. Another foundation would be set that day. It might have been Sunday, but that didn’t stop the building or real estate speculation. Frames continued to rise on prime real estate at a frantic pace, snow or no.
The marshal and the two women paused at the corner of
and State streets. Snow fell weeping on their shoulders and at their feet.
Emma gazed down State. The red-light district was an undulating sea of hatted humanity spilling from crowded boardwalks and into the street. Two brass bands faced each other from opposing dance halls and blatted out tunes to lure passersby inside. Inez was grateful that none of State’s frail sisters were in sight and that the weather was too cold for the tightrope walkers who occasionally balanced on ropes strung high over the street.
"Just around the corner." Inez gently prodded Emma. Emma took one step.
"Inez, I’ve never set foot on State much less been inside your…establishment."
"There’s no one there now besides our cook Bridgette and maybe Abe."
Hollis brushed past them to the door of the saloon. "This way, ma’am."
Emma squared her shoulders and entered, eyes straight ahead.
Hollis paused, examining the broken chairs and overturned tables. "Jest a regular Saturday night, eh Miz Stannert?"
Inez shot him a look of disgust. Emma quickened her pace and clutched her prayerbook before her as if it were a small shield.
The group passed through the devastation to the kitchen. Steam from a pot of wash water on the stove imbued the room with a heavy, wet warmth. Inez recognized the deputy slouched by the back door as Curly Dan, a mild-mannered sort who frequented her saloon—
badge—on his days off. He nodded at Inez and lifted his hat briefly to Emma, his bald pate appearing and disappearing fast as a wink. Bridgette, her face red-splotched, sat at the plank table surrounded by dirty crockery. Abe slumped nearby, gabardine trousers muddy to the knees. He looked at Emma, then Inez, and shook his head.
Inez’s heart sank.
"Oh ma’am, it’s just awful," babbled Bridgette. "Mr. Jackson sent for the marshal—"
"And now we got to find out who that is back there," interrupted Hollis. He crossed to Curly Dan and asked, "Any trouble?"
The deputy moved aside to let Hollis pass. "Nope. Not a speck."
Hollis leaned out, peering left. "What in tarnation?"
Bridgette blew her nose on her apron. "Mr. Jackson took the wash water and threw it at the—"
"Cleaned him up right nice," observed Hollis.
Emma’s face paled. With a moan she covered her mouth, looking around.
Maternal instincts aroused, Bridgette leapt to her feet and, grabbing an empty pot, steered Emma out of the kitchen. Sounds of retching followed.
Abe looked at Inez. "I don’t think she oughta see what’s out there."
"Marshal." Inez tried for a reasonable tone. "Abe and I, we know Joe well. Perhaps our identification of the body might suffice."
Hollis set his jaw stubbornly.
She tried again. "If you were to also remove some personal effects for Mrs. Rose. A ring. A pocketwatch. Wouldn’t that be enough? If it is Joe, I would hate for her to carry that image of her husband as her last."
Curly Dan spoke up. "Might not be a bad idea, Bart. He’s pretty bad smashed up for viewing."
Hollis glared at him. "You takin’ their side, Curly?"
He shrugged. "Just thinking of the widow. That’s all."
Hollis turned to Inez, his mouth twisted beneath the scraggly mustache. "Okay, Miz Stannert. He’s right out back. Curly here’ll show you where." He faced Abe. "Boy. You and Curly get whatever’ll help Miz Rose identify those remains."
Abe tipped his chair back and leveled a stare at the marshal. "I’m not your ‘boy,’ Hollis. Do it yourself."
Hollis glared at Abe and then turned to his deputy, who gazed across the alley as if he wished himself a million miles away. Curly Dan finally spoke in a conciliatory tone. "Seems like you’d best handle this one, Bart. If I remember correct, Joe Rose is Gallagher’s assayer for
. Works for him almost exclusive." He shifted, causing the boards to creak beneath his boots. "Don’t want Gallagher blaming me if something’s not done right."
"Then it’s you an’ me, Miz Stannert." Hollis grabbed Inez’s arm and jerked her through the back door. She yanked her arm away. Once on the narrow walkway, Hollis faced her, blocking her view of the alley. "Seems to me, you an’ that nigger ain’t exactly co-operatin’ with the law. And I
the law, like it or not."
Inez folded her arms and glared back. "You talk like that in Abe’s presence, he’ll carve you up quicker than a Christmas turkey, star or no. Everyone knows you’re just a two-bit gunslinger from
. The only thing placing you on
side of the law in Leadville is Gallagher and the other silver barons who hired you to keep the peace after last month’s lynching. If that isn’t an irony."
"I been in town long enough to know you’re good at makin’ enemies, Miz Stannert. Mebbe one of these days, you’ll holler for help and it’ll be too slow in coming." Hollis turned up the collar of his jacket. They took a few steps along the walkway. After a moment’s hesitation, Hollis gingerly stepped off the narrow planks and into the icy slime.
As he stepped down, Inez saw the body sprawled in the mud and snow, lying half under the raised walkway. The dishwater had lent a frozen sheen to the skin while removing most of the filth. The face was smashed, obliterated, along with the torso. But Inez recognized the waistcoat. Joe had been so proud of that extravagant vest, bought on one of his many trips to
for assaying supplies. "Makes me look like a real high roller, don’t you think, Inez?" He had smoothed the ornate gold and silver trim.
Best you don’t see, Emma.
Inez looked away, overwhelmed by the grief that crashed upon her.
Hollis squatted over the body, cursing as the freezing mud poured over the tops of his boots. "Dang this shit! The only thing that could make this worse is if it were warm and stinkin’. Okay, Miz Stannert. Who is he?"
She wanted to sink down right there on the walkway. "It’s Joe Rose."
"Well, well, Mr. Respectable hisself, Honest Joe Rose. And what was he doin’ out here last night behind the Silver Queen? Okay. Let’s see. Here’s his ring. I’ll take that for Miz Rose. What else?"
Inez closed her eyes to the sight. "He should have a wallet, unless some footpad got to him first. How did he end up so… mutilated?"
"That’s for the coroner to say. Mebbe a horse stomped him while he was passed out drunk. Mebbe someone dropped a piano on him. Here’s the wallet. What else does he carry?"
"A gold pocketwatch." Inez opened the soaked leather wallet as she spoke. "JR engraved on the cover, a photograph of his wife and son inside."
She pulled out a sodden fifty-dollar bill.
He couldn’t have been lying here since
. This would have been long gone.
Her gloved fingers squeezed an invisible stiffness beneath the leather. Frowning, she opened the wallet wide, displaying the spotted silk lining.
She could, however, see the impression of something, about the size and shape of a coin, trapped between the leather and the silk. Inez tried to coax the object out from a rip in the bottom of the lining.
Hollis rooted through Joe’s waistcoat pockets, sucking through his teeth.
The round object, which at first glance looked like a brass coin with the center punched out, fell into her palm.
Hollis spat. "No watch."
Inez looked up. "Are you sure? Check his trouser pockets. He never went anywhere without it."
She refocused on the object in her hand. It looked like no token she’d ever seen. The center was punched out in the shape of a heart. Small letters stamped around the outside proclaimed: "
527 Holladay Street
" Frowning, she turned it over to read: "Good for one free screw. Mattie Silks, Prop."
Inez slipped the brass check into her pocket as Marshal Hollis looked up. "I ain’t diggin’ through his guts any further."
He waded to the walkway and pulled himself up with a grunt. Extracting a soiled neckerchief from a pocket, he attempted to wipe off his boots. "You give those things to Miz Rose. We’ll see what she says. After that, I got a few questions for you and anyone else who closed up last night." What could have been a neutral statement came out as a not-so-subtle threat.
Time to lay our cards on the table. At least, some of them.