Authors: Ann Parker
He turned and kissed her on the nose. Inez was too disheartened to demand when and where he’d conversed with Madam DuBois.
Mark continued, "Doc says William can’t make another winter, so we’ll be on the train out of Denver by July. August at the latest." He settled his hat on his head, preparing to go to the saloon. "I hear autumn’s mighty fine in California."
The next day, he disappeared from Leadville and her life.
After promising to return the following day, Inez left Emma and walked home in the dwindling winter light. Emotionally exhausted from reliving her memories and keeping Emma company, Inez settled into her own, silent parlor, wrapped in one of Mark’s old sweaters. She flexed her toes in their soggy green-striped stockings and stared at the small fir tree struggling to stay erect in the front yard.
Her feet ached, as did her heart. And something dark waited along the edges of her grief. Questions, but no answers.
With a sigh, she lifted the keyboard cover of her parlor grand piano. Her fingers ran up and down the scales, letting a waterfall of measured notes pour into the silence. Exploring tones by touch in the darkening room, she picked music to fit her mood. The melody line surfaced from the liquid language of the piano’s strings and wrapped about her.
Closing her eyes, she let her sorrows, old and new, rise and fall with the music. The precision and beauty of Mozart anchored her, pulled her back from emotions that threatened to swallow her whole.
Inez surfaced at the end of the sonata to a persistent knocking on the door.
He’d promised to stop by. She decided against forcing her damp stockinged feet into shoes. Stockings were not going to shock Abe. In their years together, he’d seen worse.
She abandoned Mark’s sweater to the keyboard and moved toward the sound. "Coming."
Inez opened the door.
Reverend Sands stood on the small porch, ankle deep in drifting snow, looking none too happy.
"Pardon, Mrs. Stannert, but when I didn’t hear from you…"
He stopped, as if her expression had finally registered past his displeasure. "May I come in?" He curled a hand around the edge of the door as if to prevent her from slamming it in his face.
She contemplated that hand for a moment. Long fingers, square clean nails. Strong, capable. The hand of a physical man, but not of a prospector or laborer. Fighting a vague uneasiness, Inez looked back at his face. Concern settled across his features, although the blue-gray eyes were far too piercing to be sympathetic.
"My apologies. I did say I would send for you, didn’t I. Please, come in." She stood aside and gestured toward the parlor.
He used his black hat to knock the snow off his shoulders before entering. His boots echoed on the varnished hardwood floor of the entryway.
She looked down. The tips of her green-striped stockings were barely visible beneath her long skirts.
Reverend Sands glanced around the parlor, his gaze lingering on the piano. She followed and indicated the maroon loveseat.
He sat and idly began flapping his hat up and down on the back of the small sofa, watching her. Inez felt disinclined to take his hat. Her reluctance grew as his gaze shifted slowly downward, pausing at her stockinged feet. This visit, she decided, would be brief.
Mustering dignity learned in the deportment lessons of her youth, Inez moved toward the sideboard. "Tea, Reverend Sands? Or something stronger?"
"No. Thank you."
"Well, I’m having both." Inez opened a door on the sideboard and pulled out a decanter. She measured a generous amount of brandy into her tea before returning to the piano seat. As she sipped, the warm liquid slid down, untying the last cold knot of sorrow. For the present.
"Reverend, you have your work cut out for you. Mrs. Rose’s husband was killed last night in a terrible accident."
The word mocked her. An image of Marshal Hollis’ skeptical face floated through her mind.
Reverend Sands stopped tapping and leaned forward, sympathetic. "I heard as much this afternoon. Normally, I would have gone directly to the family and offered my assistance. But in this case, I’m at a disadvantage, having just arrived in town." He leaned back, looking relaxed, except for those eyes. "Since you’re a friend of the Roses and a member of the congregation, I thought you could advise me on the best course of action. Perhaps Mrs. Rose prefers the company of those close to her right now." He shrugged, acknowledging his status as an outsider.
Inez studied him. On closer examination, she had to admit that Susan and Madam DuBois were right: He was rather attractive. Although, she felt that, even as she watched, he shifted, wasn’t quite in focus. It was, Inez decided, like looking at someone through a pair of bad spectacles. Behind the relaxed demeanor, he seemed to be watching, waiting for her to reveal through some throwaway gesture who she was, what kind of hand she held.
"I’d have pegged you as a gambler rather than a man of the cloth."
The reverend’s eyebrows shot up. "Excuse me?"
Inez hoped the twilight hid the flush crawling up her face. "Pardon. How inexcusable of me."
She placed cup and saucer on top of the piano. "I own a drinking establishment downtown. It’s in my best interest to divine those who walk through my doors before the liquor flows and the cards are dealt. When people arrive in Leadville, they shed their pasts like old coats. Not all are what they seem."
Inez rose to light a small lamp. "It’s getting late. Let’s speak of the Roses."
The warm lamplight chased away the shadows, revealing the concern etched in the reverend’s face. He nodded, looking, for the moment, like a proper clergyman.
Inez drained the lukewarm tea and forced herself not to look at the bottle on the sideboard. "As with everyone in Leadville, they’re from somewhere else. Joe’s from
, or maybe it’s
. I think Emma’s the same. They met in
, in one of the mining camps. I believe Emma was a schoolteacher. Joe is—was—an assayer. He came to the district in seventy-seven, seventy-eight. As anyone will tell you, Joe’s well respected. A man of integrity. Devoted to his family." She said the last almost as if she expected him to challenge her.
Sands merely asked, "Any relatives nearby? Family that Mrs. Rose can turn to? "
"None that I know of." Inez rubbed her forehead, feeling the fine strands of hair that had pulled loose from her chignon. "Joe’s business, the church, their friends. Every-thing’s here. Leadville is their home. I’d just assumed that they planned to stay until the silver boom goes bust. If it ever does. But this afternoon, Emma indicated they’d talked of leaving. I don’t know why." Inez glanced away, considering Emma’s dilemma. "Emma Rose is going to have a difficult time. Oh, not financially, Joe’s no doubt left her well provided for. However she, ah, she…"
Inez debated a moment.
Well. He’s her minister now after all. If he’s going to help, I’ve got to tell him.
"Mrs. Rose is in a family way. She told me a few days ago." Inez remembered the devastated look on Emma’s face when she’d delivered the news. "I don’t think," Inez finished lamely, "it was a particularly welcome development."
Sands leaned forward. "I’ll hold what you’ve told me in confidence, of course. Am I right in thinking tomorrow afternoon is soon enough to pay a call and offer my support?"
"I believe so. When I left her a while ago, she was very clear that she wanted time alone to talk with her son, Joey." Inez stood.
Reverend Sands followed her lead. "Mrs. Rose is lucky to have friends such as yourself to help her through these times.
Perhaps I might come around your place of business. We could talk further."
Inez walked toward the door. "It’s the Silver Queen, corner of
and State. We serve only the best and never water it down."
He shook his head, a tad regretfully, she thought. "I’m not a drinking man myself."
"Well, I also employ the best cook in town. So if the liquor doesn’t tempt you, Bridgette’s biscuits and stew might."
Sands grinned. "Now that kind of temptation I find hard to resist. And I’d enjoy speaking with you more. Under different circumstances." His smile finally reached his eyes, matching the warmth of his voice.
Inez smiled back, feeling lightheaded.
Must be the brandy.
She pulled the door open. "Until later, then."
Standing outside, hand raised to knock, Abe looked as startled as the reverend.
Inez recovered first. "Why, Abe. How fortunate you’re here. Reverend Sands and I were just discussing the Roses. The reverend is interim minister for the church until June. Reverend, this is my business partner, Abe Jackson."
Sands held out his hand. "You’re a friend of the Roses?"
Abe’s hand engulfed the reverend’s. He looked the cleric over and smiled. The same smile he gave to strangers as he dealt the cards. A smile to keep the suckers easy in their chairs. "Mighty fine to meet you, Reverend." His drawl became more pronounced. "Lord’s taken Joe to a better place. Now we got to help Miz Rose through these troubled times, raise our voices to the Lord and say His name in praise and prayer."
Inez stared. The only times she’d ever heard Abe raise his voice to say the Lord’s name, it wasn’t in praise. Or in prayer. Abe rolled on. "Yes, God Almighty’s gathered Joe to His bosom. Called him home. Right, Reverend?"
"Yes. Exactly." Sands extracted his hand and glanced up at the black sky. Whirling snowflakes appeared and wheeled lazily down to vanish in the drifts at his feet. "The wind has dropped. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Jackson. I look forward to seeing you again sometime." With a last smile at Inez, he walked out of the small pool of light on the porch and into the darkness.
Inez and Abe stood at the door, watching Sands disappear down the street.
"He’s no reverend," Abe said flatly.
Deep in dreams, Inez heard a woman’s long wail curl about the scream of a child.
She shot from sleep to wakefulness. Under the pillow, her right hand clutched the cold comfort of Mark’s War-issue Navy Colt: an automatic response to danger.
Moonlight crept through lace curtains over drawn roller shades. Outside, two cats yowled and spat.
Her nightmare still burned in her mind. Joe Rose, dead. Covered with mud and blood.
She fumbled on the nightstand, searching for the small porcelain bowl of lucifers. Her hand shook so that she could hardly hold the match steady enough to light the kerosene lamp. The flame finally leapt in the glass chimney and settled into a warm glow. An ominous shadow by the wardrobe melted into clothes draped on the high-backed corner chair.
Inez threw back her comforter, dislodging a book that thumped onto a small braided carpet. She rounded the foot of the bed and picked up the leather-bound volume of
’s classic, she read: "Accuse not Nature, she hath done her part;/Do thou but thine, and be not diffident/Of Wisdom…"
I need something stronger to banish Joe’s ghost.
Inez padded across the hall to the parlor and poured two fingers of brandy into a tumbler. The clock on the mantel ticked:
. Dance halls and saloons would be jumping. After hours of gambling, drinking, and pinching the waiter girls, the patrons would be surly and murderous.
Was Joe murdered?
The question would no longer be pushed aside but twined round with the lingering scent of wood smoke from the potbelly stove. Inez wrapped Mark’s old sweater around her shoulders and sat on her piano stool, extending rough-knit wool socks to the faint warmth.
She glanced out into the hall. The hall-tree stood thin sentry beside a spindle-legged table. She pictured M. Silks’ brass token lying deep inside the drawer. Her initial impulse had been to throw the incriminating bit of brass away. Finally, reluctantly, she’d tossed it in the back of the drawer. She couldn’t believe Joe would visit a brothel, even a high-class one far from home, much less carry such a thing around on his person.
Now if I’d found it in Mark’s wallet—
She shut her mind against the voiceless whisper as firmly as she’d slammed the drawer shut on the token, and turned her thoughts to Joe Rose.
To hear Joe tell it, he had been one of the first to hear the sweet whispers of silver in the heavy black sands of Leadville’s California Gulch. He’d set up shop early, built a reputation for honesty and accuracy among his clients: penniless prospectors, mining company magnates, buyers, and sellers. Inez couldn’t imagine any of them having a bone to pick with Joe. Joe was genial, easy going. Like Mark.
Back when the assayer and saloon-owner were thick as thieves, she and Emma had mused on what lay behind the peculiar friendship.
"I think, when they look at each other, it’s like looking in a mirror," Inez had offered. "They’re both charmers, through and through."
Inez was certain Joe’s fascination with poker, whiskey, and flashy waistcoats had its genesis with Mark. Whereas Mark’s sudden enthusiasm to settle down, buy a business, start a family echoed of Joe’s good example. And how those men loved their children.
Memories of her son, never far away, surfaced and would not be ignored. Sighing, Inez rose, lit a small peg lamp, and carried it past the bedroom where she slept alone. She opened a door at the end of the hall and entered the cold, dusty room holding the discards of her married life.
In one corner, William’s cradle lay empty.
Inez stooped and ran her hands over the smooth pine frame. "I should just give it away and be done with it," she said aloud.
She pulled the satin-edged blanket from the bottom and held it to her cheek, remembering its twin wrapped around her nine-month-old son. The blanket had rippled through her hands as she’d shifted William to her sister’s lap in the
train station, four months ago.
"Inez, we’ll take good care of William until you’re ready for him. He’ll have the best of everything. We’ll not add to your sorrows." Harmony’s hazel eyes, mirrors of Inez’s own, looked as if she would gladly take all Inez’s sorrows, real and imagined.
Inez held out a finger for William to grasp. The train was preparing for boarding; she dreaded the final good-byes. The nursemaid that Harmony had hired shifted on her well-padded rump and eyed William as if he were a sweetmeat.
Inez gathered up William for a last kiss. "It’s only for a while," she whispered as he grabbed her nose. "By summer, we’ll be together. I promise."
She handed him to the nursemaid, who pounced, cooing. He responded with a drooling grin. Inez took a deep breath to block a sudden stab of jealousy.
Harmony bent toward Inez. "My husband gives me a generous household account and a free rein. I could send you something every month. No one would know."
"I don’t need money, Harmony. I need time. Time to decide what to do next, where to go." She forced the trembling from her voice. "Besides, if you send money to me and Papa finds out, he’ll disown you too."
"Oh Inez. That was ten years ago."
"Are you saying he’s ready to forgive and forget? That doesn’t sound like Papa."
Inez could see him: face purple with rage as he roared, "You
With a nobody. A Johnny Reb and a damn fortune-hunter to boot! You’ll never get a dime from me and neither will he. When he leaves you high and dry, don’t bother coming back."
The boarding whistle blew. The porter grabbed the last of Harmony’s hat boxes. William smiled at Inez and held out his arms.
Inez spoke through the lump in her throat, "When he cries, give him this." She handed Harmony a small calico stuffed dog. Its black button eyes gleamed forlornly.
"Inez, if you decide to come home—"
Inez shook her head.
"Let me finish. Just tell Papa that he was right. That you made a mistake marrying Mark. One look at William, and Papa’d forgive you anything. But you have to take the first step." Harmony added softly, "Mama misses you. She never says a word, but I know."
Inez turned to pay the porter. "I’ll write every week. You do the same."
The small group boarded the first-class car. William peeked over the nursemaid’s shoulder, the creases on his face deepening in puzzlement. As the conductor closed the door, Inez fancied she heard a protesting wail.
She walked away, head high, holding back a flood of tears.
A long ride from past to present. Inez felt chilled to the bone in the silent room. She refolded the blanket and left, closing the door behind her.
Rubbing her arms through the flannel wrapper, she puzzled over the sudden surge of memories. Focus on the present with an eye to the future, that was her way. Run the saloon, balance the books, put money in the bank, watch the balance grow. Wait for word of Mark, although hope on that account was melting faster than snow in July. But all this wallowing in the past, over things that couldn’t be changed…
She stopped in the hall, debating between the bedroom and the parlor. She turned right and headed for the sideboard and the bottle.
she promised herself, as she poured another inch of brandy.
She blew out the peg lamp, returned it to its holder, and carried the glass back to bed. Surrounded by her down comforter and bolstered by the fortifying properties of the Silver Queen’s finest, she started to drowse. Until her nightmare image of Joe loomed again, demanding answers.
Who would leave the money and take the watch? No cutpurse would pass up fifty dollars. Was Joe’s death a random event in a town riddled with violence, or did it involve the "business trouble" Emma mentioned?
She sat up, struck by a sudden thought: Did Joe’s business trouble involve Harry Gallagher? Harry was close about his business and tight with his money, hoarding every silver piece and letting it go only when it stood a good chance of returning with more of its kind. He played only when the odds were in his favor. And always sat next to her at the poker table, even after their falling-out in October.
Thoroughly awake, Inez threw back the comforter, went to the parlor, and returned to bed with the bottle.
Inez filled her tumbler. A regular wolf, Harry was, with an appetite for mutton. Did he renege on some deal with Joe? It might explain Joe’s drunken tirade the night of his death. She didn’t think Harry would bloody his own hands, but there were plenty of roughs that would do his bidding for a price. Including Marshal Hollis.
Inez didn’t want to walk that street in the dark.