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Authors: Ann Parker

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BOOK: Silver Lies
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The glass was now empty, the bottle nearly so. "No use leaving a bit in the bottom," she said to the wardrobe before draining the bottle. The tightness eased, warmth spread like molasses throughout her body and mind. Her last vision, as she slid into dreamless sleep, was of Marshal Hollis standing over the bloody remains of Joe Rose.
Inez rocked on the heels of Mark’s hobnail boots, squinting at the exterior of Cat DuBois’ parlor house on the corner of State and Pine streets. The too-bright morning light knifed through her pounding headache, a headache due, she knew, to the contents of the empty bottle under her bed.
Dressing in Mark’s abandoned clothes with her long hair hidden under his jacket and hat guaranteed her anonymity. Carrying Mark’s Navy Colt in hand and her Smoot Number Two Remington in pocket guaranteed her safety. She preferred the pocket Remington for serious problems, but to walk the streets as a man without a visible display of firepower was asking for trouble.
Inez had taken the long route that morning, wandering up
State Street
and surveying the competition as she went. She was particularly curious about Cat DuBois’ parlor house and the adjoining saloon. The original buildings had been destroyed by fire the previous spring. Cat, then newly arrived in Leadville, had snatched up both lots, rebuilding the saloon quickly. She’d spend much more time—and money—erecting her three-story "boarding house." Inez thought the brick edifice looked more like a bank than a whorehouse. Indeed, town wags said more money passed through Cat’s house than through Leadville’s five banks combined.
Inez surveyed the street-level bay windows. Closed damask curtains rebuffed sunlight and prying eyes. She wondered if the stories about polished walls, silk-covered Turkish couches, and five-hundred-dollar rocking chairs were true.
It must cost her plenty to keep the champagne flowing and the patrons happy.
"Come back after
and you’ll find us more hospitable."
Startled, Inez turned to see Cat’s blonde companion from church descend a carriage and land, with an undignified hop, on the boardwalk. Holding her fur coat and satin skirts away from the muddy planks, she waved farewell to the driver before turning to Inez and shielding a yawn with her hand. "’Scuse me. Late night."
Her bloodshot gaze swept Inez’s face. "You weren’t at last night’s party. I’d remember those green…" She hesitated, then leaned closer. The scent of stale smoke battled tired violet perfume. "Brown? Gray? Well, I’d remember your eyes, honey. Gentleman’s eyes. Come back later, we’ll get to know each other better." Her gaze lowered to Mark’s corduroys, nearly done in at the knees. "And be sure to wear your Sunday best. We deal in quality here at Mrs. DuBois’. New to town? You’ll need this to get in."
She reached into a small beaded purse and extracted a small business card. She seized Inez’s wrist, forcing the card into her gloved palm. "Florence Sweet’s the name. Everyone calls me Frisco Flo. Here in Leadville by way of
San Francisco
." Her fingers, nails painted red, stroked Inez’s wrist and began to walk up her arm. Inez stepped back, nearly falling off the boardwalk.
Flo lifted her eyebrows and smiled, not unkindly. "Cat got your tongue? That’s a joke, honey. Cat DuBois owns the house and the bar next door. No matter. You come by tonight and ask for Flo. We’ll have our own private party, and I promise you’ll be howling at the moon before I’m done."
Flo sashayed up the steps and fluttered her fingers at Inez, pursing her red-painted mouth in a kiss before disappearing behind the mahogany door.
I suppose this means I can still "pass" when I must.
Thinking how Mark would have hooted with laughter over the encounter, Inez glanced down at the card. The spidery embossed printing read: "Florence Sweet,
’s Furnishings." Shaking her head, she slipped it into her pocket. As she maneuvered around a tipsy tower of crates and through the milling crowd, Inez wondered if, perhaps, something similar had happened to Joe in
Maybe he was just walking by and some woman who furnishes gentlemen took a shine to him.
Even as she composed the thought, Inez knew it didn’t sing. Giving away a business card to a stranger, that made sense. But offering up tokens for a free ride.…And if that was so, why would he keep it? Not just keep it, but hide it in the lining of his wallet?
Inez turned down the narrow passageway squeezed between the Silver Queen and a neighboring dance hall to reach Tiger Alley and the rear of the saloon. She made the short journey with the heavy Colt in hand and visible. Alleys, although convenient shortcuts, were notoriously unsafe. Inez rapped on the door three times before unlocking it. The tantalizing scent of biscuits nudged out the sour smells of the alley.
Inez stepped into olfactory heaven. "Good morning, Bridgette."
The cook was busy peeling apples, while a line of pie tins, crusts at the ready, waited to accept their due. She looked up, squinting. "Mornin’, ma’am. My goodness, it’s good you said something. I’d not have recognized you otherwise."
Inez glanced at the shotgun on the table, close to hand. "I’d rather not muck out broken glass and beer kegs in skirts and corsets. And I plan to stop in at the livery afterward."
"Antelope steak on the table. Eggs, gravy in the warmer. Biscuits out in a moment. You’re the first one here, asides myself, that is." Bridgette returned her attention to the paring knife. The peels seemed to unroll on their own accord forming long red ribbons before dropping into the bucket at her feet.
Inez opened the warmer and loaded a tin plate with fluffy yellow eggs, smothering them with gravy. She sat with a contented sigh. "This is what it must be like to breakfast in Heaven."
Bridgette frowned at the apple, now using the paring knife to whittle bite-sized chunks off and into the large earthen bowl before her. The mountain of apple pieces grew larger. Her downturned mouth disappeared into the folds around her neck as she attacked the next apple, undressing it with nearly vicious speed. Inez scooped up a forkful of dripping eggs and watched Bridgette as she chewed.
Inez finally broke the uncharacteristic silence. "Is something wrong?"
"Wrong, ma’am?" The apple chunks flew into the bowl.
"That’s what I said."
Bridgette puffed out her cheeks and exhaled. "Biscuits are done. Now, you just stay put, I’ll bring them over." She rose and opened the maw of the iron stove, which belched a cloud of heat and the smell of baked buttermilk biscuits. The wool underclothes prickled Inez’s skin.
"You know, ma’am. Maybe I ought to get some spectacles. Like yours. Only to help me see better at distance. Why, the good father greeted me on the street yesterday, and if it hadn’t been for his voice, I wouldn’t have even known it was him." Biscuit tins clattered on the rangetop. "Sometimes…" Her voice trailed off. She shoveled a dozen hot biscuits into a serving bowl and set them at Inez’s elbow.
"Yeeees?" Inez prompted.
Bridgette plopped into her chair, staring at the bowl of apple pie innards.
"Yesterday was the first time I’d met Mr. Rose’s wife. God rest his soul." Bridgette crossed herself perfunctorily. "Now, ma’am, you know I don’t hold with gossip, carrying tales and such." Bridgette squinted, searching her employer’s face for any hint of displeasure.
Inez nodded encouragingly and reached for a biscuit.
"When I met Mrs. Rose yesterday, I thought to myself, I thought, ‘She looks just like that woman I saw coming out of the back of the Clairmont with Mr. Gallagher.’"
Inez sat back, attempting to digest this news along with the eggs and gravy.
"Emma—Mrs. Rose, that is—and Harry, ah, Mr. Gallagher? A most unlikely couple, I agree. Leaving the hotel together?"
"Oh yes, ma’am," Bridgette rushed on. "I was chatting up my neighbor Maggie, she works the Clairmont kitchen, and I saw Mr. Gallagher and a red-haired woman by the back door. She was crying, and they seemed, ah, familiar with each other. Now, Mr. Gallagher, it was he for certain. Well, it’s his hotel, so that’s not so strange. The woman was probably a local fancy woman. After all, why would Mrs. Rose be there? And with him?"
"Why indeed," murmured Inez. "When was this?"
"Oh, early November, I’d say. I’m sure it was just Mrs. Rose’s hair that made me think of it."
The back door creaked open.
"Mr. Jackson!" Bridgette pounced on him. "You’re just in time for breakfast. By the time you’re finished cleaning up, there’ll be pie as well!"
"Promise of your apple pie’ll make the mornin’ tasks bearable." Abe set his knife and a folded newspaper on the table before heading for the coffee.
The wet edge of the eight-inch blade bled onto the crumpled front page of last week’s
Dodge City Times
. Inez eyed the stain. "Run into trouble?"
"Nothin’ I couldn’t handle." Abe sat down with a full cup, tore the back page from the newspaper, and began cleaning the knife. "Just a tenderfoot, new to town. Lost his bankroll on a shell game couple days ago. Tried to jump me in the alley. I didn’t take his fingers, just his weapon. ’Bout the size of…" He gestured at Bridgette’s paring knife.
Inez’s fork clattered to her plate. "I hope you had him arrested!"
"Now, Inez. You really think the law’s gonna bother over a white man taking on a colored man in an alley? Especially when the white man’s the one who’s cut? Nope, I didn’t."
"Well, what did you do?"
"Gave him four bits. Told him to get a shave, some grub, and a job."
"Stray cats and lost souls," muttered Inez. "Abe, you’re hopeless."
"And I expect you’d of shot him then spat in his eye." Abe speared a steak off the platter. "The boy didn’t hurt me none." He cut the steak and offered a hunk to the calico, who sniffed at it, tail twitching.
"Don’t feed her, Abe. She’s already lazy. The rats will just take over."
The cat snatched the meat as if sensing that there was not a moment to spare and streaked into the storeroom.
"Changin’ the subject." Abe pointed his knife at the paper. "Looks like a friend of yours lost the
sheriff election. Got accused of gamblin’ with county funds durin’ his last term."
Inez’s full stomach flip-flopped beneath her ribs. She rose from the table and approached the rag box by the storeroom. "I didn’t follow the
elections," she lied. "But if it’s
, you must mean Masterson. Bat, gambling with public money? What nonsense."
BOOK: Silver Lies
3.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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