“He hit me so hard he broke my jaw.” Bob rubbed the side of his face, as if he still felt the blow. “I fought back, but Murph was bigger and younger. If some others hadn't pulled us apart, he would have killed me for sure.”
“Where did this fight take place?” Maggie asked, trying to picture it.
“The Dirty Sally.” Bob grinned, an unexpected response considering the grave nature of his charges. “We'd both had a few at the time, but I stand by what I said thenâMurph lied about the gold.”
Right. And the moon was made of green cheese and her ex-husband would spend the rest of his life regretting leaving her. Nice fantasies all, but without a snowball's chance in hell of being true.
“What about him saving your life?” she asked, not sure if she really wanted to hear the story, but sure Bob wouldn't leave until he'd told it.
“That was me being stupid,” Bob said. “I wasn't paying attention to the weather and got caught out in a blizzard. I was already half froze to death when Murph found me and hauled me in. I reckon there were other men who would have left me there to die, considering the circumstances.”
“What circumstances?” He wanted her to ask, though she figured he'd tell her anyway.
“He found me at the mouth of the French Mistress mine. I'd snuck up there to do a little prospecting of my own.”
Maggie blinked. “You were going to steal from him?”
Bob shrugged. “I figured he owed me for breaking my jaw.”
“So after he saved your life, you two became best friends,” Maggie said. She could practically hear violins playing.
“Hell, no. He threatened to whoop my ass if he ever caught me on his property again.” Bob shook his head. “Then he put a big iron gate over the mine entrance so nobody else could get in.”
“And you know this how?”
Bob chuckled. “I had to check, don't you know.”
She'd have to find that entrance and have a look for herself, Maggie decided. Though what would she be looking for, exactly? She remembered the rocks she'd found in the Jeep and reached for her purse. “I have something I'd like you to take a look at.” She pulled out the rock and pushed it across the table.
Bob picked up the misshapen yellowish lump, then pulled a pair of wire-rimmed glasses from his shirt pocket and examined it closer. “Nice ammonite,” he said, and handed it back to her.
“What's an ammonite?”
“Fossil.” His gnarled finger traced a faint outline in the stoneâan oblong creature that looked like a cross between a giant pill bug and a centipede.
“Then it's not gold,” she said.
Bob laughed. “You might get a few dollars for it at a tourist shop, but people find them all the time up here. It'd make a nice paperweight.”
“Thanks.” She dropped it into her purse and looked around, ready to make her escape.
Janelle glided over. “Would you like some more coffee?” she asked.
“No, thank you. I'd better get going. I need to find a bank and a grocery store.” Was Eureka even big enough to have these things? “And is there somewhere I can buy some drapes, or the fabric to make them?”
“The bank is at the end of this street,” Janelle said. “The grocery is on Pickax, one street over. There's a hardware store, too. They sell curtain rods and things like that, but I don't know where you'd find drapes or fabric.” She wrinkled her brow, then brightened. “You should try Lacy's, next door to the grocery. There's a little bit of everything in there.”
“Thanks. I will.”
“Can I get you anything else?”
“Just the check,” Maggie said.
“It's already been taken care of,” Janelle said.
“Oh, I can't let you do that,” Maggie said. The special eggs had been one thing, but the two women obviously made their living here. She didn't feel right accepting freebies from them.
“I didn't do anything,” Janelle protested. “Jameso paid your check.”
“Jameso?” Her cheeks felt hot, and she looked around trying to spot the motorcycle rider.
“He already left,” Janelle said. “He said he owed you for scaring you last night.” Her smile was knowing. “You don't have to be afraid of Jameso. He is like a big, friendly dogâmore bark than bite.”
“I'm not afraid of him,” Maggie said stiffly. She was annoyed. Now she'd have to find him and thank him for buying her breakfast. And why hadn't he bothered to say hello when he was in the cafÃ©?
ucille was eating breakfast at the little table in her kitchen when she heard the stairs creak. A few moments later, the door opened and Lucas entered. He wore socks but no shoes, and the same clothes he'd had on last night, the T-shirt untucked from the baggy jeans.
“Good morning,” Lucille said. “Would you like some breakfast?”
He nodded and pulled out the chair across from her at the table. “Do you have cereal?” he asked.
“I have Cheerios.”
“That'd be okay.”
She poured the cereal and milk, and set the bowl in front of him. He was probably old enough to do it himself, but he looked barely conscious still. “How long did it take you to get from Connecticut to here?” she asked as she set the bowl in front of him.
“That's a really fast trip.” It had taken Lucille five days from California, ten years ago.
“Mom drove until she couldn't see anymore, then we'd stop the car and sleep for a while.” He spoke around mouthfuls of cereal. Not a pretty sight, but Lucille wasn't in the mood for etiquette lessons this early in the morning.
“You stayed in a hotel,” she said.
“No, she just pulled into a rest area or a parking lot and I'd crawl in my sleeping bag and she'd lay the seat down.”
What had driven Olivia to travel that way? Was she too broke to afford lodging? Or was she running from somethingâor someone? “If the car you're in belongs to D. J., where is hers?” she asked.
“She sold it.” More slurping of cereal. “D. J. won't mind if we use his car. He's a nice guy.”
“And he's your mom's boyfriend?” Olivia had never said, exactly.
“Yeah.” Lucas looked glum. “They had a big fight before he left. She didn't want him to go to Iraq, but he said he could make a bunch of money there. Then Mom lost her job, so that's when she decided to come see you.”
Any port in a storm, Lucille guessed.
“What are you going to do this morning?” Lucas asked her.
“I have to go to work. Is your mom going to take you to school to get enrolled?” If that was the case, maybe she'd better wake Olivia.
“She said I can wait until Monday. I don't see why I have to go at all. There's only a few more days left in the school year anyway.”
“More like two and a half weeks.” But it wouldn't hurt for the boy to wait a couple of days. Lucille could sympathize with Olivia's desire to rest today. “What will you do if you're not in school?” she asked. “Do you want to come to work with me?” Prowling through the miscellaneous junk in her store might keep him occupied one day at least. “We can leave a note for your mom.” No telling when Olivia would awaken; she'd looked completely beat last night.
“No, I don't think so. I'll look around on my own.”
“You should stay here with your mom.”
“She won't care if I go look around,” he said. “She doesn't worry about me.”
Lucille couldn't believe that. Every mother worried about her children, even long after they were grown and gone. “All right. Stop by my shop at lunch time and we'll get something to eat.”
“How will I know which store is yours?”
“The name of the place is Lacy's. It's on Pickax Street.”
“That's a funny name for a street.”
“A lot of places around here have names related to mines and mining. The people who first came hereâwell, the first white menâwere all miners.
“Were there Native Americans here before that?”
Not “Indians” but “Native Americans.” So politically correct and strangely adult sounding. “The Uncompahgre lived in the area before it was settled.”
He nodded again, focused on the cereal.
“Are you sure you'll be all right by yourself?” she asked.
He nodded. “I'm used to finding my way around in new places. And Mom says Eureka is pretty small, right?”
“Yes, it's pretty small.”
“Then I shouldn't have any problems.”
Where did he get that outsized sense of self-assurance? Not from her. Not from his mother either. Olivia had been shy to the point of being tongue-tied until eighth grade. Even then, she'd never been a social butterfly. Left to her own devices for a day, she'd have retreated to her room to read science fiction, write in her journal, and listen to dark, incomprehensible music.
“There's a bicycle in the shed out back if you want to use it,” Lucille said.
They were definitely going to have to work on his manners. “When someone offers you the use of something they own, you should say thank you,” she said.
“Okay.” Pause. “Thank you.”
“You're welcome.” What the hell had she gotten herself into? “I'd better go now. See you at lunch.” She left him at the table and went to get her purse and her keys. She took one last peek at him before she went out the door. He'd gotten up and was pouring a second bowl of cereal. As if waking up in a house with a grandmother who was a virtual stranger, in a town on the edge of nowhere, was really no big deal at all.
Maggie found the bank and withdrew some cash from the ATM. She didn't have a lot of money, but it ought to be enough to see her through a few more weeks. Of course, there was always the Steuben, which was insured for $20,000, but it wasn't exactly a liquid asset. And it was the one good thing she'd taken from her marriage.
Eureka Grocery was a surprisingly well-stocked market with a deli in the back and three check stands by the door. She filled a basket with frozen dinners, canned soup, bread, cereal, and skim milkâthe single woman's shopping list. Add a few tins of cat food and she'd be a full-fledged stereotype.
When she was married, she'd prided herself on her cooking skills; she'd made her own soups and bread, even homemade pasta. Such effort seemed pointless when you had to eat the results alone.
Next door to the market sat a long, low building. Bright red letters in the front window identified it as Lacy's. A stout blonde in a long, red flowered skirt and black ballet slippers was sweeping the front porch when Maggie approached. “Good morning,” the woman said cheerfully, not pausing in her work but turning to sweep her way toward Maggie. “Come on in and look around. I've got a little bit of everything.”
This was no understatement. From her spot just outside the open doorway, Maggie spied a circa 1950s sofa and chair, a gilded mirror, a box of canning jars, three teddy bears, and a mounted elk with only one eye. “I'm looking for some curtains,” she said. “Something to cover a big window.”
The womanâLacy?âleaned her broom against the porch railing. “I don't know,” she said. “But let's go see.”
She led the way into the shop, down narrow aisles lined with everything from old Barbie dolls to sets of Haviland china. Garage sale castoffs sat side by side with what Maggie suspected were valuable antiques.
But she didn't see so much as an old tablecloth or faded bedspread, much less a set of drapes large enough to cover a wall-wide window.
They reached the back of the shop and a row of six dusty, wine-colored velvet theater seats. Beside them sat an old-fashioned movie projector. “How big a window are you looking to cover?” the woman asked.
“A big one.”
“Then I may have just the thing.” She reached behind the row of seats and dragged out a large cardboard boxâthe kind that might have once held a washing machine. She opened the top and began pulling out yards and yards of wine-colored velvet. “Theater curtains from the old Ironton Theater,” she said. “Do you think they'd work?”
Maggie grabbed two fistfuls of the velvet and stretched it out before her. It was dusty and a little faded, but still sturdy. And there was certainly plenty of it. “How much?” she asked.
The woman eyed Maggie, then the box of velvet. “Thirty-five dollars.”
“I'll take it.”
Together, they stuffed the fabric back in the box. “I'm Lucille Theriot, by the way,” the woman said. “I own this place.”
“Maggie Stevens.” Maggie took the offered hand. “Who's Lacy?”
Lucille laughed. “I have no idea. It was supposed to be
but the sign painter goofed. Come on. Let's drag this up front.”
All that velvet proved heavier than Maggie had anticipated. By the time they reached the front of the store, both women were red-faced and out of breath. “What . . . brings you . . . to Eureka?” Lucille asked.
Maggie waited a few seconds more before she answered. “My father was Jacob Murphy,” she said. “He left me his place, and I came up from Houston to settle his affairs.”
“Ah. I heard you were coming to visit. Welcome to town.”
“Are you trying to cover those windows in his cabin?”
“Just the ones in the bedroom. You've seen them?”
“Not exactly. And certainly not the ones in his bedroom.”
“Oh, I didn't mean . . .”
Lucille laughed. “I'm not saying I wouldn't have taken him up on the offer if he'd asked. Murph was a good-looking man, and he was only about eight years older than me, but we were just friends. I'm the one who sold him the windows.”
“You did?” Maggie glanced around her, wondering if there was a hardware department she'd missed.
“I bought out an estate over near Rico and the guy was a glazier who had all these odd sizes of windows someone had ordered for a custom home and never built. Murph had mentioned he wanted some new windows for his place, so I hooked him up. Murph always said he owed me for those windows. It was our running joke that someday I'd collect.” Her expression sobered. “It was a big shock when he died. He seemed like the kind who'd go on forever.”
“How did he die? No one told me.” She'd been so consumed with mapping out the details of her father's life that she hadn't thought to ask about his death.
“I heard it was a heart attack,” Lucille said. “He was working up at his place, stacking rocks or something, and just keeled over. You could ask Jameso. He's the one who found him.”
Jameso again. Did the guy make a habit of lurking around the cabin? Why? She fought annoyanceâat Jameso, and at her father, for dying before she had a chance to get to know him, and for not letting her be a part of his life while he was alive. After all these years, that rejection still hurt.
True to her claim of having “a little bit of everything,” Lucille unearthed a packet of needles and three spools of black thread to go with the theater curtains. Maggie added a pair of scissors and surveyed the pile. “What the heck am I going to hang these with?” she asked.
“Hardware store up the street sells steel pipe and plumbing fittings,” Lucille said. “That's the only thing sturdy enough to support these heavy things, plus they'll cut them to size for you.”
Maggie nodded. After she measured the windows, she'd make another trip. She paid for the purchases with her credit card; then the two women wrestled the box out to the Jeep and Maggie headed back up toward Garnet Mountain, determined to spend the rest of the day looking for the French Mistress Mine and studying whatever papers her father had left behind.
She'd just passed the hot springs when her cell phone erupted with the opening notes of Vivaldi's “Spring.”
. She knew before she glanced at the phone, and guilt washed over her that she hadn't yet called her best friend. She pulled over onto the side of the road and answered the phone.
“You had better have been held hostage by Yetis or be in bed with some gorgeous, rich stud.”
Barb's husky drawl filled Maggie with an unexpected wave of homesickness. “I'm sorry I haven't called,” she said.
“So, no Yetis? And no stud? I'm disappointed in you, woman.”
“Give me a chance. I've only been here one day.”
“You must have been busy doing something, if you couldn't even be bothered to call me.”
“There's no cell service at my dad's place. And no landline.” No electricity or cable or Internet . . . Barb would be calling for men in white coats to take Maggie away when Maggie told her she planned to stay.
“Back up. You're staying at your dad's place?”
“Yes, it's a cabin on a remote mountainâa
cabin, not some real-estate developer's idea of a weekend getaway for the Ralph Lauren set. This is an old mining shack my dad remodeled.”
“Uh-huh. And what about the gold mine? And the two vehicles?”