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Leaving Whiskey Bend
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Two friends, middle-aged Pearl and pretty, young schoolteacher Hallie, have just about decided to leave the rough Western town of Whiskey Bend, where both are disillusioned with the way they have been treated. The final straw comes when they witness their friend Mary being assaulted in the street by her stepbrother Chester and no one steps forward to help her. They decide to leave and take Mary with them. They go out to the shack where Chester and Mary live to get her, but when Chester attacks them, Pearl shoots him in the leg. He screams after the three that he will follow them wherever they go.
Desperately they drive away in an open wagon seeking a new life and safety. One night along the way they are caught in a violent storm and Mary nearly drowns in a roiling river. She is saved by a daring young rancher who brings them back to his home to stay until Mary recovers. The rancher has troubles of his own. He is condemned by his mother for having left his father to run the ranch alone years earlier. He is searching for the murderer of his younger brother. And someone now is trying to kill him. Attracted to him and grateful, Hallie vows to help him..
This book is a work of historical fiction. In order to give a sense of the times, some names or real people or places have been included in the book. However, the events depicted in this book are imaginary, and the names of nonhistorical persons or events are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance of such nonhistorical persons or events to actual ones is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2008 by Dorothy Garlock
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Grand Central Publishing
Hachette Book Group
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First eBook Edition: November 2008
Grand Central Publishing is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. The Grand Central Publishing name and logo is a trademark of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
BOOKS BY DOROTHY GARLOCK
After the Parade
The Edge of Town
A Gentle Giving
High on a Hill
The Listening Sky
Love and Cherish
More than Memory
On Tall Pine Lake
A Place Called Rainwater
Ribbon in the Sky
River of Tomorrow
The Searching Hearts
Sins of Summer
Song of the Road
This Loving Land
Train from Marietta
A Week from Sunday
Wild Sweet Wilderness
Will You Still Be Mine?
Wind of Promise
Whiskey Bend, Colorado, 1890
CHESTER REMNICK FLINCHED as the bullet whizzed past his face and slammed into the side of the house. Splinters flew like frenzied insects. The thunderous clap of impact echoed in his already dazed head. It took all his self-control not to soil his britches.
"You stupid, lazy, no-good son of a bitch! I warned you that if you took so much as one damn step I wouldn't hesitate to shoot. Are you as deaf as you are ugly?"
Pearl Parsons cocked the rifle quickly, adjusted her grip on the weapon, and sneered down the length of its barrel. She was in her early forties, strong limbed and tough, with deep lines etched into the rough skin of her face. Her dark hair, streaked with strands of gray, was pulled to the back of her head and pinned in a loose knot. Built close to the ground, she had broad shoulders, sturdy arms and legs that could work alongside any man in town—and she wasn't a stranger to using a weapon.
Even as she ignored the urge to wipe a bead of sweat from her brow with the crimson scarf that lay across her shoulders, her eyes never left her target. If Chester was to underestimate her resolve, he would be making a mistake—the last mistake of his life.
"What—what the hell are ya doin' here?" Chester yelled.
"Shut your mouth!"
"You can't come in my house and order me about," the man continued, his nasal voice rising with indignation. Color began to return to his face with every word. "You roust me outta my sleep, then you take a shot at me! You got balls, bitch! You got balls that'd put a bull to shame!"
Early morning summer light bathed them in an orange glow. Having barely crested the horizon, the sun hung low and large in the eastern sky, a buttery orb readying to spread its warmth. The day would undoubtedly be hot, but for now the coolness of night clung to the air. Where birds had chirped loudly only moments before, they now fell silent in the wake of the gunshot. No breeze stirred the air. It was as if all nature were paying witness, holding their breaths for the next outburst.
"You're gonna pay for this, bitch!" Chester threatened.
"You call me that again, chicken shit, and I'll make a hen outta you." Clutching the rifle, Pearl pointed it at his crotch, a sign of her resolution to use it.
She wondered if Chester Remnick was smart enough to even understand how desperate she was. He reminded her of a rodent. In his midtwenties, he was skinny and scraggly of body, with dirty brown hair that hung limply over his sharp features, and his face was defined by a hook of a nose and a receding chin. His beady black eyes, small teeth, and the ever-present stubble on his cheeks completed the picture. Like the rat that he resembled, he made Pearl feel the need to be alert when near him. She was glad that she wasn't facing him unarmed. Glancing over her shoulder, she called to her companion, who stood stock-still in the grass twenty feet away.
"Hallie, are you all right?"
From somewhere in a deep fog, Hallie Wolcott finally managed to nod her head in response. The gunshot had frozen her almost as effectively as it had Pearl's intended target. Her hand trembled as she pushed a strand of auburn hair from her smooth face. In all her twenty-two years, nothing had prepared her for what had taken place before her green eyes, and the shock had almost overwhelmed her.
"I'm all right."
"Go see about Mary. This horse's ass shoved her down," Pearl said in a calm and firm voice.
With the mention that Mary needed her attention, the fear that had gripped Hallie suddenly released her.
Mary Sinclair lay in a crumpled heap several feet away, as if she were a doll that had been haphazardly thrown aside. Lifting her dark skirt, Hallie rushed to Mary and fell to the ground beside her. Deep sobs racked Mary's body and shook her tiny frame. Her simple green dress rose and fell as each wave of emotion washed over her. She lay with her face pressed to the earth, her stringy hair swirling about her shoulders as if it had been tossed by a strong wind. Mewling, wet sounds escaped from her mouth.
"Is she all right?" Pearl asked anxiously.
"I—I can't be certain," Hallie admitted.
Gently she pushed the wayward strands of hair from Mary's pale brow and turned her friend's face toward her own. The woman's eyes, bloodshot and red rimmed from crying, searched her own frantically, as if looking for shelter in a storm. Mucus and spittle were smeared across her nose and mouth. While these sights unsettled Hallie, what truly made her stomach churn were the cut and swollen lips and the bruises that covered Mary's face; it was like a bizarre rainbow of colors, with greens, browns, purples, and all shades in between.
"Get yer goddamn hands offa her!" Chester bellowed. "She's my woman."
Pearl gave a derisive snort. "She's not your woman, you son of a bitch! Just 'cause your pa married her ma don't mean you have any claim to her."
"Pa gave her to me!"
"Don't say another word!"
"Ya stupid bitches don't have no idea what yer getting into!" he continued, undeterred. "Ya ain't got no right to butt in. What happens between a man and his woman ain't none a yer business!"
"One more word out of you and you're goin' to be missin' some parts and walkin' spraddle legged—if'n you can walk at all!" Pearl shouted back.
Hallie cradled Mary's head in her arms and stared coldly at Chester Remnick. If hatred were an emotion she could translate into action, she was certain that in that moment she would have killed the man. With that realization, she was glad that it was Pearl who held the rifle. Still, Chester wasn't her real concern; Mary was.
"We're taking you out of here, Mary," Hallie soothed.
Putting all thought of Chester behind her, Hallie turned her attention back to her devastated friend. Placing a hand tenderly upon the woman's shoulder, she softly asked, "Can you hear me, Mary?"
The only answer she received was a racking sob.
"She'll be fine as soon as we're gone from here," Pearl offered.
"We're leaving, Mary. We're leaving Whiskey Bend," Hallie said.
And you're coming with us.
Hallie found it hard to believe that it had only been a few short hours since she had witnessed Chester viciously slapping Mary's face in the center of Whiskey Bend. She and Pearl had happened upon the scene on their way home, and what they witnessed horrified them. Mary had stopped to speak with a young man, a clerk in one of the stores. Chester took her act as an affront and slapped her viciously. He punctuated each blow with a curse or slur, further demeaning the girl whose only crime was stopping to talk with an acquaintance.
Hallie flinched at every blow, as if she were the one being struck. Tears clouded her vision.
"Stop it, you brute! Stop hitting her!" she shouted.
"Tend to yer own business, slut," Chester barked in answer.
Pearl's hand grabbed her arm, refusing to allow her to become involved, when not a man along the street offered to interfere between a man and his woman.
"Now isn't the time," Pearl said.
"But he's going to kill her!" Hallie argued.
"I'm not disagreein' with your concern," the older woman explained, her jaw set as firmly as if it were made of stone, "only with your timing. Not here and not now . . . but we will do something."
In that moment, unspoken between the two of them, was the realization that it was time to leave Whiskey Bend. It was inevitable that, if they didn't take Mary with them, Chester would surely kill her. Maybe not that night, or the one that followed . . . but it was going to happen! In order to save the life of Mary Sinclair, a girl they had befriended, they had to act fast. They needed to get themselves and Mary as far away from him, and Whiskey Bend, as possible.
Their plan had not yet been solid, but they had to act quickly. Hallie and Pearl each had her own reasons for leaving Whiskey Bend, and the sight they had witnessed was simply the final straw. They were leaving and they would take Mary with them.
After procuring horses and a wagon, the two women loaded it with their own meager belongings. Hallie held her tongue when Pearl placed the rifle in the wagon beneath the seat. It had still been pitch-black when they headed for the ramshackle cabin that Chester and Mary inhabited on the far outskirts of the township. Conveniently, the closest neighbor lived over a mile away; if things became messy, there'd be no one to interfere.
Regardless, they stopped the wagon a safe distance from the cabin and went the rest of the way on foot. They walked in silence, each keeping her thoughts to herself. As the sun just began to brush the horizon pink, the cabin came into view.
The place Chester and Mary lived was pitiful. Boards of many different shapes and sizes were nailed haphazardly together creating a small frame. Most of the windows contained broken glass and some no glass at all. The front door had been hung crookedly; it looked as if it were leaned shut. Hallie's heart sank at the thought of her friend spending her days and nights in such squalor.
When they were no more than a stone's throw from the cabin, Pearl spoke. Her words chilled Hallie all the way to the bone. "I'll kill him if I have to," Pearl promised, tightening her grip on the rifle.
"You can't, Pearl," Hallie replied. "You just can't."
"Don't worry, Hallie," the older woman said, a smile cracking her face. "I won't if I don't have to. It ain't somethin' I want to do, but I've gotta be ready for that snake if he strikes!"
Hallie wasn't able to offer any further argument. Even though she couldn't bring herself to admit it, the gun in Pearl's hands made her feel safer. Chester Remnick was as sneaky as any serpent. There was no telling what he would do. He wouldn't let them walk in and simply take Mary; Hallie was sure of that.
Slowly and quietly they made their way to the tiny cabin. Saying a silent prayer, they eased their way inside the crooked door. On the other side, in the room that made up most of the ramshackle home, they had found Chester sprawled on a filthy bed. He was dressed only in his pants and was snoring loudly. The room smelled strongly of the whiskey that had spilled from the bottle at his side.
"Quickly," Pearl whispered, leading Hallie farther into the cabin.
In a lean-to attached to the back of the house, they found Mary asleep on a stained, sagging cot. She looked terribly young as she lay there, temporarily safe. Hallie felt a sudden urge not to wake her, not to bring her back. Pearl did not share the same sentiment and attempted to wake their friend. What happened next was the true nightmare.
"Mary," Pearl cooed. "Mary, wake up."
As the sleeping woman's eyes had fluttered once, twice, then opened, the look that filled them wasn't one of joy at seeing her friends, or even surprise as to why they happened to be standing in her bedroom. Instead, they reflected terror, sheer terror.
"No, no, get away! Get away from me!" Mary screamed.
Too stunned to think, both Hallie and Pearl remained frozen in place as Mary sprang up from the bed and made a dash for the door, desperate to escape. Pearl was the first to move and, after what had seemed like forever, Hallie followed.
"Mary! Stop, Mary! It's Pearl and Hallie!"
"Get—get away from me!"
They passed Chester, still groggy yet quickly awakening from his drunken stupor, and burst back out into the growing daylight, when Mary simply collapsed onto the ground and began to wail. Hallie was about to run to Mary, to offer some comfort, when Chester's liquor-addled voice burst into the morning.
"Stay away from her, ya stupid bitches," he growled.
From the time that Chester had first spoken to this moment seemed no more than a blink of the eyes to Hallie, punctuated by a gunshot. As she looked down at Mary's shaking form, she couldn't help but wonder if Chester's first question had a logical answer. What are we doing here? Hallie assumed that Mary would be thrilled at the thought of leaving her squalid life, but she was terrified instead. Now, with Chester alert and threatening, Hallie knew that their chances of leaving without violence were slim.
"Just stay where you are, you miserable son of a bitch," Pearl snapped. "She didn't know who we were, Hallie. She thought we were some of this buzzard's drunken friends," she said without turning around.
"Ya stupid whore." Chester spat. Anger coursed through him now, the corners of his mouth rising in a sadistic sneer. "Ya think yer just gonna take her? She's mine, I tell ya!"
"She's no more yours than I am!"
Chester glared at the woman defying him. "There ain't nowhere ya can go that I ain't gonna be able to find ya . . . and when I do, I'm gonna kill ya! Both of ya!"
Hallie understood that Chester believed his own words. Even if they managed to get Mary away, she knew that he would never stop looking, never stop hunting until he had exacted his revenge and retrieved what he felt belonged to him.
Pearl, however, didn't seem to share her concerns. "If you ain't too stupid to know what's good for you," she said as calmly as a smooth spring breeze, "the only thing you'll do is keep your mouth shut and not move an inch. If you want to test me, go ahead. I swear that I'll shoot you like the dog you are."
"Go to hell!"
"Hallie," Pearl said, ignoring Chester's curse, "get Mary back on her feet and start for the wagon. I'll be right behind you."
"Ya sure as hell better worry about me, damn ya!" Chester shouted, any fear for his own safety giving way to anger. His hands clenched tightly, he suddenly sprang toward them, the look in his eyes one of madness. But before Hallie could so much as scream, Pearl steadied the rifle and fired.
The bullet tore into the soft flesh of Chester's left thigh, and the man howled in pain. He crashed to the ground, his hands leaping to the wound, crimson blood pouring out from between his fingers and staining his pants. The agony that filled his face was mixed with surprise at the fact that Pearl had the guts to shoot him.
"I told ya, you stupid son of a bitch," she said coldly.
Chester's only answer was an unintelligible cry.
Hallie was dimly aware of Pearl's hand on her shoulder; once again she had been struck dumb by the sound of gunfire. Blinking quickly, she looked into her friend's eyes through a haze of tears. She helped Mary off the ground and they followed Pearl, putting one foot in front of the other, each step taking them farther and farther away from the cabin and Chester's cries of pain.
"What are we going to do now?" Hallie finally managed to ask.
For a long while, Pearl was silent. It wasn't until the last of Chester's shouts had faded into the air like morning mist that she said, "We'll do what we came here to do—take Mary and leave Whiskey Bend forever."
ELI MORGAN WAS nervous.
Shifting uncomfortably on his wicker train seat, he peered out the window as the Colorado countryside sped by. In the bright summer afternoon, wildflowers dotted the wide plains with bright yellows, whites, oranges, and reds. Along the many burbling rivers and creeks, tall elms, oaks, and pine trees spread their broad branches, soaring high into the crisp blue, cloudless sky. In the distance, mountains rose into the heavens, their crowns capped with snow although the summer was in full sway. He spotted a wild stallion as it lifted its head in curiosity at the noisy locomotive before returning to its grassy meal. These were the familiar sights of home, a home that he had not seen for four long years.
"Four years," he muttered to himself.
The fact that he was now able to take a train to Bison City was a testament to just how much things had changed since he'd left. Even though the train constantly tossed him from side to side and the passenger car held heat like an oven, it was a remarkably quick way to travel. The new route, a direct line running from Denver to Cheyenne, had only recently been completed. Hundreds of miles of track—iron rails and thick wooden ties—cut through the countryside. Among the many familiar town names there were even a couple of new places that had sprung up alongside the tracks.
Eli was also well aware that he himself had undergone a great change. While his thick, coal-black hair, piercing green eyes, and sturdy chin were the same as when he had left, much else about him was different. His tall, lanky frame had filled out dramatically; underneath his white shirt, taut muscles spread across his broadened shoulders. As he placed his black suit coat on the empty seat next to him, he was aware that his way of thinking had been transformed by his time as a member of the United States army. However, he had always been scrappy and hardworking, determined to make the most of what life had to offer. Such effort and devotion had paid dividends. Four years earlier, he had left Bison City little more than a boy. Now he returned as a man.
Still, concern lined his face. Pulling a thin, worn slip of paper from the inside pocket of his coat, he smoothed out the telegram that had brought him home. Even though it was now heavily sweat stained, he had no trouble making out the words. No matter how many times he reread it, memorizing every syllable, he felt no closer to discerning the message's true meaning.
YOU ARE NEEDED AT HOME STOP
COME AS SOON AS YOU ARE ABLE STOP
In the four years that he'd been away, Eli hadn't received a single letter, telegram, or correspondence of any kind from a single member of the family except from his uncle Hank. Eli had sent cards now and then to let the family know when he had returned to the States and had been discharged from the army. The silence from his parents had been hurtful. They had been dead set against his leaving the ranch and joining the army, and they had refused to write. It had taken him some time to get used to the break between them, but he'd managed to adjust.
But still . . .
The telegram from his uncle Hank had given him reason for concern. That it had been so short, so empty of clear meaning, had only caused him further worry. He wanted to send a telegram in return, to try to find out what had happened, but he resisted the urge. Instead, he packed his trunk and returned like a dutiful son, the kind of son he had always been, except for the one time when he had gone against his parents' wishes and joined the army. In the end, the message that he'd sent in reply had contained only the date and time of his arrival.
Even now, as Eli bounced about in his train seat, he wondered why he had decided to come back. There was certainly a part of him that had wanted to stay away forever. He had begun a new life, far from the one that he had known. He'd looked forward to setting down in Galveston, Texas. He'd thought about opening a business, maybe even with a new bride and a bundle of joy or two, if he could find the right woman for the job. Even though it had pained him, he had put aside his future plans and was returning to the ranch.
When he thought of his former life in Bison City, in the midst of the Morgan family, he remembered vicious arguments with his father, his mother's intolerance and complaints, but more hurtful than all others, the murder of his brother Caleb.
"Caleb," Eli whispered aloud.
Every time during the last four years when he allowed the memory of Caleb's death to enter his thoughts, it was as if someone were plunging a hot knife into his belly, then twisting it cruelly. The anger at not knowing who was responsible for the crime gnawed at him, his rage a tangible thing. Even now, four years later, the pain of loss was no less real. My younger brother is gone . . . forever. That it had happened two days before he was to leave for the army had only made matters worse. He agonized over what to do but, in the end, decided to stay true to his intentions and go. Somehow, he felt in his heart that Caleb would have understood; he'd had the same spirit of adventure that coursed through Eli's own veins. Unfortunately, his parents did not understand. When he left by wagon the day of his brother's funeral, no member of the Morgan family saw him off.
Folding the telegram, Eli placed it back in his suit coat. Regardless of why he was summoned to Bison City, he would soon arrive. All his questions would then be answered. His willingness to face the unknown was what led him to leave in the first place. That trait would undoubtedly serve him well on his return.
Eli couldn't be certain when he became aware of the familiarity of his surroundings, but a sight here and there began to spark his memory. First there was a towering, gnarled mess of an elm tree. Then he spied the meandering stream where he and Abe used to fish for trout. Finally, when Elmer Watt's sagging barn came into view, the very spot where he stole his first kiss from the man's daughter, he knew he was home.
"There's Bison City," the woman in the seat in front of him said to her son, her arm pointing out the open window.
And there it was. Eli couldn't suppress the smile that crossed his face at the sight. Many of the buildings looked the same as when he had last seen them, albeit a bit more weathered, but new buildings had sprung up as if they were spring crops. The town had certainly spread out; even now, as the train slowed into the depot, he could see men sawing and hammering wood for new buildings. Everywhere he looked, people bustled about. While he was used to the multitudes of Galveston, there were certainly more faces here than he remembered. Change, it seemed, had come even to Bison City.
When the train finally came to a full stop, its shrill whistle piercing the noon sky, Eli rose from his seat, gathered up his coat, and headed for the door. Few of the other passengers stirred; most were destined for bigger things in Cheyenne. Stepping out onto the platform, Eli wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand and began to scan the crowd. All around him, happy reunions were taking place; an elderly woman held tightly to a young girl, smothering her with kisses, and two young lovers stared into each other's eyes with passion. Eli couldn't spot a familiar face. He checked his watch, saw that the train was on time, and shrugged his broad shoulders.
Lending a hand to the depot's porters, Eli hauled trunks, satchels, and other packages from the train's cramped baggage car. It was heavy work but not unfamiliar; growing up on his father's ranch, as well as his time in the army, had made him no stranger to lifting things. He'd just retrieved his own large black trunk, its brass clasps and hinges shining in the summer sun, and dropped it to the platform with a heavy thud, when a familiar voice sounded from behind him.
"Sure looks like I picked a mighty fine time to be late."
Eli turned to find Hank Gallows standing before him with a wide grin on his tanned face. Uncle Hank, his mother's youngest brother, had been a fixture in Eli's life, and on the family ranch, for as long as he could remember. A lifelong bachelor and lover of the outdoors, Hank's disposition was as bright and sunny as a June day. Even now, as he stood on the train platform, his blond hair, ruddy cheeks, and warm blue eyes had been only slightly touched by age since Eli had seen him last. With his worn hat in his hand, wearing a faded blue shirt and pants, Hank hadn't really changed a lot.
"Figures that a polecat like you would make sure he was far away from any good, honest work that needed to be done," Eli said as sternly as he could manage, a smile threatening the corners of his mouth. "But isn't that the way you Gallows have always been?"
"That's old polecat to you, youngster. Show me some respect."
At that, both men burst into laughter and shook hands warmly. Hank had been one of Eli's favorites, a man who always seemed to look on the bright side of life. The path that Hank had chosen for himself was undoubtedly a hard one; ranchers' days were filled with riding, roping, branding, helping to birth new calves, mending fences, and many other tasks that were equally rough on a man. Still, regardless of whether he was under sun, wind, rain, or snow, Hank Gallows was ready to smile.
"I almost didn't recognize you standing there," Hank said as he stepped back to get a better look at his nephew. "You ain't quite the same kid as when you left. I swear your shoulders are wide enough to give some of the bulls back on the ranch a run for their money."
"I haven't changed that much," Eli said with a chuckle.
- On Sale
- Nov 13, 2008
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Grand Central Publishing