It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book’s FIRST chapter!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Whitaker House (January 30, 2009)
Sharlene Maclaren is an award-winning novelist , retired elementary school teacher, wife, mother, and grandmother.
(ISBN#9781603740746, 428pp, $9.99)
Sandy Shores, Michigan
The minute hand on the nickel-cased Waterbury clock ticked away the seconds as Hannah Grace Kane primped in the mirror. She leaned back and squinted with displeasure when her unruly, rusty-colored curls refused to cooperate, poking out all over like a bunch of broken bedsprings. â€œAargh!â€ she muttered, throwing down her comb and watching it bounce off the wood floor with a ping before landing on the braided wool rug.
â€œSupperâ€™s almost ready!â€ wailed the youngest of the Kane sisters, Abbie Ann, from the foot of the stairs.
â€œAbbie Ann, youâ€™ll damage my hearing,â€ Jacob Kane muttered.
Even from the upstairs bedroom, Hannah heard her fatherâ€™s newspaper rattle and sensed that his tone bordered on brusqueness. She pictured him sitting in his plush blue velvet chair, as he always did at six oâ€™clock, the Sandy Shores Tribune spread in his lap, his reading spectacles perched low on his longish nose. â€œWhy is it that at seventeen, youâ€™re still screaming like a banshee?â€
â€œSeventeen, Papa? Have you forgotten that I turned eighteen in May?â€
There was a lengthy pause. â€œEighteen? Are you sure?â€
Her high-pitched giggle drifted upward. â€œOf course Iâ€™m sure, silly. A lady never forgets her age.â€
â€œWell, then, all the more reason to cease with your howling.â€
â€œBesides, Hannah Grace isnâ€™t even eating at home this evening.â€
â€œOh, how could I forget? That olâ€™ Stuffy Huffyâ€™s coming to call. I suppose theyâ€™ll take a long stroll in the moonlight. Blechh.â€ Her voice danced with unrestrained sarcasm, and Hannah could only imagine the look of disapproval on her fatherâ€™s bearded face. â€œI donâ€™t know what she sees in him, do you, Papa? If you ask me, heâ€™s boring and unfriendly.â€
The newspaper crackled. â€œAbbie.â€ He heaved a breath, which echoed up through the register. â€œDoctor Van Huff seems like a nice enough gentleman. There is no call for judging him. And besides, your sister seems to like him.â€
â€œIâ€™m not judging. Iâ€™m merely expressing my view on things, which I happen to think is more fact than opinion. Personally, I suspect she just likes him â€™cause heâ€™s just about the only eligible bachelor around.â€
Hannah bent down to retrieve her comb and sighed in the process. Everyone knew sounds carried faster than a windstorm in this two-story, foursquare structure. Was there no respect? Why, had she wanted, she could have walked to the twelve-inch heat vent in the floor and peered through its narrow slats to give her sister a snarling glower, but she
wouldnâ€™t, for that was exactly what Abbie wanted her to do. All three Kane sisters had played the â€œspying gameâ€ through that heat register as children, but Abbie seemed bent on continuing it till kingdom come.
â€œAbbie Ann, you mind your manners. Hannah will hear you.â€
Well, itâ€™s about time someone thought of that, Hannah mused, thankful for her grandmotherâ€™s scolding tone. Helena Kane, Jacobâ€™s mother, had tirelessly tended to the entire family since shortly after the girlsâ€™ own mother had succumbed to pneumonia and died just days short of Abbieâ€™s second birthday. â€œRalston Van Huff is a fine, upstanding citizen, and you had best show your respect.â€ Even after all these years in Michigan, her British accent still lingered like a fresh aroma.
â€œI do, I do,â€ Abbie insisted. â€œBut heâ€™s always talking about himself and that stupendous medical practice he runs. After a while, one grows downright weary of it.â€
Jacob snapped his paper and exhaled noisily. â€œThe man is doing his best to make a success of himself. I would think taking on the task of town physician would require a bit of ambitionâ€¦speaking of which, shouldnâ€™t you be out in the kitchen helping your grandmother and sister?â€
â€œIâ€™ll second that,â€ said Grandmother. â€œTake the napkins out of the bureau, Abbie.â€
â€œDo you suppose heâ€™s a true Christian, Papa?â€ Abbie asked, ignoring his inquiry.
â€œWell, I would hope so. Hannah Grace wouldnâ€™t settle for anyone who didnâ€™t claim to have a faith of his own. May I please read todayâ€™s news now, Abigail?â€
Keeping one ear to the conversation downstairs, Hannah picked up her comb and resumed her hair-styling task.
â€œI, for one, think Dr. Van Huff is charming.â€ Maggie Rose spoke up for the first time that evening. From the kitchen wafted her habitually melodious voiceâ€”melodious in that she spoke in pleasant tones rather than melodious from a musical standpoint, that is. Sadly, Maggie thought she could carry a tune quite well, but after years of sitting beside her in church, Hannah knew otherwise. â€œHe picked two roses from our garden last week and gave one to Hannah and one to me. Iâ€™d call that rather sweet.â€
â€œOh, poke me with a stick!â€ Abbie whined. â€œHe should rather have picked flowers from his own gardenâ€”or bought some at Claraâ€™s Flower Shop.â€
â€œAbbie Ann Kane, stop being so persnickety,â€ Grandmother said. â€œMy goodness, what side of the bed didâ€”?â€
A deafening scream sounded through the house when something metallic made clanging contact with the linoleum floor.
â€œMy giddy aunt, what a gobblinâ€™ mess we have here! Donâ€™t burn yourself, Maggie!â€ Grandmother screeched. â€œAbbie, come in here this minute and lend a hand. Noodles are everywhere.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s happened?â€ Jacob asked.
â€œIt looks like a pigâ€™s breakfast just landed on our kitchen floor. Oh, forevermore and a day! Supper will be delayed, Iâ€™m afraid.â€
Abbieâ€™s uncontrollable giggles lent to the clamor of rushing feet, running water, Grandmotherâ€™s stern orders to stop laughing and fetch some rags, and Maggieâ€™s pathetic verbal attempts to vindicate her clumsiness.
From her cushioned bench in front of the vanity, Hannah stifled a smile, glad to be upstairs and away from
the commotion. She leaned forward to study herself in the mirror. After this close scrutiny, her slightly upturned mouth curled into a pout. Grayish eyes, neither true blue nor clear green, stared back at her as she viewed her thin, longish neck and narrow shoulders, pointy chin, square jaw, and plumpish lips. To top matters off, she had a skinny frame with very little up front to prove her womanhood. As a matter of fact, sheâ€™d thought more than once that if she wanted to pass as a boy, she could pile all her hair under a cap, if ever there was one big enough, don a pair of menâ€™s coveralls, work boots, and a jacket, and no one would be the wiser.
She thought about her sistersâ€™ attractive looksâ€”Maggieâ€™s fair-haired beauty and Abbieâ€™s dark eyes, olive complexion, and flowing, charcoal hair. Assuredly, they both outshone her pasty features by a country mile, Abbieâ€™s assets originating from their motherâ€™s Italian heritage, Maggieâ€™s coming from their Grandmother Kaneâ€™s long line of elegant features. To be sure, Helena was an aging woman in her sixties, but anyone with an eye for beauty could see that with her high cheekbones, perfectly set blue eyes, well-chiseled nose and chin, and remarkably smooth skin, she must have been the picture of youthful elegance and charm.
But where did she, Hannah Grace, fit into the picture? Certainly, sheâ€™d inherited her grandmotherâ€™s curly hair, but where Helenaâ€™s lay in perfect, gentle waves, gathered into a tidy silver bun at the back, Hannahâ€™s crimped and frizzed atop her head like a thousand corkscrews. And nothing she did to tame it seemed to work. Sheâ€™d even lain her head on an ironing board some years ago, like a sacrificial hen, and allowed her sisters to straighten it with a hot ironâ€”until they came too close to the skin and singed her scalp. The silly recollection made her brow crinkle into four straight lines.
She pulled her shoulders back, dipped her chin, and tried to look dignified in her ivory silk afternoon gown with the button-down front and leg-o-mutton sleeves.
â€œHannah Grace Van Huff,â€ she whispered, testing the name aloud and wondering how it would feel to say it for the rest of her days.
Tonight, they would dine at the Culver House in downtown Sandy Shores, and, afterward, perhaps walk down to the harbor to watch the boats come and go. Along the way, they would pass the closed shops on Water Street and probably do some window gazing. Ralston would speak about his practice and tell her about the patients heâ€™d seen that dayâ€”the broken bones heâ€™d set, the wounds heâ€™d wrapped. He would tell her about his dreams of constructing a new buildingâ€”one that would allow him to relocate his practice away from his residence. Not for the first time, he would mention his hopes for a partner with whom to launch this undertaking, someone who shared his passion for medicine, of course, and had the financial wherewithal to pitch in his fair share. There would be a placard above the door and maybe a more prominent sign in the front yard. They would hire a nurse, of course, and, down the road, a bookkeeper to keep the multiplying records straight.
He would ask Hannah about her day at Kaneâ€™s Whatnot, her fatherâ€™s general store, and inquire as to how sales had gone. She would be vague in her answer, knowing that the details would bore him to tears. Nevertheless, heâ€™d smile and nod, appearing deeply interested, but then quickly resume speaking about his medical practice.
Perhaps Abbie was right in calling Ralston stuffy and boring, if not a trifle selfish, but he had ambition on his side, and Hannah admired that. Even Papa recognized it. Besides, sheâ€™d reached the ripe age of twenty-one, and hadnâ€™t Grandmother once said that when a woman reached her twenties, her chances of finding a genteel fellow slimmed considerably? It was best not to listen to Abbieâ€™s foolish musings. What did she know about the subject? Dr. Ralston Van Huff would make a fine catch for any woman.
â€œHannah wouldnâ€™t settle for a man who didnâ€™t claim to have a faith of his own.â€
Her fatherâ€™s words circled in her head, almost like a band of pesky mosquitoes out for blood. Well, of course, Ralston had an active faith. Sheâ€™d met him at a church gathering, after all. True, he rarely speaks about the Lord, but these things come with time and practice, she told herself. One doesnâ€™t grow strong in faith overnight.
As the racket continued downstairs, Hannah proceeded to pile her mass of red curls on top of her head, using every available pin to hold them in place.
â€œThank heaven for hats,â€ she muttered to herself.
Gabriel Devlin tipped his dusty hat at the woman he passed on the narrow sidewalk, then scolded himself for stealing a glance backward after she passed. What was he doing? He was done with women! And he had Carolina Woods to thank for that. No, I can thank the Lord for bringing our impending marriage to a halt, he rephrased in his head.
A horse whinnied and kicked up a swirl of dirt as it galloped by, carrying its rider through the street, a barking dog on its heels. Since stores closed at precisely five oâ€™clock in this
small but thriving community of Dutch settlers known as Holland, Michigan, the dog and horse were about the only sounds he heard as he made his way toward an open restaurant, stepping down from the rickety-planked sidewalk and crossing the heavily trodden, dirt-packed street in the middle of town. He removed his hat and slapped it across his leather-clad thigh, letting loose a cloud of dust he estimated was almost as big as the horseâ€™s. Setting it back on his head of sandy-colored hair, he stepped up onto a slab of newly laid concrete and saw that one entire block of sidewalk looked freshly poured. Evidently the town council had started a beautification project, at least on this side of the street. He surmised the other side would follow, perhaps before the first blast of winter weather.
He passed several storefronts, glanced in a few windows, and then saw something out the corner of his eye that brought his steps to a halt as his gaze fell on the object of interest. Across the street and another block over, a young lad was crawling out from under a tarp that was stretched over the back of a wagon. He put his hands on his hips and twisted his body from side to side, stretching as if he had just awakened from a long nap. Then, he rubbed his neck and looked at the trees swaying overhead. The horse that was hitched to the front of the wagon turned and granted the boy a disinterested glance, then swished its mangy tail.
Wondering what the boy was up to, Gabe feigned interest in a window display, embarrassed to discover that it was laden with feminine wares and frilly garments. Still, he kept up the faÃ§ade so as not to miss the boyâ€™s next move. With deft hands, he was plundering through the items under the canvas, stuffing things into every pocket, front and back.Hannah Grace î¼ 17
Instinct told him to yell at the lad, for surely he was stealing from some unsuspecting citizen, but something held him backâ€”the tattered clothing hanging off his skinny shoulders, the uncombed mop of black hair, the spattering of dirt and grime on his face and arms, and those shoddy-looking boots.
When the little vagabond had filled his pockets with who knew what, he took off on a run down an alley between two buildings, disappearing within seconds like a fox daunted by daylight. Gabe shook his head, vexed at himself for not caring more but feeling too exhausted after his long dayâ€™s ride to muster up much indignation. Maybe once he crammed his stomach with beef stew and bread and gave his horse and mule a period of rest at the livery, heâ€™d go looking for him to see if he could figure out his story.
Pfff! Who was he kidding? After a quick bite and a bit of respite, he planned to finish his trip, following the path along the railroad tracks to Sandy Shores, his final destination. Thereâ€™d be no time to look for a tattered boy who couldnâ€™t have been a day over nine years old.
A few restaurant patrons cast him curious looks when he found a window seat in the smoke-filled room, but most kept to themselves, faces buried in newspapers or hovering over their suppers. They were likely accustomed to summer tourists, although, by all appearances, he probably resembled a bum more than anything else.
Certainly not Sandy Shoresâ€™ newly appointed sheriff.
â€œWhat can I do for yâ€™, mister?â€
He gazed into the colorless eyes of an elderly woman whose hard-lined face, slumped shoulders, and pursed mouth denoted some unnamed trial of the past. Gray hair fell around her stern countenance, straight and straw-like, reminding him of a scarecrowâ€”the kind whose expression would chase off the meanest bull.
â€œIâ€™ll have a bowl of beef stew and a slice ofâ€”â€
â€œNo beef stew?â€
â€œYou hard oâ€™ hearinâ€™?â€
â€œNo soup atall.â€ With hooked thumb, she pointed behind her. â€œMenuâ€™s back there.â€
His eyes scanned the chalkboard behind the counter where someone had scrawled several words with creative spellings: â€œChikin liver and onyuns â€“ 50Â¢; potatos and gravy on beef â€“ 75Â¢; cheese sanwich â€“ 25Â¢; pork sanwich on toasted Bred â€“ 35Â¢; Tedâ€™s specielty â€“ 50Â¢â€
â€œWhatâ€™s Tedâ€™s specialty?â€ He had to ask.
â€œFish. You want it?â€
â€œIs it cooked?â€
She gave him a scornful look. â€œWhat kind oâ€™ lame-brained question is that? â€™Course itâ€™s cooked.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know. Some people eat raw fish.â€
â€œNot â€™round these parts they donâ€™t. Where you from?â€
â€œOhio. Columbus area.â€
She sniffed. â€œLong ways from home, ainâ€™t ya?â€
He grinned. â€œItâ€™s taken me a few daysâ€™ ride.â€
Lifting one brow as if to size him up, but keeping her thoughts to herself, she asked, â€œYou want the fish? Itâ€™s fresh out oâ€™ the big lake, pan-fried.â€
His stomach had been growling ever since he walked through the doors, and, in spite of the grit and grime beneath his feet, the dark and dingy walls, and the fetid odors of burnt onions and cigarette smoke, he had a feeling this Ted fellow could cook.
â€œIâ€™ll try the fish.â€ He smiled at the killjoy, but, as expected, she just nodded and turned on her heel. â€œCan I have some coffee, too?â€
Another slight nod indicated sheâ€™d heard him.
From the table next to him, a man sporting a business jacket, string bow tie, and white ruffled shirt, lowered his newspaper. A half-smoked cigar hung out the side of his mouth directly under his pencil thin moustache. He removed the cigar and laid it on an ashtray. â€œWhat brings you to these parts?â€
Always wary of shysters, Gabe examined the fellow on the sly. Experience had taught him not to trust anyone until heâ€™d earned that right. â€œWork,â€ he replied.
â€œYeah?â€ The man massaged his chin, and Gabe knew he was getting equal treatment, a careful scrutiny. Suddenly, the stranger reached across the four-foot span that separated their tables and offered his hand. â€œVandersluteâ€™s the name. George.â€
Gabe stuck out his arm and they shook hands. â€œGabriel Devlin. Good Dutch name youâ€™ve got there.â€
Vanderslute chuckled. â€œYouâ€™re definitely in Dutch territory. Pretty near half the town, Iâ€™d say. Maybe more.â€ He looked out over the small, dimly lit eatery. â€œNot Ted, though. Heâ€™s English, through and through. That there was Eva, his
aunt. She owns this place, has for thirty years.â€ He leaned forward. â€œShe comes across as an old crank,â€ he murmured in hushed tones, â€œbut on the inside, sheâ€™s nothing but mush. Known the two of them since I was this high.â€ He stretched a palm out level with the tabletop. â€œUsed to stop by here on my way home from school. Depending on her mood, Aunt Evaâ€”thatâ€™s what everyone calls herâ€”would pass out free cookies. On good days, that is.â€
Vanderslute took a sip of coffee, then took a giant drag off his cigar and placed it back on the tray. Gabe felt the tension roll off his shoulders. He glanced out the window and spotted the little ragamuffin again, his lean frame bent over a barrel as he rifled through the garbage within. â€œWhoâ€™s that little waif over there?â€ he asked.
â€œHuh? Where?â€ Vanderslute pitched forward to peer out the smudged glass.
â€œOh, him. Heâ€™s been hanging around for a few days. Heâ€™ll move on. â€™Spect he jumped the back of a train coming from Chicago area. Vagabonds do that from time to time.â€
â€œVagabonds? Heâ€™s just a little kid. Hasnâ€™t anyone tried to help him?â€
â€œHe runs off every time. Like some wild pup. Some of the ladies leave bowls of food on their doorsteps, and heâ€™ll run and get them whilst no oneâ€™s watching, providing some mongrel mutt doesnâ€™t beat him to it.â€ He laughed, as if what heâ€™d just said was unusually funny.
Just then, Eva brought a steaming cup of coffee to the table and George slid back in place. When Gabe looked out again, the boy had vanishedâ€”like some kind of apparition. He blinked twice and shook his head.
Silence overtook the two for the next several moments as George dug into the plate of roast beef and potatoes Eva had dropped off at his table when sheâ€™d deposited a mug of coffee under Gabeâ€™s nose. Gabeâ€™s mouth watered, his stomach grumbled. He sipped on his coffee and ruminated about the boy.
â€œWhatâ€™s your trade, anyway?â€ George asked between chews.
Gabe took another slow swig before setting the tin mug on the table. â€œYou ever hear of Judge Bowers?â€
â€œEd Bowers, the county judge? â€™Course I have. I work the newspaper. Iâ€™m a line editor, not a reporter, but I read the headlines before anybody else does. I hear he just appointed a new interim sheriff up in Sandy Shoresâ€”someone fromâ€¦â€ A light seemed to dawn in his eyes. â€œOhio.â€ Gabe grinned. â€œYou wouldnâ€™t beâ€¦?â€
â€œYou should be a reporter,â€ Gabe said. â€œYouâ€™ve got the nose for it.â€
â€œYou learn, you know. Well, Iâ€™ll be. Too bad about Sheriff Tate, though. He was a good man, honest and fair. Heard his heart just gave out.â€ George shook his head. â€œThe law business is hard on the body. Good thing youâ€™re young. What are youâ€”twenty-four? Twenty-five?â€
George nodded, as if assessing the situation. â€œYou can handle it. Most of what happens in these parts is petty crimes, but thereâ€™s the occasional showdown. Not often, though,â€ he added hastily. â€œYou watch yourself, young man. Youâ€™ll do fine.â€
â€œThanks. I appreciate that.â€
Not a minute too soon, Eva returned, this time plopping a plate of pan-fried fish in front of Gabe. On the side were cooked carrots drizzled with some sort of glaze and a large helping of applesauce. The most wonderful aromas floated heavenward, and his stomach growled in response. â€œEva, you are an angel.â€ He smiled at her and felt a certain pleasure to see one side of her mouth quirk up a fraction and the tiniest light spark in her eyes.
â€œPfff,â€ she tittered. â€œGo on with you.â€ She swiveled her tiny frame and hobbled off toward the kitchen, still looking like a scarecrow, but with a little less severity.
As he always did before delving into a meal, Gabe bowed his head and offered up a prayer of thanks to God. Then, he draped a napkin over his lap, knowing George Vandersluteâ€™s eyes had taken to drilling holes in his side.
â€œYouâ€™re a praying man, I see.â€
Gabe took his first bite. â€œI am. I pray about everything, actually.â€
â€œHuh. Thatâ€™s somethinâ€™.â€ Seeming stumped, George forked down the rest of his meal in silence, the smoke from his cigar making a straight path to the ceiling.
As much as he would have liked taking his sweet time, Gabe wolfed down his plate of food, thinking about the miles of road that still stretched out before him. If he didnâ€™t arrive before nightfall, heâ€™d have to camp alongside the tracks again, and the thought of one more night under the stars didnâ€™t set well with him.
The image of the mysterious little imp whoâ€™d stolen from the back of a wagon, rummaged through a waste barrel, and disappeared down an alley materialized at the back of his mind. Would he be shivering in some dark corner tonight, half starved? Gabe swallowed down the last of his coffee, determined to chase him out of his thoughts.
Protect him, Lord, he prayed on a whim, suppressing the pang of guilt he felt for not taking the time to search for him.
Sandy Shores came into view at exactly a quarter till ten, three hours after he left Holland. It had been the slowest, steepest, and most precarious leg of the entire trip, requiring him to navigate gravelly slopes in the light of the moon. Not for the first time, he thanked the Lord for his sure-footed mule, Zeke the Streak, who could not run if his life depended on it but still had strength enough to pull a redwood from its roots; and for Slate, his dapple-gray gelding, calmly bringing up the rear but possessing the speed of a bullet if the situation called for it.
A cool breeze was coming off the lake, bringing welcome relief from an otherwise long, hot day on the trail. Gabe cast a glance out over the placid lake, amazed once more by its vastness. At first glimpse, one would never suppose its distance across to be a mere one hundred miles; it seemed more like an ocean. Gentle waves licked the shoreline, making a whooshing sound before ebbing back into the chilly depths. The Sandy Shores lighthouse, sitting like a proud mother at the end of the pier, flashed her beacon for incoming fishing boats and steamers.
Electric streetlights lit the way as Gabe turned east off the railroad path onto Water Street, which led to the center of town. On the corner to his right stood the three-story Sherman House, the hotel he would call home until he found permanent housing suitable for his budget, if not for his taste. According to Ed Bowers, who had made all his room arrangements, he had a view of the Grand River Harbor and the big lake from his third-floor window. Nice for the interim, he thought, but not a necessity for my simple lifestyle. Heâ€™d grown up in affluence and decided he was ready for humbler circumstances. His fatherâ€™s money had been well-earned, and it had reaped him warranted respect in the community and surrounding areas. Even so, Gabe couldnâ€™t live off his fatherâ€™s wealth and still respect himself. Besides, heâ€™d had enough of women pursuing him for his family moneyâ€”Carolina Woods, for oneâ€”and it was high time he moved away from Ohio, where the Devlin name didnâ€™t make such an impact every time folks heard it mentioned. Furthermore, a smaller town meant smaller crimes, he hopedâ€”the kind that didnâ€™t require gunfire to resolve them.
Boisterous piano music and uproarious laughter coming from a place called Charleyâ€™s Saloon assaulted his senses after two hours spent with nary a sound, save for Zekeâ€™s occasional braying, some sleepy cricketsâ€™ chirps, and a gaggle of geese honking from the lake. Gabe wondered if he should expect a run-in or two with a few of Charleyâ€™s patrons.
His eyes soaked up the names of storefrontsâ€”Jellema Newsstand, Morettiâ€™s Candy Company, Hansenâ€™s Shoe Repair, DeBoerâ€™s Hardware, Kaneâ€™s Whatnotâ€”and he wondered about the proprietors who ran each place. Would they accept him as their new lawman, particularly since the late Sheriff Watson Tate had held the office for well over twenty years?
When he spotted Enoch Sprockâ€™s Livery on the second block, he pulled Zekeâ€™s reins taut. Slate snorted, his way of exhaling a sigh of relief for having reached their destination.
â€œI know what you mean, buddy,â€ Gabe muttered, feeling stiff and sore himself. He threw the reins over the brake handle and jumped down, landing on the hard earth.
â€œYou needinâ€™ some help there, mister?â€
A white-bearded fellow with a slight limp emerged from the big double door.
â€œYou must be Enoch.â€
â€œIn the flesh.â€ The man extended a hand. â€œAnd who might you be?â€
â€œAh, the new sheriff. We been expectinâ€™ yaâ€™. Hear your roomâ€™s waitinâ€™ over at the Sherman.â€ They shook hands. â€œNice place youâ€™re stayinâ€™ at.â€
Gabe grinned. â€œNews gets around, I take it.â€
Enoch snorted and tossed back his head. â€œThis ainâ€™t what you call a big metropolis.â€ He took a step back and massaged his beard even while he studied Gabe from top to bottom. â€œAwful young, ainâ€™t ya?â€
Is this how folks would view him? Young, inexperienced, still wet behind the ears? He supposed few knew heâ€™d been responsible for bringing down Joseph Hamilton, aka â€œSmiley Joeâ€â€”a murderous bank robber who wielded his gun for goods throughout Indiana, Ohio, and parts of Kentucky. His last spree was on February 4, 1901, when Gabe received word in his office via telegraph that undercover sources determined Smiley Joe had plans to rob the Delaware County State Bank at noon that very day.
It hadnâ€™t made national headlines, but every Ohioan had the best nightâ€™s sleep of his life after reading the next dayâ€™s headlines: Gabriel Devlin, Delaware County Sheriff, Takes Down Notorious Middle-West Bank Robber!
Having watched the entire robbery out of the corner of his eye while pretending to fill out a bank slip, Gabe, who had placed two plainclothes deputies at the door in case the villain tried to escape, confronted him while the deputies aimed their guns. â€œSmiley! Itâ€™s the end of the line for you, buddy,â€ he said coolly. â€œDrop the bags and turn around slowly, hands in the air.â€
At first, it appeared Smiley would comply. His shoulders dropped and he started to turn. â€œDrop the bags!â€ Gabe yelled. â€œHands to the sky!â€
Other deputies, all placed strategically around the bank, surrounded him. The bank stilled to funeral parlor silence as customers scattered and backed against all four walls, terror pasted on every face.
But Smiley Joe wasnâ€™t one to surrender, and, in a rattled state, he went for the eleventh-hour approach: he drew his gun. Wrong move. Shots were fired, and, when it was over, one wounded customer lay sprawled on the floor, groaning and bleeding from the shoulder, while Smiley Joe Hamilton lay dead, Gabeâ€™s gun still hot from the bullet he shot through his head.
â€œThatâ€™s all right by me, you beinâ€™ young,â€ Enoch was saying. â€œTime for some new blood â€™round here. â€™Sides, any friend oâ€™ Judge Bowers is a friend oâ€™ mine.â€ A slight accent from the British Isles colored his tone.
â€œI appreciate that.â€
â€œWant I should take your rig inside and tend to your animals?â€
â€œThatâ€™d be mighty nice of you.â€
Gabe made a move to retrieve his money pouch, but Enoch stopped him. â€œYou just get what you need out oâ€™ your rig, and weâ€™ll settle up in the morninâ€™.â€
â€œYou have no idea how good that sounds.â€ Gabe reminded himself to retrieve his carpetbag from the back of the wagon. All he needed was a change of clothes for tomorrow, his shaving gear, a bar of soap, and some tooth powder. Right now, nothing sounded better than a soft bed. Shoot, I might even sleep through breakfast, he mused. Ed Bowers didnâ€™t expect him in his office until mid-afternoon.
Slate sidestepped the two as they went to the back to remove the tarp. When they did, they got the surprise of their lives.
â€œWull, Iâ€™ll be jig-swiggered. What is that?â€
Gabe stared open-mouthed at the bundle of a body curled into a tight ball.
â€œLooks to be a sleeping boy,â€ he murmured.
Click the bookcover or title for more info or to buy a copy. Look for other FIRST Wildcard member posts and opinions on this book in today’s blog postings. Click the author’s name or photo to visit her website. You can also visit her Shoutlife page. I’ve found a new historical author to add to my favorites list. Can’t wait for Maggie Rose. Full review coming tomorrow.