Trains, I discovered to my considerable displeasure, make me sick to my stomach.
Not enough to sick up–not quite–but enough to make the thought of straddling a saddle in the open air almost irresistible. Riding Joker to Denver fer my work at the Constitutional Convention would have been a joy compared to riding this mechanical monstrosity.
Unfortunately, there were three powerful reasons to stick to the hateful thing.
Time savings going back and forth between Walsenburg and the big city, obviously. We didn’t have to entrust our favorite mounts to a Denver livery, which was no small matter. And the most important reason of all: The chances of someone recognizing my wife as the outlaw Trisha Cobb were astronomically higher when she was on horseback, wearing pants and packing her specially tooled .44 Russian on her hip.
So we went by train, duded up to compete with the hoity-toity Denverites from the git-go. My fancy new suits–two of them, identical so one could be cleaned and pressed while I was wearing the other–did make me look good.
If you liked the look of stuffed-shirt idiots.
“There’ll be a lot of those at the Convention,” Fred Walsen had assured me. “This way, they won’t see you coming till it’s too late. I’m not saying clothes make the man, but if you’re going to infiltrate the wolf pack and live to tell about it, it’s a good idea to wear wolf”s clothing. Besides, you and Marie make a stunning couple.”
I was none too sure I’d be stunning anybody unless it was the shine off my bald head that done it, but he had a point and then some when it come to Marie. We’d flinched purty hard at the cost of it, but my beautiful bride with the midnight blue eyes and dyed-black hair was going to knock the Denver ladies on their jealous butts. Trisha Cobb had never ever owned even one dress; Marie Thorpe Trask now owned four, the powder blue being my favorite.
Nobody could possibly look at this high society knockout perfect lady and make the Cobb connection.
There’d be plenty of men trying fer her affections behind my back, of course. Nature of the beast, doubly so as our eighteen month old daughter, Sadie, had been left in the care of Penny Tamson and her brood fer the duration. To put it bluntly, my Marie in a custom fitted floor length dress looked hotter’n a two-bit pistol.
“Feeling better, honey?”
“I am, beloved. I am indeed. Once we were back in the open air, I started healing up immediately.”
The first session of the Constitutional Convention would commence tomorrow. Our rented buggy and horse were safely in the hostler’s care, our bags safely in our room, and our Garza Surprise hideout guns safely within reach in case we needed ’em. Time to start mingling with the barbarians who thought we rural hicks were the barbarians.
“Shall we?” I offered her my arm, which she took with a grace entirely belying her rowdy past.
“To the dining room?”
“To the dining room, Mrs. Trask. Time to mingle with the wolves.”
“Mail call!” Cougar waved the envelope at us, then vanished from the doorway. Laughing Brook and I smiled at each other, left the supper dishes fer later, and headed next door to our son’s house.
Before we could duck inside, though, we were hailed from the south yard gate as Jack Prosser rode in. “Mail call!” He waved the envelope at us, then turned his horse toward the barn.
This could git interesting.
We took Dawson’s letter first. Cougar did the reading; he had a voice that could have belonged to a Shakespearean actor.
Dear Tam & All,
Please let Fred Walsen know he was dead right…sort of. Some of these delegates to the Convention are wolves indeed. But I’ve observed other critters of every sort as well.
Some of these men are better considered rabbits, their noses twitching constantly, testing the wind, standing for nothing but ducking under cover at the first hint of confrontation. It’s impossible to tell where they stand, where they will vote when the time comes, they are so utterly timid.
There are the hogs. Greed, greed, and more greed. The hogs are clearly porcine–one man even has the rounded features, the little pig eyes, and snorts like a porker instead of laughing!
Stooges representing the cattle, mining, and railroad barons mostly seem to fall in this group. In fact, some of them are big men already in these areas.
Ah, but let’s not forget the squirrels! Three of these tree-climbing bushy-tailed chitterers have even proposed that the Constitution should prohibit the keeping and bearing of arms for self defense! In direct contravention of the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States!
I have been fortunate enough to be appointed to a few committees that seem to be of some importance, one such dealing with the very squirrels discussed above.
Enough of this dry stuff for the nonce.
We have been hard at work–if you can call it that–for two weeks now, but it seems likely these people will take months to agree on anything. If we ran Flywheel Ranch the way this Constitutional Convention is being run, we’d still be arguing over whether or not to buy our first hay mower.
Marie has done precisely as you and I predicted: The lady has set the city of Denver on its collective ear. But not quite in the way we predicted. Many of the biddies do indeed turn green with jealousy whenever she walks into the room, but there has been one surprise…and a pleasant one at that.
A sizeable and influential group of wives have adopted her.
“Oo, you’re so young, child!” They say things like that, but not dismissively–they seem to want to protect her, considering her utterly innocent, naive, even helpless! Or maybe they just want to show her off to their ugly friends or their husbands who have to settle for them. Or something. Neither one of us can figure it out.
The benefit is: They talk in front of her, tell secrets all day long. In a way, it’s like she’s as “invisible” as a bartender!
Can’t tell you how many valuable tidbits of information she’s picked up that way.
Well, I’ve rambled long, said little, but need to close and get this in the post.
Yours in Denver,
Penny was the first to comment. “Dawson jist happened to git appointed to a few key committees. Uh-huh. Ri-ight.”
Chuckles all around at that.
“Personally,” Cougar said, “I think it’s absolutely hilarious that one of the deadliest gunfighters in the West is seen by those women as this weak, helpless little thing. If they only knew.”
Jack Prosser cleared his throat. “My turn?”
“Sure. Let’s jist refill our coffee cups and break out another pie first, eh? And maybe stoke up the fire a mite.”
“Sounds good to me.”
“Most likely,” he explained, “It’ll be me making these runs back and forth over the Saddles from now on. Coming out here to help out Hattie and me did give Daniel a new lease on life fer quite a while, but he’s getting kinda stove up again.”
“He can still ride?” I asked, thinking of the wide man’s Morgan stallion. If he couldn’t straddle Chesty ever now and then…well, that’d be a hard row fer any man to hoe.
“He can,” Prosser nodded, “Thank the good Lord and all His angels. But that old shootist ain’t only my father-in-law, he’s also the living repository of more chunks of lead than anybody I ever met. Anybody who was still above ground and breathing, anyway. It’s finally slowing him down. The three of us talked it through, and from now on, he’ll be sticking closer to home. Give him time to work out the kinks in the mornings.”
“Well, you tell him fer all of us, we’re with him all the way. You think Doc Chouteau could do him any good? Carve out some a that lead?”
“Doubt it. Too many years have passed. He’s got the arthritis now. His finger joints are starting to gnarl up, among other things.”
“Damn,” Coug swore.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Still, Jack hadn’t ridden all the way over from the DM Bar jist to tell us that. The letter he’d brought along was from Hattie’s father in Philadelphia, and it was interesting indeed.
My dearest Hattie,
I cannot tell you how dreary life has been here since you and my Dad have both been gone West. My furniture business kept me going, but the old joy in my work has been lacking.
Then came your letter telling of the cave Dawson found with the gravel that did indeed turn out to contain uncounted numbers of raw sapphires. As you will recall, you described to me the sorrow at Flywheel Ranch, the operation currently lacking sufficient available capital to properly process and market the gemstones.
A light came on, and I realized what I must do–no, what I wanted to do!
One of my competitors has agreed to buy me out at a reasonable price. Not top dollar, perhaps, but sufficient. On January 15 (1876), I will be boarding the train, heading West to join my only remaining family near the town of Walsenburg, Colorado.
I will be bringing capital which I am willing to put at the disposal of the Flywheel Ranch management on very reasonable terms…and I will not be coming alone!
Oh, my. I just reread that last sentence–no, I have not remarried.
No, what I meant was that the Franzen brothers will be coming with me. You remember them? Perhaps not. Douglas and Charles Franzen are two fine men, both in their late twenties, who have years of experience in the gemstone business. They have done little with sapphires, but they understand what to do and how to do it–and regardless of the stone, be it diamond, ruby, emerald or whatever, they love the work.
They, too, are willing to put everything they have at Flywheel’s disposal on very reasonable terms.
I realize, dearest Hattie, that I have yet to discuss any of this with your grandfather or with any of the owners of the sapphires, yet I feel this is right. So right that I have chosen a suitably ironic western nickname for a large man such as myself. Perhaps it will help me to fit in with your people out there from the beginning.
All my love, your father,
When we got done falling off our chairs laughing at “Slim” Morgan naming himself before somebody in Colorado could do it for him, we got down to business.
The first question went to Jack Prosser. “Does either Hattie or Daniel know anything about these Franzen brothers?”
“Daniel no, Hattie yes,” he replied. “Says she knows their reputations, anyway.”
“Professionally, nothing but good. Personally…she says they’re all right, not hard to git along with, don’t drink or gamble to excess, and they’re mostly honest as the day is long.”
“They got a habit of getting girls pregnant and then denying paternity. My wife tells me there’s at least half a dozen ankle biters in Philly right now that look suspiciously like them two.”
“Huh.” Cougar rubbed his chin, thinking. “Bit of a character defect there?”
“More’n a bit, I’d say. At least from the viewpoint of the girls whose babies end up fatherless. Don’t exactly give the kids a great start in life.”
I got up to grab the coffee pot, being seated the closest to the stove. “I say we take ’em on.”
“Yeah. But only if you’re willing to keep ’em over with you on your side of the mountains.”
Prosser looked some surprised at that. “With Hattie’s Dad vouching for ’em, I don’t see why that’d be a problem. But why so far from Sapphire Cave?”
“Because it is so far from Sapphire Cave,” I explained. “Plus it’s far from Geode Cave. We keep ’em over there, they get a piece of the action when we sell the stones, but they also get kept in the dark about exactly where the caves are located. And frankly, Jack, the same goes fer your father in law. We know Daniel–I really know Daniel–we know Hattie, but we don’t know the missing link in there between the two of ’em. Him jumping like he done seems a little….”
“I was going to say impulsive.”
“Yeah. That too. Well, what you’re saying makes sense. As it happens, we’re on the same page. Daniel and Hattie and I have talked it over. We’re all willing to help ’em build a big enough cabin fer the three of ’em plus whatever sort of structure they need fer processing the sapphires, but no ownership, and we ain’t inclined to give away the farm when it comes to their percentage of the take, neither.”
“You’re a helluva hand, Jack. We’re all agreed, then. Except fer Dawson, but he’ll vote with us all the way.”
“We’re agreed. How’re the raw stones gonna git from the cave to the Franzens?”
“Scrap’ll handle that. Likely load up a pack string and bring ’em over as fast as them boys can process ’em if I know Hannigan. But it’s his responsibility.
“Or will be in the morning, anyway, when we tell him he’s been promoted to MOMO.”
“Momo?” The whole room echoed that one.
“Yep. Manager Of Mining Operations. Looks like Flywheel Ranch jist got diversified.”