“Easy, Malo. You want Tam to finish giving you these fine new shoes. The better to kick people with.” Wolf Eyes held his notorious gelding’s halter, jiggling the rope under the sorrel’s chin jist slightly. The young Ute’s words were threatening enough; the tone of his voice was nothing but soothing.
“Done,” the tale teller announced, letting the animal’s right hind leg back down to the ground. He straightened, working the kinks out of his back. “See how he likes that.”
“He likes it fine.” Grinning, the boy grabbed a hunk of mane and launched himself aboard the bronc who’d once terrorized an entire band of Indians. Horse and rider turned to head back to the barn. None of us at Flywheel were terrorized, but we weren’t crazy, neither. Tam and Wolf Eyes could do anything with this critter; anyone else was taking his life in his hands around him.
Not that he really went around kicking people, but he would try to bite you if you got too close, and riding was an absolute no-no. Definitely a two-man horse.
The four of us–Tam, Wolf Eyes, Bodeen and me–had been busy all day, making sure the mounts and teams we used regularly were up to date in the hoof iron department. I was low man on the totem pole when it come to shoeing around here, working the bellows on the forge and even letting Bodeen take care of Joker while I jumped back and forth between heating iron and helping out with the rowdier mounts as needed.
I could clean a frog, trim a hoof, and shape a shoe well enough, but never had liked handling the hammer. Always feared I’d miss and pink a horse or else go too far the other way and split the hoof. Hardly ever did, but iffen I could avoid that part of being a cowboy, I would.
Wolf Eyes, on the other hand, promised to be something else in the farrier department. The kid who’d never ridden anything but a barefoot Indian pony till he come to work fer us was a natural. Tam thought the boy seen hoof iron as some kinda special medicine, white man magic, but whatever it was, he was special. Grabbed the right size shoe ever time, kept the horses calmer’n about anybody I ever seen, and looked to have a real talent fer working iron on the anvil.
Tam had even let him nail the shoes on Malo’s front feet.
The sun was about to set. “Good thing we got this wrapped up today,” I pointed out. “You’ll be getting up at the crack of ugly to make the train.”
“My back’s danged sure glad to be done with it fer now; I’ll tell you that much.”
“Finally geting used to carrying the pepperbox?” I’d loaned him one of my hideout guns. He wouldn’t take both of ’em. Said something might come up before he got back, and I might need it. Truth be told, he simply couldn’t stand the idea of carrying the hideout shooters the way I did, which was to tuck ’em behind my belt with the muzzles pointed at my cojones.
“Kinda sorta. Now that Laughing Brook finished stitching together the shoulder rig. I’ll need to keep my coat on to hide the bulge, but if them big city detectives can do it, so can I.”
Unlike my partner, I loved everything about the train. Traveling in company with Daniel Morgan, fer starters. The old shootist had first met me when I was 13, a young warrior with a newly repaired shoulder in Fort Benton, Montana, looking fer an expert to show me how to handle a short gun the right way.
I still kept the old Colt Paterson, wrapped in oilcloth and tucked into a hidden compartment in the house. Modern day gunfighters might sneer at such an antique, but if ever the need came, the five-shooter would still do the job and do it well.
From the dining car to the Pullman sleeper, we were headed east in style, trekking over the rails to the great city of Philadelphia. Which I’d never seen nor ever wanted to, but now I found myself eager to take in a few of the sights, starting with the LIberty Bell and moving on from there.
The trip was mostly business, of course.
Dawson’s hideout shooter, the Garza Surprise, hung under my right armpit, available at need fer a lefthand crossdraw from underneath my dress shirt. This shirt had one fake button behind the throat-choking cravat, jist in case.
Going the other way, laced into a pouch hanging under the left armpit, a double handful of finished sapphire gems rode to be examined by a potential buyer in the City of Brotherly Love. 1,000 carats worth, jist a hair over seven ounces of the purty little things.
Doug Franzen, now that his dumbass kid brother was dead and gone, was proving himself and then some.
“I’m not quite sure what to make of it jist yet,” Scrap had reported. “but the man’s working his heat treating, gem cutting fingers to the bone. Could be he’s simply trying to keep his mind off Charlie’s death, or maybe he’s trying to atone fer what they done. If I had to guess, though, I’d say he’s actually getting lost in the process, sorta like you when you git to telling a tall tale or Dawson when he’s dealing with a threat to Marie.”
“Everything else goes out the window?”
“Without bothering to open it first.”
“Think he’s gonna burn himself out?”
“Dunno. That ain’t my strong suit. He does have more’n jist rocks on his brain, though. Give me this to give to you. Asked if I’d beg you purty please with cream and sugar on top to hand deliver it while you’re in Philly.” He handed me the envelope. The thing was thick; must be several pieces of paper in there.
My eyebrows climbed up under my hair when I seen the name and address.
Miss Eleanor Moore
895 Patriot Boulevard
“Penny fer your thoughts, Tam.” The coffee cup was engulfed in Daniel’s great fist–and yes, the arthritis was showing in them knuckles–but you could see the steam rising. The porter finally found a way to git it to the table hot. Good.
“Jist thinking about Miss Eleanor Moore. Did you know Doug gave Scrap a letter to give to me to give to her?”
My old friend–my really old friend–chuckled quietly. “One more give in that sentence and you could…never mind. Yeah, he showed me the letter before he stuck it in the envelope.”
“What, Crazy Rifle? You want me to prattle on about the man’s private communication with a member of the fair sex? I’m surprised at you!”
“Huh. You wouldn’t be surprised at me iffen I suddenly decided to jump off this train to rassle a buffalo to the ground jist because.”
“Well no, of course not. That would be kind of an ordinary day fer the great white Blackfoot warrior from up where the glaciers are at home and the Blackfeet roam, now wouldn’t it?”
“You saying my life ain’t exactly been sedentary?”
“Nah, not me. Miss Eleanor Moore is…wait a minute. You don’t know all this backstory. Let me start over. Remember Hattie once saying the Franzen brothers had knocked up a bunch of sweet young things before they jumped on the train with Slim to head west?”
“Ain’t likely to forget it.” Damn. Coffee was still hot.
“Okay, well, since Slim started back in the furniture business–”
“Hold up! When did this happen?”
“Mmm…’bout a month back, I believe. He rode into Walsenburg one day, made a deal with Fred Walsen, rode back out, and started putting together a little workshop the next morning. Had a pedal-powered lathe he’d held back when he sold out in Philly. Right now he’s turning out table and chair sets. When he gits one done, he borrows the freight wagon, hauls it to the Mercantile, and they put it on display with a flyer bragging about the finest furniture crafted by a genuine Philadelphia craftsman.”
“Huh. Selling any?”
Daniel didn’t answer fer a moment, preoccupied with pinching and rubbing his ring finger with the thumb and forefinger of his other hand. Must be hurting him something fierce; the man had never so much as winced from all that lead he carried around inside his body.
“I’ve had worse, Tam. But yeah, it ain’t good. Getting old sucks.”
“Beats the alternative. Or so I’ve been told.”
“There is that. We were talking ’bout Slim. My son’s always been a good man, but not so much a strong man. Not since his wife died, anyway. She held him together. On the plus side, he took to making furniture from the git-go. From the time he was a little kid, in fact.”
“Kinda like my son,” I nodded. “Cougar tells me he crafted his first pieces, a pair of bed frames fer him and his brother, when he was no more’n ten.”
“Yes. Like that. So I’m not surprised Slim went back to shaping and finishing wood. He–”
“What wood’s he using? It’s not like we got walnut and mahogany boards coming out our ears in Colorado.”
“Believe it or not, he’s using the native pine. Ours, but he didn’t forget Flywheel. He’s setting aside enough from his sales to pay us fer the timber, should we choose to collect. Which I reckon we should. I was gonna have Jack bring that up fer discussion at the last ownership meeting. Slipped my mind. Wait a minute. Weren’t we talking ’bout Doug Franzen?”
Long story short, it turned out none of them catch colts in Philadelphia belonged to Douglas; his troublesome kid brother Charles had knocked up every one of ’em…and one of ’em was Miss Eleanor Moore. Douglas Franzen had always fancied the girl, but Charlie had gotten there first.
“I can more or less tell you what the letter says,” Daniel offered.
I accepted. It was like reading the thing myself.
Dear Miss Moore,
It is with great regret I must inform you that my brother Charlie died last winter. He and I had gone west to make our fortunes in Colorado, or at least to make our livings. Unfortunately, one evening his horse stumbled. Charlie was thrown, hit his head on a rock…and is no more.
Ah, but why would I write simply to burden you with such woeful tidings?
Were that my only purpose…but there is another thing on my mind, and I know of no way to broach the subject without being blunt. Though I hope, not crass.
Miss Moore, I wish to propose marriage to you. Will you marry me?
There. I said it.
Please know that I have always held you in the highest esteem. Because of that esteem, before I attempt to make my case for you accepting my proposal, I must in all honesty tell you why you should not do so. The negative points are these:
1. Living conditions here in Colorado are like nothing you have known in Pennsylvania. Currently, there are three men and one woman in our immediate vicinity, and it is fourteen miles to the small town of Walsenburg.
2. I am not at this point entirely certain how I am seen by my employers. You know how impulsive Charlie was. That facet of his nature led directly to his own death (though the death itself was an accident) and to my considerable fall from grace with the men who hired me. I do not know with any certainty if I can regain their trust or not. Which means it is entirely possible I could someday be fired, and our family would need to search out another job somewhere else. I know such uncertainty is frightening for a woman, and I will understand if you turn me down for that reason.
That said, I may now present my case:
1. I loved my brother as you did–though of course not in the same way–but I am not he. Your son is my nephew, whom I would raise as my own, and I would never betray or abandon either of you for any reason. That is not in my nature.
2. I would never ask you to abandon your mother, either. Mrs. Moore would be more than welcome to come to Colorado as well, should she dare such an adventure.
3. While the house my mentor and I live in here at the moment would not be suitable for our family long term, I have hopes I may be allowed to build a suitable place for us ere long. Building materials in this land, meaning pine and fir and spruce trees plus enough rocks to form a foundation, are abundant beyond belief.
4. The privacy and serenity of this setting is something you have to experience to understand.
Miss Moore, I must stop here. I fear to do so, apprehensive that I might have missed some telling point which would sway your decision in my favor–yet fearful to continue for fear you might write me off as being simply too long-winded!
“Interesting,” I said. Which was putting it mildly. “What’s your take on it, Daniel?”
“I believe he means it. Every word. And I’ve come to like the man. Since Slim bailed out on him, I been helping out with heat treating the sapphires and chatting him up now and then while he works. Your realize that fellow can go to cutting on a gemstone and keep up his end of a conversation all at the same time?” He shook his massive head. “Like to blew my mind. But he does it. He’s unique, is Doug Franzen.”
“But…we can’t afford to run no charity. We all put every penny we got into Flywheel, one way or another, and there’s no turning back.”
“Your point being?” I thought I knew where Morgan was headed with this, but I’d let him put it in his own words.
“My point being, I’ve come to believe he’s every bit as good a man as his dumbass kid brother was a bad one…but can he cut sapphires? Them rocks you’re packing look freaking awesome to you and me, but while we’re two of the biggest, baddest, rootin’-tootin’est rounders ever to ride the high country, we sure as Hell ain’t no jewelers.”
“No. We ain’t.”
“But Abraham Zarkowski is. Abe can take one look at them little sparklers and tell us exactly what we got. What the raw stones are worth, whether the heat treatments were done right, if leaving them three naturals alone was the right thing to do, whether they’re graded correctly, all of that and more. Won’t take him sixty seconds.”
I nodded slowly. “What you’re saying is, he can tell us if Doug has the skills to make him worth truly taking into the fold, or whether he’s a third rate gem dude we gotta cut loose at some point in time.”
“Well then,” I said as we got up one step ahead of the porter coming to shoo us outa the dining room, “I highly recommend we go see your friend Abraham first, before we deliver this letter to Miss Eleanor Moore.
“We might as well all know what we’re getting into.”