Cash McLendon, reluctant hero of the epic Indian battle at Adobe Walls, has journeyed to Mountain View in the Arizona Territory with one goal: to convince Gabrielle Tirrito that he’s a changed man and win her back from schoolteacher Joe Saint.
As they’re about to depart by stage for their new life in San Francisco, Gabrielle is kidnapped by enforcer Killer Boots, who is working on orders from crooked St. Louis businessman Rupert Douglass. Cash, once married to Douglass’s troubled daughter, fled the city when she died of accidental overdose—and Douglass vowed he’d track Cash down and make him pay.
Now McLendon, accompanied by Joe Saint and Major Mulkins, hits the trail in pursuit of Gabrielle and Killer Boots, hoping to make a trade before it’s too late...
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The town of Mountain View, in Arizona Territory, was in every respect an impressive place. It bustled at all hours, since the two silver mines on its outskirts were in full operation around the clock. Changing shifts of miners were in constant need of meals in the town’s half-dozen restaurants, none of which ever closed. They served quality, highly seasoned fare. After working underground in stifling conditions, when the miners emerged into the fresh air they craved sharp-tasting meals to revive their dulled senses. Freshly prepared Italian, French, and Chinese dishes especially satisfied them. No one on the frontier ate better.
The scenery was spectacular. The town nestled on the southeast edge of the Pinal Mountain range; the mountain slopes were dotted with saguaro cacti and their jagged peaks rose high in the sky. At first glance the mountains seemed entirely bloodred, but careful viewing revealed subtle ribbons of green, gold, and violet bisecting the rock. Eighteen months earlier beneath that rock, prospectors had first discovered wide seams of black-veined ore. Miners cut deep tunnels underground and extracted the ore, which was then passed through complex chemical washes to extract gleaming bits of silver. There seemed no end to this treasure trove; as strikes continued to be made, there was a constant influx of money into the community. As a result, Mountain View exploded almost overnight into a town of relatively fine houses and business structures, many built with stone and timber imported at considerable expense from California or Mexico. Dormitory-style housing provided shelter for the miners and other lower-class workers. Most mining towns on the Western frontier were hodgepodge collections of canvas tents, adobe hovels, and warped plank shacks. In contrast, Mountain View was a showplace.
It was also a town of burgeoning cultural sophistication. Large mining concerns headquartered in San Francisco and Denver quickly opened branch offices in Mountain View and staffed them with top-notch assayers, accountants, and engineers. Working mines meant the presence of supervisors to lead the workers and doctors to treat them. These higher-class individuals expected comfortable accommodations in upscale residences and hotels, plenty of fashionable clothing and other fancy goods available for convenient purchase in expansive shops, and quality entertainment in their leisure time. So Mountain View, its present population nearly two thousand and rising daily, had four hotels, each two-story, with all rooms including glass windows and soft mattresses with clean linens. Town saloons offered fine mixed drinks—sloe-gin fizzes were a popular choice. Traveling troupes of players passed through on a regular basis, presenting everything from Shakespeare to concerts of popular music to slapstick comedy. Saloons were currently used as makeshift theaters, but the Mountain View town council had plans to construct an honest-to-goodness performance venue soon.
Residents walked its streets in safety. A well-compensated police force stood constant guard against the thugs and grifters who plagued other thriving frontier towns. Word spread among territorial ne’er-do-wells: Be smart. Stay away from Mountain View. And, mostly, they did.
Mountain View’s informal lending library, conveniently located next door to a bank, comprised almost two hundred books. The town nine “baseball” team held regular practices; participants planned to test their skills at this newfangled sport under game conditions just as soon as an opponent in another community could be found. A bowling alley in the back of the Camp Feed Store provided additional opportunity for the recreation-minded. Proprietor Hope Camp was also the Mountain View mayor. In between resetting wooden pins by hand, he chatted with customers about the telegraph lines that had recently placed the town in instant communication with the outside world. With more silver strikes reported in the area on a regular basis and three more full-scale mining operations soon beginning operations, Mountain View’s potential was unlimited, and its pleasures already plentiful.
Yet Cash McLendon hated being there. The woman he loved was the reason.
Years earlier in St. Louis, McLendon had courted and won the heart of Gabrielle Tirrito, who ran a small general store with her immigrant father, Salvatore, in a downscale factory district. But when McLendon’s employer, rich industrialist Rupert Douglass, offered him the opportunity to marry his daughter, Ellen, and eventually take over the Douglass empire, McLendon accepted. He’d grown up as a poor orphan in the St. Louis slums, and the lure of wealth overcame him. Brokenhearted, Gabrielle moved with her father to the small prospecting community of Glorious in Arizona Territory. After Ellen’s suicide, knowing her father would blame him, McLendon fled St. Louis with Patrick Brautigan on his heels. He made his way to Glorious, hoping to reconcile with Gabrielle, only to find her virtually engaged to Joe Saint, the soft-spoken town sheriff. Caught there by Brautigan, McLendon escaped with Saint’s help. After many more months on the run, he ended up in Dodge City, Kansas, and was thrilled to learn that Gabrielle, now living with her father in Mountain View, had not yet married Saint. They exchanged letters and agreed that McLendon would come there; Gabrielle would allow him a final chance to change her mind. To pay for the trip, McLendon signed on to a buffalo hunt that ventured deep into Indian Territory. There, at an outpost called Adobe Walls, he fought in and miraculously survived an epic battle where thirty white men held off nearly a thousand Comanche, Cheyenne, and Kiowa. Chastened and matured by the bloody experience, McLendon used most of his money for train and stage passage to Mountain View, certain that he would win Gabrielle back from Joe Saint, who also lived there. But ten days after his arrival, it was obvious that he shouldn’t have felt so sure. From the time Gabrielle greeted him with a hug and chaste kiss on the cheek more appropriate for an arriving cousin than a lover, things were awkward between them. They weren’t meeting as equals—Gabrielle controlled their future, whatever it might be, and McLendon soon realized that she had no intention of making her decision quickly.
Gabrielle worked as the receptionist at the fashionable White Horse Hotel. It was managed by Major Mulkins, who had befriended McLendon back in Glorious. Mulkins generously offered McLendon a small room at no cost while he was in town and allowed McLendon to share the staff’s free meals in the kitchen. Without any immediate financial concerns, McLendon could devote every waking minute to Gabrielle, but she had other ideas. Her work hours were long, from dawn to dusk on weekdays and half days on Saturday. Sunday mornings, she played piano during Catholic services held in the barn behind Tim Flanagan’s Livery. During the services, Flanagan’s horses and mules were tethered outside. Gabrielle’s father, Salvatore, now ill and bedridden in the room the Tirritos shared on the hotel’s second floor, occupied much of her attention. And when she was free, Gabrielle insisted on spending just as much time with Joe Saint as she did with McLendon.
“All I promised you in my letters was a chance,” she reminded McLendon when he complained. “Joe is a wonderful man, and I enjoy his company. If you’re so dissatisfied with my behavior, you’re of course free to be on your way.”
“No, I wouldn’t even think of that,” McLendon said quickly. “It’s just that I’m anxious. I’ve been here for two weeks—”
“Ten days. Don’t exaggerate.”
“Ten days. And not once have you let me talk about my plans for us, or tell you again how sorry I am for all I’ve done wrong. If you’d only let me do that, I’m sure you’d be persuaded.”
“What you’re saying is, you want to make a fine speech,” Gabrielle said. “As we both know, I’ve heard them from you before. There’s no need for another. I accept that you’re sorry. I realize that you’ve changed.”
Gabrielle was on a mid-afternoon work break. She and McLendon strolled down the wooden sidewalk past the Camp Feed Store. From the far side of the building came the rattle of tumbling bowling pins. The wind whipped Gabrielle’s long, dark hair into wild tendrils, and she reached up to pat them back into place. Most women in town wore scarves or wide-brimmed bonnets when they ventured outside, but Gabrielle rarely did. Her lustrous hair was one of her most striking features, and, rather than cover it up, she liked to accentuate it with brightly colored ribbons. “For now I just want to talk about small things and get used to who you’ve become,” she said. “Tell me more about your recent life in Dodge City. Collecting and selling buffalo bones sounds fascinating.”
“It was tedious, and I always smelled bad from the stink on the bones,” McLendon said. They reached the end of the sidewalk and paused in the shade of Flanagan’s Livery. August was sweltering in northeast Arizona Territory. “This can’t really be interesting to you. There have to be better things to talk about.”
“But I am interested, and you should be pleased,” Gabrielle said. “Much of a life together would involve relatively minor details. If either of us already finds casual conversation with the other to be tedious, then we won’t match up well in the long term.”
McLendon sighed. “Whatever you want, of course. But you have to understand—I constantly feel that I’m on trial with you. I’m never certain what to say or do.”
“Don’t overthink it. I know this is hard on you, but it’s difficult for me, too, and also for Joe. Simply by asking for the opportunity to make this choice, I’m being unfair to him, after his years of love and loyalty. Look, there he is. School is letting out.”
Two blocks down the hard-packed dirt street, a dozen children of varying ages ran gleefully from a one-room wooden shack that served as a schoolhouse during the week and a Protestant church on Sundays. Behind them, patting passing heads and calling out warnings to watch where they were going, was Joe Saint, thin to the point of emaciation, his thick-lensed spectacles and patchy beard adding to the overall impression of a human scarecrow. Saint had been named sheriff in Glorious because he was scrupulously honest and not at all capable of the casual brutality of many frontier lawmen. Prior to that, he’d been a schoolteacher back East, and always hoped to return to the profession. As a growing community with aspirations of greatness, Mountain View wanted a school and a teacher, even though, as yet, only a handful of youngsters lived in town. Saint gladly took the job, and, for four dollars a day, the same rate that miners in town were paid, presided over students ranging in age from five to fourteen. Now, looking down the street, he saw Gabrielle waving, and waved back. McLendon took note and said to her, “I guess I need to walk you back to the hotel.”
“Yes, there’s still so much to do today. Every room we have is spoken for, and Major Mulkins says we might need to set up tents behind the building for the overflow. The other hotels are full up too. The town council is never happy to see tents because they think these detract from the town’s image, but it’s either that or turn away visitors who’d spend money with local businesses. It’s a good problem to have.”
“I suppose I’ll move into the Major’s room with him. He said I could, if you needed my room for a paying customer.” Moving wouldn’t require much effort on McLendon’s part. He’d lost all of his possessions at Adobe Walls and arrived in Mountain View with only his Colt Peacemaker and the clothes he was wearing. He used most of the few dollars that remained to him after travel costs to purchase another shirt, a pair of pants, socks, and drawers. Having no income bothered him; so did taking ongoing advantage of Mulkins’s generosity. If Gabrielle took much longer deciding between him and Joe Saint, McLendon knew he would have to find work in town.
Outside the White Horse, McLendon asked Gabrielle, “Will I see you tonight?”
“Well, perhaps at dinner in the kitchen, if I can get away from the front desk. But afterward, Joe is escorting me to a poetry reading in the meeting room of the Eagle Hotel across the street.” She nodded toward a building across the street. “You could join us, but that might be uncomfortable.”
“It would be,” McLendon admitted. During his ten days in town, he and Saint had deliberately avoided each other. In all but one instance, their encounters were formal and polite, since Gabrielle was present and neither wanted to upset her. The single time they’d passed on the street and Gabrielle wasn’t around, McLendon nodded perfunctorily while Saint glared and didn’t nod or speak at all.
Gabrielle started toward the door, then stepped back and put her hand on McLendon’s forearm. “I know this is wearing on you. I’m sorry. I have to be certain.”
“I understand,” McLendon said. “Just decide when you can.”
Gabrielle smiled. “Well, I’m sure you’ll find ways to amuse yourself tonight. Bowling? Reading a book from the library?”
“I think I’ll stand the Major to a drink at one of the finer local establishments. I still have a few dollars in my pocket, not many, but enough for that. He’s being so kind to me.”
“That’s because he’s glad to see you again,” Gabrielle said. “But I’m gladder still.” She took a quick look around, and then, assured no one was watching, leaned forward and kissed McLendon lightly on the lips. It was the first time she’d kissed him since the cheek peck upon his arrival, and he was momentarily thrilled. But as Gabrielle disappeared inside, McLendon couldn’t help wondering if she had already decided and was drawing out the suspense to make him suffer. It was, after all, human nature to savor revenge.
Major Mulkins sipped bourbon and sighed appreciatively. “A good brand, this,” he told McLendon. “Jim Beam is what they call it. There was no such quality liquor back in Glorious, just raw red-eye.”
“Tonight there’s fine whiskey and surroundings to match,” McLendon agreed. He was glad to see the Major lingering over his bourbon, since the Jim Beam cost an appalling two bits a glass. Though McLendon had deliberately brought Mulkins to Mountain View’s finest saloon to treat his friend to the best, he couldn’t afford many fifty-cent drinks. “There was never an establishment like this in Glorious either.”
They were in the Ritz saloon. Businesses in the frontier frequently boasted names far more glamorous than the establishments themselves, but in this case it was apt. The Ritz was well lighted with oil lamps, allowing patrons to enjoy views of flocked wallpaper, mounted hunting trophies—a ferocious grizzly raged in a particularly lifelike manner just inside the ornate swinging entrance doors—and reasonably tasteful paintings depicting attractive women with minimal clothing. Well-dressed businessmen seated in low-backed captain’s chairs conversed at cloth-covered tables or else stood comfortably bent over their drinks at the long wooden bar, propping their well-shod feet on a footrail. Card games, poker and faro, were played in an adjacent room. Dice was forbidden at the Ritz—it smacked of lower-class wagering. There were plenty of ashtrays and spittoons, all regularly emptied by bow-tied staff. Hostesses in low-cut gowns circulated, accepting drink orders and, discreetly, assignations in upstairs rooms. Only high-class, pox-free whores were permitted to ply their trade in the Ritz, and each paid a monthly tax to the town for the privilege.
Excerpted from "Silver City"
Copyright © 2017 Jeff Guinn.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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