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The railroad is coming west, all the way to Leadville and its rich Rocky Mountain mines, not to mention millionaires. And who is coming to celebrate the arrival of the Denver & Rio Grande but Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States and former commander of the Union armies. Like other residents in the Colorado boom town this summer of 1880, Inez Stannert regards the news as mixed. With her business partnership in the Silver Queen Saloon shaky and the bonds of family tightening (her husband is ...
The railroad is coming west, all the way to Leadville and its rich Rocky Mountain mines, not to mention millionaires. And who is coming to celebrate the arrival of the Denver & Rio Grande but Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States and former commander of the Union armies. Like other residents in the Colorado boom town this summer of 1880, Inez Stannert regards the news as mixed. With her business partnership in the Silver Queen Saloon shaky and the bonds of family tightening (her husband is still missing and her baby is still back East), Inez doesn't need the lawlessness of Leadville to turn, once again, into murder. But Inez isn't the only one with iron ties to the past. Some folks have wicked memories of the war, others a stake in the competing railroad lines. And Inez's friend, photographer Susan Carothers, gets caught in the crossfire. . . .
Her grip tightened while she watched Reverend Justice B. Sands and Miss Birdie Snow converse by a half-framed building on the outskirts of Leadville. Inez's mare shifted uneasily beneath her, as if reading her thoughts. Inez smoothed the black mane. "Whoa, Lucy. Shhh."
The reverend and Miss Snow stood slightly apart from the handful of men who had laid hammers and saws aside to cluster around a large food hamper. Inez's gaze narrowed on the pale blue bow perched on the back of Birdie Snow's long ruffled skirts. The same blue washed the feather fluttering on Miss Snow's straw summer hat and her fringed parasol.
An ensemble straight out of Godey's Lady's Book. And I'll bet she wears blue knickers to boot.
Miss Snow held out a covered picnic basket, a small companion to the one being plundered by the construction crew. Reverend Sands cradled his hat in the crook of his arm and accepted the basket. Inez saw him smile before he offered his arm to Birdie. They picked their way around a pile of lumber to the private carriage blocking the rutted road.
The bow twitched like the tail of an eager bluebird. Inez indulged in mental target practice.
Touching the heels of her worn boots to Lucy's sides, Inez approached the carriage.
Miss Snow lifted china blue eyes—wide as a doll's—to the horse and rider that suddenly loomed beside her. "Oh!" she chirped, then addressed Sands. "Another volunteer for your efforts, Reverend. How wonderful that so many of the church's menfolk came to build the mission. I hope I brought enough chicken and lemonade to go around." Her voice faltered under Inez's glare.
Reverend Sands shaded his eyes, his gaze on Inez as warm as the sun. "Mrs. Stannert! What a surprise and a pleasure! One moment while I help Miss Snow on her way." He opened the carriage door.
Birdie's gaze snapped into focus as she took in Inez's male attire—dusty boots, worn trousers, faded corduroy jacket and waistcoat—and, finally, Inez's face. Recognition dawned. "Mrs. Stannert?"
"Miss Snow." Inez's voice dripped ice.
Birdie flushed, bright as a robin's breast. "Pardon. I, I didn't recognize you in the, um, hat."
She fiddled with her hat ribbons, with the cameo at her lace collar, looking everywhere but at Inez astride her horse. Birdie cleared her throat. "I should be going. Papa's expecting me. See you at services tomorrow, Reverend."
She picked up her skirts to step into the carriage. The reverend's gaze flickered to the blue flash of a silk-stockinged ankle.
Inez sucked in a breath through clenched teeth.
Sands shut the door, and, as the carriage rattled off, settled his broad-brimmed black hat back on his head. He turned toward Inez.
Inez pulled the reins around. "You're busy, it seems."
Sands grasped her stirrup. "I'm never too busy for you, Inez. You should know that by now." His voice covered her anger, gentle as a blanket. He turned to the men sprawled on the ground, backs against the plank wall, feasting on chicken and biscuits. "Jake!"
A pale boy with sunburned cheeks advanced, chicken leg in hand. Sands bequeathed him the basket. "Reinforcements for the troops."
Inez said, "You'll miss your chance at supper."
"This is more important. There's something I want to show you." Sands took Lucy's bridle and steered horse and rider around the unroofed building. He stopped in the rear of the two-story structure, among the piles of rough cut lumber. "Jump down."
No sooner had her feet touched the ground than Inez felt his hands on her waist. Sands spun her around and kissed her hard.
Her slouch hat fell to the ground. The wind tumbled it through the short grass and struggling mountain daisies as he whispered in her ear, "Have I ever told you how irresistible you are in trousers?"
She pushed him away. "Really? I thought your weakness was silk stockings."
He retrieved her hat. "Only when they're on a certain woman." He watched as she brushed the dust from the brim. "You're rather prickly today, Inez. Is this about Miss Snow?"
"She's all of, what? Nineteen?" Inez jammed the hat back on her head. "A mere child."
"Very young," he agreed.
"Brassy blonde hair."
"I prefer brown. Dark brown."
"And those baby-doll blue eyes."
"My tastes run toward," he squinted at her, "green? Or is that brown?"
"Hazel," she said stiffly. "As I understand it, Miss Snow came straight from finishing school in Philadelphia to spend the summer romping about the Rocky Mountains, batting her eyes at all eligible bachelors approved by her father. Who happens to be a lawyer for the Denver and Rio Grande Railway."
Reverend Sands pulled Inez close. "I prefer a certain strong-willed woman with hair cropped short." He pushed a strand from her forehead. "Who can beat the devil at poker, play piano fine enough to make angels cry, and is smart enough to run her own saloon."
The next kiss was long and reciprocal. The faint crackling of paper in her breast pocket finally reminded Inez why she'd detoured to see Sands on her way out of town. She pulled back and said quietly, "My discomfiture isn't entirely due to Miss Snow and her well-turned ankles. My sister's letter arrived."
"She's bringing your boy to Denver, isn't she?" His gray-blue eyes quizzed her.
"No." Inez swallowed with difficulty. Her sister Harmony's careful script rose like words of fire in her mind's eye:
The family doctor insists that William's summer is better spent by the seaside than in the West, particularly since he is so young and his lungs still weak from his first winter in the Rocky Mountains. By the time you read this, we'll be in Newport with Mama and Papa. Rest assured, dear sister, your little son will be spoilt endlessly by his grandparents.
"I should never have sent him back east last summer with Harmony," she whispered. "But I was at my wit's end. Mark had disappeared. There I was, with William not even a year old and a missing husband. I couldn't leave town, couldn't leave the business. I kept hoping Mark would return. But William couldn't stay. Another Leadville winter would have killed him."
The reverend's arms tightened around her. "Under the circumstances, it's a blessing you had a sister able and willing to care for him."
"But I'm afraid—" Inez hesitated, then rushed on— "that I'll never get him back. Oh, that's rubbish, I know. Harmony has William's best interests at heart. And, if the doctor says he shouldn't come west because of his health, then he shouldn't. I just have this feeling...."
His face softened with concern. "Maybe you should go east then. See your son. And your sister. Set your mind at rest."
She stepped away from his embrace, turning to smooth Lucy's mane. "I can't go now. Abe and I have one month to finish the second floor of the saloon before the railroad comes to town. If we can find the money. The money. Now that's another thing. The miner's strike nearly ruined us."
The iron taste of bitterness, tinged with fear, filled her mouth. "First Mooney told the strikers to stay away from the saloons." She remembered the disbelief she'd felt—the near betrayal—when she'd heard of the pronouncement from the strikers' spokesman, Michael Mooney. "He didn't warn them away from the brothels. Or the dance halls. And then, if that wasn't enough, the governor sends in the state troops to keep order and shuts us all down for a week."
Inez gripped Lucy's bridle fiercely and turned to the reverend, trying to bring normality back to her voice. "In any case, Abe and I have to watch every cent. We've got two men pounding nails and laying boards this week, and then that's it until more cash comes in. Abe may be a gem of a business partner, but he isn't one to crack the whip. I've got to stay and see it through."
Sands pulled out the hammer holstered at his belt and tossed it up in a lazy circle, catching the handle on the down spin. "You haven't seen William in over a year. Whenever the topic's come up, the timing for going east is never right. What's keeping you from going back? Something from the past?"
"Pah! The past is over and done. My sights are set on the future. And my son." She watched him toss the hammer again. "And you don't exactly practice what you preach when it comes to facing the past. When talk turns to the war, you always change the subject. The war, and your life after."
"What do you want me to say? The war was a dark time. I don't dwell on it. As for afterward, most of it was a blur. The liquor saw to that." He paused. "In all those years, I didn't have many sober days."
"You're very handy with that hammer. Is that another part of your past you don't wish to discuss?"
The reverend smiled. "Our Lord was a carpenter. Pounding nails clears the mind, opens the soul. You should try it sometime, Inez."
She waved a hand dismissively, then adjusted her reins and wiggled one boot into the stirrup, preparing to mount. "Enough. If I'm to meet Susan I'd best be going. She planned to leave Twin Lakes early this morning to capture paradise on those glass plates of hers on the way back to Leadville. I told her I'd meet up with her by Braun's charcoal kilns, in Disappointment Gulch." From her perch on the saddle, Inez studied the clouds. "I hope her choice of venue isn't prophetic. It looks like rain or possibly snow later today."
Sands shook his head. "Snow. And it's nearly July. When does summer come?"
"Ah, but this is summer at ten thousand feet in the Rockies. Sun. Wind. Rain. Snow. And dust, of course. Enjoy it, Reverend."
"And I was hoping you and I could ride out to some mountain meadow Sunday afternoon. Gather wildflowers." He ran a hand over Lucy's shining black coat, then, "What's this?" He pulled the rifle from its scabbard.
"A Sharps. Single-shot breechloader. Rather like the one you keep hidden behind the door in the rectory."
He examined it. "Well maintained. Where'd you get this?"
"Evan's mercantile. The clerk who sold it to me said some Johnny-come-lately who was giving up and leaving town traded it for a song and some supplies. It even came with its own case."
Sands snugged the gun back into its resting place. "A firearm for distance. Not a gun for a woman."
"Oh really." Inez arched her eyebrows. "Well, I took a fancy to it. Thought I'd do a little target shooting. And I brought my revolver, as well." She patted a pocket as Lucy shifted, impatient with standing. "I'm hoping to convince Susan to try it out while I take a potshot or two with the Sharps."
"I didn't think Miss Carothers put much stock in firearms."
Inez frowned. "She insisted on traveling back from Twin Lakes without an escort and unarmed. Said she didn't want anyone dithering around while she took her photographs and that she hates guns. Foolhardy. I may travel alone, but I always go prepared. Better to have a gun and not need it, than not have it and need it, I say. Weather permitting, after she shoots the scenery and we shoot some tree stumps, we'll head back, double quick. I've got to spell Abe at the bar and get ready for tonight. It'll be the usual game in the usual place with the usual people. Probably the usual winners. Plan on dropping by?" She smiled down at him.
"You can count on it." He took a step back and extracted a handful of nails from his pocket. "I'll be there to walk you home. As usual."
The main thoroughfare into and out of Leadville was a seething mass of human and equine energy. Freight wagons pulled by mule teams hauled out silver-rich ore from the mines east of town and brought in building materials, food, and supplies—everything from steel drill bits forged in St. Louis to satin evening gowns designed in Paris. Carriages vied with stagecoaches and prairie schooners for right-of-way. Inez, like the others on horseback, wove past pack trains and delivery vans while pedestrians dodged hooves and wheels. Dust hung in the air, obscuring wooden false fronts, brick buildings, and boardwalks.
Even more pervasive than the dust was the silver fever that lodged in the nook and cranny of every soul in Leadville. Jammed streets, packed saloons and mercantiles, busy bordellos and crib houses—all were testament to how the passion to get rich quick could shake a man down to his boot soles and grip a woman's heart tighter than true love.
East of town, silver mines with names like Little Chief, Chrysolite, and Robert E. Lee fueled fortunes in return for the sweat and lives of hardrock miners who toiled in the underground drifts. Leadville's rich carbonates of silver and lead sang a siren song to the mines' stockholders and owners, and drew thousands of people from the four corners of the earth. Miners and merchants, con men and moneymen, soiled doves and seamstresses—all began their search for fortune by journeying up Chestnut Street.
Inez reined in her mare by the ever-growing mountains of mine tailings that marked the city's limits. She yanked off the kerchief that filtered dust from her nose and used it to wipe the grit from her face. The crush of vehicles, she noted, didn't stop at the edge of town.
Inez urged Lucy onto a side trail that cut to the east side of the Arkansas River and wound back and away from the main road. The noise and dust subsided, the summer sun warmed her face. Still, something in the breeze—a coolness, a pale ghost of winter's chill—warned Inez that the sun would not linger through the afternoon.
The sun had traveled some distance into the west when she paused by a small spring and loosened the reins. As Lucy drank, Inez heard the clash of metal on metal and the shouts of men drifting from the other side of the ridge. Lucy lifted her head with a snort, bit jangling. Inez patted her neck.
"It's the birthing of the iron horse, Lucy. No cousin to you. Let's take a look."
With a touch of her heels, Inez directed Lucy up to the crest of a ridge paralleling river, road, and track.
Below, half a hundred men labored to bring the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad's line to Leadville. Inez leaned forward, hands resting on the saddle horn, and observed. Low-bedded carts piled high with wood ties advanced to the fore and, once emptied, retreated to the rear for new loads. Guided by the graded path, track layers advanced with hand-hewn ties of untreated timber, dropping the ties at regular intervals, like the same note measured out again and again on a drum. Hard on their heels, teams of men placed pairs of twenty-foot rails of narrow gauge iron, three feet apart: the twin lines of Manifest Destiny. Behind them came the spike drivers, their picks and spike mauls rising and falling to marry the rails to the ties. Finally, workers shoveled in loose dirt to fill the gaps between ties.
A symphony of men and tools, metal, wood, and earth. Inhaling the thin mountain air, Inez admired the forms of the men—some stripped to undervests, others with shirtsleeves rolled to their shoulders.
Inez barely registered the nervous swivel of Lucy's ears. But she could not miss the voice behind her, deliberate as the click of a gun being cocked:
"Got business with the Denver and Rio Grande, stranger?"
Startled, Inez turned, one hand instinctively reaching for the Sharps.
A man sat easy on a huge bay, rifle pointing not at her, but close enough. The first thing that struck her was the size of the hand holding the gun—oversized even for his rangy large-boned frame. The brass buttons of a military-style single-breasted jacket were undone, revealing a worn blue wool twill shirt. He had the look of someone who had long ago accepted that the cuffs of his ready-mades would always be two inches too short to cover his wrists.
He spoke again, in calm, measured tones. "As I said, mister, state your business." The rifle nodded in her direction.
"I've no business with or interest in the railroad. Just stopped to admire the view."
Excerpted from Iron Ties by Ann Parker Copyright © 2006 by Ann Parker. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted December 9, 2008
In 1880 the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad is coming to the mining boom town of Leadville, Colorado high in the Rocky Mountains. Most folks welcome the train though many have concerns. However, a few have much more than unease that the train might bring with it crime this group has other plans for the shining silvery tracks that await the arrival of the first train carrying eastern dignitaries and VIPs like President Ulysses S. Grant. They blow up a section of the mountain causing a rock slide to bury the track.-------------- Silver Queen Saloon part owner Inez Stannert is one of those mixed souls as she knows her business will boom, but fears the type of clientele that will arrive. She misses her son William who is staying with his aunt by the sea to help heal his weak lungs her spouse and William¿s dad Mark remains missing while Reverend Justice Sands makes his intentions clear to her. Inez finds badly injured photographer Susan Carothers near the site where the tracks were buried. Susan mentions murder and the killing of Generals. Unable to resist out of a fear that something bad is coming to her town, Inez investigates not yet realizing that the Civil War is not over in the minds of some.----------------- IRON TIES is a terrific Reconstruction Era mystery that provides the audience with a deep look at the period when official hostilities were over, but passions still flared into violence. The story line in many ways is more of a historical thriller though Inez¿s amateur sleuth investigation is deftly handled and the cast three dimensional. Ann Parker provides a delightful late nineteenth century Americana investigative tale.---------------- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.