Chapter Twenty Three

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lacefan

Friday morning – 1st Week

“Kenneth…” Mrs Kingsley said, hands primly folded in her lap, and brow furrowed in thought. Carla, in her flounced black and white servant’s dress, set a plate of eggs benedict and sauteed tomatoes before her, but Viola barely noticed. Maybe the butterflies in her stomach had completely eradicated hunger, maybe the smell of burnt toast had set her off her disgruntlement; so much had happened this past week it was hard to know where her focus of determination could land. She had been so busy with the arrival of the new teacher and planning the luncheon for the ladies to discuss the new library, and overseeing the teacher, and meeting with a prospective railroad mogul…well, it had all been a whirlwind. And already the grapevine had brought news yesterday that the upcoming week would have still further social obligations: the sister of a resident, a wealthy socialite, would be coming to visit! She’d made sure to pass on the news this morning during her ritual walk with her little Pomeranian, Yvett. But even sitting in a large carved wooden chair at the large carved wooden dining table with its silver candelabra and its elegant dishes and lace napkins, Viola felt something was missing.

“Kenneth!” she said a bit more sharply, as her husband hid behind his newspaper and clicked the mouthpiece of his pipe with his teeth in time with the various mutters and grunts he emitted whenever he read some particular news of interest. He half-folded one wing of his paper down to acknowledge her call, smoke puffing away from the bowl of the pipe like a railroad engine. “Did you hear me at all?”

“What, dear…what?” He asked glancing at her, a sign that he was on his way to paying attention to her but still hoping she would release him in frustration.

“I said we don’t even have watchmen set up for the dance tonight,” she repeated with a sigh. “Have you spoken at all with Morgan and Virgil Earp?”

“Mmmm, yes dear. They’ll be there,” was his vague reply.

“I know they’ll be there,” she said, impatiently. “I also know Virgil intends to distract Miss Grey, the crafty old coot! And the Lord God only knows what Morgan has in mind. It appears Deputy Wells…Cortland…has the only serious mind in this town…”

“You’ve nothing to worry about,” Mr. Kingsley stated, with a small sigh himself, but one so faint that only he knew it had escaped his chest. Any louder, and who knew if it would set Viola off? “If Virgil is dancing, there’s nothing that’ll go on that he won’t light upon if it gets out of hand. Now would you stop worrying?”

“Yes, but we’ve had so many ruffians arrive so quickly and so suddenly. It’s as if the floodgates had opened…”

“I should think you’d have welcomed half that population,” Kenneth Kingsley, amusement crinkling the corners of his eyes. “More civilization to work with and institute. You never told me how the luncheon went…”

Mrs Kingsley gave him a brief summary, even while Mr. Kingsley remained puffing behind his barrier. She knew from the lack of clicks and mutterings that he was listening. “I only hope Miss Garnet Barrett is willing to help us all,” she concluded.

“I should think you’d want the most help from Miss Grey,” Kenneth surmised in a soft tone, and lifted an eyebrow at his wife over the edge of the newspaper. “She’s the key to all the parents in the town. Your fellow society matrons are all too happy to throw money at things, but if you don’t have the support of the community, you remain just that: a bunch of society matrons…with all the gabbling and goosery that comes with it. Not much use to anyone else.”

“Kenneth!” Viola gasped, but it was a half-hearted one. In spite of the henpecking she gave him, she did love and respect him. After all, he wouldn’t have gotten as far as he did, with as much as he lavished on her, if he did not have the intelligence and wit to achieve it. “I’m sure as a teacher she can have some influence, but I…”

“…the hand that rocks the cradle is what rules the world, Viola,” Kenneth said, and put down his newspaper to lean towards her. She watched him, half in fascination, half in horror – he didn’t often address her this way. She could push him further if she wanted, but he had a way of turning things on her if she did. “She may not have any children of her own, but she will have their ear. And so what if she’s flirting with Virgil, or Morgan, or any other man?”

Kenneth, have you forgotten…?”

“I could tell just in the little amount of time I had to observe Miss Grey that she’s not as…flighty…as her predecessor. Virgil will do her some good. Maybe one day we’ll have a wedding to celebrate, instead of mourning a funeral.”

“Perhaps…but now that she has befriended Laurie Drake…”

“That’s another thing you’re going to have to ease up on, Dear,” Kenneth said, with an audible sigh this time. “With all these new ladies from Back East showing up, your personal seamstress might decide she’s got better choices to go with…like Mrs. Barrett. If they haven’t brought seamstresses of their own…in which case everyone may decide to form their own group and leave Miss Drake out in the cold…and then where would you be when it came time to have the latest fashion?”

Viola sat staring down at her breakfast, now getting cold very fast and looking even less appealing. She hated it when Kenneth was right.

“Let’s just go enjoy ourselves tonight, shall we?” Kenneth asked, and leant far enough to cover her hand with his. He gave her the smile that had charmed her so long ago. “I’ll dance the waltz with you. I bet I can even talk them into letting us lead it.”

Sharon


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guns

Friday morning, 1st Week

It had not been a good night at all for George Temple, or a good morning. When he had been most keen to slip away and practice shooting, the very thought that someone might have noticed after all plagued him throughout the cold long hours, until he was ready to pick up anything in reach and toss it. He’d heard loud and clear the name given to the woman yesterday afternoon, in the last several minutes before he closed shop: Kitty Harold.

Dear God Almighty…anyone but Vincent Harold’s wife!

But maybe it couldn’t have been, he reasoned several thousand times. How many people could come west with a last name of Harold? Vincent Harold lay in a grave by the Methodist church in Cross Creek…next to the grave of the man who killed him, George Kelby. How many people would know that? How fast had word of Vincent’s death reached the people back east…and would it have mattered? Would his death be avenged? Did his wife learn the truth and track him down?

George’s heart stopped every time he imagined that perhaps his trust in his former neighbors had been betrayed after all. The villagers of Cross Creek had sworn secrecy in that church, all of them to a one, pledging their God-fearing promise to never ever tell anyone that George Kelby had been the fastest gun they’d ever seen.  Had one of them slipped up?  They had also sworn so to keep anyone from seeking vengeance on the one who killed Vincent Harold…the self-proclaimed fastest gun in the West.

But Kelby was the fastest gun. George had proven that…and Cross Creek and George Temple carried the weight of that knowledge like the grave carried the gun he had tossed among the stones in Kelby’s coffin. It was his own promise, to Dora, to their unborn child. Kelby died with Harold that day.

And now a Harold was back.

Did she know who he was? He wondered. Was she here to claim revenge? How long had she been in Tucson? Was she looking for him? She had stood in his store for some time, caught up in a languorous perusal of the items on the shelves, the counters, in the display cases. She looked as if she knew how to spend money. Hell only knew where or how she acquired it. Not until the gambler came sauntering in to encounter her did George ever get the idea that this woman, Kitty, had any other intention than to be just another customer. And now…

George’s mind ran the ragged road of his memory once more, reliving the past. Cross Creek had been such a peaceful place…and yet he’d been unhappy. Restless, to the point of a nervous breakdown…which happened when he took the first shot of whiskey he’d had in four years. You think a gun makes a real man? He’d asked. You think you look at me and see a weak man? You’ve got to know who I am…

It had been all downhill after that.

No one knew why Vincent had had a burning desire to wipe out all challengers west of the Pecos. George knew the kind all too well – he’d spelled it out for them in that little church, while Vincent held a boy and his father hostage, while Harold’s henchmen wreaked havoc on their fears and their livelihood. A certain kind of scum seeks out people like me…

Vincent had gone one edge further and Dora had to listen as he met Vincent out in the street…

Shuddering, George Temple sat at his little table, head in his hands. He’d broken his promise to Dora when he left Cross Creek and migrated here. She lay in small marked plot beside the church, babe in her arms, both taken down by yellow fever. He’d given himself over to despair and then crawled back out of that stone-filled grave. He’d come to Tucson and acquired a new gun, hovering between loyalty and fate. And just when he’d resolved to surrender to the inevitable, Laurie sashayed into his store and gave him pause.

Kitty Harold. A gambling woman. That must have been how she’d garnered all the trappings of a woman of leisure. Pretty clever, it looked like, and judging by the lasciviousness of her challenger, someone who had a reputation of knocking back a few hotshots herself. But did she know who he was…?

He had to open the store in a few minutes. People would be clamoring for last minute stuff, for the weekend, for the dance. Laurie might even make an appearance, with some excuse of finding a last minute geegaw or treat.

He’d have to tell her one day…

Miserable, George Temple splashed water on his face and forced himself to think of business. The store was closed by mid-day on Saturday. If he could just make it until then…and then he’d go riding, looking for an even more secluded spot to do his shooting. It was paranoid at best to think that maybe someone somewhere in Tucson had noticed his moonlighting practices, but Kitty Harold’s presence told him the fates were catching onto him, if no one else was. Any light-hearted ideas he’d had of courting Laurie a bit more seriously this weekend had to be forsaken.

One last time before he opened the shades of his store – he could see Cort and Morgan standing outside, waiting on him – he checked his ammunition stock. He had plenty, so he took a supply for himself and stashed it in the back. Whenever the marshals and their deputies showed up, he knew supplies would have to be replenished soon.

“Welcome, gentlemen,” he said, as he pulled the door opened and stepped aside to let them in. “Let me guess…you’re here for a little preparation?”

Sharon

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