Dust and Death
“Thought you were staying a spell longer?” Jake put down the glass he’d been polishing and stared at the dirty banknote offered to him from across the bar. Sweat dripped from his primly dressed customer’s forehead. The man’s feverish eyes darted around the bar of the town’s largest hotel as the offered note trembled between them.
Oblivious, Jake leaned across the bar and whispered, “Gotta say I love your lady with the snake. Been to every one of your shows. She wasn’t with you last time you were here, was she?”
In stark contrast to the dusty practical outfits worn by the rest of the hotel’s clientèle, Virgil Soames wiped his forehead with a snow white kerchief and pocketed it into his fine woollen jacket. “No Sah. Just joined us. Sadly for this lovely town, we must depart. Just got word we got ourselves a big show booked at Fort Denton. We’re heading out first light.”
“And good riddance to your freak show filled with degenerates and ladies of questionable morals!” burst a matron sipping her cordial at one of the tables near the entrance. “You should never have returned. Especially with that witches daughter and her – ”
Jake pushed himself away from the bar. “Seems to me you know a lot about those ladies and the show, Mrs. Lowery.” He placed the polished glass firmly on the bar and glared at her. “I don’t care who you are. You keep a civil tongue in my bar. Corrina was a sweet girl. Weren’t her fault. ”
Slapping down her glass, she stood. “The very nerve. I’ll be sure my husband looks into your liquor license, Jake Holt. And don’t think putting lace doilies on your tables makes this place any better an establishment than Formby’s Hotel.”She snorted, “You have a cheek calling this The Grand Hotel. Ruffians, the lot of you.”
Jake shrugged, walked round the bar, picked up her glass and tucked it into his wash up tray. With a small grimace, the barmaid, Daisy, scuttled over and wiped the table, before ducking away into the darker corners to tidy and straighten things. Soames floated the note under Jake’s nose again, but he waved it away. “Keep your money, Mr Soames. Wasn’t much anyways. That lotion your Mr Barimen gave me has loosened up muscles I never thought would unbunch.” Jake rolled his shoulders and gave the small, immaculately dressed man at the saloon doorway a smile.
The note disappeared as Virgil Soames tucked his thumbs into his waistcoat and rocked back on his heels. “Man with medicinal know-how like Lorius Barimen is certainly a boon for my troupe.”
Louris bowed his head slightly to the side in acknowledgement. His eyes shifted quickly around the saloon as his fingers fiddled with a bronze spyglass. “Best we get back to the showgrounds Mr Soames.”
Virgil wiped his brow again and nodded.
Jake waved. “Make sure you come back, too. This town ain’t got much entertainment and it’s been a real breath of fresh air having new folk around. Ignore what Mrs Lowery says. You folk are always welcome back; just don’t be so long next time.”
A guttural croak interrupted them. A figure staggered down the wooden staircase coughing. He swayed, wiped his mouth, and stumbled the last few steps, crumpling and landing heavily on the grinning teeth of the piano.
As he disregarded the drunkard’s antics, Terrance worked the counter-punctual crash into his piece. He was used to the drunken behavior the Grand Hotel attracted this late in the afternoon and simply pushed the figure away from his piano, allowing him to slump heavily to the floor. The low burble of conversation halted momentarily, then continued as Terrance’s music galloped along. Virgil nodded at Jake, pushed his hat firmly on, and followed Louris out the doorway.
Daniel shifted on his stool and stared at the motionless figure sprawled at the foot of the stairs. He cleared his throat and looked questioningly at the sheriff . “Shouldn’t someone go and pick him up?” He adjusted his new Deputy badge and affixed a serious look to his face. “Or should we arrest him for drunkenness?”
Sheriff Jenkins ignored the figure on the floor and took a long sip of his whiskey. “Naw. Start that and you’ll end up with half the town in jail. You need to ease into this place, not make enemies on your first week, Daniel. Amos’ll get up when he starts to dry out. Most likely he’ll be there for the evening, unless Maela comes to pick him up. Then we’ll all hear about it.”
“His wife?” Daniel asked.
Sheriff Jenkins spluttered. “Not likely. Mixing blood might be the social standard where you’re from in your fancy city, but out here, folk stick to their own kind.” His eyes shifted toward the door as he lowered his voice. “ Besides, Maela terrifies half of the town. She’s-”
The doors swung open and the music stopped dramatically. A bored group playing cards shifted their eyes, hoping for new players, but upon seeing who it was, buried their faces behind their make-or-break, chance-driven selections from the grimy deck and tried not to look up again.
Curling her fingers round the slats of the swinging doors, the short but imposing woman demanded, “Where is he?”
Sheriff Jenkins turned to Daniel and gulped the remnants of his whiskey. “That’d be her.”
Jake continued to polish glasses. “Afternoon, Miss Maela, same place as usual.” They both stared at Amos sprawled at the foot of the staircase. ”More or less.”
A long drawn screech of wood against wood eclipsed the dialog, as one of the cardplayers laid his cards down, pushed his chair out, and stood. “Your kind ain’t welcome in here. Take your garbage and get out. Leave decent folk alone.”
The man strode over, bent down to roll Amos over, and slapped his face. “Get up, Amos, and don’t forget the two dollars you owe me.”
Sheriff Jenkins pushed himself off his stool and put on his hat. “No need to get so antsy, Bill. He’s never not paid yer.” His face crinkled as he smiled at Maela in an overexaggerated effort to be polite. “Ma’am. This is our new Deputy here. He’ll help you get Amos home tonight.”
Sheriff Jenkins bent over and heaved Amos up. Struggling with the weight, he pushed the other man over to a slumped seating position against the piano. Terrence moved up an octave to make room. Amos lolled forward and collapsed onto the floor again.
Daniel crouched, put his hand on Amos’s chest and bent to put his ear close to the man’s face. He looked up at Sheriff Jenkins. “He’s dead.”
Terrence shifted into a minor key.
Sheriff Jenkins leaned on the piano and shook his head. “Dead? Can’t be. Dead drunk maybe.”
Daniel rolled Amos onto his side. A white froth, tinged with blood, bubbled at Amos’s mouth.
Maela wailed and ran to Amos’s side, throwing herself over his body. Daisy rushed over and put her hand on Maela’s shoulder, attempting to soothe her. Maela cut short her theatrical display of grief to angrily thrust Daisy’s hand away. “You can get your gold-digging claws away from me. Don’t think I haven’t seen you making eyes at all the men folk here, especially at Amos when the cargo came in.”
Daisy took a step back, astounded at the outburst.
Maela screamed at her, “You and all the other women in town, all after Amos’s money! Well, he’s dead now, and not a dime will come your way.”
Frowning, Sheriff Jenkins clasped Maela by the shoulder and dragged her a few feet away. “Ma’am, nothing’s been established yet. We ain’t doctors. You’ve seen him worse ‘n this before.” He grasped Amos under the arms and motioned to Daniel to take his feet.
“Sheriff, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather you didn’t go upstairs with him,” Jake said. “You know, if he’s maybe dead an all. I’ve got me a decent establishment here. Best take him over to Elijah. Preacher’s over there, too. Them two are the closest we got to doctors.”
Sheriff Jenkins nodded as they shuffled the body in as dignified a manner as they could to the cabinet maker’s across the road. Behind them, Maela howled and wailed and beat her chest.
Elijah held the door open as they stumbled over his threshold. Maela was heaving with sobs and shaking her head violently from side to side. The preacher reached over and touched her gently on the shoulder. “Ma’am, it might be best if you wait outside, maybe go back to Jake’s; get yourself a cordial.” Maela glared at him, but stepped outside.
With Maela’s crying now muffled by the door, the men looked at the motionless body. Sheriff Jenkins quickly outlined what had happened at the hotel, while Elijah grimly pursed his lips and stared at the body. Preacher James reached over and pressed his fingers into the side of Amos’s throat. “No heartbeat. S-S-S-See here.” He gestured toward the face. “His lips have a blue tinge and he’s n-n-n-not breathing.” The preacher raised his eyes to the ceiling and clasped his hands in prayer.
“I’d like to pray for this lost s-s-s-soul, gentlemen. Please bow your heads and c-c-c-close your eyes.” Hesitantly, they all took off their hats.
Sheriff Jenkins pressed his palms together and elbowed Daniel to do the same. “That’s right Christian of you, Erwin. Thank ‘e.”
Erwin began. ”Oh, Heavenly Father…”
Daniel bowed his head but as he peeped from one eye, he saw the preacher wipe a tear from his cheek, then breathe deeply and take something out of Amos’s pocket. He crossed himself, then clasped his hands back together. Daniel squeezed his eyes shut and joined the others in praying out loud.
“Amen,” they automatically replied.
They all stared at the body, collectively willing the chest to move or the face to twitch.
Elijah broke the silence. “Yup. He’s dead alright. My guess is that all that drinkin’ caught up with him and he had a heart attack. Probably was dead before he hit the floor.” He gestured to the lawmen. “I’ll take it from here. He needs to be laid out properly and prepared for burial. Now off with yers.”
Daniel frowned at Sheriff Jenkins, whose hand was already on the door handle. “Ain’t goin’ ta happen. I believe this is a murder investigation. We need to look at the body properly and see how he died. I mean, what about that fight between him and and that railway man – what’s his name?” Daniel snapped his fingers and frowned. His first real case and he had forgotten a name already. “Slidell. That’s him. Amos and he had a big one last night. There were some pretty harsh accusations being hurled around and not only from those two. If we hadn’t interrupted when we did…”
Sheriff Jenkins looked over at Elijah and put his hand on Daniel’s shoulder. “Son, I appreciate your enthusiasm. Last night was a bunch of hot air. Amos just fell down the stairs. You were there. He was a heavy drinker, smoker, and had a ticker with problems. It was just his time.” He guided Daniel toward the door. “Now we are going to do some real sheriff work and talk to that poor woman outside. She’ll need help tidying up Amos’s affairs. Forget all them fancy ideas you get from dime novels.”
Daniel darted over to the body and pointed to a rip in Amos’s shirt at the forearm. “Then explain this.” He traced over the puncture marks and bruising on the darkened veins. “And this.” He pointed at a small wound on the back of Amos’s hand. Tiny droplets of blood clung to the hair on the the dead man’s fist.
Elijah snatched the lifeless arms away from Daniel and laid them across Amos’s chest, his eyes flicking between Preacher James and Sheriff Jenkins. “A tiny wound from fence-mending,” Elijah said. “Probably got a piece of wire snagged. It’s nothing.”
The preacher smiled serenely at Daniel. “I-I-I-Indeed. The excitement of your first real life drama may have confused your judgment, Deputy. B-B-B-Best leave this to those who know more about it.”
Sheriff Jenkins tipped his hat at the undertaker and glared at Daniel. “Much obliged to you, Elijah. We won’t keep you from your duties. Deputy, this way.”
Outside, Daniel’s face was a mask of fury, but he kept his voice low. “Why wouldn’t you let me examine the body and look for clues about his death?”
Sheriff Jenkins pulled out a pouch of tobacco and slowly stuffed some into his pipe. “What are you hoping to find? The man is dead. Heart attack; right?”
Daniel looked over at the hunched, sniffling figure of Maela. “I want to question people at the hotel; find out what happened; what the real story is.”
Sheriff Jenkins shook his head. “Son, you got a lot to learn about being a sheriff in a frontier town. You can’t go accusing folk, ‘specially when it’s a clear case like this.”
He slapped Daniel on the back. “Don’t worry, you’ll get your share of investigations soon enough. Despite what you might have read in those dime Western novels I see in your room, the Wild West is a lot tamer than you might imagine. We don’t have gunslingers or duels at high noon every day. For the most part, our job is just talking to folk. Keeping the peace. Now let’s get back to the hotel, get you a drink, while we calm Maela down. Tomorrow, we’ll need to look into his affairs and find those sons of his.”
“Sons? Didn’t he only have an adopted one, the one who’s out tending the cattle?”
Sheriff Jenkins took a long puff of his pipe. “Nope. He’s got another boy, but no one’s got much good to say about him. Amos disowned him a year or so back. The way that incident went, I doubt he wants to be found, but he deserves to know. Now, lets get back over to Jake’s.”
Well now.. what would YOU do if you were in Daniel’s shoes? Its your turn now. Help Daniel uncover some of the secrets Cyotta Falls is hiding. Has Amos been murdered – or was it just an accident?
Below are the options you must choose between. At the end of every story, you will be faced with a number of decisions Daniel may take – each sending him on a different path. His life is in your hands now.
What does Daniel do now?/ Who does Daniel decide to speak to now?
Option 1 – Daniel despondently follows Sheriff Jenkins towards Jake’s, but stops, frowning as catches the sparkle of sequined heels as Charlotte Lowery walks up the street and into the darkness. Something about those shoes screams a nagging reminder, but is quickly snatched away.
Option 2 – Daniel decides to hang back and speak to the Preacher before he goes back to the Grand Hotel, where Jake is.
Option 3 – Daniel is startled by a shadow in the alleyway and goes to investigate who had been eavesdropping on the conversations within Elijah’s.
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Your payment will give you access, via a special password, to the entire Dust and Death story where you can follow threads, pick and choose storylines as you fancy.
The cost for this access is a one-time fee of AUS $1.90, US $1.99, UK ₤1.25. Once paid, you will receive an email detailing how to gain access. It will lead you back to the first story – but this time with options which link into other parts of the story.. and thus your journey with Daniel begins.
Before you head off, Stranger……. Along the way, you’ll find little extras – Easter Eggs. It might be a literary joke, or a link to a historical fact or moment, a quote from a favorite movie, or to a series or characters from Stories or Projects the writers write personally.
Either way, they make for a fun ‘aside’ and something for you to look out for.
In fact.. there is one in this story ( but you’ll need to have a key to see that)! We hope to see you ‘inside the story’ soon.