The Doved Wonder
Looking up from the drink he had been nursing for the best part of the night, Deputy Daniel Higgins struggled to maintain a neutral expression as Joseph Slidell’s generous figure darkened the doorway. A smug smile played on his lips at the silence which had descended upon the inn with his arrival. With great effort, Daniel kept quiet. It wouldn’t do him any favours to make enemies; not yet, anyway.
“Usual, Jake.” Joseph hollered across the crowded saloon.
Jake Holt nodded his acknowledgement, promptly filling a shot glass with whisky and sliding it across the well-polished bar.
Joseph emptied his glass in one gulp before slamming it down, a jerk of his head signalling to Jake for a refill.
Despite his best efforts, Daniel found his eyes drawn to the purple feather poking out of the band on Joseph’s hat. Did he know how ridiculous he looked? Daniel swallowed a smile as he watched it bob with each movement of Joseph’s head.
As Joseph wobbled away from the bar with his third drink, Daniel leaned over.
“What’s with the ol’ feather?” he enquired of Jake.
Jake shrugged. “Nobody knows, nobody asks.” he carried on polishing the already gleaming glasses.”He’s worn it every time I see his miserable hide in my bar over the years.”
“The ol’ ‘Doved Wonder,Travelling Business Man, ‘” laughed a man from the other side of the bar with a conspirational grin. “Ask him if yer dare.”
Daniel narrowed his eyes, his curiosity piqued. His mind conjured up tales of intrigue surrounding the land buyer for the railways.
Charlotte Lowery, the Mayor’s wife snorted her disapproval from her tiny table in the corner. Daniel surveyed her expression. Behind the façade of disgust, Daniel noticed something else. Fear? Worry?
As Joseph drunken gaze caught Charlotte’s, she coloured, averting her eyes.
Daniel frowned catching the look between the two of them. “What was going on?”
Charlotte was hiding something and whatever that something was, it was something to do with Mr Slidell. Scenarios rushed through Daniel’s head at a dizzying speed. He knew he should let it go, but like a wild dog with a bone, he couldn’t.
Daniel swirled the remnants of his glass and looked up at Jake. “There’s got to be a tale behind it?”
“No need to start interrogatin’ Dept’y.” laughed Jake, topping up Daniel’s glass. “I’d tell yer if I knew. And I don’t”
“Yes Dept’y, it’s only a feather.” Charlotte took a delicate sip of her cordial.
“Surely, you wonder.” Daniel increased the depth of his questioning.
“Some things are not worth wondering.” Charlotte’s eyes were stern against the smile she painted on her lips.
Daniel knew that he was onto something. Whatever the story behind Joseph’s feather, Mrs Lowery knew more than she was letting on, a lot more and Daniel resolved to find out what.
Joseph downed whisky after whisky, his obnoxious voice growing louder with each shot. Struggling to his feet, he made a shaky exit. Daniel drained his own glass, nodding a curt goodbye and following Mr Slidell into the black night. Bracing himself against the chill in the air, he quickened his pace until he caught up with the man.
On hearing footsteps, Joseph spun around, his beady eyes struggling to focus on the Deputy.
“Ah, Dept’y.” he slurred.
“Mr. Slidell.” Daniel nodded his head.”Thought I’d walk you back to your office.”
Turning and nodding, Joseph continued to walk, Daniel followed, a few paces behind, making idle small talk.
It was a struggle to stand more than a moment in the man’s company.
“Can’t help notice that feather in yer hat?”
Joseph grunted his response.
Taking a deep breath, Daniel continued, “Sure there’s a fascinatin’ story behind it.”
“No really Dept’y, and if you don’t mind my sayin’ I can’t see how it’s any of yer business.”
“Just curious is all.” Daniel chewed on his lip,mentally weighing up his next move. “I might go and talk with Mrs Lowery. She seems to know-”
Predictably, Joseph stopped walking, his eyes wide and his ruddy cheeks burning.
“How did you know?”
“You just told me.” Daniel gave a smug smile.
Letting out a huge sigh, Joseph leaned closer to Daniel, the stench of his breath almost knocking Daniel for six.
“It’ll go no further.” Daniel assured him, his heart racing with the anticipation of what might follow.
With a heavy sigh, Joseph stepped closer still.
“There was a showgirl, Delia Belle Donnelly.” Joseph breathed her name reverently. ” Beautiful she was. Hair as black as the night. I only saw her a handful of times, but I never forgot her. The last night, she picked a feather from the top of her corset-” he slapped a hand to his chest. A dramatic gesture.
Delia Belle Donnelly? The name was like a kick in the gut, Daniel’s head spun with this new information. Not a woman to forget, or to give up looking for.
“She gave me a feather from her corset. A perfect purple feather. I never let it outta my sight since that day.” Joseph’s eyes glistened in the moonlight as he began to cough, hacking up a mouthful of bile into a grubby handkerchief. Daniel grimaced, turning his head.
Tucking the handkerchief back into his top pocket, Joseph composed himself.
“If that’s all Dept’y. Its an old mans fancy. Thats all. Sorry to disappoint you.”
“G’night Mr. Slidell.”
Distracted, Daniel made his way back to the noisy warmth of the saloon, realising he still didn’t know how Mrs Lowery fit into Joseph’s story.
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