Read A Change in Altitude Online
Authors: Cindy Myers
A familiar black and white vehicle pulled to the curb ahead and Sharon slowed her steps. Sergeant Josh Miller emerged from the big SUV, hatless this time, and lifted his hand in a wave. “How are you doing, Sharon?” he asked, when she drew nearer.
“I'm getting settled in,” she said. “Thanks for the recommendation of the Last Dollar. The food was delicious.”
“I've eaten probably too many meals there myself,” he said, patting his flat stomach.
Either his wife didn't cook or there was no wife. He didn't wear a wedding ring, but that didn't mean anything. Joe had never worn a ring either. And she wasn't going to ask. She didn't want him to think she was fishing for information, because she wasn't. His marital status was no concern of hers.
“Did you ever track down your brother?” he asked.
“Yes, he's Jameso Clarkâthe bartender at the Dirty Sally.”
“Well, sure, I know Jameso. We've been climbing together a couple of times.”
“Mountain climbing?” That sounded like the daredevil kind of thing Jay had always liked.
“More rock climbing. The canyons around here have some great climbs. I've seen him up at the ski resort at Telluride a few times, too.”
“So I guess you're a big outdoorsman,” she said.
“That's what brought me to the mountains. Law enforcement pays better in the city, but I prefer the lifestyle here.”
“I'm looking for a job,” she said. “Do you know if the sheriff's department is hiring?”
He grinned, and fine lines formed around his eyesânice brown eyes, she noticed, now that he wasn't hiding them behind sunglasses. “You thinking of becoming a deputy?” he asked.
“I'm probably more qualified for clerical work.”
“I haven't seen any job postings, but I'll keep my eyes open for you.”
“Thanks.” She stepped away. “Well, I guess I'd better let you get back to work.”
She was aware of his eyes on her as she continued down the sidewalk. Talking to him had lifted her spirits; he was just a pleasant, positive guy. Funny that he was a friend of Jameso's, though maybe not that strange; they were about the same age and obviously shared many of the same interests. She'd have to ask Jameso about him. Maybe it would give them something to talk about. So far all of their relatively brief conversations had been painfully awkward. So much for the sibling closeness she'd hoped for.
She stopped in front of the next store in line.
was written in fancy script on the glass display window. An arrangement of silk sunflowers bloomed in a dented milk can by the door and another sign beckonedâ
The jangle of sleigh bells announced her entrance and a tall, angular woman in a white blouse looked up from behind the counter. “Hello,” she said, smiling.
“Hello.” Sharon took a few steps into the shop, past a child's pedal car and a second milk can. The shop was jammed with the oddest assortment of items, from a seven-foot-tall display case of fine glassware and china, to what looked like a stack of old highway signs, leaning against one wall.
“Some of it's junk and some of it's valuable treasure,” the woman behind the counter said. “Which is which sort of depends on the person who's buying. But whatever you're looking for, I've probably got it in here somewhere, or I know someone who does.”
“Are you Lacy?” Sharon asked.
“Lucille Theriot.” The woman moved out from behind the counter. “I'm also Mayor of Eureka, so welcome to town. Are you visiting or just passing through?”
“I'm staying. Or at least I hope to.” She took the hand Lucille offered. “I'm Sharon Franklin. I'm Jameso Clark's sister.” She was getting a little more used to referring to her brother by the name he'd chosen. Jameso wasn't so far from Jay.
Lucille's eyebrows shot up and she studied Sharon with the intensity of a crow scrutinizing bread crumbs. “I do see the resemblance now,” she said. “You have the same chin, and the same hair.” Her smile broadened. “Welcome to Eureka, Sharon. What can I do for you?”
“I'm looking for a job,” she said. “You wouldn't by any chance be hiring, would you?”
“I'm sorry to say this is pretty much a one-woman operation. And the city doesn't have any openings either.”
“Oh.” Sharon didn't even try to hide her disappointment. “Thank you anyway. If you hear of any openings, please keep me in mind.” She turned to leave, but Lucille stopped her.
“Wait just a minute. Come sit down over here and let's see what I can come up with.” She indicated a tall stool in front of the counter, then returned to her place on the other side. The counter itself turned out to be another glass display case. Sharon looked down and saw a row of sepia print postcards laid out on the shelf. One showed a doe-eyed young woman with a parasol, while another pictured a baby in an old-fashioned pram.
“What kind of work did you do where you're from?” Lucille asked. “And where are you from, if you don't mind my asking?”
“Vermont. And I didn't work outside the home. I was a housewife.” It sounded so quaint and old-fashioned. So innocent and simple, when really it had been so complex and difficult at times.
Lucille nodded. “We all know that's hard enough work. I was in the same boat after my divorce. I had a young daughter and a blank rÃ©sumÃ©.”
“I have a daughter, too.” Sharon felt a surge of kinship with this woman who was probably old enough to be her mother. Though Sharon's mother had never been this calm and capable. “What did you do?”
“I found work as a cocktail waitress. I was living in Cincinnati at the time. The hours were terrible, and it wasn't good for my daughter. If I had it to do over, I'd have tried for something different. An office job, maybe.”
“Are there any offices around here?” Sharon asked.
“Not many, and I don't know of any of them that are hiring. And really, it doesn't matter what you do, you can still be a good parent. My daughter turned out all right. Maybe you've even met herâOlivia Theriot. She works at the Dirty Sally with Jameso.”
“The blonde, the artist. One of the women at the cafÃ© told me she painted the mural there.”
Lucille beamed. “That's my girl. She has more talent in her little finger than I have in my whole body. And she was in the same boat you were when she came hereâa kid and no job. So we'll find something for you. Instead of employment history, let's think in terms of skills. What can you do?”
Sharon had been over this ground in her head at least a hundred times between Vermont and Colorado. “I'm organized. I can cook and clean and look after children. I volunteered at the children's school, and at the local library.”
Lucille drew her expressive brows together in a V. “What did you do at the library?”
“Whatever they neededâI shelved books or entered them into the computer system.” She'd enjoyed the work, until they'd moved too far out from town to make the commute practical.
“How are you at handling difficult people?”
Now, that was an odd question. “Difficult?”
“Ill-tempered. Contrary.” Lucille leaned closer, eyes locked to Sharon's. “Eccentric.”
She bit off a bark of harsh laughter. “You just described my ex-husband.” And his friends. The divorce wasn't yet final, but it would be very soon.
“The person I'm talking about is a woman. The town librarian. Her assistant eloped and moved away, so that position is open.”
“I'd love to work in a library.” Sharon's heart pounded. Talk about a dream job. Libraries kept reasonable hours, so she could be home for Alina at nightâand what could be better than working with books?
Lucille shook her head. “Don't get your hopes up until you've met Cassie Wynock. She can be a real dragon and if she takes a dislike to you, forget it.”
“I can deal with her.” After living with Joe and Wilson for the past two years, she could deal with anyone. “I saw the library when I first got to town. It looks nice.”
“Cassie's family used to own the land the library is on, so she behaves as if it's her own private property,” Lucille said. “Whatever you do, don't tell her you're related to Jameso until after you have the job.”
“Oh? She doesn't like him?”
“She doesn't approve of him. And she has a grudge against a friend of hisâwho isn't even alive anymore, but that doesn't matter to Cassie. Jameso is tainted by association with Jake.”
She'd have to ask her brother about this Jake character. “How can I get her to approve of me?” she asked.
Lucille pressed her lips together. “Are you sure you really want this job?”
“What are my other options?”
Lucille sighed. “Not many, I'm afraid. Not any this time of year. In summer, the motel hires an extra housekeeper, and some of the businesses that cater to tourists hire seasonal workers, but you need something better than that.”
“Does the library job have benefits?”
“Yes, it's a county position, so there's health insurance and retirement.”
“Then I really want the job.”
“All right.” Lucille leaned back against the counter and tapped her chin with one finger. “Cassie appreciates flattery,” she said after a moment. “About herself, but also about her family. If I were you, I'd ask if she's related to the Wynocks who founded Eureka. Tell her you're interested in local history.”
“I can do that.”
“Dress conservatively for your interview and don't wear too much makeup. She's suspicious of beautiful women.”
Sharon had never thought of herself as beautiful, but she nodded. It wasn't as if she had a closet full of wild clothes anyway. “Should I go over there now?”
“She'll wonder how you heard about the job. Let me call over there and set something up.” She reached for the phone, but the sleigh bells on the door jangled.
Both women turned toward the man who enteredâthe same grizzled miner Sharon had seen exiting the hardware store the day before. Come to think of it, he'd been in the saloon yesterday afternoon, too. “Hello, Bob,” Lucille said.
“I came by to see if you had a package for me.” He scowled at Sharon. Or maybe that was just his normal expression; his face was a mass of crags and wrinkles, worn and roughened by weather.
“UPS did drop off a box yesterday afternoon,” Lucille said. “Why did you have it sent here instead of your house?”
“Because I don't necessarily want everybody and his cousin knowing where I live.” He leaned on the counter, gaze still fixed on Sharon.
“Sharon, this is Bob Prescott,” Lucille said. “Bob, this is Sharon Franklin.”
“Jameso's sister.” Bob nodded. “I saw her at the Dirty Sally yesterday.” He turned to Lucille. “Did you know his name isn't really Jameso Clark? Well, I guess it is now, but he was born Jay Clarkson? Ain't that a kick?”
“My name was Lucille Peyton before I married,” Lucille said. “People change their names all the time.”
“Women, maybe. Men only do it if they're hiding from something.”
Sharon started to tell the old coot that her brother wasn't hidingâbut how did she know that? For all she knew, Jameso was wanted on warrants in three states, or had an ex-wife to whom he owed back child support, or he'd stolen drugs or money from the mob, or skipped out on a big debtâthere could be any number of reasons a man would come to a small mountain town and take a new name. She and her brother hadn't exactly kept in touch over the years; he really was a stranger to her.
“Says the man who didn't want a package shipped to his house,” Lucille said. She reached under the counter and hefted out a large box, about two square feet. “This weighs a ton. What's in it?”
Sharon hadn't even realized she'd spoken out loud until Bob and Lucille stared at her. Her cheeks grew hot. “Um, I . . . I recognized the name on the box,” she stammered. “My, um, my ex-husband used to order from them.”
Lucille looked at Bob. “Survival rations? Are you expecting a disaster?”
“Never hurts to be prepared. Or are you forgetting the blizzard last winter, when no supplies could get to us for four days?”
“Are you planning to have more orders shipped to my shop?” Lucille asked.
“I might.” He stuck his jaw out stubbornly. “I figure UPS is in and out of here all the time. What's one more box?”
“Watch it or I'll charge you a handling fee.”
“Speaking of handling, we need to talk about how we're going to handle Pershing.”
“I'm going to try to set up a meeting with the town council and Reggie and Gerald on Friday morning,” Lucille said. “You should be there, too.”
Bob hefted the box onto his shoulder. “I'll see you Friday, then.” Without a glance at Sharon, he left the shop, the sleigh bells jangling in his wake.
“I don't think he likes me very much,” Sharon said.
“Bob doesn't like most people, at least not at first. Don't let him get to you.”
“Oh, I won't. So, you'll call the librarian?”
“I'll do it right now.” She picked up the phone. “Just don't blame me later if she drives you crazy.”
“I won't let her get to me.” The last year had given her lots of practice at deflecting harsh words. Nothing anyone said or did to her could hurt her anymore.
ucille had thought she'd feel better once the town had turned the tables on Gerald Pershing and swindled some of their money back from him. She'd wanted revengeâvindication, even. Instead, she'd ended up with him more a part of her life than ever. He'd rented an apartment over the hardware store, and she had days when every time she turned around she saw himâat the cafÃ©, at the library, passing on the street.
She took it as a personal failing that she continued to let him get to her. Though she tried her best not to let it show on the outside, whenever she had to spend time with him, her stomach churned and she wanted to run from the room and go home and take a bath.
Unfortunately, that wasn't an option Friday morning as she sat at a back table in the Last Dollar with the rest of the town councilâJunior Dominick, Paul Percival, and Reggie's wife, Katya, as well as Reggie, Bob, and Gerald.
“You're looking lovely as usual, Lucille,” Gerald said in the low Texas drawl that had once charmed her but now made her skin crawl. “That color blue is particularly striking on you.”
“Save the flattery for someone who cares.” She opened the file folder on the table in front of her, though she'd already read through the paperwork there several times. “About this report the engineers have filed . . . the mine appears to need quite a bit of work to make it viable.”
“Bracing of several tunnels, drainage work, ventilation to vent gases.” Paul read through his own copy of the engineers' report. “And that's before we even get to the work needed to get to the ore itself.”
“The safety requirements are frustrating, but necessary.” Gerald nodded sympathetically.
“Skip the bullcrap and let's cut to the chase.” Bob leaned forward, hands on his knees. He looked, Lucille thought, as if he was about to spring up and throttle Gerald.
Gerald must have thought so, too, because he leaned back in his chair. “Are you saying a discussion of safety is bullcrap?” he asked. “I doubt the state inspectors would agree.”
“All I know is that the safety stuff is only necessary to get to the rest of it,” Bob said. “The fancy drills and pneumatic hoists and steam grinders and whatever else these so-called mining engineers have dreamed up to line their pockets.”
“This is the twenty-first century, Bob,” Gerald said. “The days of taking ore out with a pick and shovel died out with the use of burros and hand trucks.”
“I always preferred a stick of dynamite myself,” Bob said. “But the truth is, we don't have the money to invest in all this fancy machinery. If that's the only way to get to the gold, then it's not worth it to us.”
“It's worth it to me, and I own half the mine.”
“We know that, Gerald.” Reggie, the town's lawyer, who, with his silver ponytail and silver-rimmed granny glasses looked more like a biker than an attorney, spoke up. “The bottom line is, paying for all this will bankrupt the town.”
“I really don't see how you can afford not to make the investment,” Gerald said. “The payoff stands to be quite profitable.”
“Were you listening to a dang thing I said?” Bob practically vibrated in his chair and his voice rose. “If the gold's that hard to get to, it can stay there for all we care.”
“But you only have a fifty percent say in how the mine is operated,” Gerald said in a tone one might use with a recalcitrant child. “My opinion counts just as much as yours, and I think we should move forward with the project.”
“Then you can pay for it,” Junior snapped.
Gerald's smile might look pleasant to a casual observer, but Lucille didn't miss the gleam of malice in his blue eyes. “According to the terms of the agreement drawn up when I purchased my shares in the mine, I can sue to force you to pay your half of operating costs,” he said. “That includes any investment needed to move forward with acquiring the gold.”
Lucille looked to Reggie. “Is he right?”
Reggie looked glum. “It's open to interpretation, but there's a good chance a judge would side with him.”
“You can't get blood out of a turnip.” Junior tossed the report on the table. “Let him sue. If the money isn't there, it isn't there.”
“A judgment against you could force you to sell off all of the town's assets,” Gerald said. “I'd hate to see that happen to such a lovely community.”
“We wouldn't be in this fix if those Swiss investments of yours had paid off,” Paul growled.
“You can't blame me for the performance of the market. I explained the risks and the decision was all yours. And your lovely mayor's.”
Lucille wanted to be sickâpreferably all over him. “Do you really hate me so much you'd resort to this?” she asked.
His expression was so guileless she knew it had to be an act. “Lucille, darling, why would you ever think this was in any way personal? I told you when I first met you, I'm a businessman. I only want what's best for business.”
Still smiling, he stood. “I'll let you all discuss this amongst yourselves, but I'm sure you'll make the right decision.”
No one said anything. Lucille listened to Gerald's boots echoing on the wooden floor as he crossed to the front door of the restaurant and left. When he was gone, Bob was the first to speak. “I know a lot of old mine shafts where no one would ever find his body,” he said.
“I didn't hear that,” Reggie said.
“What are we going to do?” Lucille looked once more to Reggie.
The lawyer looked grim. “We can try to stall himâgive him a little bit of money at a time and hope he grows tired of the game.”
“Or we could try to change his mind,” Katya said.
“Threats won't work,” Lucille said. “I think that would only make him dig in his heels.”
“I don't understand it,” Paul said. “He's asking us to spend all this money, but that means he has to come up with a big chunk of change, too. Does he really think they're going to be able to pull that much gold out of the mine?” He tapped his copy of the report. “These engineers talk about probabilities and such, but they never come right out and say how much gold is really there.”
“The swindler didn't like being swindled, so now he's out for revenge,” Bob said. “He'll spend his own moneyâor more likely, money he stole from some other poor sapsâto get back at us.”
“I think Bob's right,” Lucille said. “He's determined to take us down. And it's all my fault.”
“We've been over that already,” Bob said. “He took us all in. What we have to do now is find a way to change his mind, make him think going forward isn't a good idea for him.”
“But how do we do that?” Junior asked. “If refusing to cooperate doesn't work and threats don't workâwhat will?”
“I don't know,” Bob said. “But I'm going to think about it. You all do, too. We beat him before; we can do it again.”
Lucille stifled a sigh. “In the meantime, Paul, you'd better go over the town budget and see how much we can come up with to stall him for a while.” She wondered if other small-town mayors had problems like this. Not the money thingâmoney was always a problemâbut the whole personal romantic mistakes affecting the future of the town you governed.
Probably not. People liked to say Eureka was a unique place, but she'd prefer, in this case, if it wasn't quite so special.
Sharon had never thought of herself as an actress, but she'd faked enthusiasm for Cassie Wynock's ancestors well enough to win the job at the library. The pay wasn't fantastic, but she was used to pinching pennies, so she'd make do.
The role of sycophant wasn't one she relished, but she'd do what she had to do to put food on the table and pay the rent, though she and Alina were still at Jameso's place for the time being. As long as she thought of it as a role, she could stomach it. Maybe after this she'd even join the local drama society. She knew there was one because her first day on the job, Cassie had recountedâin excruciating detailâthe one and only performance of the Founders' Day Pageant of which the librarian had been writer, director, and star of the show.
“Bob Prescott thought it would be a big surprise to set off fireworks at the end of the show,” Cassie said, her face growing even more pinched. “It was a surprise all rightâhe almost burned the place down. You can be sure I won't let him anywhere near this year's production.”
“I'll look forward to seeing it,” Sharon said. It wasn't a lie; she wanted to learn more about the town she intended to make her home for many years to come.
“The problem is, people just don't respect the sacrifices people like my grandparents made to build this town,” Cassie said. “The Founders' Day Pageant is a start, but we could do so much more.”
“Mmmm-hmmm.” Sharon focused on her computer screen. Keeping Cassie talking about herself was a good way to deflect attention away from Sharon's past, though even this didn't work forever. Today, Sharon's third on the job, the librarian was determined to know her new assistant's life history.
“Of course, I feel this way because I've never lived anywhere else,” Cassie said. “We have so many newcomers in town. Like you. What drew you to Eureka? And from Vermont? That's an awfully long way.”
“My brother lives here,” Sharon said. Now that she had the job, she didn't think Cassie could fire her simply because she was related to Jameso. And the town was so small, the librarian was bound to find out the truth soon anyway.
“He does?” Cassie's gray eyes sharpened. “Who is your brother?”
“Jameso Clark.” She kept her eyes on the list of titles she was entering into the computer database, fingers flying over the keys.
“Really.” Cassie didn't sound angry, more . . . intrigued. “You don't seem anything like him.”
“Jameso is definitely his own person.” She had no idea what she meant by that and figured Cassie wouldn't either.
“Still, it's a long way to come.”
Sharon felt Cassie's gaze on her, drilling into her, waiting for an answer. She cleared her throat. “There's space on this form for up to six keywords for each book,” she said. “Should I add keywords so readers can search for books on similar topics that way?”
“If you like.” Cassie leaned over Sharon's shoulder and squinted at the computer screen. “I don't know why the state decided we needed this new system, when the old one worked fine. How long have you been divorced?”
Sharon choked back a protest. Her marital status was none of Cassie's business, but saying so wouldn't make working with her any easier. Telling the truthâthat the divorce wasn't yet finalâwould only open the door to more questions. “Not long,” she said. That was true enough.
“You must have really wanted to get away from him, if you came all this way.”
She had, and maybe that was obvious, but she didn't want to talk about her marriage, especially not with her boss. “I wanted to make a fresh start,” she said. And she'd wanted to reconnect with her brotherâthe only family she had left really. Maybe that idea had been foolish; Jameso wasn't exactly bending over backward to spend time with her. She'd seen him exactly twice in the five days she'd been in town. She hoped closeness would come later, when he'd grown more used to the idea of her being in his life.
“What do you think of that woman Jameso is marrying? Maggie Stevens.”
“She seems very nice.” What else could she say? She'd spent even less time with Maggie, who had been polite but distant. Then again, Maggie was pregnant, planning a wedding, and obviously hadn't known much at all about her fiancÃ©'s past. The name thing had clearly been a shock. The two women would have plenty of time to get to know each other later.
“She's older than him, you know. A divorcÃ©e.”
Sharon almost laughed. As if divorce was a scandal in this day and age. “I think an older woman will be good for him,” she said.
“I think it's disgraceful, her putting off the marriage so long, with a baby on the way.”
“Hmmm.” Time to change the subject. “I've been meaning to ask you, you live in that beautiful old house on Fourth Street, don't you?” Lucille had pointed the place out to her after they'd had lunch together the other day.
Cassie brightened. “Why yes. That house has been in my family for three generations. My great-grandmother . . .” And she was off. Sharon smiled to herself. She'd do just fine in this job. It was all a matter of knowing how to handle people.
Cassie was describing the antique furniture in her dining room when Alina breezed in. Pigtails flying, cheeks flushed from her walk from school, Sharon's daughter looked happier than she had in a while. Sharon's heart felt too big for her chest as she rose to greet her daughter. “Hello, darling,” she said, and kissed her cheek.
Cassie made a disapproving noise in her throat. Sharon turned to her. “This is my daughter, Alina. Alina, this is Miss Wynock, the head librarian.”
Alina held out her hand. “It's nice to meet you, Miss Wynock. I love libraries.”
“As you should.” Cassie briefly touched the girl's hand. “But you mustn't come around distracting your mother while she's working.”
“I won't, I promise.” Alina slung her backpack to the floor. “I need to do research for a paper for school.”
Cassie clearly couldn't object to this. “Be quiet and get to work, then. If you need any help, ask.”
“Sure thing.” Alina winked at her mother, then carried her backpack to one of the wooden tables in the center of the room. Sharon returned her attention to the database, though she could have floated out of the chair. Seeing her daughter so happy was like having weights removed from around her ankles. She'd made the right decision coming here, she was sure.