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Authors: Cindy Myers

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BOOK: A Change in Altitude
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“Nothing would have happened,” Alina said. “Dad wouldn't have let it.”

Sharon knew Alina wanted to believe that. She needed to believe that her father would have protected her, no matter what. But Joe had different ideas about what that protection meant.

“I couldn't take that chance,” Sharon said. “I had to leave and take you with me. You don't appreciate now how hard that was, but you will one day. I know you will.”

She stood and left the room, and shut the door behind her. Alina lay sobbing against the pillows. Maybe crying would do her good, help her sort out her crazy emotions.

Sharon went into the kitchen and made a cup of tea, then carried it to a chair by the window. She left the lights off and stared out at the darkness, and the swatch of star-spangled sky visible between the trees. She scarcely saw their beauty, her mind too full of that night in Vermont, when she'd found Wilson with Alina.

Sharon had needed another egg for the frittata she was making for dinner, so she'd gone out to the henhouse to see if one of the chickens had laid an extra egg after she'd collected them that morning. Alina had gone out earlier to feed and water the lamb she was raising for 4-H, and Sharon realized she hadn't come back up to the house yet.

She was probably sitting on a bale of hay, singing or talking to the lamb, or lost in a daydream, making up stories or songs in her head. Sharon would remind her she had laundry to fold before supper.

The barn door opened without a sound. Joe kept up on things like that, everything in repair and shipshape. Straw muffled Sharon's footsteps as she made her way past the neat rows of stalls, toward the storage room at the rear, where the light from a kerosene lantern cast a pool of gold onto the floor.

She heard him before she saw him, his words making her skin rise up with gooseflesh. “You're turning into a pretty young woman, did you know that?” Wilson's voice was low, but with a gravelly timbre that was unmistakable.

Alina's answer was a mumble, uncertain. Timid.

“How old are you now—fourteen?” he asked.

“Thirteen,” Alina said.

“Fourteen before you know it. Did you know your mama married your daddy when she was only a little older than you are now?”

Again, some unintelligible noise from Alina.

“I always thought it was a good thing for a girl to marry young. That way she'd grow into the marriage. That's why your mama and daddy get on so well.”

No sound from Alina.

“Come over here a little closer. I won't bite. You know me. I'm your daddy's best friend and I know he wants the two of us to be friends, too.” Sounds of movement. Sharon told herself she should move forward. She should stop this. But she remained frozen. Stunned.

“There now, that's not so bad, is it?” Wilson said. “Do you like the way that feels? I know I do.”

Sharon picked up a milk pail that was sitting by the door and dropped it, sending it clattering down the aisle between the stalls. “Alina!” she shouted, her voice high-pitched and strained. “Quit your daydreaming and come help me with supper.”

“Yes, Mama!” Alina's voice was equally strained. She ran from the storeroom, leaving the lantern behind. She ran to Sharon and threw her arms around her and buried her face against her mother's shoulder. Sharon held her close, feeling her child's heart racing, but also feeling Wilson's eyes on them. He didn't step out of the storeroom, but she knew he was there, and the knowledge made her skin crawl. “Let's go back up to the house,” she said softly. “It's going to be all right.”

That night, as they lay in bed, she'd tried to talk to Joe about what she'd overheard in the barn. “There's nothing wrong with Wilson taking an interest in the girl,” Joe said.

“He's old enough to be her father.” Wilson was at least as old as Joe, who was forty-two. “And she's just a child.”

“She's growing up fast. I'd like to see her stay here, in the family, so to speak, instead of going away. She could do worse than a man like Wilson.”

“Joe, she's thirteen.”

“And in a couple years she'll be fifteen—the same age you were when we got married.”

And I was an idiot,
she thought. But, of course, she didn't say so. “I want Alina to get an education,” she said. “To go to college, even.”

“So the godless liberals can fill her head full of nonsense? She'll be better off here.”

Of course he would think something like that. He didn't trust the outside world. “Talk to Wilson,” she pleaded. “Tell him to keep his hands off your daughter. She's too young.”

“I'll talk to him.” He rolled over and punched his pillow. “Now go to sleep.”

But she couldn't sleep. She lay awake most of the night, replaying the scene in the barn over and over. She doubted Joe would warn Wilson off. The two men would chuckle about nervous women and Joe would all but give his blessing to his best friend's pursuit of his barely-a-teen daughter.

Sharon knew then she had to leave. It had meant giving up her son and her home and every bit of security she'd ever had. But she had to do it. She had to protect her daughter. What kind of mother would she be if she didn't?

Chapter 7

know how we're going to get rid of Gerald Pershing once and for all.”

Lucille and Olivia looked up from the stack of T-shirts they were examining, at Bob's scrawny figure silhouetted in the open doorway of Lacy's.

“Hello, Bob.” Lucille went back to unfolding T-shirts. “I don't have any packages for you today.”

“Didn't you hear what I said?” He joined them at the store's front counter. “I know how to get Pershing out of our hair for good.”

“I heard you, Bob.” The old man was infamous for his wild schemes—the majority of which didn't end well.

“I think we should set Gerald up with a rich heiress online,” Olivia said. “If we could find one who could be interested in him, he'd leave town to pursue her. And hopefully, never come back.”

“What is some rich woman going to see in that old goat?” Bob propped one elbow on the glass display case that served as Lacy's checkout counter. “My plan is better.”

“Bob, weren't you the one who came up with the idea to sell him half interest in the mine?” Lucille asked.

He scowled more than ever. “It would have worked, too, if the mine had been a real dud. And it got most of the town's money back, didn't it?”

“Yes, the problem is, Gerald is trying to force us to spend most of that money on the mine.”

“I know about that. The thing we have to do is get him to abandon the project altogether.”

Lucille folded her hands on the stack of shirts and sighed. “Okay, I'll bite. How are we going to do that?”

“We scare him away.”

Of course. Why hadn't Lucille thought of that? She shook her head.

“He doesn't strike me as the type to scare easily,” Olivia said. She slipped a T-shirt over the head of a female mannequin and turned it toward Bob. The T-shirt was pale blue, painted with a stylized hummingbird hovering over a columbine blossom. “What do you think?”

“I always preferred a live woman myself,” Bob said. “Though I've known a fellow or two who liked those sex dolls.”

“I mean the T-shirt, Bob. It's my own design. I had a bunch of them screen-printed to sell here and around town.”

“The shirt looks nice.” His expression might have been a smile; it was hard to tell with all the facial hair. “I just don't like to encourage you. If you get too successful at your art, you won't have to work at the Dirty Sally anymore, and Jameso don't put near as nice a head on a mug of beer as you do.”

“Thank you. I think.”

“Olivia's jewelry already sells like crazy, and Barb Stanowski hired her to paint a mural in the dining room of her new B and B.” Lucille fell easily into the role of proud mom. “You and the rest of the regulars at the Dirty Sally may have to learn to do without her sooner rather than later.”

“Then you should teach Jameso how to pull a decent beer before you leave,” he said. “Now, about my plan for Pershing.”

She should have known he wouldn't drop the subject. “How do you think we could scare Gerald enough to convince him to leave town and not come back?” she asked.

“We convince him that the mine is haunted.”

Olivia snorted. “You and your ghosts.” She turned to her mother. “He told me the house D. J. and I bought is haunted.”

“You're the one who said things keep disappearing for no reason. That sounds like a ghost to me, especially given the history of the place.”

“My house is not haunted,” Olivia said. “What makes you think the mine is?”

“It's not, at least as far as I know,” he said. “But it doesn't matter if it is or it isn't, as long as Pershing thinks it is.”

“You have to believe in ghosts in order to be afraid of them,” Lucille said. “I doubt Gerald is a believer.” He made a point of playing the savvy sophisticate for the mountain bumpkins; to think that act had once impressed her.

“The skeptics are the easiest to fool,” Bob said. “Make a few noises, let them feel a clammy hand on the back of their neck in the dark, and they piss their pants and run away, gibbering.”

“You talk as if you've had experience with fake hauntings,” Olivia said.

“Well, I'll tell you.” Bob leaned in closer, settling in for a long story.

Lucille stifled a groan. She really didn't have time for this. She still had to complete the town's application for the Film Commission and unpack a shipment of pottery from the estate of a collector in Hotchkiss. “Bob, maybe you should wait and tell this to the town council. I'm sure they'll want to hear, and I can put you on the agenda at the next meeting.”

“I can tell them, sure. But first, I'm going to tell you.”

Lucille looked to her daughter for help. Olivia shrugged. “Give us the story, Bob,” she said.

“It was back about 1974. I had a claim up above Creede. I was working it just fine, starting to see a little color, when this other fellow comes along and says the mine belonged to him first. He waved a lot of papers around and talked about lawyers, but I just ignored him and kept working. Of course, that just made him madder, and he started screaming about an injunction.”

“Bob, was the mine his?” Olivia asked. “I mean, legally.”

“It may have belonged to him at one time, but he'd abandoned it,” Bob said. “The only reason he showed up when he did was because I was finding pay dirt in the thing. He wanted the spoils without having to do any of the work. I told him to get his injunction, but meantime, I was going to keep working and taking out gold.

“That didn't set well with him at all. He called me a lot of names that aren't fit to repeat in mixed company and said he'd be back in a few hours with the sheriff. He left and I went back to work.”

“You weren't worried?” Olivia asked. This was why the customers at the Dirty Sally loved her, Lucille thought. She was such a patient listener.

“Nah, I knew the sheriff had gone over to Grand Junction that morning and wouldn't be back until late. I figured this guy—Tothe was his name, Bart Tothe—would get a bunch of his friends to come up and try to run me off. So I planned a little surprise for them when they did show up.”

“What did you do?” Lucille asked. She might as well play along.

Bob's grin was clearly visible behind the drooping moustache now. “I rigged up an old blanket to look like a spirit, hovering just in the entrance to the mine. I could stand over to one side and tug at a string to make it flap around. Then I set up a piece of pipe so the wind would blow over it and make a moaning sound.”

“You scared him off with an old blanket and sound effects?” Olivia's doubt showed clearly on her face.

“Those were just the props. The key is to have the ghost say something only a spirit would supposedly know. I'd done my homework, and I knew this Tothe fellow had a secret. You see, mine tunnels don't just give you access to the ore—they're good places to hide stuff. Some people prefer a mine shaft to a bank vault or a safe deposit box for hiding things they don't want anyone to know about.”

“And you'd found something Tothe was hiding?” Olivia asked.

“Hold your horses, I'll get to that.” He shifted, leaning back with his elbows on the counter. “Sure enough, just after dark Tothe comes striding up the path with half a dozen of his friends behind him. They're all waving shotguns and flashlights, and from the sounds of 'em, they'd probably shared a little liquid courage on their way up. He stops in front of the mine and hollers, ‘Prescott, you old so-and-so, you come out of there with your hands up.'

“I didn't answer, just stayed back in the shadows. He shone his light into the mine and when the beam hit that blanket hanging up, he jumped back. I pulled the string and the blanket danced; then I blew across the bottle and it made a high-pitched moan. But I'll give old Tothe credit; he didn't back down. ‘I don't have time for games, Prescott,' he said. ‘You come out of there.'

“I jerked the blanket harder, hard enough to let loosen the papers I'd tucked up inside. They drifted to the ground like dry leaves, and I could hear the men behind Tothe murmuring. ‘What's that?' somebody asked.

“ ‘It's just Prescott, playing games,' Tothe said. ‘Come out of there and fight like a man!'

“One of the men with him walked up and picked some of the papers off the ground. ‘Who's Hiram Jacoby?' he asked.

“Tothe looked like he was going to be sick. ‘I never heard of him,' he said. ‘Prescott, come out, or I'm coming in after you.'

“I slipped up behind the blanket, and in a low, spooky voice, said, ‘Hiram Jacoby, do you hear how your children weep for you? Do you hear the wails of your wife, abandoned by the man who had pledged to take care of her? Do you hear the curses of the employer you stole from? Do you feel the heat of the devil's breath on your shoulder?'

“There was a lot of murmuring from the other men; they didn't know what to make of this. But Tothe knew. And he was afraid.”

“Who was Hiram Jacoby?” Olivia asked.

“He was Bart Tothe,” Bob said. “I found a trunk full of his stuff in the mine—pictures and paperwork. From what I could tell, he'd been married with four children, working for a shipping company. One day he walked out with all the money in the company safe, came to Colorado, and started using another name. There was probably a warrant out for his arrest somewhere, not to mention a wife anxious to find him and see him strung up.”

“So he ran away?” Lucille said.

“He did, indeed. I started moaning about Hiram and the money and the kiddies, and he turned heel and fled. The others ran right after him. I heard he left town the next day, and I went on mining in peace.”

“It's a good story, Bob, but you didn't scare him off with ghosts,” Olivia said. “You scared him off because you had something on him he didn't want everyone to know. We don't have anything like that on Gerald.”

“I know he's a coward,” Bob said. “I knew it the first day I laid eyes on him, and we can use that to our advantage.” He turned to Lucille. “I figure you get him up to the mine some evening. I'll be waiting there and I'll commence to haunting. You run away and leave him to get the full benefit of my treatment. Next thing we know, he's packing to leave town.”

“I don't know, Bob. I don't think he'll leave that easily.”

“And I think you're wrong.”

“I think you'd better both be quiet,” Olivia said. “Gerald's ears must have been burning.”

Just then, the man himself walked through the front door to Lacy's. He wore a gray Stetson, western-cut suit coat over pressed jeans, and gray eel-skin boots. “Just the folks I was looking for,” he said cheerfully.

“Pershing.” Bob nodded curtly.

“What do you want, Gerald?” Lucille asked.

“I've spent a very productive morning on the phone with the safety engineers,” he said. “As soon as we give them the go-ahead, they're ready to install the new ventilation system and bracing in the Lucky Lady Mine. All I need is for you to write me a check for your half of the first payment and they can get started day after tomorrow.”

“I can't just write you a check, Gerald,” she said. “You'll need to submit a requisition to the town council. We'll consider it and if it's approved, the town treasurer will submit payment directly to the contractor.”

His face folded in an expression of hurt. “Lucille, you talk as if you don't trust me.”

Bob snorted. “She doesn't trust you as far as she could throw you, and neither do I.”

Gerald ignored him and turned to Olivia. “You're looking lovely today,” he said. “So much like your beautiful mother.”

Lucille resisted the urge to make a gagging gesture. Olivia only smiled. “Thank you, Gerald. You know, I was thinking, before you get any contractors up to the mine, you ought to have some sort of religious ceremony—an exorcism or a native American blessing or something.”

Gerald looked amused. “Why is that?”

Olivia's eyes widened. “You didn't know? Everyone at the Dirty Sally says the Lucky Lady Mine is haunted. It's the reason no one has worked the claim for years.”

Gerald laughed. “Haunted! Oh, that's a good one.” He leaned toward her, his voice low, confiding. “The reason the mine hasn't been worked for years, my dear, is that all the easy gold has already been taken out. The ore that remains is more difficult to reach, and requires technology and equipment that has only recently been developed.”

“I don't know, Gerald,” Olivia said. “People around here usually know about these things. I've heard that if you don't honor the ghosts, they'll get in there and wreck your expensive machinery, and then where will you be?”

Gerald drew back, eyes narrowed. “Don't think I don't know what you're trying to do.” He shifted his gaze to Lucille, then Bob. “All of you. But you won't scare me away so easily. I'll present the payment request to the town board,” he said. “And if it is not paid promptly, you'll be hearing from my lawyers.”

He left, and none of them said anything until he was well out of earshot. “That didn't go so well,” Olivia said.

“No, you did good.” Bob patted her hand. “You planted the idea in his head. That's the first step.”

“This isn't going to work,” Lucille said. “You can't frighten a man like Gerald with ghost stories.”

“I still think it's worth a try,” Bob said. “What have we got to lose?”

“Only the last shred of my dignity, Bob. At least let me keep that.”


“Make twenty more copies of the petition, and use the heavy cotton copy paper, not that cheap recycled stuff. I don't want these falling apart before they're full of signatures.” Cassie dropped the petition form on Sharon's desk.
stood out in bold capitals across the top of the paper. Cassie had plastered the town with the flyers, and yesterday she'd spent all afternoon going door to door, persuading people to sign her petition. Sharon imagined Cassie could be very persuasive.

BOOK: A Change in Altitude
7.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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