Nearly Departed in Deadwood

BOOK: Nearly Departed in Deadwood
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Nearly Departed in Deadwood

by Ann Charles


      Dear Reader,

      Once upon a time, I thought my crush on Deadwood, South Dakota was going to be just a summer fling. Boy, was I wrong. I had fallen head-over-heels. Deadwood had gotten under my skin. Its golden history filled my mind with daydreams; its promising future spurred tales that needed to be told.

Nearly Departed in Deadwood
is a contemporary mystery full of colorful characters that have been taking root inside of my noggin for almost three decades. The seed was planted when I was a young teenager sitting on the bench outside of the old Prospector Gift Shop on Main Street, waiting for my mom to get off work. Over the years, the seed sprouted as I hiked all over town, strolling around Wild Bill Hickok's and Seth Bullock’s gravestones at Mount Moriah Cemetery, sitting on the steps outside the Deadwood Public Library, walking up and down Main Street, perusing the tourist shops.

      As times changed, so did Deadwood. The drugstore where I used to buy candy, the clothing store where I bought my favorite Levi’s, and the Prospector Gift Shop are all gone now. At first I was sad to see them go, but then I realized that Deadwood had to transform and grow in order to survive. Just like I did.

      A couple of years ago, I was driving down Strawberry Hill on my way into Deadwood when an idea hit me. It was a “what if” moment that sparked the fire of a story in my head. This time, the “what if” involved a single mom, living in Deadwood, struggling to make ends meet with two kids—twins—for whom she had to provide. I had one young child and another on the way at the time, so taking care of kids was front and center in my mind (and my body).

      As I drove through Deadwood that day, memories ran rampant in my mind, and the story you hold in your hands began to take shape. I could see it clearly. I’d name the heroine Violet, an old-fashioned name. I could hear her voice; see her in her favorite purple cowboy boots. I knew exactly the location of the realty office where Violet would work, the street she’d live on, and how I’d pull Deadwood’s past into the story and intermingle it with the present.

      Over the following month, I plotted this story. My poor husband was forced to listen to my ideas morning, noon, and night; there was no shutting me up. Then he caught the Deadwood bug, too, and he joined me in brainstorming and planning. Before I even wrote the first line, I knew that one book was not going to be enough to tell this story, but I had to start somewhere. Finally, after months of writing, I reached “The End” of
Nearly Departed in Deadwood
, the first book in a series, with much hooting and hollering in celebration.

      Now, after several rounds of editing and a lot of polishing, I want to share Violet’s story with you. If you have half as much fun reading it as I had writing it, you’ll close the book when you’re finished with a big grin on your face—especially since you know there is more fun to come.

      Thank you for joining me in this adventure. Hold on to your hat!

      Welcome to Deadwood.





      For Robert “Buck” Taylor, who taught me to explore, take crazy risks, and figure my way out of whatever calamity in which my sorry ass landed. You left the party too soon. The Black Hills aren’t the same without you.

      Also, for Harvey Harvey, who I never had the pleasure of meeting in person, but whose family I thank for sharing so many of his jokes and tales of adventure. I’ve tried to capture a small sample of his charisma in print.

      You were two wild and crazy guys who inspired this story with your bigger than life personalities. I thank you both and dedicate this book to you.







Chapter One


Deadwood, South Dakota

Monday, July 9th

      The first time I came to Deadwood, I got shot in the ass. Now, twenty-five years later, as I stared into the double barrels of Old Man Harvey’s shotgun, irony was having a fiesta and I was the piñata.

      I tried to produce a polite smile, but my cheeks had petrified along with my heart. “You wouldn’t shoot a girl, would you?”

      Old Man Harvey snorted, his whole face contorting with the effort. “Lady, I’d blow the damned Easter bunny’s head off if he was tryin’ to take what’s mine.”

      He cocked his shotgun—his version of an exclamation mark.

      “Whoa!” I would have gulped had there been any spit left in my mouth. “I’m not here to take anything.”

      He replied by aiming those two barrels at my chest instead of my face.

      “I’m with Calamity Jane Realty, I swear! I came to ...”

      With Harvey threatening to fill my lungs with peepholes, I had trouble remembering why I’d driven out to this corner of the boonies. Oh, yeah. Lowering one of my hands, I held out my crushed business card. “I want to help you sell your ranch.”

      The double barrels clinked against one of the buttons on my Rebecca Taylor-knockoff jacket as Harvey grabbed my card. I swallowed a squawk of panic and willed the soles of my boots to unglue from the floorboards of Harvey’s front porch and retreat. Unfortunately, my brain’s direct line to my feet was experiencing technical difficulties.

      Harvey’s squint relaxed. “Violet Parker, huh?”

      “That’s me.” My voice sounded pip-squeaky in my own ears. I couldn’t help it. Guns made my thighs wobbly and my bladder heavy. Had I not made a pit stop at Girdy’s Grill for a buffalo burger and paid a visit to the little
room, I’d have a puddle in the bottom of my favorite cowboy boots by now.

      “Your boots match your name. What’s a ‘Broker Associate’?”

      “It’s someone who is going to lose her job if she doesn’t sell a house in the next three weeks.” I lowered my other hand.

      I’d been with Calamity Jane Realty for a little over two months and had yet to make a single sale. So much for my radical, life-changing leap into a new career. If I didn’t make a sale before my probation was up, I’d have to drag my kids back down to the prairie and bunk with my parents ... again.

      “You’re a lot
in this here picture with your hair down.”

      “So I’ve been told.” Old Man Harvey seemed to be channeling my nine-year-old daughter today. Lucky me.

      “Makes you look younger, like a fine heifer.”

      I cocked my head to the side, unsure if I’d just been tossed a compliment or slapped with an insult.

      The shotgun dipped to my belly button as he held the card out for me to take back.

      “Keep it. I have plenty.” A whole box full. They helped fill the lone drawer in my desk back at Calamity Jane’s.

      “So that asshole from the bank didn’t send you?”

      “No.” An asshole from my office had, and the bastard would be extracting his balls from his esophagus for this so-called
generous referral
—if I made it back to Calamity Jane’s without looking like a human sieve.

      “Then how’d you know about my gambling problem?”

      “What gambling problem?”

      Old Man Harvey’s eyes narrowed again. He whipped the double barrels back up to my kisser. “The only way you’d know I’m thinking about selling is if you heard about my gambling debt.”

      “Oh, you mean
gambling problem.”

      “What’d you think I meant?”

      Bluffing was easier when I wasn’t chatting up a shotgun. “I thought you were referring to the ... um ...” A tidbit of a phone conversation I’d overheard earlier this morning came to mind. “To the problem you had at the Prairie Dog Palace.”

      Harvey’s jaw jutted. “Mud wrestling has no age limit.”

      “You’re right. They need to be less age-biased. Maybe even have an
AARP Night
every Wednesday.”

      “Nobody told me about the bikini bit ‘til it was too late.”

      I winced. I couldn’t help it.

      “So, what’re you gonna charge me to sell my place?”

      “What would you like me to charge you?” I was all about pleasing the customer this afternoon.

      He leaned the gun on his shoulder, double barrels pointed at the porch ceiling. “The usual, I guess.”

      No longer on the verge of extinction, I used the porch rail to keep from keeling over. Maybe I just wasn’t cut out for the realty business. Did they still sell encyclopedias door-to-door?

      “This ranch belonged to my pappy, and his pappy before him.” Harvey’s lips thinned as he stared over my shoulder.

      “It must hold a big place in your heart.” I tried to sound sincere as I inched along the railing toward the steps. My red Bronco glinted and beckoned under the July sun.

      “Hell, no. I can’t wait to shuck this shithole.”

      “What?” I’d made it as far as the first step.

      “I’m sick and tired of fixin’ rusted fences, chasing four-wheeling fools through my pastures, sniffing out lost cows in every damned gulch and gully.” His blue eyes snapped back to mine. “And I keep hearing funny noises at night coming from out behind my ol’ barn.”

      I followed the nudge of his bearded chin. Weathered and white-washed by Mother Nature, the sprawling building’s roof seemed to sag in the afternoon heat. The doors were chained shut, one of the haymow windows broken. “Funny how?”

      “Like grab-your-shotgun funny.”

      Normally, this might give me pause, but after the greeting I’d received today from the old codger’s double barrels, I had a feeling that Harvey wore his shotgun around the house like a pair of holey underwear. I’d bet my measly savings he even slept with it. “Maybe it’s just a mountain lion,” I suggested. “The paper said there’s been a surge of sightings lately.”

      “Maybe. Maybe not,” Harvey shrugged. “I don’t care. I want to move to town. It gets awful lonely out here come wintertime. Start thinking about things that just ain’t right. I almost married a girl from Taiwan last January. Turned out ‘she’ was really a ‘he’ from Nigeria.”


      “Damned Internet.” Harvey’s gaze washed over me. “What about you, Violet Parker?”

      “What about me?”

      “There’s no ring on your finger. You got a boyfriend?”

      “Uh, no.”

      I didn’t want one, either. Men had a history of fouling up my life, from burning down my house to leaving me knocked up with twins. These days, I liked my relationships how I liked my eggs: over-easy.

      Harvey’s two gold teeth twinkled at me through his whiskers. “Then how about a drink? Scotch or gin?”

      I chewed on my lip, considering my options. I could climb into my Bronco and watch this opportunity and the crazy old bastard with the trigger-happy finger disappear in my rearview mirror; or I could blow off common sense and follow Harvey in for some hard liquor and maybe a signed contract.

      Like I really had a choice. “Do you have any tonic?”


Chapter Two

      Later that afternoon, I whipped into the parking lot behind Calamity Jane Realty and found a late ‘60s, black Camaro SS with white rally stripes hogging my parking spot. I glared at it long and hard, telepathically leveling plague-laden curses at the nitwit who’d ignored the Private Parking sign.

      Years ago, around the time my butt wound up peppered with BBs thanks to my best friend’s little brother, Deadwood had been a quiet town, struggling to survive on its golden past. Historic buildings lined Main Street and parking spaces were abundant.

      Then came the gambling.

      As thousands of new tourists and millions of new dollars poured in, casino after casino crowded the main drag with bright window signs promising big bonanzas. The only thing abundant these days were slot machines, and finding an empty parking spot on a hot summer day was tougher than lining up triple red sevens for the progressive jackpot.

BOOK: Nearly Departed in Deadwood
13.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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