Nearly Departed in Deadwood (3 page)

BOOK: Nearly Departed in Deadwood
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      “I could go with you, Mr. Hessler,” Ray volunteered, standing. “If you’d prefer to get moving on this today.”

      “That’s okay. I’ll be in town for a few more days.” He handed me a business card. “Call me. I’ll be at the store tomorrow morning.” With a nod goodbye, he left.

      I grabbed my jacket and purse. “Mona, I’ll call you later. Ray, you’re a dickhead. I hope you choke on a cheeseburger.”

      My boot heels clomping, I rushed out the front door. My eyes were on my cell as I dialed home again. I cut the corner and tripped over a box full of books. The cell phone flew from my hands. I landed on my palms and knees, which saved my nose from catching a sidewalk rash.

      “Ow!” I sat up, the smell of sun-baked pavement all around me. My knee burned. Then I noticed the big hole in my green slacks. “Crud!”

      “Shit. I shouldn’t have left that box there.” A deep voice said from over my head. “Are you okay?”

      I looked up from my scraped knee into a chiseled face with dark brown eyes and a cleft chin. “No. These are my favorite pants.”

      “I’ll buy you another pair.”

      “You can’t. They’re a couple of years old.”

      Mr. Brown Eyes held out his hand to help me up. “How can I make it up to you?”

      I accepted with a grunt, wincing as his hand found the sidewalk burn on my palm. “Don’t worry about it.”

      “Here’s your phone,” he said and held out both pieces. “Are you bleeding?”

      “I’m fine.” I brushed my hands off on my ruined pants, took the phone, and popped the battery back on. A scratch appeared to be the only visible damage. That made two of us.

      “Does it still work?”

      It powered it up. I nodded, stuffing it in my pocket, and then glanced down at the box that had sent me sprawling. One of the books on top had a two-inch thick spine. I lifted it up. “
The Life and Times of James Butler Hickok
,” I read under my breath. A glance at the other books revealed more prose about Wild Bill. “You’re not from here, are you?” I asked.

      “What makes you say that?”

      “Because anyone raised in the Black Hills general area had enough Wild Bill history crammed down their throat in elementary school to last a lifetime.”

      “Maybe I’m just a big fan of history.” He took the book from me and dropped it back in the box.

      Ten bucks said that dinner conversation with this guy would require toothpicks to prop my eyelids open. I hoisted my purse on my shoulder and peeked in the office window that shared a wall with Calamity Jane Realty. Boxes, a ladder, and two paint cans sat next to a lone desk.

      “You must be our new neighbor,” I said, noting the keys in his hand. “I work next door.”

      “You’re a Realtor?”

      “Uh-huh.”

      Taped to the outside of his plate-glass window was the same Missing Girl sign about which Ray had thrown a fit. One corner was loose, slightly crinkled. I flattened it against the glass.

      “I don’t think she’s just lost in the woods,” my new neighbor said. Something in the tone of his voice made me look up at him. He stared at the girl’s picture with an intensity that made me shiver.

      I hoped he was wrong. The urge to swaddle my own kids in bubble wrap reminded me that I had a so-called “emergency” at home. “I gotta go.”

      Brown Eyes grabbed my jacket from the ground and handed it to me. “Let me give you some cash for the pants.”

      Tempting, but I wasn’t that desperate. Yet. “Thanks, but no. I’ll see you around.”

      “What’s your name?” he called after me.

      “Violet,” I yelled without turning around. I limped as fast as I could the three blocks to my Bronco, replaying Layne’s call in my head. He had better not have burned his eyebrows off again with another exploded chemistry experiment. Super glue wouldn’t fix eyebrows.

 
       

     
Chapter Three

      I skidded to a stop in front of the old Ponderosa pine tree that shaded my Aunt Zoe’s 1870s Victorian house, the place the kids and I currently called home. After worrying I’d find a police car or ambulance in the drive, I scratched my head at the sight of my daughter sitting near the sidewalk behind a table with a
Pet Teeth Brushing—$2
banner taped to it.

      “Hi, Mom.” Addy waved at me as I climbed out of my Bronco. Apparently, her brother had not informed her of his so-called emergency. “How was your day at the office?”

      “Okay.”

      As I shut the car door, the scent of warmed pine cocooned me—a bonus with living in the tree-covered hills rather than on the dusty prairie. I hesitated, listening for screams, cries, or shouts of pain; something other than the scratchy
caw caw
from the lone crow on the power line overhead.

      “Did you meet any nice men?” my daughter asked, unwrapping a pink sucker.

      Addy had two goals in life these days—to become a veterinarian and find me a husband. While I could live with the occasional broken-winged jay and road-kill squirrel, I drew the line at her creating a profile for me on a website that specialized in helping ex-cons find their true loves.

      “Nope, not a single one,” I lied, pushing aside the image of the sandy-haired, potential knight in shining armor who had chosen me to sell his mother’s house.

      “That’s too bad. But don’t worry, I have a plan.” She popped the sucker in her mouth.

     
That
made me worry, but not as much as Layne’s call. I stooped to drop a kiss on her upturned forehead. Her soft skin tasted like Coppertone sunscreen. Smart girl. “Have you seen your brother lately?”

      “Sure.” She said around the sucker. “He’s in back. Why?”

      “No reason.” I took a step toward the front porch and stopped, then reversed to take a closer look at the items on Addy’s table. “Is that my toothbrush next to the phone?”

      “Ummm no. It’s ... uh ... one from the cupboard.” Addy’s pink face matched her sucker.

      “Adelynn Renee, I told you after I found that cat whisker on my mascara brush to stop using my stuff on your patients.”

      “It was an eyebrow, not a whisk—”

      “Mom!” Layne burst through the wrought-iron side gate so fast it didn’t have time to squeak. His favorite fedora hat and black bow-tie were dusted with dirt crumbs. “You have to come in the backyard now! Hurry!”

      Back through the gate he zipped, disappearing behind the house.

      I pointed at Addy. “We’re not done here, child.”

      “But Mom—”

      I held up the hand of silence and jogged after Layne.

      When I rounded the house, the smell of fresh earth and a blast of heat hit me at the same time. Aunt Zoe’s backyard had no shade by late afternoon, except for the thin slice angling off the side of her glass-studio workshop. In the far corner, Layne was elbow-deep in a bathtub-sized hole in the ground.

      I slowed to a walk, dropping my purse on the grass next to the swing set that had moved with us to Deadwood a few months ago. “Layne, we need to get something straight.”

      He didn’t even look up as I approached.

      “An ‘emergency’ means blood, broken bones, and an immediate trip to the hospit—”

      “Look what I found, Mom!” Layne sat back on his heels, one of Aunt Zoe’s paint brushes in his hand. His eyes shined so bright they practically glowed.

      I did as he commanded, then dropped to my knees next to him on the crispy grass. Or maybe my knees gave out, I wasn’t certain. It wasn’t every day that I came across a huge, elongated skull in my backyard.

       
 

      “Isn’t it cool?” Layne’s voice was higher than usual.

      “Yeah.” I leaned close, shifting slightly to take weight off my scraped knee. A small hole pierced the frontal lobe of the skull. “Very ... uh ... cool.”

      A shadow fell across the skull. “You’re home early.”

      I shielded my eyes. Aunt Zoe, backlit by the sun, had her long, silver-streaked hair tied back with a strip of leather.

      “Layne called,” I explained. “He’s found a skull.”

      “Do you think it’s a dinosaur?” Layne asked as he sat up and wiped sweat from his brow, leaving a stripe of dirt behind.

      Aunt Zoe peered at the skull. “Oh, no, honey. That’s just a horse. With that old cemetery up the hill, you’d be surprised what they dig up around this neighborhood.”

      Aunt Zoe’s place sat about fifty yards downhill from Mount Moriah cemetery, the dirt home of Deadwood’s famous legends, like Wild Bill and Seth Bullock.

      Layne’s smile drooped. “Just a horse?”

      “Yes, sir.” Aunt Zoe crouched next to Layne. “But look—that’s a bullet wound. This horse may have been murdered.”

      “Awesome!” Layne’s grin returned twofold and he dove back into the hole.

      Aunt Zoe glanced at me over Layne’s upturned hiney. “How was your day?”

      “Pretty good.” My gut clenched at the idea of telling her I was less than three weeks away from getting shit-canned if I didn’t sell a house. Aunt Zoe’s heart rivaled the size of Mount Rushmore. Not only had she called in an old favor and landed me the job at Calamity Jane Realty, but she’d also opened her house to me and my two children, rearranged her gallery hours so she could be home to babysit, and allowed my kids to dig up her yard and perform toad autopsies on her front porch.

       “I’m taking a client to dinner tonight,” I added, which was kind of the truth, even if Harvey wasn’t officially a client yet. “And I have an appointment to look at a house tomorrow for another client.” I preferred to think of that one as a prediction, rather than a lie.

      “Congratulations.” She squeezed my shoulder, but the slight wrinkling of her brow made me wonder if she could smell my
Eau-de-Rat Parfum
. “Do you need a babysitter tonight?”

      “No, I have it covered.”

      While wooing Harvey might have been easier without the twins, I wasn’t going to ask Aunt Zoe to close her gallery this evening.

      She stood and wiped her hands on her jean shirt. “Then I think I’ll go shower and head to the gallery early.”

      I wanted to talk to her about the kidnappings, voice my worries aloud, search her face for signs of fear for Addy’s safety, find some validation that I wasn’t overacting. However, now was not the time, not with Layne’s ears this close.

      “I have some new pieces to sell. Cross your fingers they’re big hits.” She headed for the back door.

      “I’ll keep my toes crossed, too.” I called after her. Whatever it took. Aunt Zoe had refused to accept any money from me for rent or utilities. I owed her my firstborn, but since my kids came as a two-for-one deal, she’d settled for letting me buy groceries.

      “Are you going to dinner with a man?” Layne asked, staring at me with a narrowed gaze.

      “Yep.”

      “Do you like him?”

      “He’s kind of nice.” When he didn’t have a shotgun pointed at my nose.

      “Does he like you?”

      “I hope so.” Enough to sign on the dotted line, anyway.

      “Are you going to marry him?”

      I grinned. “No, of course not.”

      “Good, because we don’t need a man around here.”

      I couldn’t agree more, but I wanted to hear Layne out. “We don’t?”

      “All you need is me. I can fix stuff and take care of you.”

      “I’m sure you can, but don’t you get tired of being stuck with three girls?”

      He shrugged. “Sometimes, like when you guys are all yelling at me to put the toilet seat down. But it’s no big deal.”

      “I’m glad to hear it.” I lifted his hat and kissed him on top of the head. Even his hair smelled like dirt. “I agree with you—we don’t need any other man.”

      His dimples showing, Layne grabbed his hat and shoved it back on. “So who’s babysitting us tonight?”

      “Me. You two are coming along to dinner.” Old Man Harvey hadn’t specified that I had to come alone. Besides, I could use the bodyguards, just in case Harvey really was after my tail.

      “Hey, Mom?” Addy called from the side gate.

      I looked over my shoulder. “What?”

      “There’s a man on the phone for you.”

      “Who is it?”

      Addy shrugged. “He says he’s replying to your ad.”

      I hadn’t placed any ads, just sent out those postcards. Besides, how would he have gotten Aunt Zoe’s number? “What ad?”

      “Probably the one that says you need a boyfriend.”

       

      * * *

       

     
Tuesday, July 10th

      “Addy did what?” Mona’s nails stopped clacking on her laptop keyboard. Her bronze eye shadow sparkled as she grinned at me.

      “She used the money she earned last week giving neighborhood pets a bath to place a singles ad for me. See for yourself.” I tossed her the Sunday copy of the
Black Hills Trailblazer
.

      Mona slid her rhinestone-studded reading glasses higher on her nose. “Pretty mom looking for a nice man to wash her Bronco and give her the loving she needs. Must like kids and pets.”

BOOK: Nearly Departed in Deadwood
7.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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