His assignment wasn’t all that unusual. He was to apprehend the suspect and take him in. It was what gunfighters who were deputies did. It was what he did. To tell it properly, he was something of a bounty hunter. Only he had a badge.
He rode into the Western South Dakota town and headed straight for the jailhouse. He knew his culprit had to be hiding in the largest city in this part of the territory. There’d been a killing in Red City, and the townsfolk had all said the murderer rode north out of town. That, to Benjamin, could mean only one thing. The man was in Golden Hill.
“Howdy, Andrew.” He strode into the sheriff’s office. Andrew Jones was the local deputy and a close personal friend.
“Well, well, well.” Andrew grinned and stood. “If it isn’t Deputy Benjamin White. What brings you to Golden Hill, Ben? I haven’t seen you in at least six weeks.”
“I’m running down a murderer from Red City. Word has it he rode north. You know as well as I do that it’s pretty easy to hide in plain sight here. If I don’t find him in a few days, I’ll change my plan. In the meantime, I’ll just wait him out. I could use your help. What do you say?”
Andrew sat back down and shifted in his seat. He pushed the papers on the desk to the side. “You’re that sure your man’s here?”
“Call it a sixth sense if you want to, my friend, but I would wager drinks on the house for the whole bar if I’m wrong.”
Andrew chuckled. “Well, seeing as I’m finished up for the day, how about we discuss the case over a couple of whiskeys at Jannsen’s?”
“Heck, I’ll buy you supper too, if that’s what it takes. What say you, good sir?”
Both men laughed, then Andrew spoke. “It sounds like a plan, although you don’t have to bribe me, you know. Hold on, I think my relief just came in. Simmons?”
The night deputy stepped into the office. “Evening, Andrew. Sir.” The young man nodded to them and went to a desk in the corner. “I’m all ready to go. No last minute this or that. Enjoy your evening, gentlemen.”
“Ok, thanks, Simmons. You stay safe.”
Benjamin and Andrew left the office and walked out onto the boarded walk. The sun was dipping low in the sky and Ben marveled silently at the simple beauty of the imminent sunset. Suddenly, he noticed a young lady walking in their direction and did a double take. A low whistle left his lips. He’d never seen anything like her.
Andrew laughed. “Oh, I see you’ve discovered the lovely Miss Price.”
“Shush, she’s almost here.”
A moment later the girl came up and they stepped aside to allow her by. Benjamin took in every detail of the sweetly done up blonde with huge blue eyes and rosy cheeks. She had a lithe though full figure and a graceful cadence to her gait. Her blue dress was tight across her hips and pulled back to a huge bustle while her ample golden tresses were piled high on top of her head with a charming frizzled fringe in front. Benjamin thought he’d never seen such a vision.
“Good evening, Andrew.”
“Good evening, Miss Price.”
She smiled then and it felt to Benjamin as if she’d sent an arrow through his heart. His cheeks felt flushed and when her eyes met his, he looked down hastily.
She continued on her way, with Benjamin watching her as her frame grew smaller and she disappeared among the throngs of people on the walk.
He shook his head.
“It looks like you got struck by lightning. Don’t tell me Golden Hill’s own Miss Rhoda Price just did that to you?”
“Who is she?”
“She’s a girl I’ve known since childhood. We went to school together.”
They crossed the road and headed down the slight rise to Jannsen’s.
“Is that so? So, she’s from around here.”
“Born and raised.”
“Is she married?”
“My goodness. She really did get to you. No, she’s not married. In fact, she doesn’t have a beau, either.”
“Does she work in one of the restaurants or saloons around here? How can I see her again? Oh, I’m sorry, Andrew.”
“What are you sorry about?”
“Well, I mean, I should ask you…you’re not…you’re not interested in her, are you? Because if you are, I’ll leave town this instant.” Benjamin laughed.
“Not to worry. You’re free to pursue her to your heart’s content, but, just so you know, she doesn’t go out very much. She works at home keeping house for her pa. If you want to see her, I’m thinking you’re going to need to go to their house.”
“There’s no ma or sisters and brothers? It’s just her and her pa?”
“Yep. Her ma died when she was just a little one, two or three-years-old, so no, no brothers or sisters. Her pa never married again. I guess his lifestyle never really worked for having a wife.”
“His lifestyle? What’s that supposed to mean? With no wife, he raised-up a little girl? But his life doesn’t work with having a wife? That’s a peculiar combination, I must say. What does the esteemed Mr. Price do for work?”
“Listen, Ben, that girl’s full of spite and vinegar. She might be too much for even you to handle.”
“Is that what you think? Oh, ye of little faith.” He grinned.
“Ben! Don’t blaspheme. Now listen, she’s one tough customer, that girl is. She’s nice enough, but you never want to cross her. In fact,” Andrew laughed again, “you might not want to disagree with her.”
“Okay, fine, but what does her pa do for work? I’d like to ask him if I can court her and I have to admit, I’m just plain curious about the man.”
“What are you going on about? You’re not serious about courting her, are you? You don’t know her at all.”
“How better to get to know her, I ask you?” Benjamin was having fun with his friend, but he was serious about wanting to see Miss Price.
“Ben, you live down around Red City. How are you going to court someone here?”
“It’s three miles away, Andrew. The question is what are you going on about? And, where does Miss Price’s pa work? Don’t tell me he’s independently wealthy? Is he?” Ben mused, laughing at his joke.
“Well, no one actually knows what Mr. Price does. He leaves town, for days sometimes, although I haven’t heard anything recently. It’s been a while, actually, since I’ve noticed his absence. Could be he’s in cattle. You know, he keeps to himself and always has money. Yet there’s nothing flashy about him. He has a lovely house just off the town square. There’s a lot of activity over there in the daytime, but in the evenings it’s refreshingly quiet. Almost like being out in the country.”
“I don’t think I know that area of town.”
“The area of town in question was north of the square. There were a lot of new houses. Big ones, of course. Mr. Price had his house built twenty-five years ago. It was a lovely piece of architecture. An old-style mansion with many modern amenities. Some of the craftsmen and artisans who’d been inside the house regaled their friends and families with stories of the indoor plumbing and hot running water in the place. I’ll tell you, I’ve only seen the outside of the Price place, but it’s something. Manicured lawns and gardens. But you can only see them if you climb the wall, and Mr. Price has guards.”
“Guards? That’s strange.”
“It gives one pause to think about. But listen, now. How long are you in town? How long do we have this case?” Andrew asked.
Ben knew his friend wanted to change the subject, and, of course that made him curious.
“Did you say you don’t know what Miss Price’s pa does for work?”
Andrew was hiding something, and Ben aimed to find out what it was.
There was much of the detective in Benjamin, and he’d often been asked why he didn’t go to Chicago and interview with the Pinkerton Agency. In all honesty, it was something he’d been thinking about. He wasn’t getting any younger and at thirty, a change might do him good. His life hadn’t really gone the way he’d thought it would. Here he was, still bringing in criminals who thought they could get away from him, riding from town to town. He had a small house in Red City, but he didn’t spend much time there. He usually stayed with friends or in hotels when he was on the road. Which was often. He’d thought maybe after he brought in the subject of his latest manhunt he’d stop. Maybe then he’d go to Chicago and start over. Maybe meet a nice widow lady to spend some walks or rides in the country with, at least.
Now that he’d laid eyes on Miss Rhoda Price, however, he found himself questioning everything he’d been planning for his future. Seeing her had made him, in a matter of ten minutes, question his whole life.
He brought his attention back to the conversation at hand. “Well?”
“Well, what, Ben?”
“The girl’s pa. What does he do for work?” Are you really telling me that you don’t know?”
“Nope, I don’t know. And I don’t ask. You know how it is around these parts, Ben. Sometimes the less you know, the better.”
“Oh. I see.” That could mean only one thing. Andrew had suspicions about the man, but he didn’t want to go after him without a good reason. He was likely right to do so. There were already enough known criminals to apprehend. Benjamin was sure that if Andrew thought Miss Price’s father was seriously breaking the law, he would go about finding the facts and evidence he’d need. But if there were no facts and there was no evidence, why borrow trouble?
He operated similarly. Criminals he was sent after were brought in. He didn’t try to be anybody’s friend. He got the man he was sent after, and didn’t let anything distract him from his mission. That was it. No questions were asked. Benjamin’s sense of right and wrong was strong, as was his love of justice. He followed his orders to the letter. It was the only way he knew.
“All right. So, where do you want to sit?” The two men had arrived at and entered the saloon.
“Well, Ben, since you’re buying, you decide,” Andrew chuckled. He took his hat off and slicked his hair back with his fingers.
“Be careful or I might decide not to sit in your little friend’s station.” It was Benjamin’s turn to chuckle. He’d known his friend had been sweet on Trisha, one of the waitresses at Jannsen’s, for months. “Maybe you’ll talk to her tonight?”
“That’s very funny, Ben. Your humor knows no bounds tonight. For your information, I’ve spoken to Miss Springer on many occasions. You haven’t been around in a while, you know.”
“Andrew, ordering the steak au poivre is not speaking to anyone. Now, tonight, I’m going to make you talk to her, even if I have to embarrass you.”
“You? Embarrass me? Well, I’m not worried if that’s what you want to know. I see one person getting embarrassed here, and it’s not me…”
They went on with their good-natured ribbing until they’d chosen a table and the lovely Trisha Springer gave them menus. She walked off leaving the promise to return.
Ben noticed Andrew watch her cross the room to stop at another table. He decided against pushing his friend to open up about what he was feeling. Andrew was shy and, try as he might, Ben had never been able to get Andrew to move any faster, around women, than molasses in January. Ben let him work on this thoughts and took the time to observe the bar rom
The saloon and the restaurant were both busy and the piano music and open doors lent a festive air to the place. The cooling breeze from the evening air fanned through the room and over everyone and the two deputies went over the facts of the murder case Benjamin was working on.
“I have a photograph of the man.” He reached into his vest and tossed the image onto the table. And as I said, I feel sure that he’s here. Now, if you and I get to work on this tomorrow morning, our terms are as usual, forty percent of my bounty pay goes to you.”
As Benjamin spoke, Andrew picked the photograph up, and Benjamin watched his friend study the likeness intently. It seemed as if he was trying to decide if it was someone he knew or had seen.
“Well? What do you have to say, Andrew?”
“I’m…not…sure. I wonder…” He held the photograph close to his eyes then far away. He tipped it this way and that in the lamplight.
“To tell you the truth, I’m not sure. I mean, I’d like to look at it in the daylight, outside in the sun.”
“That can be arranged. But what, in the meantime, do you think about it?”
“Well, I don’t want to be held to this because I’m really not sure, but…”
“But, what? Andrew. Come on, tell me.”
“Well, like I said, I’m not sure but, the man in this image? You’re sure this is the man you’re looking for?”
“One and the same.” Benjamin noticed that Andrew looked a little pale suddenly. “What is it, Andrew? Have you seen him? Don’t tell me you know him?”
“No, I don’t think I know him…”
Benjamin was getting frustrated. “Andrew, what does that mean? You’re talking in riddles, my man. All I need is a simple answer to a simple question. Is this man in the photograph an acquaintance of yours?”
“No, he isn’t. But, he…he looks like Robert Price.”
After she’d passed Andrew and his friend on the street the day before, Rhoda had felt the strange man’s eyes on her as she’d walked away. She recalled having seen the same man with Andrew from across the road or down the street a few times, and she wondered how Andrew knew him. He was very handsome, whoever he was.
It surprised her how affected she’d been by him. There was something altogether masculine about him, yet he’d seemed to be a gentleman. She had to admit she’d felt somewhat smitten.
She looked around before crossing the road to get to the general store. It was her last errand of the afternoon. Then she was going to visit Trisha at Jannsen’s.
As she crossed the road she caught her breath when she saw Andrew and his friend outside of the German waffle house. They appeared to have run into each other and were discussing something that, even from this distance, Rhoda could tell was important.
Andrew glanced up and waved. He gestured for her to join them, but she was in a hurry and only waved before going into the general store. Besides, she didn’t know what to say to Andrew’s friend. She felt uncertain about meeting him, but she didn’t know why. He’d smiled at her and looked friendly, but she’d suddenly felt shy.
The bell on the door rang as she walked into the general store. A few older men sat around the heating stove playing cribbage and drinking coffee with a little whiskey in it. It was the preferred beverage of many of the former miners in Golden Hill. When Rhoda had been a little girl, the men used to tell her it kept them warm. She’d never been able to figure it out as a child. Why would the miners need warming up on a summer day? As an adult, she chuckled to herself at the memory.
Rhoda picked up the fabric she’d ordered, all neatly wrapped in brown paper and twine, and put it under her arm. She wondered if she gave some of her dress sketches to the store clerk, if he’d hang them up? It could boost fabric sales, she thought. She’d made patterns for all of the drawings, so if a woman was serious about having one of her designs made, then she could buy the pattern that coordinated with the sketch. Since she didn’t have any drawings with her, she decided to bring them another day.
When all her errands for the day were finished, it was just an hour until dinner at noon. She looked forward to sharing the meal with Trisha. Rhoda hadn’t seen her friend in a whole week.
She thanked the clerk, and walked out of the store into the bright sunshine. It was a gorgeous day, and Rhoda felt happy for no particular reason than that life seemed to be running along as it should be at a reasonable pace. It was soothing to her, especially after the excitement of the last month.
Robert, her father, had a most unconventional job. He was a train robber. Rhoda had begged him to stop and she’d marveled that he’d been involved in the racket for fifteen years. At this stage of his life, he’d said, he didn’t know what else to do. He didn’t know what else he could do.
Helping out on train robberies had been for extra money at first. Robert had started on small jobs, kept his mouth shut and his eyes open, and within a year had his own gang. Then he was able to work for about a week each month. That was after he’d seen that the work was so lucrative, he could live on the spoils of his job, and live very well. Against his better judgement, he’d continued on with lawbreaking. When he wasn’t off on a job, he’d been at home. The life had afforded him time with his child, and as he’d gotten better at it, it had become less dangerous, too. He now had thugs who worked for him, stealing from trains that he sent them to rob while he took on jobs with a partner from Red City. He would take a thirty percent cut of what was taken in the heist. He and his partner split things fifty-fifty.
It had been a lucrative life that had afforded Rhoda anything of material value that she could want, and allowed them to live in a beautiful big house. She kept house for him, and Robert had hired a young orphan girl to help her. The girl, Lizzie, was just ten years old. Robert had found her, huddled up and crying in a dark doorway in downtown Golden Hill one night after he’d ridden back into town after a job. The girl’s parents had died, she’d told her rescuer, taken by the cholera. A nice lady had told her that she would give the girl all kinds of fine clothing and even a china dolly, but it had all been a lie. Lizzie had been put to work. She’d cleaned for up to twelve hours a day at the lady’s grand house, and she’d slept in a cold attic room on the floor fighting with the roof rats to stay away from her.
Needless to say, it had been a vile situation. The girl had escaped before she’d been harmed in any way and stowed away on the first train she could get. She’d ridden to the end of the line, a journey of three days in her cramped hiding place, and the next thing she knew, Robert had happened upon her in the doorway. He’d taken her to his house where Rhoda had gotten the girl bathed and dressed in one of her old dresses from when she’d been that age.
The girl had come to them two years before, and Lizzie had been so grateful and obliged to Robert that Rhoda knew the girl would be his doting servant for life. Lizzie would never leave the employ of the man who’d saved her from a fate worse than death. Her sense of loyalty wouldn’t allow it, Rhoda was sure.
She sighed. Rhoda wished her pa would have gotten into some other kind of business. A wonderful part of his being an outlaw was that he had extra time to spend with her when she’d been growing up. He’d taken her to Chicago and New York City. When she was little and he was away on a job, Robert would leave her with Eloise, the lady next door. Eloise was a very pretty widow about ten years younger than Robert and, at thirty, was still a stunning woman. Rhoda knew Eloise was in love with her pa and had been for some time. She also knew that Eloise had figured out what Robert’s occupation was. It seemed the lady wasn’t put off by it. In fact, she helped him in his endeavors by minding Rhoda when he was away.
It seemed like a complicated situation, but Rhoda couldn’t see why her father didn’t just marry Eloise and they could all live together. It would be the two of them, Lizzie, and herself. Robert didn’t seem to notice Eloise’s affection for him, however, it was so obvious to Rhoda as to be almost embarrassing at times. The woman clearly wore her heart on her sleeve. Rhoda didn’t think it appropriate that she should be so privy to the woman’s secrets, but she’d always been sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others.
She was so lost in her thoughts, she almost walked right past Andrew and his friend, who were walking the opposite way to her. When they met, Andrew bowed slightly.
“Miss Price, good day.”
“Good day,” she smiled
“Might I introduce my friend and coworker, Deputy Benjamin White?”
She nodded. “Deputy.” The man was even more handsome up close. He had clear green eyes that mesmerized her. It took a couple seconds, which felt like minutes, for her to compose herself.
“It’s very good to meet you, Miss Price.” He smiled at her, a genuine, warm smile.
“Thank you. Now, if you gentlemen will excuse me.” She turned and walked toward the saloon. Again, she felt the stranger’s eyes on her. Benjamin White. She would remember that name.
At Jannsen’s, she took a small table by the window and waved to Trisha, who hurried over.
“I have one table to close out on, then I’m finished.”
“Ok, I’ll order a lemonade in the meantime.”
“I’ll send it over.”
The lemonade arrived and Rhoda gazed out the window and sipped her drink. She wasn’t thinking of anything in particular. Her thoughts came and went, and she found herself daydreaming about her wedding day.
Whatever had brought that into her mind she didn’t know. Maybe it was because, at the end of the month, one of her school days friends was getting married? The fabric she’d just picked up was for a frock to wear to the wedding. However, she knew it was foolish to think that anyone would ever want to marry her. Not because she lacked in any capacity, but because of who her pa was. What he was. She might appear to be a rich girl with everything and anything that she wanted, but she couldn’t be accepted. Upon first meeting her, many men saw her situation as a positive. An independent and wealthy young woman who happened to also be gorgeous. When it became known who her father was, however, the men had a habit of disappearing overnight.
Just then, someone walked into the dining room and Rhoda turned her head to see who it might be. Her stomach lurched. It was him! Benjamin White. He sat down at the next table, glancing at her and smiling briefly.
Well, this ruined her plans. He’d sat in Trisha’s section. Rhoda knew her friend needed the money. She would stay for this customer. They’d have to catch up another day. It was disappointing, but it was what it was.
“Pardon me, but didn’t I just meet you? It’s Miss Price, isn’t it? I’m Benjamin White. Deputy Benjamin White.”
Rhoda wanted to laugh. She knew, without a doubt, that the deputy had followed her into the restaurant. He was trying to make it look like a coincidence, but she knew what was going on. She’d been alive, at nineteen years old, long enough to recognize it when a man thought she was pretty and wanted to chit-chat.
It would start off with talking about Jansenn’s and the food that was offered there. The gentleman would ask how the food was. Then he would comment all through the meal on his dish until she wished she’d just ordered the same. When he was done, he might order dessert, but he would definitely order a glass of whiskey. Then he would ask her about herself until, finally, he would come to the question that would make him stop in his pursuance. It had happened every time and with every gentleman she found herself alone within a conversation with. “And what is your father’s occupation, Miss Price?”
Naturally, she wouldn’t divulge Robert Price’s true way of earning his keep. She would simply say he was in trade. When pressed further, she would tell them politely that’s all she knew, and they would look at her oddly and shortly thereafter, make an excuse to leave her company. She usually never heard from them again. They’d either asked around, or they’d have already heard the rumors about her pa. If, at some future time, she happened to run into any of them downtown, they were hurried to the point of being rude. She’d been left, standing alone, after a brusque good day, more than once.
Rhoda brought herself back into the conversation before Deputy White could have a chance to interpret her distance as standoffish or rude. She smiled brightly.
“Yes, you’re correct. I’m Miss Price.”
“That’s right. Well, fancy meeting you here. I was just going to have some dinner.”
“I imagine that to be a fact, Deputy. That is, if you didn’t know where I was going in the first place.” She was going to have a little fun with this. Why not? He was new to town and so audacious that he thought she’d fall for a chance meeting? One of the oldest tricks in the book to get a lady’s attention. She wondered if she should drop a glove or feign a swooning spell.
Benjamin’s cheeks pinkened, but he chuckled and grinned.
Not what I’d call the best poker face.
“So, Mr. White…”
“I insist you call me Benjamin.” He smiled again. His teeth were fine. Straight and white. Rhoda could see he’d never been a smoker or tobacco chewer. She could also see that he was trying to change the topic of conversation away from himself.
“Very well. Benjamin it is then, and I insist you call me Miss Price!” They both laughed and Rhoda continued. “So, what brings you to Golden Hill? I mean, we are the premier city on the Western frontier of the territory. They say there’s something for everyone here. What do you say? Why are you here?”
“Work.” He took a sip of the coffee that Trisha had brought over. She’d made eyes at Rhoda from behind him, and Rhoda had found it difficult to keep her countenance straight.
She waited and watched while Trisha returned with a platter of chicken and biscuits. Benjamin thanked her and dug into the delicious-smelling dish.
He glanced up, chewing. “Yes?” He swallowed his food and took a sip of the beer that had accompanied it.
Rhoda was tongue-tied, suddenly. There was so much she wanted to know, but she didn’t know the first thing about how she was going to get any answers.
“Uh, why, exactly, are you here, in Golden Hill?”
Why did she feel as if he was trying to avoid answering the question?
“Well, as I told you, I’m a lawman, Miss Price.”
“Oh, I see. Of course.” Her guard was immediately up. What was a strange lawman doing in Golden Hill? He had to be apprehending someone. A criminal! Her mind hastily reviewed all the train robberies she’d heard about recently. Her pa hadn’t been away from home in almost a year. Had he finally been tracked to his hometown? Had the rumors run too wide? Was he wanted for general questioning? There were so many possibilities, but she was satisfied that it wasn’t her pa that Deputy White was searching for. It just couldn’t be. Her pa kept a low profile. He was too smart to ever have been caught. It was impossible that he’d be seized when he had all but retired.
She continued. “I don’t suppose you’re here to help Andrew with a case, are you?”
“Actually, I’m a sheriff’s deputy based in Red City. I travel around looking for escaped perpetrators. Then I bring them into the law.”
She didn’t like the sound of that. “So, you’re a bounty hunter. Well that’s a different ball of wax, as they say.”
“Not exactly, Miss Price. Although I’ve often been called a bounty hunter, I am the law.” He reached into his vest and pulled out a badge, which he placed on the table.
“That looks like the real McCoy. And you’re here looking for someone in town? Or are you passing through on your way to somewhere else?”
“No, my man, I’m ninety-nine percent sure, is here in town.”
She needed to find out who he was looking for. If it was Robert, she’d have to foil his efforts.
“Well, maybe I can help you,” she said. “I know everyone in town. Besides, you might need help being as you’re so bad at covert operations.” She giggled.
“I hope you’re not referring to my being here. I came in only to eat.” He grinned. “You make it sound like I came in here after you. Perhaps to have a chance at chatting with you?” Again, he grinned, and Rhoda thought he was quite charming.
“Even so, I do know everybody in town. If you need help, just tell Andrew. I’m good at undercover work. I assisted him once.”
He leaned back in his seat and studied her for a moment. She became self-conscious under his gaze, something she was unused to feeling. Her skin broke out in goosebumps.
“I thank you, Miss Price, but I didn’t come in here to solicit your help on a case.”
“Is that so? Well, that’s fine with me. You enjoy your meal, Benjamin. Be sure to take care of my friend there. I’ll hear about it if you don’t, so mind. Good day.” She stood up and walked over to Trisha.
“Where are you going? He’s here to see you!” Trisha hissed. “When he came in, he looked around then made a beeline for you.”
“I know. but, I have to go. He’s a bounty hunter. That might be why he came straight to me.”
Trisha gasped. “Oh, dear.”
When Rhoda had found out at the age of thirteen that her father robbed trains for a living, he’d had a long conversation with her about it. One of the topics they’d covered was talking to others about Robert Price’s work. Rhoda had been told in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t to discuss it with anyone. She was to tell people to ask her father when they questioned her about his employment. It had become obvious to her that with enough beating around the bush, and not answering directly, she could throw folks off whatever scent they thought they were on. After a while, they’d stopped asking, and the residents of Golden Hill had adopted the mindset that what they didn’t know, they were better off not knowing. The rumors, though, persisted, tempered by the donations Robert Price made to the First Trinity Church, the Town Square Preservation Society, and The Orphaned Children’s Home.
Of course, the dynamics of the situation had affected Rhoda’s life, and rather severely. In spite of being the prettiest girl in the county, much less the town, she had never had a beau.
It wasn’t that it was a problem for her. She was quite independent. Because she took care of the house and cooking for her father, she was content with her work, but she dreamed of being married one day and having her own family. Robert’s work stood in her way. People were afraid of him, even though he would never hurt a fly. He robbed trains, not people. He took the big loot that was kept up in the steam engine with the conductor. The gold bars and silver coins that belonged to the uber-rich of Denver and San Francisco.
Robert Price wasn’t a low-level operator. He would never think of locking the train car doors and having everyone empty their pockets and bags. Going after the common man had never been his interest, and his daughter knew it.
The stress of being a young girl and bearing the knowledge of her father’s secret however, had begun to take a toll on her. Finally, she’d had to confide in someone and that person had been Trisha. Trisha had kept the secret faithfully all these years.
“So, is he here looking for your pa?”
“No. I mean, I don’t think so. My pa hasn’t been out of town for a very long time. Almost a year. Unless, they’ve finally figured out his system, he’s stayed away from their scrutiny all this time.” Rhoda shook her head. “It doesn’t make sense that they would come for him now.”
“Could there have been a witness? Or maybe he made some kind of mistake?”
“He changes his look too often to be recognized. I can’t believe he would be careless. It’s just not like him. I don’t know if I should risk getting him worried by telling him, but maybe it would be good for him to get out of town for a few days?”
“Good luck, whatever you decide to do. And don’t worry, Rhoda. I’ve kept your secret for five years. I’m not about to tell anybody anything.”
“I know that, but I thank you for the confirmation. I’ll stop in tomorrow.”
“I’m not working tomorrow, Rhoda, but come over. We can take a buggy ride in the country.”
“Okay. Goodbye.” She embraced her friend and left the restaurant.
Trisha walked back over to Robert’s table to see if there was anything else she could get him.
“Yes! I’ll have another beer. This chicken and biscuits is delicious. My compliments to the chef.”
“Thank you, sir, The chef is Mrs. Jannsen. I’ll tell her you’re enjoying your meal.”
She went to the bar to get his beer and when she returned, Benjamin surprised her by asking about Rhoda.
“I didn’t get your name, young lady. I’m Deputy White.”
“Hello, deputy. How nice to make your acquaintance. My name is Trisha. Trisha Springer.”
“It looks as if you’re good friends with Miss Pierce.”
Trisha’s back stiffened a bit, but she smiled. “Yes. That’s right. She is my best friend, and I am hers. We’ve known each other since we were tiny babes. Our ma’s were friends.” Her smile faded. She missed Rhoda’s ma almost as much as Rhoda did. Naomi Price’s death had affected many in their community.
She’d kept a little flower shop on the square and had been quite successful. Robert had hired a series of young ladies to run the place and keep it going after she’d died, but none of those women had the love of flowers that Rhoda’s mother had had. They loved flowers, they just didn’t like the work involved in cultivating them. Every woman loved to receive flowers, but there wasn’t a lady in town to hold a candle to Naomi’s talents as a flower arranger.
“Tell me about her, will you?”
Trisha’s guard was up in full force. “What would you like to know, Deputy?”
“Her ma died when she was just a little one, is that so?”
“Yes. We were three. I still remember Mama Naomi. That’s what I called her. It was awful when she died, just awful. Everyone in Golden Hill was affected. She was a kind and gentle woman.”
“I take it her daughter takes after Mr. Price, then.” Benjamin laughed.
“That’s very funny, Deputy.” Trisha glared at him.
“Uh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend anyone. My sincere apologies.”
“Thank you. And, no. Rhoda doesn’t take after her father. She has a mind and personality all her own. Mind, don’t ever cross her.”
Trisha was cautiously trying to get him off the idea of Rhoda’s pa. It wasn’t as if she could ask him why he was there, and it wasn’t as if he would tell her if she asked. She thought it best to respond to him as if he was suspicious of Robert Price.
That way, she could protect Rhoda.
Benjamin walked to his hotel on the other side of the square. Andrew had told him that Robert Price’s house was in that area. After he’d located the house, the spacious one on the corner, he’d gotten the hotel that backed up onto the alley behind it. It wasn’t an ideal vantage point. He only had a partial view of the back of the large home that was very nearly a mansion.
He’d asked for a room on the top floor of the hotel in the back. Since no one ever wanted to walk the stairs to the sixth floor, or not have a view of the square, he knew there would be a room.
Not only had there been a room, but because it was getting on to the slow season with the heat and all, the suite on the sixth floor, which was in the back and had failed to draw patrons to the upper levels of the hotel, had been given to him.
He threw his badge and gun belt on a chair and poured water into the basin to wash his face. It was only eight o’clock and he was meeting Andrew in an hour at the bar downstairs.
As he washed and changed, his mind went over his conversations, first with Miss Price, and then the waitress, her friend. The friend seemed to be hiding something, but it might have nothing to do with the case at hand. There was a killer lurking in the streets of Golden Hill, and Ben aimed to get him.
Then there was the disturbing fact that Andrew had said the photograph of Benjamin’s culprit resembled Robert Price. He’d have to lay his eyes on the man in order to make a proper identification. He couldn’t take him into Red City based on the way he looked only. He’d have to interrogate the man at the jailhouse here in town. If his culprit was indeed Robert Price, then Benjamin had to give up any thoughts he had about Miss Price.
There’d never been a woman who’d evoked the emotions in him that she did. He couldn’t explain it. He sure enough liked her sassy manner. She was quick-witted and had a particular skill for caustic comebacks.
But if her father was his man… his bounty… well, then he’d need to put anything he felt about Rhoda away. He was here on a job. It was business, and there was no time for sentiment. Benjamin had never let his personal feelings get between him and a case. He wasn’t about to start now.
Besides, Trisha had told him that she didn’t think Rhoda would ever leave Golden Hill. She would never leave her father.
Even though the idea of marriage and a family appealed to Benjamin, he’d never actually gone over the realities inherent in settling down. He’d never looked at the details of his dream marriage. If Rhoda’s father wasn’t his culprit, would Benjamin seriously consider staying in Golden Hill? It would put his plans for the Pinkerton Agency on hold, if they were to play out at all.
He was dressed for the evening. Casually, but dressed. He’d left his broad-brimmed Stetson on the hat rack and taken up his bowler. He also wore his new black wingtip collared jacket with a pair of grey trousers. He kept his face clean-shaven for the most part, even if it was an unusual style. Sometimes, when he’d been undercover, he’d grown beards and mustaches, but he didn’t like the feel of the things on his face. They did make good disguises, though.
He examined his reflection in the full-length looking glass and, satisfied with his appearance, he went down to the lobby to meet up with Andrew.
He walked into the bar and saw his friend at a little table near the fireplace which, due to the summer weather, wasn’t lit. The room was dim and comfortably furnished and Benjamin looked forward to relaxing.
“Hey, Andrew.” He strolled up to the table and took the other seat.
“Ben. How did it go today?”
“I didn’t find my fugitive, if that’s what you mean, but I happened to get quite a bit of information about Miss Rhoda Price and her pa.”
“Ok. What did you learn? Do you actually think Price is your man?”
“I honestly don’t know. I’m sure I won’t get any facts about him from Miss Rhoda or Miss Trisha.”
“You were at Jannsen’s?” Andrew leaned forward.
Benjamin laughed. “I’m sorry I didn’t have time to leave and get you to be present for the conversation. We didn’t talk long. I will say, though, I can see why you have your eye on her.”
Trisha Springer had the obvious attributes that drew a man’s attention, but it was her way of being that Ben found intriguing. He reckoned the men she conversed with were never quite sure what she was thinking. It created an enjoyable tension in conversation with her while being refreshingly free of flirtation. He felt that Trisha would be a good match for Andrew, and if he could help move it along, he would.
“When are you going to speak to Trisha’s father about courting her? You might not want to wait too long. Girls like that get snatched up.”
Benjamin was sure that Trisha had no idea of Andrew’s feelings for her. It was one of the reasons he wanted to push his friend a little. Benjamin could take care of himself when it came to women. He didn’t want to see Andrew get hurt.
“Oh, stop it, Ben. I’m not in the mood for your jokes. If she gets snatched up, as you say, then she’ll get snatched up.”
He was taken aback by his friend’s attitude. “I’m sorry, Andrew. Honestly. I was only teasing, I won’t do it again. I didn’t know that…dang, you’re in love with the girl, aren’t you?”
Andrew shrugged. “Maybe. And what of it? I’ve got it under control, Ben. I won’t have you playing matchmaker. Is that clear? Promise me you won’t do anything…well, you know, don’t do anything. You hear me? At all.”
“You have my word, Andrew. I won’t say or do anything.”
“Thank you. Now, let’s get back to Robert Price and the murder in Red City. Let me look at the photograph again, will you?”
Benjamin reached into his waistcoat pocket and took out the photograph. He handed it to Andrew who proceeded to study it for a few minutes.
“Well?” Benjamin asked.
“It looks like him, that’s all I can say for sure. This man in the image is dressed differently than what I’ve taken to be Price’s style. Price is more…he’s a dapper gentleman. Very stylish. In fact, I’ve heard he goes to New York to have his suits made by an Italian tailor there. I can tell you he’s always dressed in the height of fashion.”
“Hmm. Interesting. I reckon that’s where his daughter gets her sense of style from.”
“Could be. Speaking of Price’s daughter, you’re sweet on her, aren’t you?”
“Sweet on her? No.”
“What do you mean, no? I don’t believe you for one minute.” Andrew rolled his eyes and laughed some more. “You absolutely are sweet on her.”
“To tell you the truth, Andrew, my feelings for Miss Price go far beyond being sweet on her.”
“Don’t tell me you’re about to confess to love at first sight?”
“Maybe. I don’t know what it is. I only know that I’ve never felt this way about a woman before. Ever. It’s a completely new sensation for me.”
Andrew grinned and slapped his thigh. “Well, I’ll be danged.”
“You need to remember that if her father is the man I’m looking for, Miss Rhoda will never speak to me again.”
“Why is that?”
“Have you forgotten what our jobs are, Andrew? We are deputy sheriffs. It’s our job to apprehend criminals. It’s our job to keep the peace and safety of our towns intact. If Robert Price is my criminal, I’m taking him in. My feelings for Rhoda mean nothing in the light of that.”
“I wasn’t suggesting that you not arrest him. I just think there’s more than one way to do things.”
“Right, and how else would you suggest I handle this? You know the job comes first with me. You told me about turning the blind eye on Price. I don’t blame you for it, but that’s something I’d have a hard time doing.”
“Wait just a minute. You’re not being fair. I don’t turn a blind eye on him, Ben. He’s done nothing wrong in Golden Hill. Since when is it a crime to be independently wealthy?”
“Providing that’s what he is.”
Andrew sighed and shook his head. His frustration was evident. “Look. No one has ever come here looking for him before now, and you don’t even know if it’s actually Price you’re looking for.”
“First of all, I’m always fair and I understand that you don’t want to start something where there’s no reason to. You take care of the known crimes and the known criminals in town and those who pass through. I work differently. You know I won’t let my personal inclinations get in the way of the job.
“It’s why I don’t have many friends in Red City. I have to keep to myself unless I’m trying to get information on a case. That’s why, one of the reasons I wanted to talk with you tonight is to tell you, I won’t be needing your help in my pursuit of my murderer, and I won’t ask you to help me get an interview with Price.”
“Don’t be like that, Ben. I said I’d help you. In spite of how, sometimes, my personal inclinations get in the way, don’t worry. I won’t let it happen. I keep my word. I have a commitment to help you in any way I can.”
It was Benjamin’s turn to say don’t be like that. He was frustrated at Andrew’s display of emotion. His loyalty was noble and much appreciated, but Benjamin wasn’t in need of it. Not when it might be putting Andrew in a compromising position. It was why he was trying to let his friend off the hook. Andrew, though, wasn’t biting. He tried again, hoping against hope that Andrew would see his logic.
“It’s for your own good, Andrew! What if Rhoda’s father is the man I’m seeking? I’m hauling him out of here if he is, regardless of how I might feel about her. Can you say the same?”
“Look, I can keep my personal feelings out of it, if that’s what you mean.”
“No, Andrew. I don’t mean keeping your personal feelings out of it. I mean not having feelings about it at all. I don’t blame you, trust me, I don’t, but can you tell me, in all sincerity, that if Price is my man and Trisha bans you from her life on account of it, you’ll be able to live with yourself? Do you think you wouldn’t hold it against me down the line? Nope, I’m not putting you in that position. I’m not putting myself in it either.”
“We’ve brought in a number of men together, Ben, we make a good team.”
“Yep. I reckon we have, but not one of them was the father of the best friend of a woman you were interested in romantically. If Price is my man, you don’t have a chance with Trisha. Ever. Not a chance. Do you understand that? She will side with Rhoda and cast you from her life. I know she will.”
“What about Rhoda, then? You’ll lose any chance with her forever.”
“I can’t lose what isn’t mine. Besides, I’ve made up my mind. I’ve already pushed my thoughts about her out of my head. I’ve trained myself to never let my personal feelings interfere with the job at hand. You know that.”
Andrew nodded. “I reckon I do. How can I just let you be on your own if I can help you, though?”
“You can’t help me. That’s just it. I’ll do better on my own with this one. Trust me, okay? I’ve thought it out and it’s the only way.”
Andrew crossed his arms in front of his torso. “Well, if you insist. It’s not for me to say. I’ll do whatever you need.”
“Thanks. I need you to stay away from this case. If I’m right, you’ll thank me later. If I’m wrong, and I sincerely hope I am, we’ll have a whiskey and move on.” Benjamin grinned.
They raised their glasses and clinked them together, then threw back their whiskies and ordered two more.
Rhoda had gone into town to inquire about the seasonal church wide bake sale that was coming up. Her assignment, three months earlier, had been sugar cookies, and a more boring assignment she couldn’t have imagined. No Boston creme pie, or pound cake. They were cakes she excelled at and that were challenging. For summer, she hoped to get something challenging and fun. Something that she could stretch her baking skills to. She’d taken her father’s carriage in and left it at the livery so she could make her way leisurely around town. Trisha was meeting her for dinner. It was the waitress’ day off, so the girls were treating themselves to a meal at the newest restaurant in town.
The most important thing on her list, though, was that Rhoda had to get her baking assignment. She walked into the basement office of the First Presbyterian Church and to the desk of Mrs. Jenny Porter.
“Rhoda! How nice to see you dear. Are you here for your assignment?”
“I am, Mrs. Porter, and Trisha Springer’s too.”
“Oh, well, let me see. Ooh, this looks delicious. And difficult, but I’m sure you’ll have no problems with it. I took it to heart that you were unhappy with your recipe last year. I hope this makes up for it. The other, of course, is for my and the ladies of the board’s eyes, so I’ve sealed it in an envelope.”
“Okay, thank you, Mrs. Porter. I’m much obliged. Good day.”
“Good day, dear.”
Rhoda went outside, mimicking Mrs. Porter’s voice in her head. The woman could be so insufferable sometimes. As if Trisha wasn’t going to tell her what assignment she’d gotten.
The restaurant was just a few doors away, and Rhoda nearly collided with Trisha at the door. She laughed and handed the envelope to Trisha.
“Thanks. Well, do I have something to tell you,” Trisha said.
“If it’s not your baking assignment, I don’t want to know,” Rhoda grinned.
Trisha laughed to and tucked the recipe card, safe in its envelope, into her pocket. Let’s get our table.” She raised her hand and summoned the maitre d’. Once they were seated, she looked at Rhoda. “Well. Are you ready to hear what I have to say?”
“I’m not sure,” she answered and looked at one of the menus the maitre d’ had left with them. “Tell me your assignment.” Rhoda was afraid whatever it was Trisha wanted to tell her had something to do with her pa. She wanted to avoid it so she could enjoy her meal, but she knew her friend, and she knew she was going to hear what Trisha had to say whether she wanted to or not.
Trisha tore open the wax on the envelope and withdrew the recipe card. Her eyes lit up. “I think this is actually manageable.”
“What is it?”
“It’s German Chocolate cake, with the recipe included here. They’ve got to be kidding. I’m going to see Mrs. Becker tomorrow. I have my own recipe from my ma, but I’m going to ask Mrs. Becker if she has one. I’ll take tips from both of them.” Trisha laughed and gave Rhoda a wink. “I want the man who buys my cake to fall in love with me.”
“Be careful what you wish for, Trisha. What if you get one of our esteemed old bachelors of Golden Hill? Maybe one of them will fund you to open that bakery I keep telling you to open. We don’t have a bakery. I mean we have Mrs. Beaufort, but she makes only different kinds of bread. We need a bakery in Golden Hill that sells desserts. It would be a good business. I’ll help you. Yes, I hope one of our old geezers buys your chocolate cake!”
“Very funny, but I know who I want to buy the cake I bake, and he’s going to. What about you? What’s your assignment?”
“Who do you want to buy your cake…Deputy Jones?”
“Shh. Rhoda!” Trisha looked over both shoulders and all around them. “The walls have ears here in our town, you know that. Be more discrete, will you?”
“I’m sorry, Trisha. I didn’t mean to embarrass you or anything.”
“It’s okay. I can’t be mad at you. Now, tell me. What’s your recipe?”
“I don’t know. Mrs. Porter, I’m sure, was being vindictive when she said she didn’t want me to be as bored as I was last year.”
“No! She didn’t say that?”
“No, she didn’t, but I know she was thinking about it.”
“Do you want me to look at the receipt card?”
“Yes. Will you?”
“I will, if you’ll then listen to what else I have to tell you.”
Rhoda knew whatever it was, it had to do with her father and she wasn’t happy about it. She was putting things together in her mind and she didn’t like the deductions she was making. There was only so long that she could avoid hearing what it was that Trisha wanted to say. If it wasn’t important, her friend wouldn’t be insistent about her hearing it. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. She willed herself to be calm and listen to everything before she jumped in with her opinion on whatever it was.
“All right, fine. I reckon there’s no way I can avoid either thing.”
Trisha took the card and looked at it. Her eyes grew wide.
“What is it? Tell me? Will I be able to make it?”
Suddenly, Trisha burst out laughing.
“Give me that.” Rhoda grabbed the card. “Lemon meringue? Oh no! Do you think Mrs. Becker can help me with that? Oh, trade with me, Trisha. You’re a fine baker, you’ll be able to make a wonderful lemon meringue.”
Trisha was laughing so hard she couldn’t answer, so Rhoda waited patiently, or as patiently as she could while she tapped her foot on the polished wood floor.
“I’m so sorry, Rhoda, but trust me, when I tell you what I’m about to, having to make a lemon meringue pie will be the least of your worries.”
Rhoda’s stomach dropped. “What is it?” She was afraid she already knew, but until it was said out loud, there was no reason to borrow trouble by worrying. Still, she felt herself getting worked up.
“It’s Deputy White.”
“What about him?”
“Well, I’m not sure if he’s sweet on you, if he thinks your pa is the man he’s looking for, or a little of both.”
“What is that supposed to mean? Tell me everything he said to you. He’s suspicious of my pa? What for?”
“Well, he asked about your pa. He acted all casual-like, but I knew he was angling for something. He underestimated me, like people usually do. Anyway, I told him only the facts, and I let him know you would never leave your father and Golden Hill.”
“Did he ask you if I would?”
“Not really, but his questions were, well, they were personal. He wanted to know about your ma. I told him not to ever cross you, but I’ll tell you I don’t know if I trust him. I don’t know if he’s sincere in who he says he is.”
Rhoda couldn’t hear anymore. Why was Deputy White coming after her pa, if indeed that’s what he was doing? She decided right then and there that she needed to gather a little information of her own about Deputy White.
“Finding Solace in his Word” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Rhoda has always known that her father’s past felony would someday cost her the distant dream of having a family with a man who loves her. However, even her last thread of hope is shattered, when her father becomes the main suspect in a horrific murder and the target of a bounty hunter who turns Rhoda’s life upside down. Desperate to protect her father, she will do everything in her power to prove his innocence and in the meantime, she will gain an extraordinary, yet unlikely ally. Rhoda will get the protection she needs from the handsome bounty hunter, but she will find herself trapped in a painful dilemma…Could he be the salvation she has been looking for even if that means that her father’s life might be in danger?
Ben is a bounty hunter whose only goal in life is to bring justice. When he is hired to capture Rhoda’s father, he doesn’t ask many questions until he realizes that something doesn’t add up. He can’t quite put his finger on it, but all the evidence points to a theory that could cause everything he’s ever believed to come tumbling down… When all he wants is to clear the name of Rhoda’s father, things will take an unexpected turn… With a chance at love within reach, will Ben manage to do the right thing and protect the innocent?
Ben and Rhoda will create a strong bond while looking for the real criminals behind the murders that have turned their world upside down. When fate brings another shocking twist, it will seem that they are destined to be apart… While Ben’s intentions are nothing but pure, it seems like he is just saving her from one evil only to pull her into another. Will they manage to overcome the lies and eventually let their growing feelings blossom into true love?
“Finding Solace in his Word” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.