The Farmer’s Wife — Warriors of St. Antoni

It’s Friday, so it’s time to post the next chapter in the ongoing serial the Warriors of St. Antoni.

Warriors of St. Antoni is the first of my new Portal World Tales series. The book is still being written and edited, so what you read today is subject to change without notice in the published version.

On St. Antoni, you got tough or you got dead. The only defense is a gun; your safety depends on your ability to use it. This is the story of three sisters and the choices they make to survive on St. Antoni. Bethany marries a mercenary warrior to shield her family from a predatory neighbor. To protect her baby sister, Iris chooses an arranged marriage with a beloved old friend. Jeanne and the son of their greatest enemy defy both their families to find love.

This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is unintentional and accidental. © Gail Daley 2017 All Rights reserved. Any duplication of this work electronically or printed, except for brief publicity quotes, is forbidden without the express written permission of the author. Cover Art © by Gail Daley’s Fine Art 2017

 

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays. Check in next Friday for the next chapter of Warriors of St. Antoni

Click below to Download a PDF copy and start reading  The Farmer’s Wife

https://www.facebook.com/groups/GailDaleyWriter/

 

The Farmer’s Wife

 

JEANNE FOUND an empty seat toward the back. The seats were set up so two benches sat facing each other. The cushioned bench opposite Jeanne was empty. Samuel stored the basket of food they had brought for the journey in the open luggage carrier overhead. The trip to Azure City would take several days, and although the train had a dining car, it would be unlikely that a prosperous farmer and his wife would eat there. As Samuel stepped back from the rack, he leaned over Jeanne and stared intently out the window.

“What is it?” she asked. The Train moved, and he staggered a little before catching his balance.

“You’d better sit down before you end up in my lap,” Jeanne remarked.

“I thought I saw Max Franks out there on the platform,” Samuel said, joining her on the seat.

Jeanne’s brow wrinkled. “Who is that? The name is familiar, but I can’t recall a face to go with it.”

He reached for her hand and lifted it to his lips, brushing a kiss across her knuckles. “Max Franks is an acquaintance of my father’s,” he said. “He may have recognized me.”

“Oh. Is that going to be a problem?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “It bothers me some though, because if it was him, he was standing right behind your sister.”

“Will he tell your father we got married?” Jeanne zeroed in on the most important thing.

“If there is money in it for him, then yes, but only if he could gain something from it.”

“In that case,” Jeanne said firmly, “I think we should concentrate on plans for our new farm.”

That evening, the train stopped to pick up water for the engine at a small depot. Water tanks built along the rail lines and manned by men and women who made sure an adequate supply was always ready to refill the trains gaping water maw were stationed at each site. There wasn’t much to see; the depot consisted only of the tank on stilts holding water, a small depot office and a house for the depot attendant. The landscape along the rail line had changed as they traveled toward the coast; the dark red grass had grown shorter and coarser. The thick forest of Skinwood Trees surrounding Junction City had given way to a flatter, sandier ground with scattered, low-lying blue bushes hung with ripe yellow fruit. The blue color of the bushes had given Azure City and its surrounding country its name. The air was warmer and more humid.

The train’s steam engine ran on the steam created by heat from Bluestones mixed with water. In the early years after the Portal opened, a man tripped and spilled water on a pile of blue colored stones and they burst into flame. his partner, an engineer, had brought printouts for an old-fashioned steam engine with him when he came to St. Antoni. Immediately seeing the possibilities of using the stones as a power source, the two cast the parts for an engine from a home-made alloy of iron, carbon, copper and tin. They experimented with adapting the chemical reaction from the mixture of stones and water to create enough heat to run a steam engine. The bluestone steam engines became the basis for an industry, and the mining of these minerals kick-started St. Antoni’s economy.

During the layover, a few of the passengers got out to stretch their legs. Jeanne got up and went to the car lavatory. On her way back to her seat, she was stopped by the car attendant, a soft-eyed young man, barely over adolescence.

“Ma’am?” he asked. “Could I speak to you for a moment?”

Jeanne looked at him in surprise. “What is it?”

He swept his hat off his head and stood turning it uneasily in his hands. “Well, I’ve been watching you and your husband and you seem like good people.”

Jeanne suspected he was about to ask for money and tried not to stiffen. “Well, I hope we are,” she said. “How can I help you?”

He took a deep breath. “Do you see those two kids over there?” He cocked his head toward a bench by his Station.

Jeanne turned her head to look. The two children who sat there were alone. A boy and a girl around eight or nine. They were grubby and wearing old, worn clothes.

“What about them?”

“When I came on board for my shift yesterday, they were already here. The woman I relieved told me a man had put them on board by themselves day before yesterday. They didn’t have food with them so I’ve been feeding them. They have tickets to Azure City, but I don’t Think anyone is meeting them there.”

“Do you want me to ask them about it?” she inquired.

“Well, I’ve done that. All they will say is Jeryn sent them away to be safe. I don’t think they know anymore than that. It’s just, well, my shift is over tonight and my relief isn’t much for Kids. I would hate to see them dumped off the train with no one to look after them.”

She frowned at the attendant; he did want something from her but it wasn’t money. He wanted her and Samuel to take on the kids. Samuel, noticing her delay in returning, got up and came toward them.

“Is he bothering you, dear?” he asked, as he approached.

Jeanne smiled at him. “Not that way.” In a soft voice, she filled her husband in on the problem.

Samuel looked over at the children and a resigned look came over his face when he looked back at his wife.

“That’s a big responsibility,” he warned her. “Are you sure you want to take them on?”

“I can’t leave them on their own,” she said. “I’d never forgive myself if something happened to them.”

He nodded, then turned to the attendant. “Bring them over to us for supper. We’ll talk to them. If they agree then

they can come home with us.”

When the attendant brought them over, Jeanne handed the children a damp rag to wipe their hands. She gave them each a plate of cold meat, cheese and bread, and poured water into tin cups. Both children ate politely. Someone must have spent the time to teach them manners, Jeanne thought.

The girl’s name was Katrina, the boy was Kevin. It turned out that they weren’t brother and sister. Abandoned by parents and left on the street, they had banded together for protection.

“Who was Rufus?” Samuel asked.

“Rufus works the streets. He knew there was going to be a sweep, and he put us on the train. He said we could start over in another city,” Katrina said.

“A sweep?” Jeanne asked.

“The city doesn’t like kids living on the street. They do sweeps and put the boys in workhouses,” Kevin said.

“And the girls?”

The children exchanged looks. “We aren’t really sure,” Katrina said. “They get taken away and no one ever sees them anymore.”

“Do you have anyone to stay with when we reach Azure City?”

When the children shook their heads, she asked “Would you like to stay with us?” Jeanne asked.

“Why,” Katrina asked suspiciously. “What do you want us for?”

“Because my family would never forgive me if I didn’t help you,” Jeanne answered. “We would be adopting you. You will have to go to school, but you’ll be fed and have a place to stay. There will be chores, but nothing major and you would need to obey us the way you would a parent.”

“I’ve been watching these two,” the attendant offered. “They seem like good folks. You could do worse.”

The two children exchanged glances. “Alright,” Katrina said, “we can try it, but if it isn’t as you say we’ll leave, understand.”

“Yes, we understand,” Jeanne said, smiling.
“After all, you don’t know us.”

The young attendant left the train that evening. An older, sour-faced woman took his place. It took another two days to reach Azure City. Before bedtime, Jeanne took the children along with her to the lavatory and helped them clean up. She couldn’t do much about the state of their clothes, but clean faces and brushed hair gave them a more presentable appearance.

Azure city was a seashore town with a good port. Fishing boats sailed the waters off shore, and a brisk trade in dried and canned fish was done. She could see the wharf with ships coming into the bay from the depot. The ground underfoot was sandy. A warm breeze from the ocean wafted the smell of the canning factories to Jeanne as she stepped down from the train onto sandy soil.

“I’m going to check on our stuff, and see if I can find some transportation,” Samuel told her.

Jeanne nodded, looking around. “It’s certainly different here,” she said.

Most of the passengers had left the platform when Jeanne was approached by a tall, dark skinned man in neat work clothes. “Excuse me, Ma’am,” he said, “But are you Jeanne Clancy?”

Jeanne looked him over. “Yes, that’s my name.”

The man looked relived. “I wasn’t sure, Mother didn’t tell me you had children. I’m Larry Nguyn. My Mom Marie is Lisette’s sister. I was sent to meet you and your husband and take you to Mother’s house. Where is your husband?”

“Samuel went to find us a wagon,” Jeanne said. Just then she saw Samuel coming toward them leading the four fidgety tricorns. “There he is.”

“Every time I turn my back on you, you pick up someone,” Samuel complained, laughing. “Who is this?”

“It’s a talent,” his wife retorted. “This is Lisette’s Nephew Larry. His mother Marie sent him to help us.”

Her husband looked relived. “That’s a good thing because I just discovered we would need to store our stuff until tomorrow morning when a wagon will be available to take us out to the farm.”

“No need for that, Samuel, is it?” Larry assured him. “I brought ours. Let’s get your stuff loaded. Miss Jeanne, why don’t you and the children wait in the shade under the station porch? They have benches if you want to sit down.”

“I’ve been sitting for three days,” Jeanne told him. “But I think we will wait in the shade. Come on, Kids.”

From the depot, they drove into the main street. Dusk was beginning to settle, but most of the stores were open, and from the saloons and eating houses catering to sailors down by the wharf came the sounds of music, laughter and the occasional bang from a gun being shot off.

Marie’s family lived above a large, general merchandise store in the center of town. When they arrived at her house, Larry and Samuel took the tricorns and the loaded wagon through the alley to the back of the house where the Nguyn’s kept a small stable and a large vegetable and fruit garden.

Marie looked so much like her sister Lisette that Jeanne would have known her anywhere. Jeanne and the children were greeted with hugs and led upstairs to the large, comfortable family quarters.

“I’m so glad you got here safely,” Marie exclaimed. “I’m sure you’ll want to freshen up. I’m afraid the children will have to sleep on the trundle bed, tonight. I have a houseful tonight; Larry’s wife’s family arrived last night to be here for the birth of their child, and I Chloe is here tonight too.”

She opened the door to a large, well appointed bedroom overlooking the back of the house, and bustled away to get bedding for the trundle.

Jeanne and the children were making up the trundle bed when Samuel arrived. He made a face when he saw the sleeping arrangements.

“I can wait one more night,” he said, kissing his wife, “but when we get to the farm, they need their own rooms.”

Jeanne laughed and rubbed his scruffy chin. “You need a shave,” she remarked.

Samuel looked in the mirror. “I was thinking of growing a beard,” he said. “Would you mind?”

Reminded of their need for disguise, Jeanne frowned. “It will be okay if it’s a neat one,” she allowed. “But not if it makes you look like a berry bush.”

Downstairs, Marie made it a point to introduce the family to Chloe, a young, fresh-faced girl about sixteen.

“I thought she could stay with you for a few days and help you get things set up the way you like them,” Marie said. “When Giselle’s runner told us you were coming, we tried to set up things out there for you since I didn’t know how much household supplies you brought. There is a rack of Bluestones, the cold cellar is stocked with food and we spent yesterday cleaning it as best we could. We put a newly stuffed mattress on the bed, but you will need to bring more for the children.”

“Thank you,” Jeanne said gratefully. “I brought some household things, but Gran felt it would be easier to buy what I need here. I’m afraid the children will need clothing, and I want to get a few hens and a Drake. Back home I had an egg supply business, and I’d like to start one here.”

Marie’s eyebrows rose. “We can pick clothing for the children downstairs in the store. I have some ready-made items I think will fit them. After dinner, we will go down and see.”

“What kind of crops do we have on the farm?” Samuel asked.

“There is a good-sized kitchen garden, and a nut and fruit orchard,” Larry said. “There is room also for a few cows and goats, and a grass field that can be harvested for feed. I know of a neighbor who would sell you livestock. I saw that you brought tricorns with you, but they don’t look like they’ve spent much time on a plow.”

“What type of farming equipment do I need?”

Larry smiled. “Well it is a working farm, so it does have a plow and a few other tools. In the past, Giselle was having us pay a man to work it for her. Seasonal labor mostly, but I think I can find you a field hand to get you started.”

When Jeanne and Marie took the children downstairs after dinner, Marie took Jeanne aside. “I know I kind of sprung Chloe on you,” the older woman admitted, “but I would consider it a huge favor if you take her out of town for a while.”

“I’ll be glad of the help,” Jeanne said slowly, “But I want to know why she needs to leave town.”

“You may have noticed Chloe is very pretty. She has been helping in the store, and she attracts men like bugs to honey. She isn’t ready to settle down yet, and sometimes the man is hard to shake off and too powerful to scare away. He might decide to try to take her by force if she doesn’t go willingly.”

“Would he follow her out to our farm?”

“I don’t think so. Someone else will attract his attention soon. I think he will forget about her if she disappears for a while.”

“Alright, she can stay with us.”

They left for the farm, early the next morning. They had been met at the wagon by a thin, goose-necked man in worn work clothes.

“I’m Martin,” he told Samuel. “Larry allowed as you might be needing a hand for a few days.”

Samuel nodded. “I do. Are you interested in more permanent employment?”

“Yes, I am. Are you hiring?”

Samuel nodded. “I’m going to need a permanent worker. If you work out, I pay wages in addition to room and board. Climb up.”

The children sat on either side of Samuel on the wide wagon seat, and Martin took his place beside them. Jeanne and Chloe had elected to ride. Jeanne mounted Samuels showy red and black tricorn who danced impatiently at the delay. The other two animals were tied to the back of the wagon. Chloe showed up on a nondescript gruella striped tricorn and threw a duffel bag into the back of the wagon.

Chloe’s mount might have looked nondescript, but Jeanne’s experienced eye noted the clean lines on him.

“That’s a well-bred animal,” she told the girl.

Chloe looked startled, then eyed her with some respect. “Yes, he is. Most people just notice the color and pass him over. I was lucky to pick him up as a colt.”

The farm lay a few miles outside of the city along a well traveled road. As they moved away from the shore, the sand changed into a dark, clay-like earth that would water well.”

“Do they use the soil to make pottery here?” Jeanne asked.

“Yes,” Martin answered. “There is a pottery just outside town. The family makes all sorts of things, dishes, vases, statutes and stuff, and I hear they make good money selling it. Some of the ships take it to other coastal cities and sell it for them.”

 

The Handfasting 3-volume 3-book set

The Handfasting – 3 Volume e- book set – https://www.books2read.com/u/mgKWa7

Welcome to the far future. I’m happy to offer the first three volumes of The Handfasting to my readers as a set. Let me introduce you to the courageous women and dangerous men who carve a home on the alien world of Vensoog. Katherine O’Teague, the heir to Veiled Isle, computer hacker and all-around tough lady, and Lieutenant Zachery Jackson, a hardened ex-recon soldier and his five super-smart orphaned dependents. Laird Genevieve O’Teague, beautiful, strong-willed became leader of her people at seventeen. Colonel Gideon Michaels had been a soldier who commanded thousands of fighters in the war. Lady Drusilla O’Teague, warrior/priestess teams up with Lucas Lewellyn a Bard from another world and genetically designed children to defeat a dangerous foe and keep their planet from an off-planet takeover

Broken Shackles

It’s Friday, so it’s time  to post the next chapter in my ongoing serial for the Warriors of St. Antoni.

Warriors of St. Antoni is the first of my new Portal World Tales. The book is still being written and edited, so what you read today is subject to change without notice in the published version.

On St. Antoni, you got tough or you got dead. The only defense is a gun; your safety depends on your ability to use it. This is the story of three sisters and the choices they make to survive on St. Antoni. Bethany marries a mercenary warrior to shield her family from a predatory neighbor. To protect her baby sister, Iris chooses an arranged marriage with a beloved old friend. Jeanne and the son of their greatest enemy defy both their families to find love.

This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is unintentional and accidental. © Gail Daley 2017 All Rights reserved. Any duplication of this work electronically or printed, except for brief publicity quotes, is forbidden without the express written permission of the author. Cover Art © by Gail Daley’s Fine Art 2017

 

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays. Check in next Friday for the next chapter of Warriors of St. Antoni

Click below to Download a PDF copy and start reading Broken Shackles

https://www.facebook.com/groups/GailDaleyWriter/

 

Max Franks woke up shackled and with a raging headache. He soon discovered he was not the only deckhand wearing chains. Tom and Jeff Bardeoux, who owned the Tumbling Gem, ‘hired’, if it could be called that, some of their crew from the jails in the towns they traded with. The practice of renting prisoners out for work saved a town the expense of housing and feeding the prisoners, and it was cheap labor for the rivermen. In return for a small fee, rivermen like the Bardeoux brothers agreed to put a town’s prisoners to work as deckhands feeding and housing them for the term of their sentence. When a prisoner’s sentence was over, the Bardeoux brothers dropped the prisoner at the city he came from on their next trip, or let him leave the ship at the next port.

Franks was an angry, unhappy man when he woke up and discovered what had been done to him, and the longer he stayed aboard the madder he got. For the past three weeks, he had been stuck on a cargo barge traveling slowly up the Black River. His chains allowed a shuffling walk around the deck but he knew if he dived into the river they would drag him under and he would drown. There were small outposts and towns along the river, but they were small oases of civilization between vast stretches of wild lands. Thick forests of Skinwood trees (so called because of their flesh colored bark) stretched up into the rugged mountains. In some places the brush and vines were so thick no boat could land even if it had been wise to do so.

The fierce Dire bear clans made their homes in the thick bushes along the river. Higher up in the mountains, striped lions hunted game in prides of two or three. Both would find an unarmed human a tasty meal. Franks had no intention of attempting to traverse the wilderness on foot.

The Tumbling Gem kept to the deeper waters in the center of the river and away from the banks the further north they traveled, because if they were hungry enough the bears and lions had been known to board a ship moored to close to the shore at night, and ocassionally during the daylight when a ship was moving.

Franks was determined to escape. He knew that while one man couldn’t handle a ship the size of the Tumbling Gem, but he was confident that if he stole a smaller steam powered boat, he could make it back down the river. The Tumbling Gem stopped at small outposts on its way upriver and usually there were a few boats docked at each hamlet. First, he had to find out where the Bardeoux brothers kept the key to the shackles. Then he needed to steal a gun and wait for the proper time.

Franks watched the brothers and the free deckhands, looking for weaknesses he could use in his escape. While he waited, and watched his captors, a deep and bitter anger toward Iris St. Vyr built. It stung his pride that the two women had trapped and drugged him. When he got back to River Crossing, that sweet-face liar would be taught something. He would teach her a lesson she wouldn’t forget.

The deck crew comprised three other chained men like himself, the two Bardeoux brothers Hank and Jim, and two free deckhands. Franks and the other three prisoners got the dirty jobs of cleaning cabins, swabbing the decks, washing dishes, and cleaning the fish caught in the nets thrown over the side each morning and evening when they dropped anchor for the night. The Bardeoux brothers steered the boat, and the other two freedmen kept the Tumbling Gem away from sandbars and other obstacles with long poles. Each evening before sunset, the Barge dropped anchor. Without lights, traveling the river at night was suicidal. If they didn’t run aground on a sandbar in the dark, they could hit a fallen log or a boulder.

When they stopped each night, one of the brothers lit a fire under a steam powered grill on the deck. Jason Bourteen usually cooked the meal and boiled the next days drinking water pulled from the river. The other freedman, Leo Miller was in supposed to keep an eye on the chained crew.

The other three prisoners had their own pecking order. It was an old story to an outlaw like Franks who had fought his way to the top of many outlaw groups. Ray Ponce was a big blond man, but Franks judged him to be too soft to give him much trouble. Of the other two men, Franks figured that only John Waters would be trouble. A medium sized, gray-haired man, he was manifestly the leader and the most dominant of the three. Jeff Bridger, the third man hung around Waters and visibly curried favor with him. The first day after Franks awoke, Waters attempted to assert dominance by making Franks move from the place he had sat down to eat.

Aware that the little scene was being watched by Ponce, Bridger, and Miller, Franks stood up and faced Waters.

“I like it here,” he said.

“I said to move. That’s my place,” Waters snarled.

Franks wasn’t interested in challenging Waters, but he knew if he ignored the man it would get worse. He set his plate down and sneered.

“Make me,” he hissed.

Waters took a swing at him, which Franks easily sidestepped, and followed it with a smashing blow to the man’s gut. Waters was out of shape. He let out a whoosh! of air and doubled over. Franks hit him a second time, this time beside the ear, and Waters went down hard.

“That’s enough of that!” Miller yelled. “You,” he pointed at Franks, “sit back down. Waters you go back where you were. Any more trouble like this and both of you will get ten lashes. Got that?”

Franks sat back down and picked up his plate. “He started it,” he told Miller.

Miller glared at him. “I don’t care who started it. It ends now.”

Franks shrugged and went back to eating.

It was several days before he was assigned to clean the cabins. Franks had already realized Miller was lax in keeping an eye on them. When he left Franks alone in Hand Bardeouxs cabin, he saw the keys for the shackles were hanging on the wall, along keys to the desk and several other items. Chuckling at the foolishness of leaving the keys out in plain sight, Franks used the desk key to open it and search for a weapon. He found an old percussion type pistol and ammunition for it in one drawer. He stuffed it down in his pants and carefully re-locked the desk. Removing the shackles key from the ring, he pocketed that too. Tomorrow they were stopping at Grayson’s Landing to take on cargo. That was where he would make his move.

They docked the next morning. Grayson’s landing was small, two or three houses set against the sheer cliffs behind them. A larger building bisected the end of the short wooden wharf built out over a sandy beach. A small cultivated field ran down to the edge of the river. Tied to the wharf were three steam powered fishing boats that could safely be handled by one or two men.

While everyone was distracted as they docked, Franks overloaded the bluestones used to make the Tumbling Gem’s steam engine run. When mixed with water, a chemical reaction caused the stones to produce heat. Enough stones and you had enough steam power to run an engine. It was tricky knowing the right amount of stones to mix with the right amount of water to get the correct controlled chemical reaction. Too little and you didn’t get enough heat; too much, and you got a nasty explosion. Franks was counting on an explosion. To make sure it would be a big one, Franks also added more water to the engine, and bent to unlock his shackles. When he spotted Waters watching him, he tossed the keys to him before he slipped over the side. He swam to the nearest boat and boarded. He was in luck, it was fully stocked with bluestones. He added water to the amount in the engine and waited for the water to produce enough steam to start the engine.

In the meantime, Waters had used the keys to unshackle the other prisoners and he and Bridger had jumped Hank Bardeoux. Jim and Leo Miller came to help while Ponce stood there watching. In the melee that followed, no one noticed Frank’s absense or that the gauge on the engine showed it was dangerously overheating.

The brothers had just realized they were short a p prisoner when Franks finally had enough steam rising to start the engine on the boat he was stealing. Looking over his shoulder as he left, he heard a massive blast and saw the great gout of flames streaking toward the sky that tore half the dock away and most of the Tumbling Gem. As everyone ran to fight the fire created by the explosion, Franks laughed as he headed back down the river.

 

It’s Friday when I post the next chapter in my serials. I also decided that Friday would be the day I choose to pay it forward to other independent authors by sharing their books on my timeline. Please keep in mind that I haven’t read most of these books. Please check them out for yourself.

Gail

Best Laid Plans- Warriors of St. Antoni

This is the first of my new Portal Worlds series. The book is still being written and edited, so what you read today is subject to change without notice in the published version.

On St. Antoni you got tough or you died. The only defense is a gun; your security is your ability to use it. This is the story of three sisters and the choices they make to survive on St. Antoni. Bethany marries a mercenary warrior to shield her family from a predatory neighbor. To protect her sister, Iris chooses between an arranged marriage with a beloved friend and an outlaw. Jeanne and the son of her greatest enemy defy both their families to find love.

This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is unintentional and accidental. © Gail Daley 2017 All Rights reserved. Any duplication of this work electronically or printed, except for brief publicity quotes, is forbidden without the express written permission of the author. Cover Art © by Gail Daley’s Fine Art 2017

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays. Check in next Friday for the next chapter of Warriors of St. Antoni

Click below to Download a PDF copy and start reading Chapter 17 Tactics of Blackmail

   https://www.facebook.com/groups/GailDaleyWriter/

THE DRESSMAKER Giselle went to in Junction City was an old friend. In her front display window was a calf-length white dress with a low-cut lace bodice and three quarter sleeves.

“Jeanne, I think that would fit you,” Giselle told her youngest granddaughter. “What do you think?”

“It’s pretty, but all that lace isn’t practical.”

“It’s your wedding dress,” Iris exclaimed. “It doesn’t have to be practical. Let’s go see if it fits you.”

“I’m sure Belinda will be willing to make a few alterations when she learns we want it tomorrow,” Giselle said, guiding the girls into the shop.

The proprietor, a thin, dark woman looked up from explaining something to a sales clerk when the bell over the door jingled. “Giselle! How lovely to see you. Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”

“It was a last-minute decision,” Giselle explained, giving her a hug. “Belinda, these are two of my granddaughters, Iris and Jeanne. They are both getting married soon. I knew we couldn’t do better than come to you for the dresses.”

“How soon are the weddings?”

“Well, Iris hasn’t set a date yet, but we would like to have the gown before we leave. Since Jeanne is getting married tomorrow at noon. I think she might like to try on the dress you have on display.”

Giselle’s friend cocked her head. “Are you assisting in an elopement?”

“You could say that.”

“Ah.” Directing them to back, Belinda bustled forward and turned the sign on the door to closed. Calling for her assistant to get the dressing room ready, she went to the window and began unfastening the lace dress from the dressmaker form.

The dressing room was a rarity in St. Antoni where glass was still being blown by hand, as it had six mirrors, angled to show all sides of the dress at once. While the assistant helped Jeanne out of her dress, Belinda seated Iris and Giselle on a low couch and sent a second assistant for a rolling rack of dresses.

“These were from a trousseau ordered for a bride who decided she did not wish to be married after all. Poor thing, she was set to marry the son of a wealthy family when she discovered him in bed with another. The clothes have never been worn; if your granddaughters do not object to trying them?”

“Not at all,” Giselle agreed smiling. “My granddaughters are no so foolish. Jeanne will be marrying a prosperous farmer and Iris the manager of our silver mine though, so the trousseau must be good but also serviceable.”

While Jeanne was being buttoned into the bride’s dress, Giselle and Iris began looking through the rack of clothes. “These will do very well; the cloth is of excellent quality and the designs are not too frivolous. As always you are an excellent judge of a customer’s needs Belinda.”

“Oh,” Jeanne said softly, looking at herself in the mirrors. The low-cut bodice and flared skirt made her waist look impossibly tiny below her full breasts. She turned shinning eyes to her grandmother. “This is the one.”

“Yes,” Giselle agreed. “Tomas will be stunned at your beauty.”

Belinda hustled forward and began tweaking the waist and sleeves. “It needs only a little letting out in the bust. I will have it sent over this afternoon. Susan,” she gestured to the assistant, “help Miss St. Vyr out of the wedding dress and then take it to Mary so she can begin letting out the bust. About an inch, I think.”

She pulled out a second wedding dress and held it up to Iris’s face. “Yes, I thought this off white would look good with your complexion. Come, I will help you out of what you are wearing while your sister and Giselle pick out a traveling dress and some day gowns.”

The dress Belinda threw over Iris’s head had long full sleeves and a high collar made of thin transparent material over a low-cut slip. The slip barely covered her nipples and clung lovingly to her body. The diaphanous overdress kept the outfit from looking vulgar by veiling Iris’s body just enough that her sexuality looked ethereal rather than strident.

“Carlos is a goner,” remarked Jeanne when her sister turned to face her.

“Do you think it’s too revealing?” Iris asked anxiously.

“No child,” Giselle assured her. “A bride should remind her husband he is getting a prize worth winning.” She shrugged, “For a man that includes making him want to bed you. He will look back on his wedding day as being fortunate to marry a beautiful desirable woman.”

The girls picked out six more dresses apiece and then a selection of fine linen nightclothes. Belinda promised to have the wedding gown and traveling clothes for Jeanne sent over by noon the next day. The others she would pack herself and send to the station by tomorrows evening train.

“And yours will be ready by the end of the week, Miss Iris,” she said as she showed her profitable visitors out the door.

Mike Franks had followed the women to Belinda’s establishment. He purchased a newspaper and sat down at an outdoor café across from the dressmakers. By the time the women left the shop, he had been forced to order several cups of coffee. He also annoyed both the owner and his daughter the waitress by getting fresh with her.

When they had finished their business, Belinda sent a runner to find a rickshaw to pick them up so Giselle and her granddaughters would not have to walk back to the hotel.

The rickshaws were faster than a man walking casually, so Franks had to trot to keep them in sight. In the process of tailing them, he managed to enrage several other rickshaw drivers and their passengers by cutting in front of them, forcing them to stop abruptly. Their annoyed shouts and curses drew Giselle’s attention.

“Don’t look now girls, but I think we’re being followed,” she said. Leaning forward, she tapped the driver on the shoulder. “Make a sharp turn at the next corner, and then turn down that alley to the right.”

“But it is a longer way,” the man protested.

“I will pay you the extra charge to do as I ask,” she assured him.

The new route took them into the back of a stable, where she told the driver to turn and start back. “Walk slowly,” she said. About halfway back down the alley, she ordered him to stop and wait.

In a hurry now, Franks was nearly running. As they watched, he dashed past the mouth of the alley, swinging his head back and forth in search of his quarry.

“Is that who I think it is?” Giselle asked Iris.

“Yes, it’s Max Franks.”

“The man from the docks who wanted to accompany us to the hotel,” Jeanne exclaimed.

Iris sighed. “Carlos claimed he was up to no good. I think he might be right.”

They watched Franks for a few minutes as he tried to see where they had gone. Finally, he turned and went back the way he had come.

“Excellent. You may proceed, driver. Go left when we come out of the alley, and then around the block to the hotel.”

“You didn’t warn me you were being followed,” the driver complained. “Is this man dangerous? If he is, I should get paid more.”

Iris laughed, “Not dangerous, just annoying.”

When tired Franks returned to the hotel after several hours of fruitless searching, he was disgusted to find that his targets had returned earlier.

He handed the front desk clerk to take his card up to the suite, and was met with the flat statement that the ladies were tired and not receiving visitors this evening.

Having accomplished his errands, Samuel, now called Tom, joined his fiancée and her family for the quiet dinner Giselle ordered sent up to their rooms.

Franks tried to see Iris again the next day and was denied when he couldn’t produce an invitation to the private event being held. The wedding of Jeanne to Samuel took place in the parlor of the hotel suite.

By the time he followed the four of them to the train depot, he was riding a bad temper. Arms crossed over his chest, he leaned against the depot porch, watching sourly as Jeanne hugged her grandmother and sister goodbye.

Waiting on the platform for the train to pull out, Giselle was hailed by another old acquaintance.

“So your baby sister married Sam Johnson,” Franks drawled as he came up beside Iris.

She looked a little startled, but responded gamely. “I’m afraid you are mistaken. My sister has married a farmer named Tom Clancy.”

“That’s a good line, honey,” he said with a smile, “but I’m pretty well acquainted with the Johnsons and I know the boys by sight.”

Iris was frightened, but she wasn’t Mike St. Vyr’s daughter for nothing. “I can’t help your poor eyesight. The preacher will be filing the papers this afternoon at the registry office. I assure you Jeanne is now Mrs. Tom Clancy.”

She started to turn away, but he caught her arm in a bruising grip. “Don’t run away, little bird. How much is it worth to you for me not to tell Sam’s papa where he’s gone and who his new wife is?”

Iris jerked her arm out of his grasp. “You— ”

“It might be worth something,” Giselle interceded smoothly. “Why don’t you accompany us back to the hotel so we can discuss it?”

“I have nothing to say to you old woman,” Franks sneered, trying to get hold of Iris again, but she stepped back out of his reach. “My business is with your granddaughter here.”

Giselle lifted her shoulders. “If you change your mind, we will be in our suite this evening. Good day, sir. Come Iris.” Slipping her hand through her granddaughter’s elbow, she turned away.

Franks glared at their backs as he heard Giselle give the order to return to the hotel.

“What are we going to do?” Iris whispered. “If he tells Ira Johnson where they went— ”

Giselle patted her arm. “I have a plan. Is he following us?”

Iris cast a quick look back over her shoulder. “He’s trying to get a rickshaw. It doesn’t look as if there’s an open one, though so he’s trying to make a driver take him anyway. Oops! That man in the red shirt just yanked him back out of it. Franks hit him. Here comes the station constable. I think he’s going to be tied up for a while.”

“Excellent, that will take some time if the station guards are involved.” Giselle leaned forward and tapped their driver. “We need to make a stop at the Roman Stable before we return to the hotel.”

Joe Wong, who owned the stable, was a short, tough-looking man about Giselle’s age who greeted her with affection.

“So this is one of your beautiful granddaughters,” he said. “It is a real pleasure to meet so lovely a child.”

“This is Iris, Astrid’s girl. You remember Astrid was my son’s second wife.”

A sad expression crossed his face. “Yes, I believe you wrote Amy that she was killed by raiders. This is a hard land.” He looked at Giselle shrewdly, “But you would not come to the stable unless you needed something. If you only wanted to visit, you would come to the house. What is it you need?”

“I could never fool you or Amy,” Giselle admitted. “We do have trouble, and I’m hoping you can advise me on the best course of action.”

He opened his office door and gestured for them to enter. “Jim!” he called, I do not wish to be disturbed for a time.”

“Okay, boss,” said a tall, skinny kid, cleaning out a stall.

Over cups of heavily sweetened tea, Joe listed in silence while Giselle told him the rest of the story. For several minutes afterward, he sat running a string of beads through his hands. “You know well enough what must be done,” he said. “I don’t do that kind of work anymore. The new identities—that was nothing, but this— ”

She nodded. “I would not ask for myself, but this is for my granddaughter. I know you retired, but I thought you might still have contacts in that world.”

He shook his head. “Not for you. If it is not a killing matter, I might know a couple of rivermen who could use a deckhand. They travel far upriver. They owe me enough of a favor to keep him on their boat for a few months. It’s all I can promise.”

Giselle stood up. “You and Amy are true friends. It is more than enough.”

“I will tell the men to be ready tonight. You are sure he will come to your suite?”

“He’ll come,” Iris stated. “He wants something from me. I think he’ll be there.”

On the way back to the hotel, she asked. “What are you planning?”

Giselle gave her a bland look. “Why to have tea with one of your suitors’ child. You must look especially charming tonight. And do not give in to the desire to smack his face until after he has had his tea.”

“The blue dress darling,” Giselle told Iris when they were back in their suite. “And put a touch of color on your lips and cheeks.”

Iris went to do as instructed, conscious of her grandmother rummaging through her jewel box, selecting the ring she wanted. Iris remembered watching Giselle open that ring once before. This time she added a small amount of white powder to the hollow base.

“What’s that?”

“It is a form of poppy. It can be distilled and dried into a very strong sedative. The plant and the distilling pattern were shown to me many years ago by Old Cinders. Now remember, your part is to distract him so that he doesn’t see me add this to his tea. It won’t hurt to flirt with him a little.”

When Franks knocked, Lisette opened the door to him, taking his hat and coat.

“Ah, Mr. Franks, how kind of you to join us,” Giselle said with a smile. “Iris has told me so much about you. Please, sit down. I ordered tea to be brought up when you arrived and it should be here shortly.”

There was a second knock, and Lisette admitted a waiter who rolled a tray into the room and made a small business of setting a tray with a small pot, cups and a plate with a variety of finger sandwiches on a low table in front of Giselle, before he bowed himself out.

While her grandmother busied herself pouring tea, Iris smiled at Franks and asked. “It was such a surprise to see you on the boat. What brings you to Junction City, Mr. Franks?”

He eyed her warily, but responded, “Why the pleasure of your company, Miss Iris.”

“Oh, come sir,” she said breathlessly, fluttering her eyelashes at him, “surely you didn’t come all this way just to see me. Why you could have done that back home in River Crossing.”

Lisette made a strangled sound and ducked into Giselle’s bedroom before she laughed aloud. Iris was channeling preacher Meeker’s sister who taught the River Crossing school with deadly accuracy.

“One lump or two, Mr. Franks?” inquired Giselle holding a lump of sweetening in tongs over his cup.

“Ah, just one,” he said, barely glancing at her.

Obliging him, Giselle dropped a single lump into the cup and stirred it with a small spoon. She handed the cup and saucer to Iris who leaned forward to hand the cup to Franks, ensuring he got a good look down her décolletage as she did so, before picking up her own cup and sipping it.

“You really must try these,” Iris said, holding out a small plate with red cookies. “If I had these at home, I declare I’d be as fat as one of my sister’s geese.”

“Thank you,” Franks said, wondering what was going on. Perhaps Iris had simply decided to try to charm him out of reporting the marriage to Old Ira Johnson. It wouldn’t work, but if it made her do what he wanted he was willing to let her think she could convince him not to sell the information to Johnson.  Women were there to look at or to use not to make plans or change his course of action.

It wasn’t until he had finished his tea that he began to feel woozy. He threw the cup down and tried to stand, falling back into the chair when his legs gave out. “Bitch!” he hissed. “You’re going to pay for this.”

“Good night Mr. Franks,” Iris said. “I won’t wish you sweet dreams. In fact, I hope you have nightmares.”

Franks eyes closed, and he slid down the chair seat, landing on his knees on the braided rug.

Lisette opened the door to Joe Wong and two burly rivermen. Joe didn’t bother to introduce them. “Over there,” she said, pointing at Franks.

“How long will he be out?” the nearest man rumbled.

“Most of the day and part of tomorrow. I gave him a very strong dose,” Giselle responded. “Thank you Joe. How much do I owe them?”

“Nothing,” Joe said. “They are doing this because they owe me a favor. Remember, you too, this man doesn’t get away until you are as far north as your route takes

you.”

One of them stooped and slung Franks dead weight over his shoulder. “We go out the back way the way we came in,” Joe reminded them. He dropped a kiss on Giselle’s cheek. “Amy and I will expect the two of you to dinner tomorrow.”

“We’ll be there. Thanks again Joe.”

 

The Plot Thickens – Warriors of St. Antoni Chapter 16

This is the first of my new Portal Worlds series. The book is still being written and edited, so what you read today is subject to change without notice in the published version.

On St. Antoni you got tough or you died. The only defense is a gun; your security is your ability to use it. This is the story of three sisters and the choices they make to survive on St. Antoni. Bethany marries a mercenary warrior to shield her family from a predatory neighbor. To protect her sister, Iris chooses between an arranged marriage with a beloved friend and an outlaw. Jeanne and the son of her greatest enemy defy both their families to find love.

Technology to find and open gateways to alternative worlds was found on earth in the late 21st century. Those expecting to get rich off the tremendous resources on these new worlds controlled Access to them. People talk though, and it wasn’t long before the new technology became common knowledge and unregulated Portals cropped up. Illegal settlers passed through Forbidden gates looking for new places to live and find adventure and liberty.

With only the technology they could carry or build from raw materials on St. Antoni they built a new way of life.  To survive they must rely on themselves. The learned to master deadly plants and animals. On St. Antoni, Adventure was a one-way trip to a hardscrabble life and Freedom meant relying on yourself for food, a roof over your head and safety.

This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is unintentional and accidental. © Gail Daley 2017 All Rights reserved. Any duplication of this work electronically or printed, except for brief publicity quotes, is forbidden without the express written permission of the author. Cover Art © by Gail Daley’s Fine Art 2017

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays. Check in next Friday for the next chapter of Warriors of St. Antoni

Click below to Download a PDF copy and start reading Chapter 16 The Plot Thickens

   https://www.facebook.com/groups/GailDaleyWriter/

MIKE FRANKS waited until the St. Vyr women had disembarked in Junction City to approach Iris. She and Jeanne were waiting while Gran negotiated with the dockworkers to take their baggage to the hotel.

“Miss Iris, what a nice surprise to find you here,” Franks said. “Can I help you ladies get your luggage to the hotel?”

“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary,” Giselle told him. “These gentlemen have already agreed to do that for us.

“Then may I find you a cab to take you there?”

“That has been arranged, but thank you,” Giselle’s voice was perfectly polite, but dismissive.

Franks scowled at her back as the three women mounted closed buggy drawn by a large brown tricorn.

“Excuse me, but you tell me where you’re taking the baggage?” Franks asked the nearest dockworker.

The man scowled over at him. “Seems to me the ladies weren’t too anxious to make your acquaintance,” he said. “You want to know so bad, you’ll just have to follow us.”

Irritated, Franks waited until the dockworkers had loaded up their wagon with luggage to take on into the town. It was doubly annoying because he discovered as he followed them on foot, that they made stops at several places along the way to drop off goods and baggage. The last stop was the Grand, an upscale hotel that boasted a café as well as rooms for rent.

He was at the front desk, trying to convince the skinny clerk to let him see the register when he saw Samuel Johnson enter the lobby. Instead of his usual cowman’s pants and boots, Johnson was dressed in a grey suit. When he saw Johnson approaching the desk, Franks ducked behind a large potted plant a few feet away.

“Tom Clancy,” Johnson told the clerk. “I believe you are holding a room for me.”

“Yes sir,” the clerk agreed. “Here is your key. The room is at the top of the stairs on the right. Do you need assistance with your luggage?”

“No thanks, I just have this.” Johnson held up a single valise. “I’m staying here overnight to meet my fiancée. We’ll be leaving tomorrow afternoon after the wedding.”

“Congratulations, Sir.”

“Thanks.” Without having seen Franks, Johnson started up the stairs.

Franks whistled to himself. Now just what was Johnson up to? And why had he given the clerk a false name?

So, one of the Johnson cubs was getting married, was he? And under a false name too. Franks knew enough about the Johnson family to think none of the sons made a move that hadn’t been sanctioned by old Ira Johnson, so this must tie in with one of Johnson’s schemes. If he found out what the Johnsons were up to, it might be worth money to keep quiet about it or if that didn’t work, then to talk to the right people. Considering matters, Franks decided to stay a while. Tracking down Iris St. Vyr could wait.

Down The Rabbit Hole – Warriors of St. Antoni Chapter 15

This is the first of my new Portal Worlds series. The book is still being written and edited, so what you read today is subject to change without notice in the published version.

On St. Antoni you got tough or you died. The only defense is a gun; your security is your ability to use it. This is the story of three sisters and the choices they make to survive on St. Antoni. Bethany marries a mercenary warrior to shield her family from a predatory neighbor. To protect her sister, Iris chooses between an arranged marriage with a beloved friend and an outlaw. Jeanne and the son of her greatest enemy defy both their families to find love.

Technology to find and open gateways to alternative worlds was found on earth in the late 21st century. Those expecting to get rich off the tremendous resources on these new worlds controlled Access to them. People talk though, and it wasn’t long before the new technology became common knowledge and unregulated Portals cropped up. Illegal settlers passed through Forbidden gates looking for new places to live and find adventure and liberty.

With only the technology they could carry or build from raw materials on St. Antoni they built a new way of life.  To survive they must rely on themselves. The learned to master deadly plants and animals. On St. Antoni, Adventure was a one-way trip to a hardscrabble life and Freedom meant relying on yourself for food, a roof over your head and safety.

This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is unintentional and accidental. © Gail Daley 2017 All Rights reserved. Any duplication of this work electronically or printed, except for brief publicity quotes, is forbidden without the express written permission of the author. Cover Art © by Gail Daley’s Fine Art 2017

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays. Check in next Friday for the next chapter of Warriors of St. Antoni

Click below to Download a PDF copy and start reading Chapter 15 Down The Rabbit Hole

   https://www.facebook.com/groups/GailDaleyWriter/

THE THREE men sat there on their tricorns dumfounded. Red looked back over his shoulder at the bushy forest they had just left and then back down into the fertile valley. “What is this?” he asked.

“Beats me,” Durango opined, scratching his head. “It sure doesn’t look like any outlaw hideout I ever saw.”

“Oh, and you’ve seen so many,” Red retorted.

“Well, I haven’t seen that many either,” Carlos said, “but this place looks more like a prosperous farm than a place where outlaws would go to escape a posse.”

He studied the area for a few minutes and then started his tricorn over to a stand of Indigo trees. Silently, Red and Durango followed him. Once there, Carlos swung down off the glossy red striped tricorn. He loosened the cinch and let the animal drop his head to feed. The men followed his example and then sat down to wait. Carlos opened his saddlebags and took out a pair of binoculars. The binoculars were new and a rarity on St. Antoni where the glass had to be ground and set into the polished wood by hand. Michael St. Vyr had given these to him on his last birthday, but Carlos had seldom needed to use them. He sat down with his back against the smooth bore of a tree and turned the lenses on the farmhouse and garden. After several minutes, he handed the glasses to Red. “Have a look,” he said.

Red swept the gaze of the binoculars over the house and barn and then wordlessly handed them off to Durango, who did the same. After a moment, Durango handed them back to Carlos.

“There’s a woman and kids down there,” Red said.

“Yep,” said Carlos.

“Un-huh,” Durango repeated.

“Well,” Carlos said. “I guess I’m just going to have to go down there to figure out what the set-up is.”

“Ah—maybe you should let one of us go,” Red said diffidently.

“Why,” Carlos asked sharply.

“Well, the fact is Boss, you won’t pass as a tramp drover down on his luck,” Durango said.

“Yeah,” Red agreed. “I’m sorry, Boss, but no out of work drover would have a fancy ‘corn like yours.”

“He’d have sold him for eating money,” explained Durango. “Now, Red and me, our ‘corns don’t look like anything out of the way special. If that is an outlaw hideout, one look at your ‘corn and they’ll think you’re a bounty hunter or a lawman so they won’t talk to you.”

“Either that or tell you a pack of lies,” Red added.

Carlos looked at them in frustration. What they said made sense, even if it went against the grain to let them take the risk instead of himself. “Okay,” he said, “you’ve got a point. But both of you go. I’ll sit here where I can give you cover if you have to make a run for it.”

“Watch that place where we came out too,” Durango suggested. “They might get a visitor.”

Carlos nodded and got up to move his tricorn further back into the stand of trees. Durango and Red tightened up their cinches and headed down into the valley toward the farmhouse. Carlos sat back down against the tree and raised his binoculars.

He watched as Durango and Red rode up to the farmhouse. A tall, gaunt man with reddish hair stepped out from the barn to meet them. Although he couldn’t see what was said, Carlos could tell that man was telling them to move on by his gestures. Finally, however, he pointed at a small building near the edge of the cultivated property with an undersized corral, and the two rode toward it.

It looked as if they had talked their way in. Carlos rose and stretched. He had just straightened back up when he heard a branch crack behind him.

“Don’t move, mister,” a young voice said. He felt the pressure of a gun barrel against his back as his pistol was slipped from its holster.

“Can I turn around now? I’d like to see who’s holding me up,” he said.

When he turned, he found him facing the girl he had seen through the binoculars earlier. “Let’s take a walk,” she said, motioning for him to head down toward the farmhouse. “Leave your ‘corn. I’ll come back for him.”

Sourly, Carlos allowed himself to be herded toward the farmhouse.

“What’s your name girl?”

“Karin,” she said.

“You have a last name Karin? Mine is Carlos Madonna.”

“Smith. Our last name is Smith.”

“Smith,” he repeated. “I see. Is that your father down there or your husband?”

“My husband, not that it’s any of your business.”

Since the conversation appeared dried up, he said nothing more.

The man was waiting for him as they walked up. “He was watching us through glasses,” the girl said. “I thought that was a bad idea, so I brought him down to meet you.”

Smith nodded, looking Carlos over carefully. “Well,” he said, “You’re sure no out of work puncher.”

“That’s right,” Carlos agreed. “My name is Madonna. I was trailing two outlaws, and I saw them come down here. Have you seen them?”

“You don’t look like the law, neither,” Smith continued as if Carlos hadn’t spoken.

“No, I’m not the law. I was hired to find two outlaws who held up some miners a while back.”

Smith hawked and spat. “No one like that here. There’s two drifters just came by asking for shelter for the night. I told them they could use the old farm shack out by the trees.”

“You do that often, put up strangers?”

“Sometimes. Like the good book says, I cast bread upon the waters. Someday I might need it.”

“I’d like to meet these drifters.”

Smith gave him a suspicious look. “Don’t believe me? Well, they’re right over there. Go ahead, but I’ll have no shooting started here around my family.”

“Fair enough. Your wife took my gun anyway.”

“Well, you look peaceable enough. Give him back his pistol Karin.”

“Thanks.” Carlos took his gun, rechecked the loads, a fact that did not escape Smith’s notice, and re holstered the pistol. He walked down toward the shack, watched by Smith and his wife.

Durango came to the door of the shack as he approached. “Hello, the house,” Carlos called. “May I come in?”

“Come ahead,” Durango said, just as loudly.

As soon as he got within talking distance, Carlos lowered his voice. “You were right about not passing as a down on his luck drover. The Smiths think I’m a bounty hunter.”

“Who are you supposed to be hunting?”

“I told the truth there. Said I was hunting the men who held up the miners. Smith seemed to accept it. He allowed me to come over here anyway. Did he accept your story?”

“Seems to have. I think it’s best if we stay here and then leave early in the morning.”

Carlos nodded. “I’ll tell him that you aren’t the men I’m looking for, and ask if there is another way out of the valley. You do the same in the morning and we’ll meet up when we get out of sight of the farm.”

“Sounds okay.”

“Well, thanks boys,” Carlos turned and walked back toward Smith.

“They aren’t who I was looking for. They’ve been over in Tago Crossing for the last month working roundup on the K-B spread. Lost their pay in a gambling game.”

Smith nodded. “What will you do now?”

“Start over, I guess. Is there another way out of here?”

“Nope. Just the one you came in.”

“Okay, well, I guess I’ll start back then. I’d like to clear that trail before it gets too dark to see. Thanks.”

He turned and started back up the hill to where he had tied his tricorn.

Carlos took his time before tightening the cinch and heading back into the brush tunnel. He reached the mine camp where they had spent last night just as dusk was falling. Carlos picketed the tricorn and built a small fire in the fire pit used by the miners. As a precaution, he made his bed over behind the cabin and close to the tricorn, whose alert senses would warn him if anyone approached.

Back in River Crossing, a tall skinny man named Marvin Chamber stepped onto the docks and looked around. His rifle dangling from his hand, he slung a battered warbag over one shoulder and headed for the Hotel. Seth Lindsey, the desk clerk, eyed Chamber with disfavor, but he had been given a large tip so he led Chamber up the backstairs to the Johnson suite.

Johnson dropped a gold chip into the clerk’s hand, reminding him, “You didn’t see anyone.”

“No sir,” Lindsey said as he shut the door.

“Trip out here okay?” Johnson asked.

Chamber shrugged. “It went. What’s the job?”

“I need two men taken out. I’m not to be connected with either one.”

Chamber waited patiently.

“The first one is Alec McCaffey. Be careful with him. He’s gun savvy, so don’t let him spot you. He’s son-in-law to Michael St. Vyr. You’ll find him somewhere around the Golden Tricorn Ranch, east of town.”

“You got a description?”

“About medium height, brown hair and eyes. Usually rides a gold striped tricorn. He’s worth three pounds of gold chips.”

“McCaffey. Would that be the McCaffey that runs a range detection agency over in Bitterstone?”

“Yes, that’s the man.”

“Uh, huh. I know him. He’s going to cost you.”

“Three pounds is a lot of money.”

“Yeah, but the way I hear it, he runs with Henry Miller, and Miller is a tiger-bat on wheels in a fight.”

“Four pounds.”

Chamber nodded. “Alright. Who’s the other one?”

“Another of St. Vyr’s son-in-laws. Name of Carlos Madonna. He runs the Lucky Strike Mine. Dark eyes, dark skin, black hair. About six foot. Dresses nice. Not so gun savvy as McCaffey, but the word is he’s good with a knife.”

“Thrown or hand to hand?”

“Both from what I hear.”

Chamber nodded. “Twelve pounds silver, delivered to my account in Copper City.”

“Half now and half when the jobs finished. I set you up with a room here—”

“No thanks. Too high-toned. I’ll get a room across the river.”

“Suit yourself.”

Winds of Change – Warriors of St. Antoni Chapter 14

This is the first of my new Portal Worlds series. The book is still being written and edited, so what you read today is subject to change without notice in the published version.

On St. Antoni you got tough or you died. The only defense is a gun; your security is your ability to use it. This is the story of three sisters and the choices they make to survive on St. Antoni. Bethany marries a mercenary warrior to shield her family from a predatory neighbor. To protect her sister, Iris chooses between an arranged marriage with a beloved friend and an outlaw. Jeanne and the son of her greatest enemy defy both their families to find love.

Technology to find and open gateways to alternative worlds was found on earth in the late 21st century. Those expecting to get rich off the tremendous resources on these new worlds controlled Access to them. People talk though, and it wasn’t long before the new technology became common knowledge and unregulated Portals cropped up. Illegal settlers passed through Forbidden gates looking for new places to live and find adventure and liberty.

With only the technology they could carry or build from raw materials on St. Antoni they built a new way of life.  To survive they must rely on themselves. The learned to master deadly plants and animals. On St. Antoni, Adventure was a one-way trip to a hardscrabble life and Freedom meant relying on yourself for food, a roof over your head and safety.

This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is unintentional and accidental. © Gail Daley 2017 All Rights reserved. Any duplication of this work electronically or printed, except for brief publicity quotes, is forbidden without the express written permission of the author. Cover Art © by Gail Daley’s Fine Art 2017

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays. Check in next Friday for the next chapter of Warriors of St. Antoni

Click below to Download a PDF copy and start reading Chapter 14 Winds of Change

   https://www.facebook.com/groups/GailDaleyWriter/

THE ENTIRE family came down to the loading docks to see Gisele and her two granddaughters off on their buying trip to Junction City. Neither Giselle or Jeanne showed any sympathy for either Carolos or for Iris this morning: Carlos appeared sullen and he winced at the loud noises the rivermen were making as they prepared the boat for the trip up river. Iris was pale and heavy eyed and she avoided looking at him or standing anywhere near Carlos.

Bethany frowned at the pair and whispered to Jeanne, “What’s wrong with them?”

“Lover’s quarrel,” Jeanne replied succinctly. “They’ll get over it.”

She flung her arms around Bethany and hugged her hard, before handing her sister a sealed letter. “Don’t read it until you’re alone, okay?”

“Why, what is it?” Bethany asked. “What’s wrong? Are you in trouble?”

Her sister gave her a kiss on the cheek. “I’m not in trouble, and I’m going to be very happy. Please believe that. I love you Sis.”

She gave her father a dutiful peck on the cheek before following her grandmother and sister up the ramp.

Michael St. Vyr rolled his chair back toward the street, stopping at the edge of the wooden walkway where his carriage waited.

“Mom convinced me the pair of you should a little time alone without all of us in your faces, so Carlos and I are going to stay in town for a couple of days,” he told Bethany and Alec.

“Mike—” began Alec.

“No, you take a little time for yourselves boy,” St. Vyr said, holding up a hand to stop him. “Those yahoos Johnson hired are still licking their wounds from being run off Ruby Canyon. We’ve got time before they start something else.”

“Thank you, Papa,” Bethany said, bending down to kiss him. She slipped her had under her husband’s arm and looked up at him. “It’s going to be fun, having just us at the ranch.”

“Henry’s got a report for us,” St. Vyr told Carlos as they watched the carriage roll away. “Let’s head over to the Hotel and find out what he’s learned.”

The found Henry sitting in a dark corner of the bar at the Hotel, sipping a whiskey.

“Better if we’re not seen keeping company,” Henry said dryly to St. Vyr. “So far no one’s noticed that I came into town with Alec, so they haven’t associated me with you and they talk to me.”

Henry took a sip of his whiskey. “Sometimes I get some mighty queer notions hanging around the bad elements in town.”

“Oh? What kind of funny notions?” inquired Carlos.

“How much do you know about a gent named Lutz?”

“Jeramiah Lutz?” demanded Michael.

“That’s the name.”

“Why, he owns the local bank,” Michael said slowly. “Kind of a fussbudget; nobody really likes him because he’s a sharp operator. I wouldn’t borrow money from him. He got rich on foreclosures. Why?”

“Well, the rumor is he got a man named Franks on the payroll.”

Max Franks?” Carlos demanded.

“Yep, I think that was his handle.”

Carlos swore. “That’s the gent who was hanging around Iris when we went to the revue, and later at the wedding reception. I told her he was un hombre malo, but she didn’t believe me.”

“Word on the streets is when he wants to foreclose on a farm or a mine claim, Lutz uses Franks to convince folks to give up on paying back a loan.”

“Well, that’s interesting,” Michael said, “but I don’t see as it’s got anything to do with what we asked you to find out.”

Henry took another sip. “Maybe nothing, but Franks doesn’t just work for Lutz. On his own time, the word is he makes spending money by robbing honest miners. This may not have anything to do with what you wanted to know either, but last night Franks spent some time at Lutz’s house and later he was having a drink with Ben Sykes.  I was too far away to hear what was said, but looked to me like he was giving him orders.”

“Sykes is a gutter rat who beats up honest men for money,” Michael stated. “If everyone wasn’t afraid to testify against him he’d have been locked up a long time ago.”

“The miners look away when I asked about Sykes,” Henry added. “I think he’s forcing them to do something. Something they don’t want to do, but they are afraid not to do what he wants.”

“He’s not smart enough to organize the high-grading,” Carlos said thoughtfully.

“Jeramiah Lutz is,” Michael said. He looked at Henry. “Can you find out more about what Sykes is making honest miners do? Without putting yourself in a hole, I mean?”

Henry nodded. “Probably. Right now, most of them think I’m just a nosy old man who used to be a hard rock miner, so they talk to me. What are you going to do?”

“Watch Franks,” Carlos said. “When he leaves town, I want to follow him. If I can locate his hideout, maybe I can find proof he’s the one running our miners off their claims. I need to pick up a couple of good trackers from the ranch; Red and maybe Durango if Alec can spare them.”

Miller shook his head. “If you’re waiting for Franks to leave town so you can follow him you’re wasting your time. He got on the same steamer your fiancée did.”

“What!” Carlos exclaimed in outrage.

The two older men exchanged an amused glance. Both of them knew Madonna was more worried about Franks paying court to Iris than whatever else he might be up to on his trip up river. Michael St. Vyr shrugged. “Relax, son. What if Franks is on the steamer? None of my girls is silly enough to fall for a slick charmer like Franks. Even if they were, Mom would send him on his way.”

After a brief struggle, Carlos agreed. “Well I think I still need those trackers. I want to look at where the three miners were robbed. Maybe we can find where Franks came from. It’s been pretty dry up in the hills, so the tracks should still be there.”

Accordingly, he rode out to the Tricorn that afternoon, intending to leave in the morning for the hills. Alec was happy for him to take the two trackers with him.

Durango was a short, thin man of Hispanic ancestry who fancied himself one of the Vaqueros he read about in the western romances smuggled through the portal. He dressed in tight pants, a loose shirt and a large sombrero. His boots carried huge roweled spurs that jingled when he walked. Despite his fancy dress, he was excellent on a trail. Red was a tall, skinny carrot top whose freckled face always showed sunburn. He had learned to track as a boy when finding game for the table because if you missed a shot you might not eat that night.

When the three men arrived at the first claim that had been raided, it was late afternoon the next day. A hand cranked dry washer still stood up the hill from where the men had worked, although it was listing badly to one side, and pieces of the broken sluice box were scattered along the shore of the bubbling creek. Most telling was a dark splotch of dirt where a body had lain. Up the hill by a rough built wooden cabin there were two freshly dug graves.

The man who had reported the attack to Carlos had taken the time to bury the two dead miners before he came into the headquarters of the Lucky Strike.

“I’m through,” he said, spitting on the floor. “It ain’t worth it Madonna. Them claim jumpers was on us before we could blink. They just up and shot Jase and Carl point blank. They’d have got me too, except I was up the hill skinning out a pronghorn I’d just shot. I had time to get undercover, but they cleaned us out of everything but this.” He dropped his own small bag of gold nuggets on Carlos’s desk.

“What will you do, Lin?” Carlos had asked him.

“I ain’t figured that out yet. But I got a daughter over to Copper City. I figure I’ll go spend some time with her and the kids.” He had signed the quitclaim papers on the mining claim and stomped out.

They dismounted and baited the tricorns before beginning a slow sweep around the camp, looking for the trail the raiders had made coming into camp. It was dusk before Red found it; a faint scrape of several tricorn hooves following each other and leading back into the canyon.

“I wouldn’t recommend following it in the dark boss,” he told Carlos. “I’d just as soon catch whatever we find in daylight.”

Carlos nodded and went to unsaddle his own mount and unload the pack tricorn. Durango was already making up a fire in the cabin’s fire pit.

The trail into the canyon the next morning was dark and spooky. It wound a serpentine path under overhanging vines that hid the sun, and sticker bushes tore at their clothes. It was impossible for more than one tricorn to travel it at a time. After flipping a round flat disc to decide who would be the trailblazer, Durango led off, followed by Carlos with Red bringing up the rear with the pack animal.

They finally came out into a shaded valley of lush green grass. A sparkling creek gurgled merrily through the center of it. At the far end of the valley, they could barely make out a cabin, a barn, and what seemed to be a fenced garden in the distance. Red had stopped when he exited the opening in the bushes, moving just enough so the others could come off the trail.

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