I awake with a start, my hand reaching for the heavy Navy Colt revolver I keep under my pillow for protection. The air is cold this early October morn. . . My breath coalesces and disperses. My heart pounds faster than the hooves of a runaway horse on Harrison Avenue.
I wait, listening. Half-light sneaks past the heavy velvet curtains in my sleeping room above the Silver Queen Saloon, which is strategically located on the corner of the business and red-light districts in the silver rush boomtown of Leadville, Colorado.
What awakened me?
Was someone testing the knob of my door?
If so, more fool he.
It is the invariable rule in Leadville to shoot first and count the cost later. I abide by that rule.
Besides, my door is locked. I have the key.
My inamorato, the Reverend Justice Sands, has another, true, but we would have prearranged any tryst. He knows better than to enter my sleeping quarters unannounced. Too, we are circumspect with our liaison. Even at this hour, there’s a chance he would be seen leaving, and that would do neither of us any good. Leadville may be a wide-open Western city, but there are still expectations, and proprieties, and I am a proper woman.
You may raise your eyebrows, given that I run a saloon and have a reputation for speaking my mind and for, shall we say, not eschewing a round of high-stakes poker nor the occasional (well, I shall be more forthright with you and say “frequent”) glass of brandy or measure of whiskey in my coffee. Still, I would not be so foolish as to give the women of the church more to gossip about than they have already.
I sit up, listening.
Not a sound, besides those expected to be found at first light—the rumble of feet upon the Harrison Avenue boardwalk outside my window, the rattle and creek of wagons and jingling of harnesses in the street. I resist the impulse to arise, peek through the lace curtains filming the pane behind the heavy drapes, and see if perhaps I had been awakened by a gunshot out on the street. Perhaps some poor soul, even now, breathes his last in the slick-ice mud, dreams of elusive silver wealth and instant riches dying with him.
No, the sound of a revolver or shotgun would have been instantly recognizable to me.
Truth to tell, I have not slept well since the ragamuffin newsie Tony took a potshot at one of the remittance men from Colorado Springs who visit and spend freely at the Silver Queen when their monthly funds arrive from overseas. The “Lads from London” are all known and dear to me. Tony took poor aim at Lord Percy and pulled the trigger in my saloon. . . in MY saloon, mind you. . . and put a neat hole in the tin ceiling.
But now all holy Hades has broken loose, and the Lads vow vengeance. To make matters worse, Tony’s mother Drina Gizzi—a fortuneteller, and a gypsy, I have been told—was found murdered in the French Row section of Stillborn Alley, a disreputable, desperate part of town. We know she was dead because Tony, myself, and Reverend Sands saw her poor body. I touched the strangling silver-and-gold corded corset laces still about her neck. (You may wonder what the Reverend and I were doing in Stillborn Alley, but that is a tale for another time.)
Yet, when we returned with the local law, Drina’s corpse had vanished!
As it happens, none care about a woman who disappears while working in the shadows of such parts of town. None care about what happened to Drina but Tony, and now me.
You see, Tony is no boy, but a girl, dressed in boy’s clothing. Small, slight, young she passes muster with most; however, it didn’t take me but a moment to see through her disguise.
Now, Tony is missing. And I find myself worried past all reason. She makes me think on my young son, still a toddler, safe and coddled back East, removed from all the dangers of this rough-and-tumble town. She reminds me of myself. I am no stranger to donning trousers when I must travel invisible through this town where ninety percent of the population is men.
There! That sound again!
Now I recognize it.
It’s the heavy iron door of the oven, clanging shut, in the kitchen below.
Relief floods through me. Bridgette, our cook, apparently arrived earlier than usual and is downstairs preparing breakfast.
I smell bacon in the pan, and buttermilk biscuits on the bake and rising.
It is time for me to rise as well.
Replacing the gun under the pillow, I begin to work the pearl buttons on my nightgown. I am thankful for this moment with you, dear reader. Now, forward, to face whatever the day may bring.
What Gold Buys is the fifth book in the Silver Rush mystery series, published by Poisoned Pen Press, September 2016.
Autumn 1880 in the Rocky Mountains brings frost, snow, and the return of Silver Queen Saloon owner Inez Stannert to Leadville, Colorado.
In this silver rush boomtown, those who are hungry for material riches seek their fortunes in precious metals. Others, hungry for spiritual relief, seek to pierce the veil between life and death with the help of fortunetellers, mediums, and occultists. Deep in the twisted byways of Leadville’s Stillborn Alley, soothsayer Drina Gizzi awaits the promised arrival of her benefactor, the mysterious Mr. Brown. When she is found murdered, strangled with a set of silver and gold corset laces, no one seems to care except the three who find her body―Inez, her lover Reverend Sands, and Drina’s young daughter, Antonia. The mystery surrounding Drina’s death deepens when her body vanishes without a trace.
As Inez and Antonia band together to seek out Drina’s killer, they unearth disturbing evidence of underground resurrectionists, long-held grievances, and white-hot revenge. Meanwhile, Inez’s husband, Mark Stannert, true to his word that he only “plays to win,” contrives to drive Inez and Sands apart, gambling that he can convince her to abandon her plans for divorce. But what can gold buy, after all? A new life? Freedom from the past? Truth and justice for those murdered and unmourned? Or a final passage for Inez and Antonia into an unmarked grave and the world of the dead?
And what of Mr. Brown, whose missing presence hovers over all, like a spirit from beyond?
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Meet the author
Ann Parker earned degrees in Physics and English Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, before taking up a career as a science writer. These days, she slings science and technical verbiage for a living during the day and writes historical mysteries at night. Ann lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, but her heart is in Colorado. Her ancestors include a great-grandfather who was a blacksmith in Leadville, a grandmother who worked at the bindery of Leadville’s Herald Democrat newspaper, a grandfather who was a Colorado School of Mines professor, and another grandfather who worked as a gandy dancer on the Colorado railroads.
Her award-winning Silver Rush historical mystery series, published by Poisoned Pen Press, is set in the 1880s silver boomtown of Leadville, Colorado, and features Silver Queen Saloon owner Inez Stannert—a woman with a mysterious past, a complicated present, and an uncertain future. The books, in series order first to recent, are Silver Lies, Iron Ties, Leaden Skies, Mercury’s Rise, and What Gold Buys.
For more about Ann and her books, wander on over to www.annparker.net.
All comments are welcomed.
Ann is offering up a giveaway! You choose which book to start with! Want to read about the mystery of Drina Gizzi’s death? Read What Gold Buys. Curious about the whole Inez Stannert “saga?” Best to begin with Silver Lies. Leave a comment below for your chance to win. US entries only, please. The giveaway will end September 10, 2016 at 12 AM (midnight) EST. Good luck everyone!