Excerpts

HARD GOODBYES

1860

Chapter 1

Southeast Wyoming Near Fort Laramie

At thirty-seven Ally Hart was still attractive, at least for now. She continually tugged at her loose hanging blouse, trying to keep in in place. The way it drooped exposed her thin neck and gaunt chest.

Sitting in her dimly lit kitchen, Elijah Yancey, her would-be new caretaker’s great concern was her welfare, and rightfully so.  Every day she looked more haggard. “Mrs. Hart,” he began, while rubbing his fingers across the green plaid tablecloth covering her kitchen table, “I don’t see how you can stay out here all by yourself.” Elijah, probably in his seventies, was an uneducated man, unassuming, but a gentle spirit. “With Mr. Hart dead, it’s just too dangerous for you.”

Ally’s thoughts had drifted off to an earlier time when life was still normal. She looked over at Elijah, who looked like he wanted to say something else. When he didn’t, she gave him a sweet smile and apologized for not hearing what he said. Most people were reluctant, at least cautious, about mentioning her husband’s death. After all, it was only a week since his burial. Elijah was not most people. He repeated his concerns, complete with the unpleasant details of how her husband died.

            “I’ll be fine. I’ve friends to look in on me,” she said. Her reply was as much to convince herself, as her guileless friend. “Would you like another piece of that pie?”  “Well, if you don’t mind, ma’am. Cherry is my favorite.” first

Ally cut a sizeable piece of the pie and put it on Elijah’s plate. “Let me refill your coffee.”   

“Thank you, ma’am,” Elijah replied, before taking a forkful of the fresh pie. “That is good, Mrs. Hart, good as any cherry pie I’ve ever had.” Ally, an unemotional woman, did fancy herself quite a baker, but not in an uppity way. She simply knew it was something she did well. She smiled at her new guardian, accepting the compliment as she sat the tin cup of coffee in front of him.

Elijah looked up at her as she walked over to look out the window. “I hope I’m not too forward,” he said before hesitating as if waiting for her approval. “But I don’t see how,” he continued when Ally tilted her head as if to permit him. “I don’t see how you’ll be able to make ends meet out here, with no man around. I mean, I know you have friends, but they’re just aren’t that many of them,” he added, making for a somewhat awkward moment. “Why, if you don’t count the Army, there aren’t enough people within fifty miles of here to hold a revival meeting.”

Ally turned toward the window and sighed. Now late in the day, the sky was turning to a rusty color. As she looked out at it, it took her back to the evenings she had spent with her husband. Times when after finishing the day’s work, they would, weather allowing, sit on the front porch. Often, she would sip tea while Sam quietly played an old harmonica. The harmonica playing may have been a substitute for conversation. Sam had been talkative, while Ally was somewhat quiet. It was not that they never talked; it was that Ally felt unsatisfied with their conversations. While Sam rambled on about any topic, she felt their discussions were about – nothing. Why wouldn’t they have been about nothing? Nothing, or at least nothing exciting ever happened out here.

Sam had been happy to discuss the weather, the cattle, how much he enjoyed a meal she had cooked. A discussion about painting the house could keep him interested all evening. How long would it take, what color should they paint the shutters? If they ever got any shutters. Those talks bored Ally. She could no longer even feign interest. Once she had enjoyed talking about having a family, what it would be like to have kids running around. However, attempting to have children had been unsuccessful. Everything interesting to her: taking a trip, a more delightful home, visiting a real town – were merely dreams.

Sam had brought her out here years earlier. Even to the day he died, he had dreams of raising large herds of cattle, of becoming a success. Yet, the dreams had never really materialized. The years, for the most part, had been only marginally successful. Off and on, there had been some Indian trouble; not much, no killing, just a few stolen cows. Two dry summers and one brutally cold and snow-filled winter killed off several head of their stock. Still, Sam had never given up; he could always find reasons for optimism.

Ally, on the other hand, was more of a realist, and her reality right now scared her. For all practical purposes, she was alone and, in her opinion, trapped in the middle of nowhere. With Sam gone, her most trusted friend, was Daniel Starrett, who had helped raise her and her sister after her parents died. He had been a young attorney in a small Missouri town where she grew up. Now he was growing old as a judge in St. Louis, a place far away and unreachable from her world. Everything seemed unreachable. She wondered if the empty feeling she now had would ever go away. Would she ever experience even a single evening without loneliness?

IN BETWEEN TIME

– Volstead and Fourteen Year Supply –

Chapter 1

            Cecil James Elliott hated the name his mother gave him. He didn’t care much for her. She was hospitalized in 1910 when he was twelve. That’s when she told him wanted to die. It was a Wednesday; from that day, their relationship was troubled. By this year, 1919, he referred to himself as C.J., and they barely spoke. 

 C.J. was glad they barely spoke. Prohibition had just passed; he would have been worn out by listening to her blather on about how grand the forced enactment of teetotaling would be. Just to set her off, he would have argued that it would only increase crime. Yes, it was best they barely spoke.      

           When he was interested in a female’s view, he preferred the notions of Maggie O’Sullivan, an opinionated Irish girl. Stubborn – and what a temper that one had – but, oh, she was pretty. Rose gold hair, snapping green eyes, a warm skin tone, tall, willowy, and a hint of an Irish lilt in her voice. He knew the first time he saw her that she would be his muse.

      “Your muse?” she said, pulling her collar up, and her red felt beret, down, over newly bobbed hair. 

“Yes, my muse,” C.J. responded, conceitedly. “Surely, a Mount Holyoke girl knows what a muse is.”

      “Of course, I know,” Maggie replied, observably glancing down at the novel she was carrying – The God of the Seas. “I’m just surprised an Amherst boy does.”

Happy to take her bait, C.J. obligingly glanced at the novel. “Scandalous,” he said.

      “You know what they say about Holy Oak girls and Smith girls,” Maggie laughed, increasing the swiftness of her gait. C.J. rushed to catch up with her. “Elliott,” she said, calling him as she always did by his last name, “You probably should head back home before this starts to stick.”

           Stick? It could barely be called flurries. He didn’t want to leave her, but in their brief relationship, he’d already grasped there was no point in arguing with this girl. He’d argued himself mindless, trying to get her to stop calling him by his last name. He remained Elliott. Surrendering to her, he muttered something about “Saturday then?”

           “Saturday,” she said. “And don’t you dare be late.” When he turned to leave, she grabbed the back of his coat. “Elliott, aren’t you going to give me a goodbye kiss?” He leaned down to kiss her on the lips, but she turned her face and tapped on her cheek.  

           By the time C.J. was half-way back to Amherst, the snow was falling in near blizzard conditions. Among everything else, the girl was a seer. Elliott was mesmerized.      

           Grace Brown, in Maggie’s opinion, was the perfect roommate. Friendly, sweet, neat, and tidy, and never tried to sneak a male in the room. Most satisfying, she was from a moneyed family in Bar Harbor, Main. That was important. “How was your time with the new beau?” Grace always showed attentiveness to Maggie’s social life.

           Maggie tossed her coat and beret on her bed; something Grace would have never done. “It was lovely,” she breathed. Sitting down in front of her mirror, she brushed her hands threw her now short hair, thinking it looked redder at this length. “My folks aren’t going to like this bob.”

           “Why’d you do it then,” Grace asked.

           “Why not, it’s not their hair.” Maggie gave her hair a good tussle, leaving it sticking in several directions. She hung up her coat and put the beret in a drawer, mostly because she knew Grace would like that. Flopping on her bed and picked up her novel. Holding it in both hands at arm’s length above her head, she began to laugh. “Elliot called The God of the Seas, scandalous. I don’t think he thinks it’s proper for me to be reading it.”

           “It’s probably not,” Grace said in a silly voice.

           “I asked him if he knew what they say about Holyoke and Smith girls,” Maggie said, with a naughtiness in her voice that Grace loved.

           “You mean Smith girls to bed, Holyoke girls to wed?” Grace asked.

           “Oh, child, you know they only say it that way at Holyoke.” Maggie replied as she stood up laughing. “It’s time to eat. Let’s go, I’m completely famished.”

           As they left their room and started down the stairs to the dining room, Maggie remained chatty. “I’m going out with Elliott Saturday night. If you have a date, we could do something together.”

           “I’d like that,” Grace said, “but Bill says he has something special planned for Saturday night. I think he’s going to ask me to his parents’ house for Christmas.”

           “Christmas? That’s next week. It seems a little late to ask you now.”

           Grace smiled at Maggie’s comment. “That’s probably what he’s hoping.” As they walked into the dining room, a rather formal affair, for a college dormitory, complete with white table cloths for evening meals, Grace asked Maggie about C.J.s plans for Christmas.

           “Elliott’s? Who knows,” Maggie said, sounding very disinterested. “I think his family is all dead . . . except for his mother. And they’re alienated.” Grace suggested that Maggie should take Elliott home with her for Christmas. “With me?” She squealed. Well, squealed with dignity. “My mother would fairly fall over dead. And my father, my father would probably send him to the gates of Heaven, and not care whether the devil knows he’s dead.” Maggie, paused before patting Grace’s arm. “Truth be told I’m hoping the weather gets even worse and that I won’t be able to go home for Christmas. Tulsa be damned as far as I’m concerned.” A girl with too curly blond hair, who lived across the hall, asked if she could join them. Maggie, in her best Irish brogue, replied. “Tis, a private conversation, be away with yourself.” The blond girl rolled her eyes, and told Maggie she was “such a pain in the arse.” She then sat down with two other girls, who got a laugh out of O’Sullivan’s behavior.

           Once the blond left, Grace became very chatty. “You know, Maggie O, you should marry C.J. before prohibition kicks in, in January. If you wait, you won’t have any champagne at your wedding.”

           Maggie peered at Grace across the top of her teacup. Blowing on the orange pekoe before taking two sips, and declaring it to be hot. “Marry Elliott? He hasn’t asked me.

           “He will,” Grace said. That quieted Maggie. It unsettled her – marriage. Now there was a serious commitment.

           Elliott’s roommate, and best friend, was a New Yorker named Sam Taylor. He loved golf and Scotch. Elliot wasn’t much of a golfer and abhorred Scotch. Still, they got along, spending most of their free time discussing girls, women, Sam called them. Sam complained that since C.J. had started spending all of his womanizing time with Maggie O’Sullivan, he’d become boring. He lectured C.J. that exclusively courting a woman you weren’t bedding was an absolute waste of a young man’s virility. When C.J. mentioned Tulsa was Maggie’s hometown, Sam couldn’t believe it. “She’s from Tulsa? It only gets worse – an OAKIE.”

           Elliott swung his midnight blue 1917 Jeffery Touring car, complete with black fenders and window curtains, up to the curb in front of Brigham Hall, one of the more excellent residences at Holyoke. He rushed up the stairs three at a time and went through the large white entry doors. He smiled at the girl sitting at the front desk and proudly announced that he was her for Maggie O’Sullivan. The girl was wearing red lipstick, that was a little too bright. She picked up the telephone and rang the third floor. “Tell Maggie O that her beau is here . . . wearing a lavender suit, blue shirt, and purple tie.” She didn’t mention his shirt had a white collar and white French cuffs.

           “You must be tough,” she said, flashing seductive smile.

           “Tough enough to wear a Lavender suit,” Elliot said, shooting her his best John Barrymore smile.

           The girl laughed; he hoped at his charm, not him. “That doesn’t make you tough,” she said. “Just brave.”

            “Elliott, where on earth is your coat?” Maggie came bouncing down the dark wooden stairs cocooned in black and tan cloche hat, with a burgundy flower, a fur collared maroon wrap coat elongating her silhouette. The coat with a below the waist belt, hovered just past mid-calf, showing a bit of her black skirt and side buttoned, cream colored Victorian ankle boots. She could not have looked more stylish.

            First, Elliott smiled, then he whistled. When the girl bounced into his arms, he gave her a quick whirl around, and a peck on the cheek. “Very striking,” the girl at the front desk said, offering a little mock applause.

            Maggie curtsied, “We’re going bowling,” she laughed.

            Just to be certain the front desk girl, didn’t get the any wrong impressions, Elliott shook his head, and cleared up his true plans for the evening. “Steaks at Bull Edwards and then the premier of The Cinema Murder,” he said, quite proudly.

            At Bull Edwards, Elliott ordered oysters as appetizers, without consulting Maggie. Upon their arrival she chased hers with two swallows of Elliot’s dark beer. “I wonder if ban on drinking will hurt oyster sales?” she asked, sliding another out of its shell and into her mouth.

            “Sam claims to know a gentleman in New York, who has a fourteen-year gin supply. He says there might be an opportunity for us as “distributors. He says there’d be a lot of money in it.”

            Maggie’s Irish eyes were not smiling at that remark. “So, you plan to become a rum runner?” The girl was vexed. Her ire was a surprise to Elliott, who had no idea how to react. “I don’t believe I care for your roommate,” she snapped. “I’ve been around bootleggers.”

            Bootleggers, who said anything about being a bootlegger? Elliott was now in a place he didn’t want to be, and his instinct told him he’s better get out of it – quick. “I’m not going to be a bootlegger. Or a rum runner,” he quickly added. His face flushed and he fiddled at the knot of his tie. “I was joking.”

            “Bloody Hell,” you were.

            Elliott thought bloody Hell was an English term. Apparently, the Irish use it as well. “I was just joking,” he protested, again.

            Maggie took a sip of her wine, shooting her beau a dirty look at the same time. “That’s bitter,” she said. “Order me a different glass.” Elliott waved a waiter over and obliged, asking for a sweeter vintage. He decided that it was a time for discretion, not explanation, so he decided to sit silently. He didn’t even make eye contact. Thankfully, dinner arrived promptly, right before the hopefully satisfactory wine.

            Maggie found the wine pleasing and the dinner delightful. Content that she had made her point regarding rum running, and/or gin distribution, the matter was dropped. Resolved to her satisfaction. Elliott decided that life with this redhead would be exciting. But damn she was pretty.

            Snow was falling when they arrived at the movie stadium, so Elliott let Maggie out at the front door and then parked the car. Inside he brushed the snow off the shoulders of his suite and wondered why he had not brought an overcoat. He had forgone sensibility for vanity. They bought chocolate covered caramels and hot cider for treats before finding seats just as the silent newsreel started.  When Marion Davies at last appeared on the screen in The Cinema Murder, Maggie laid her head on Elliott’s shoulder and whispered, “she’s quite scandalous.”

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