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Deadfall at Promontory 



 

 


























DEADFALL AT PROMONTORY


An Archaeological Mystery
by Cody Grant

TODAY: Archaeologist Cassie Mitchell finds a human skeleton where she expects a granite railroad tie commemorating the joining of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads in May 1869. Practically every bone in the man's body is broken. Is that how he died, or did they get that way after he he was dumped in the hole and a ton of rock was dumped on top of him. Surely forensic anthropologist Rory Saint can help her find out, as well as her husband, Derek Chavez. The three of them have solved very cold cases before. Why let another 140-year-old skeleton flummux them now?

AUGUST 1869: Patsey Marley, known by practically every man from Ireland to Helena, Montana and Prescott, Arizona as the pugilist who knocked out heavy-weight champion Con Orem after 95 rounds in 1865, could take a man's guns away from him without raising his own weapon. That's what a fighting reputation would do for you. You needed a pug face and a name to be a sheriff in the Deadfalls and hell-on-wheels towns of the transcontinental railroad. What Patsey didn't have was the vaguest idea where to start when Maggie Brogan asked him to look for her missing husband.

And. Lord help him, how was he going to keep his gnarled hands and broken nose away from her house when she kept inviting him over for a piece of those heavenly pies?

Follow Cassie Mitchell and her forensic team in modern-day Utah as they re-create Patsey Marley's detective work. Based on a true story.

PROLOGUE

 

Early morning, Monday, August 30, 1869. “This is crazy, Peter. You’re not going to do it.”

“Got to, Neil. You heard ‘em. Orders.”

Neil Brogan stumbled over a rock in the dark as his crewman and long-time buddy shoved him from behind.

“Just let me go. I’ll pack up, leave before light. You can say you did it. Who’s to know different?”

The only answer he got was the barrel of the revolver shoved into his back.

“You can have my gold watch. I’ll never tell.” Neil wouldn’t beg, but he thought he could buy the man off.

“It’s inscribed. Someone will find it on me and know what happened.”

“Where you taking me?” Neil asked.

“It’s not far.”

“What will happen to Maggie? I’m worried about her. I should never have brought her out here. It’s no place for a colleen.” Neil’s heart raced and the sweat poured out of his armpits, even though the early morning desert air felt bitter cold against his face.

“I’ll take care of Maggie. No need to worry,” O’Rourke replied.

Neil had to credit him with not so much as a chuckle or a leer. Peter O’Rourke had made no secret of his admiration for Neil Brogan’s wife.

“She won’t believe I just up and left,” he warned.

“She won’t have any choice, will she?” O’Rourke countered.

“She’s a resourceful woman. This won’t be as easy as you think it is,” Brogan pointed out, trying to stay calm. There had to be a way out. He knew this man, had given him a place to live, had shared his food now for over a year. O’Rourke owed him. The man couldn’t be getting ready to kill him.

Peter just grunted and shoved him farther along the railroad tracks, keeping the row of railroad cars to their right as they moved towards the one on the end.

“Here we are,” O’Rourke noted, putting his hand on Neil’s shoulder to stop him.

Brogan looked at his feet and saw the yawning pit. Yeah, he knew the place. On Saturday, he had directed the repair crew to remove a score of old ties out of it. First thing at seven this morning, he planned to have a couple of the boys come down and trip the deadfall they’d set up Saturday afternoon. In one rumble of tumbling stone, the pit would be filled. A couple of dozen wheelbarrows of dirt and sand on top, no one would ever know there had been a low spot in the ground here. Better than the ties, it would level the place out for the siding the U. P. wanted to build.

So that was it. O’Rourke was going to use the swale and the deadfall as his grave.

“Say your prayers, Neil.”

“Why’d you turn pigeon on me, Peter?” Neil tried to turn towards him, but O’Rourke held his bound arms firmly. “I’ve been nothing but a friend to you and the lads.”

“Two dollars a day, they promised us. We haven’t been paid regular for over a year now. You heard ‘em. They’re bringing in Chinks to replace us. When I walk off this job, it’ll be at three dollars a day, everyday I work, and it will be your job I’m holding. Me and the lads, we’re not getting done over this time,” O’Rourke growled.

“You know I’ve always done right by you and the boys. You let me go, and I’ll find a way to get you your pay and keep all of our jobs. They can’t get away with this. You know that.”

“They can, and they will, Brogan. They’re the Union Pacific, and we’re only a handful of Micks. Now say good-bye.”

Neil Brogan tried one more time to turn around and look at his long-time friend, the man he’d swung sledgehammers with ever since they’d left Omaha four years ago. All of the men felt let down by being at the end of the road, the place where the Central Pacific had run into them in the middle of the Utah desert, here at Promontory Summit. The jobs wouldn’t last, and they didn’t know where they’d be next. But it was no reason to start killing each other.

Peter O’Rourke stepped back, held up the old Navy Colt he’d brought with him from the War and fired into the back of his foreman’s skull. He watched as the man’s body tumbled forward into the pit created by the removal of the cluster of ties. Walking halfway around the pit, he removed first one, then two, and finally three large stones holding down the triggering devise of the deadfall. Nothing happened. Picking up a nearby sledgehammer, he heaved the head over his shoulder and swung at the wrought iron trigger.

With a groan and a crash, a ton of rock rolled into place, filling the depression and obliterating every traced of Neil Brogan.

O’Rourke glanced at the lights in the tents along Main Street in the tent city of Promontory. No one had stuck their heads outside to see what that gunshot had been all about, not even that nosy sheriff down at the end of the line. Marley hadn’t been around this town long enough to clean out the firearms yet, and gunshots still broke out regularly. No one even noticed.

He swung the sledgehammer to his shoulder, carried it over to a nearby wheelbarrow, and then decided he’d have a cup of coffee before he showed up at the job site. No need to be late this first day of Brogan’s absence. Not when he was about to become the new repair crew foreman.

 


  

 

 

         CHAPTER ONE

                  DISCOVERY

 

Tuesday, September 4, This Year. “Jesus, Jason. You’ve got a body, here!” I whispered hoarsely.

“I told you you’d want to see this, Cass,” my newbie archaeologist beamed.

I shuddered at his obvious delight. “You’re not supposed to be looking for bodies, for Chrissake. Does this look like a granite commemoration railroad tie to you?” I wanted to start cursing, I mean worst than I already was. I know I was in God Fearing country, Box Elder County, Utah, and I was really, really trying not to bring any wrath down on me. I shut my mouth and counted slowly, to ten.

“Do you know how long this is going to delay us? Shit!”

“Well, Jeez, Cassie. I thought you’d be excited. I’m excited. The rest of the crew’s excited. I’ll bet Linda will be excited. I just sent Amy off to tell her.” The newbie couldn’t help himself, I reminded myself. They’re all like this when they find their first skeletons.

“Goddamn it, Jason! Don’t you know shit about bodies? Did you tell Amy to NOT tell anyone but Linda?”

I wanted to cry. This would turn into a media circus in exactly three seconds, and it would get totally out of control, and I would not be able to get anyone back to work on this archaeological project for three years. I mean how does looking for the stone tie that marked the location of the driving of the golden spike connecting the transcontinental railroad compare to a skeleton? Crap. I hate bodies.

I looked off towards the National Park Service visitor center. Yep. There they came. Ten million people. Well, okay, maybe only six, but it still looked like a hoard. I glanced around at the crew. Shit! All five of them stood around gazing at the bones in the bottom of the pit.

“Back to work, you idiots!” I yelled. “The tourists are going to see you standing around gawking and all the uniforms coming this way, and next thing you know, they’ll be over here, too. You’ll all get a chance to look, I promise, cross my heart, hope to die.” Actually, I did hope I’d die, like really, really soon. I hate this stuff.

We were all out in plain view, not two hundred feet from the replicas of the locomotives “Jupiter” and “No. 119,” the steam locomotives belonging to the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads, which first met on May 10, 1869, linking the nation from coast to coast, New York to San Francisco. Hey, that was a Really Big Deal in the history of this country, sort of on the order of the invention of the internet. Instead of taking three weeks to get across the country on a stage coach, you could do it in six days. Mail, if you sent it by Pony Express, cost five dollars per letter – the equivalent of a hundred dollars, mind you – and took eight days. After May 10, 1869, Aunt Marge in Buffalo, New York could stick a regular one cent stamp on a letter to her nephew in the gold fields of California and know it would get there in a little more than a week instead of the month or two it ordinarily took by stagecoach. This was pretty hot stuff, believe me.

So when Jason had told me he had something Really Good to show me, I thought he’d found the granite tie the two railroads had put up at the site to commemorate the event. It had sorta’ gotten lost over the years, and we’d decided to find it, to make sure we were in the Right Place.

“Cover it up!” I ordered Jason, a definite note of panic creeping through my normally calm, “been there, done that” exterior. “See that blue tarp?” I pointed to the object of my great desires. “Two of you, get it out of the sun and where no one can see it. You know absolutely nothing! And disperse! Back to work. I’m going off to do interference. I’ll call you when I need you. DO NOT TOUCH THAT GUY, or you’ll be in exactly the same shape he is!” I barked.

Sheesh, any archaeologist excited about a skeleton deserves what he’s about to get. I started wondering who in the hell I could dump this nightmare on. My immediate reaction was Alyson McDonald, our Regional Archaeologist. A good job for her. She’d be a whiz at it. She’d love the attention, she’d be involved, it would free me up to do the research on this guy – or gal – and it would keep her out of my hair. I couldn’t think of any downsides to the idea, other than the fact that Alyson would be involved, period. But, this was So Big that I couldn’t get away with a body at Golden Spike National Historic Site without Alyson being out here on the next plane anyway, so figuring out how to involve her was Step Number One.

I looked over towards the Visitor Center. Oops, the five uniforms and one polo shirt with blue jeans were about halfway to our nice big trench, and I could see a jillion curious tourists not far behind them, looking our general direction. I brushed the white, alkaline sand off my knees and scuttled over towards them.

“Linda!” I greeted the park superintendent with a genuine smile. I adore Linda Higgins. She’s just my age, has been a friend for, oh, a decade or so, was a wilderness ranger in Canyonlands, the Grand Canyon, Alaska, you name it, and then eventually decided to start managing parks instead of tramping around in the canyons and backwoods. She’s been just as good with the paperwork and management shit and constituent-building and all that other stuff as she ever was with saving lives and finding bad guys and acts of daring-do and whatever else wilderness rangers do.

“Whatcha’ got?” Linda asked, looking as excited as Jason had.

I glanced over to where the big, blue tarp was flapping in the breeze as my newbie and one of his biggest helpers tried to settle it down on the ground over our skeleton.

“Amy didn’t tell you?”

“She just said we’d all really like it. Is it the commemoration tie? Clear out here? I’m not sure I’m gonna’ like that,” Linda warned. She wanted it closed to the visitor center.

“Um, no. Not the tie,” I admitted.

I glanced over at the growing crowd of visitors. One or two of them were starting to ignore the “Please Stay on the Established Walkways” signs and were wandering over our direction. “Barry, will you ask those folks to go watch the movie or something? Tell them we’re just digging up a bunch of old tin cans. You know how archaeologists get all excited about old tin cans. I just want Linda and Roger right now. The rest of you can come out and look when they’re done. Let’s not draw a crowd, okay?”

“Why, what it is?” Linda asked again.

I debated. I didn’t know if I could trust all of the staff people she’d brought along. This could turn into something pretty ugly really quickly if we didn’t handle it right from the very beginning.

I motioned Linda over a couple of feet.

“It’s a human skeleton,” I whispered.

Linda stood up straight, her eyes wide. She’s tall, a good five foot nine. With the ranger hat, she was getting close to six feet. Unlike Jason, she’s no newbie. With a deadpan face she turned around, marched back to the little group of uniforms and dispensed orders.

“Barry, go gather up the group outside and start showing the special film we have on the 1939 Cecil B. de Milne movie. People love that one. Take Hazel and Bernie with you. Have them hang around outside to keep folks out at the locomotives. We don’t want anyone out here. Derek, we’ll call you when we need you.”

I looked at the latter, apologetically. He grinned, waving aside the regrets. He knew he’d get all the sordid details later, plus have to deal with a mess – me – on top of all that. He held up his cell phone. Oh, yeah. I forgot. I could connect him in with our conversation.

“Call me,” I mouthed. He knew I meant as soon as he was alone.

Derek? Derek Chavez is my honey, my True Love, the father of my child, and, incidentally, my husband. He’s hunky, built like a middle-aged woman’s wet dream because he coaches high school gymnastics, has a full, neatly trimmed beard and is not nearly so thin on top as he thinks he is. He cut off his pony tail a few years ago, much to my disgust, but I guess a woman has to let her man be himself. He also happens to be the Intermountain Regional Historian for the National Park Service, and he was at Golden Spike National Historic Site helping them with a study of what tents were where on May 10, 1869. It would help the park recreate the historic scene and create better museum exhibits.

Me? Cassie Mitchell, National Park Service staff historical archaeologist. Okay body for a forty-something mother of a five-year-old, who was currently being terrorized by a Grandma trying to dress her in pink pinafores, white tights and black maryjanes and making her play with dolls. Light brown, impossibly curly hair that refused to behave, so it lived pulled together into a bush at the back of my neck. Muddy-colored eyes that I think look like they came out of a swamp. Derek told me once they were green with flecks of every other earth shade he could name, like a deep pool of water in the middle of forest. Sounds sort of boggy to me. At least I am so hyper and type A that I can usually stay on a diet by forgetting to eat and stay in a size eight, meaning I don’t have to update my wardrobe more than once every couple of decades.

 Derek and I work at a central office the National Park Service tries to maintain in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The people that slave away there, among other things, help out the parks in the Rocky Mountains and Southwest when they need expertise involving history, archaeology, historic buildings, and museums. For instance, both Derek and I had done this human body stuff before, so we knew what a nightmare it could turn into.

Anyway, I led Linda and Roger over to the nice, big, square hole that Jason and Amy had been digging, next to a big pile of rock. I glared at the rock. I looked right at Amy and growled, “Move it,” pointing to the pile. “Over there.” I pointed to a place about twenty-five feet away. “Get Grif to help you.”

Yeah, I know, not very nice. Wicked Witch of the West. Dead bodies can do that to me. Actually, it’s not the body that was making me so mean and ugly. It’s the way other people react to them that makes me get so cranky. For some reason, the second a human skeleton shows up, every European-descended person I have ever run into gets the willies and chillies up and down his or her spine, and the fascination factor goes into overdrive. He or she cannot help but want to know and see everything they possibly can. Don’t say it’s human nature. A good many Native Americans I know react exactly the opposite. Can’t get away fast enough.

“Jason,” I called out, trying to get control of myself, now that I had done something about those irritating rocks, the ones my newbie archaeologist had let pile up too close to his excavation pit. “Can you and Grif peel back this tarp so Linda and Roger can take a look at what you got here?” I managed to sound a lot nicer than I had before, now that Linda was here and a whole lot of responsibility was about to shift from my shoulders to hers.

“White or Native American?” Linda asked.

“Dunno,” I answered.

“Old?” she asked.

“I’d say so, but we have to go through procedures,” I pointed out. I’d learned my lesson on my last go-round with an old body, when I had Dirk as moral support as we learned the ropes. That time the skeleton lay under an old building where the tourists couldn’t see what was going on. This time we were out in the middle of a vast alkaline plain, and everyone within ten miles could see we were archaeologists and Very Important People were interested in what we were digging up.

She nodded. “And those are?”

“Let’s see…notify local law enforcement. I presume that’s your sheriff’s department. Tell the state historic preservation officer and his state archaeologist. Call up the Northwest Shoshone Tribe and see if they want to send someone out here. Have a qualified archaeologist determine whether the skeleton is over a hundred years old. That’s me and/or Jason. I suggest we get Rory Saint out here for a forensic analysis. He’ll definitely qualify. As soon as you see this guy, you’ll understand why.”

Linda, Roger and I had lined up alongside the trench, kind of teetering on the narrow ledge between where the rocks were piled and the edge of the trench. Looking into the pit, all we could see at first was more rock. Like when I first gazed into the pit, I dismissed it. We all knew what was of significance was what was lying amongst the rock.

The most obvious was the rib cage with its three broken ribs and one large rock holding down five or six more. Below what might be a partially exposed pelvis, and also held down with a melon-sized rock, extended two femurs – upper leg bones. Above the ribs and another stone the size of a basketball, I noticed what appeared to be a lower jaw, strangely reversed Shattered fragments of skull stuck out on either side of the brain-size stone that replaced the top of the head.

The body looked like it had been crushed by a deadfall.

The question was, had the rock fallen on a live or dead body?

Something about the whole thing didn’t look right. I stared a minute, then I realized what it was. We’re all used to seeing bodies buried face up. This one had his back to the sky. That’s why the bones that I could see looked all wrong.

So my next question seemed almost academic. Were those rocks fill for a grave or murder weapons? Who would bury a person face down?

Rory Saint could tell us. And I’d bet my next paycheck that he could tell us the name of the corpse, with a little help from Derek and me. We’d done it before. We could do it again.

 

 

  

      CHAPTER TWO

                     MISSING

 

Saturday, September 4, 1869. She’s either the world’s bravest colleen or the most stupid, Patsey thought. He watched the slender form in the calico dress march up the dusty street towards him. Every man she passed turned to cast appreciative looks her direction. One or two whistled. Whalebone Crawford, that young cowboy who had been hanging about the Red Cloud Saloon way too much lately, tipped his hat, grinned widely, and dared to call out “Howdy, Ma’am.” She ignored them all.

Brave, Patsey decided, as she came closer, noticing how tightly she wrapped her blue shawl around her arms and breasts, tighter than she would have had to on a warm day like this. She held her head high and looked straight ahead, but Patsey noticed how her shoulders hunched with each whistle and taunt. She didn’t like being out on this dusty street, in front of those tent saloons with their drunken gamblers, any more than he like seeing her there.

She strode straight up to him, trailing a cloud of dust in the swirl of her cotton skirt. Not that Patsey paid much attention to what she left in her wake. Those sea green eyes, that fair, freckled face, pert little nose, and strawberry blond hair almost stole his breath away. How long had it been since he’d seen an Irish lass? Looking at her, he could feel the morning mist on his face and see the green fields with their stone fences rolling away to a not very distant horizon, fields full of sheep and cows and a horse or two. Seeing her, he was ready to get on the next train for New York and then a ship for Dublin, followed by a coach for home in Castlebar to find himself a woman like her.

“You the constable here?” she asked.

“I try to be,” he acknowledged.

“My man’s missing, and I need someone to find him,” she stated, bluntly enough. “Someone who will look for him because it’s the right thing to do, not…” She faltered to a stop, suddenly unable to look him in the eye.

Patsey nodded down the street. “Men like those been trying to cut a deal, huh?”

The woman nodded, still not looking at him. “I don’t know where to start, who to ask about him. No one will answer my questions. They all have something else in mind, now that Neil isn’t around to warn them off.”

What kind of man would bring his wife to a place like this? Patsey wondered. Hell on wheels. That’s what they called these kinds of railroad camps. Four, five hundred men finishing up the a railroad, making the repairs and improving on the hastily built track, trestles, bridges and culverts laid down by both the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads. Half a dozen deadfalls, those lowest of gambling and drinking dens, set out side by side with only slightly more respectable grocery stores, which all had their counters and tables for whiskey and rum sales. No man who wanted to keep his woman to himself would bring her to Promontory.

“Well, I’d say you came to the right place, Mrs. Brogan?” Patsey knew her name. Every man near Promontory knew every woman, at least through description, there being so few of them around. It was hard to miss a comely one like Neil Brogan’s wife.

“You’re Mr. Marley.” She held out a slim hand, one red and roughened from washing clothing in harsh lye soap. Patsey looked at it only a moment before taking it in his large, knuckled hand with its crooked fingers and shook it firmly. She returned his grasp without a tremor or a wince of horror at the obvious damage done to his fingers. He admired that in a woman. There’d been some men reluctant to take his hand.

Patsey reached into his tent and pulled out another chair, which he set in the shade of the tent flap. He’s always felt awkward around a woman. Patsey had lived most of his life with men, growing up with four brothers in Castlebar, Ireland, finding the farm couldn’t support them all when the famine hit, running off to London, where he learned “the manly art” of punching and wrestling other men with a modicum of rules. When the Parliament passed the Anti-Prizefighting Act in 1861, making prizefighters felons and sending them to prison if they were caught in the ring, Patsey hightailed it to New York. It was all he knew how to do, defend himself with his fists. He’d seen his name in the New York Times, more than once. He even took on the great Con Orem, beat him twice, too, to the surprise of everyone, including himself.

Prizefighting, now that’s a man’s vice. Not a woman around that wants to look at a pugilist’s scarred up face. Especially such a sweet looking lass as Maggie Brogan.

Reporters who wrote up the fights couldn’t always agree on how to describe Patsey. It depended on whether they favored him or his opponent. They concurred that his medium frame carried a muscular, stocky body with broad shoulders, long arms and short, strong legs. Some called his head his bullish with light-colored hair, a generous mouth and a strong jaw. They all commented on his lighting speed, his quick step and his passionate temper in the ring. One reporter commented that his large, heavy nose “impressed one with the idea that if a person were to strike it with his fist, the fist would get the worst of it.” Patsey didn’t know where the man got that idea. It had been broken in two or three places and had been shoved back into his face, making it anything but prominent. Quite obviously, a few fists had fared better than his conk.

The same reporter, from Salt Lake City, where the Church didn’t hold much with prizefighters, Gentiles or Irishmen, called him thick set, said he had a short, thick neck, round bull head, described his forehead as low and bulging considerably over his eyes, and declared that Patsey had somewhat expressionless eyes. Well, Marley agreed, if the reporter had looked at him after Con Orem had knocked him out on January 1, 1866 in Virginia City, Montana at the end of the ninety-ninth round, by throwing him over the rope onto a log. Yeah, he probably didn’t have much of an expression left in his eyes.

His friend Wil Riley told him all of that was bull crap anyway and just to forget it. But Patsey always wondered if some of it might be true, so he didn’t think any woman would want to have much to do with him. Broad shoulders and strong jaw, yeah, that sounded like something a sweet colleen would like, maybe. But not a thick set body and a bull head. Made him sound stubborn and sort of dull-witted.

Trying to forget all of that, he motioned Mrs. Brogan to take a seat, while he shuffled around on his desk just inside the tent flap for a notepad and chewed down pencil stub. Finding what he wanted, he came out under the shady flap and settled into the other chair to ask some questions.

“So how long has Mr. Brogan been missing?” he started.

“Monday. When we went to bed Sunday night, he said they were taking him and his gang back down the track to fill in a trestle in the morning, and they were going to stay there until it was done. As they had to haul rock several miles by mule wagon, he thought they’d be several days, maybe as many as four.”

“And it’s been six,” Patsey observed. He didn’t have to ask what railroad Neil worked for. The Union Pacific east of Promontory hired Irish workers, the Central Pacific to the west used Chinese. When Mrs. Brogan talked about working “down the line,” she meant off to the east.

“Yes. I went to the superintendent this morning to ask if he’d heard when the crew would be coming back. You see, we have boarders. They don’t bother me when Neil’s home, but the longer he’s gone…well…”

Patsey frowned, not liking the thought of this young woman having to share a place with a bunch of men, without her man around to watch after her.

“The superintendent told me he never showed up on Monday morning. He said he had replaced him with another foreman, and to tell Neil that when he shows up, he’s back working on the rock crews. Maybe. If they think they still need him.” Her eyes welled up with tears, but she didn’t let them fall from her eyes. Rock work was the hardest to do and paid the least. Brogan had been a work foreman and made good money, for an Irishman.

Patsey squinted at her, sorry that Matt Hodgkins, the general superintendent for the Union Pacific’s contractor, was such a callous bastard. All of the managers for the U. P. tended towards the arrogant. It didn’t help that they used Irish labor. Actually, that’s why the U. P. used the Irish. They worked so cheap that the U. P. thought they could get away with murder. And they sometimes did.

“Any reason Mr. Brogan might have decided to go down to Ogden to get supplies? Maybe someone in the family die?” Patsey thought he should ask.

As he expected, Mrs. Brogan shook her head. “No. He would have told me. Neil always tells me what he’s thinking about, what he’s planning, even if he’s just toying with an idea, sort of trying it out for size, he says.”

Patsey nodded. He knew a lot of garrulous men like that. Thought out loud. Never knew just what they were going to do, but you heard all about the things they thought they might do.

He knew he had to ask the next question, but he didn’t much want to. “You and your husband didn’t have any arguments lately, did you?”

This time the moist eyes did spill over, and Patsey could have kicked himself. Well, he still felt justified in posing the questing, but he hated seeing a woman cry and setting her off like that had not been his intention. He pulled a handkerchief out of his back pocket and handed it over, looking away until she composed herself.

“Oh, no, nothing like that. Why, Neil’s always been so kind to me. Never has said a mean word. I just know something bad must have happened.” She sniffled and wiped her nose with the handkerchief, clutching it so tightly, her knuckles turned white.

“When was the last time you saw your husband, Mrs. Brogan?” Patsey asked, gentling his voice, hoping to get her to thinking of the problem they needed to solve instead of whether her husband was alive or not.

The trick worked. She sniffled once or twice and then started talking again. “Monday evening, when we went to bed. He often gets up early, especially before he goes out on a longer job. He did wake me briefly when he left, but I didn’t pay much attention. It was dark when he kissed me goodbye. I turned over and went back to sleep. That’s the last I saw him.”

Patsey grunted. Any time during the night, then, if he was running off for some reason. Sounded like the man cared for his woman, though, and wouldn’t just leave. He was inclined to believe that, like she said, something bad had happened.

“Your man got some mates I can talk to?” he asked, thinking one of them might know what was going on.

“Peter O’Rourke. They’ve been partners for years. He boards with us.” She frowned when she said the name. Patsey could tell she didn’t think much of the man. “Abram Noel. Both of them room with us.” Her face cleared at the mention of the second man’s name. “They both work for him on his crew. Mr. O’Rourke wouldn’t tell me much unless I …Well, I don’t think Neil would care for me getting word about him that way.”

Patsey grunted. “I don’t think much of friends that would take care of his buddy’s wife that way,” he remarked, dryly.

Mrs. Brogan shot him a grateful look, and then stared down at her hands again.

“I take it they’re both working now,” he stated, not really asking a question.

“Yes. They’ll be back for dinner, tonight.” She suddenly brightened. “Why don’t you come down and join us, Mr. Marley. I have plenty. It might just make those boys behave for one meal, anyway.”

Patsey grinned. “Why, and I’d like that, Mrs. Brogan. I surely would.” Sounds a whole lot better than my beans and pancakes, he thought, or the tough steaks they serve at the Echo Restaurant. Another reason they call them deadfalls. A man can fall over dead when the food poisoning hits him.

She stood, ready to say her good day. Patsey saw the way she peered back up the street, a determined frown on her face.

“Do you have any shopping you need to do, Mrs. Brogan?” he asked.

“Why, yes, I do. I need to stop at Mr. Riley’s grocery for some extra supplies. But you know he has that tavern in there, and, well, I never go in there without Neil.”

Patsey stood, reached into the tent and grabbed his hat. “I’ll walk you down to Riley’s and wait for you, Ma’am. Then I’ll take you to your place. Not right for a woman like you to be walking around in front of all these deadfalls by yourself.”

Relief flooded her face. “Oh, thank you, Mr. Marley. I do appreciate it. You are right. I don’t know what Neil was thinking to bring me here to Promontory. Certainly not that he’d have to leave for any length of time.”

Patsey whistled, shaking his head. A medium-sized dog with black, shaggy hair and pert ears stuck his nose out of the tent. The white blaze down his chest and the four white paws – well, they might have been white, once, now they seemed mostly dust-colored – betrayed his shepherd origins.

“Come on, Cap,” Patsey ordered. The animal trotted over to the two of them. He stuck his nose in Patsey’s hand and gave it a lick to confirm what his ears and eyes had told him, that, yep, this was Patsey, but he was going to make damn sure by smelling and tasting him, too. Then he swung over to Maggie to get a good sniff. Of course, Patsey knew he’d been listening and watching all along, but he needed to know what she smelled like, too, up close and personal. Like all dogs, Cap had absolutely no human manners and would stick his nose in the most embarrassing place he could have picked, right where a lady would most prefer he not. Of course, Patsey knew he was going to do it, and because he wanted Cap to get a good whiff, he deliberately turned his back at the right moment so as not to witness the event. He fiddled around on his desk, pretending to look for something really important while he spoke over his shoulder.

“Cap here is my only deputy at the moment. He’s pretty reliable and friendly enough if he knows I approve of someone.”

Patsey heard the expected squeal from Mrs. Brogan, indicating that the dog had sniffed where he wanted to. “Cap,” he called, reminding the canine to mind his manners, now that the formalities had been observed, and he turned back to find Maggie making a big fuss over his dog, scratching him behind the ears just the way he liked it. The animal had a big, silly grin on his face, and his tail was setting up a regular little dust storm.

Chuckling at the wild success of that meeting, Patsey lowered the flaps of his tent, tied them shut, and indicated he was ready to start his escort by waving Mrs. Brogan up the street. He offered her his left elbow and began to walk with her towards Riley’s grocery.

 

With Patsey on her right, inserting himself between her and the open flaps of the deadfalls, and Cap on her left to snap at any drunk that might be out in the street, Maggie felt safer than she had since she went to bed Sunday night wrapped in Neil’s arms. She dared to relax a little with the constable’s strong hand on her elbow. She still didn’t know where her husband was. Indeed, she wondered if she ever would. But when a man like Patsey Marley said he’d try to find him for her, she suddenly felt a whole lot more confident that, if he could be found, he would be.

She dared glance at the robust man who strode next to her. Not a sound issued from the first tent they passed, one with a wooden sign emblazoned “The Lone Wolf.” She had heard the sound of half a dozen men howling at her when she walked by earlier. Now the place seemed quiet and orderly. She noted that he met one red-eyed man’s glare, but the latter quickly turned away without a sound. Not even Neil could quell a drunk with one look.

She ran her eyes over his strong, muscular frame and tried not to think what she was thinking, about what a good-looking man he was, well-built, with that curly, sandy-colored hair stuck under that broad-brimmed western hat, and that neatly trimmed mustache. Surely, his face had some scars, she’d been told about those, but they didn’t detract from his regular features. When he had first turned those brilliant blue eyes on her, she’d almost blushed like a young maiden instead of a proper, married woman. His firm jaw didn’t need any whiskers to strengthen it. He knew that, so didn’t hide it behind a beard. Somehow, he found enough water in this God-forsaken place to shave, because, except for that trim, sandy mustache, his face looked smoother than any man she’d seen in a long time, except late on an occasional Sunday afternoon when some of them finally got around to figuring how to clean up.

Maybe he bathed on Saturdays, and she’d just caught him after he’d done his monthly bath. That must be it.

Anyway, she felt a good sized portion of the burden she had been carrying had suddenly been lifted off of her heart, and maybe she could make it through this hard time after all. She didn’t have to do all of this by herself after all. She glanced up at him again, and he caught her doing it. He smiled down at her and patted her fingers where they curled around his hard bicep. She smiled back at him, and then looked down at her feet. It wouldn’t do to appear too friendly, but she did feel very grateful to Patsey Marley. He was the only one she felt she could trust in all of Promontory, Utah.

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