“She’s dead. She drowned as a child. Go away. Go away before he kills you too,” warned crazy Abigail, Jenny’s sister.
Kyle wasn’t given the chance to heed the warning and leave, not that he would have. He had a twelve year old debt to pay. Abbey was right. They did try to kill him.
Nearly dead, delirious or crazy, he was certain the woman he saw glowing in the moonlight had to be Jenny. The old man who found him said it was, grown up in the beyond to come back to haunt her father for throwing her into the creek and killing her sister’s man, driving poor Abbey crazy. Believing he wouldn’t live to unravel the mystery, Kyle made one request of George: send word so they don’t wonder what happened to me, but don’t tell them anything more than I died.
Word was sent, not that he died, but that he needed help. The call was answered, but can they battle a ghost, a town owned by the killer, and will they even find Kyle still alive?
Kyle dismounted and lifted his hat enough to give a couple of swipes at his unruly dark and curly hair. Feeling more like he chased a ghost or a dream rather than a real memory, he steeled himself for another disappointment. He had the right name, the only thing he knew for certain. Everyone who should have been able to tell him what had happened to the young red-haired girl hadn’t. Something read off about the whole thing, bad off.
The town had the same name as her family. He didn’t know, and would soon find out, if he had the right family and if they would be able to tell him what laid behind turning what should have been a simple chore into such a mystery. Harsboro, not a common name, didn’t mean only one Harsboro family lived in the vast territory of Montana. He’d just picked the town of the same name to start his search.
Had Jenny been able to talk instead of having to write everything, he’d have been able to ask her more questions. He’d been in no shape to even read much then, limiting what little conversation they’d had. Nods and shakes of her head with a bit of pantomiming and what looked to be Indian sign language were hard to follow when he’d barely been able to stay conscious most of the time.
“Howdy,” Kyle called as he walked in the general store, settling into a common cowboy’s way of talking, dressed to match with his hat and high heeled riding boots. City and town dwellers didn’t need high heels to prevent their foot from slipping through the stirrup or a wide brimmed hats to protect them from the sun and rain, even hail at times.
The proper speech and careful diction he’d learned as a child made most people uncomfortable. He’d long ago gotten rid of his accent. Being a southerner in a northern school he’d done so to avoid battles and being set apart, a skill he’d been grateful he’d perfected before the country erupted in civil war.
“Howdy, yourself, young man. What can I do for you?” the storekeeper called back, walking to behind the counter.
“Nothing much.” Kyle opened the jar of rock candies on the counter and took out two. “Just looking for someone and thought you might be able to help me.”
“That’ll cost you a penny,” he answered while Kyle dug in his pocket.
Kyle flipped him a penny with his thumb and stuck one piece of the sugar confection in his mouth. “I’m looking for the family of Jenny Harsboro.”
From the way the man reacted, you’d have thought Kyle stuck a gun in his face. His skin went white, and his eyes bugged. “You get out of my store. I don’t want no trouble.”
“What are you talking about? I just asked—”
“I heard what you said. I wouldn’t have give you nothing if I hadn’t thought you were a new hand. You just get out of here.”
The man hunched over, fumbling for something under the counter. Watching him and recognizing naked fear, Kyle backed off, hands up. “I’m going. No need for you to go crazy.”
“Don’t you come back, neither.”
Kyle backed until he heard a sound behind him and spun, his hand dropping to the gun tied to his thigh. The young woman walking in gasped and froze, blinking a pair of the bluest eyes he’d ever seen. He didn’t take the time then to appreciate the sight even though something about her face stuck him as familiar.
“Ma’am,” he said, tipping his hat as he strolled past her at a brisk pace.
All through his search, he’d gotten vague, evasive answers, but not the terror the shopkeeper had shown. He’d had to hunt down answers from outsiders, train station attendants and such, instead of the people she’d lived with. What had started out as something he’d felt he ought to do turned into something much more, something setting off every warning bell in his head.
Standing on the boardwalk, Kyle looked the town over. Out of habit, he’d given it a good look when he’d ridden in, but he studied for details he might have missed. A church at one end, he guessed served as the schoolhouse as well, letting out for the day to judge from the children pouring out of the door into the yard. At the other end of the one street town a stable with Harsboro writing in big red letters dominated the scene.
While he studied, Kyle kept an ear to the conversation in the store. Getting all the information he could, never hurt, just as being careful to stand out of sight of the storekeeper with his back to the wall, a precaution which could well mean his safety. The scared storekeeper could do something stupid if he got any more spooked.
“What was that about?” the woman asked.
“Nothing, nothing at all,” the man said in a rush. “What can I do for you today?”
“Just a few things I can find myself. Has my material and pattern come in yet?
“No, Miss Abby, not yet.”
The woman laughed softly, a pleasant sound to Kyle’s ears. “Not Miss for long now,” she said. “Samuel will be home in just a few weeks. That material just has to get here in time for me to make my dress.”
Kyle stepped to the side, his attention divided. Another woman approached on the boardwalk while the man grumbled something Kyle couldn’t hear. The second woman looked out of place for a cow town, too well dressed, all corseted and laced up with a small bustle behind. Not able to see much of her face for the parasol she carried, he passed on tipping his hat to her. She wouldn’t have seen it, carrying her parasol like a shield, a lady’s way to avoid seeing something she considered unpleasant or beneath her like the saddle tramp he looked like. Her attitude made him wish he’d cleaned off some of the trail dust before he’d rode into town. Yes, a lady definitely out of place.
“Good afternoon, Miss Crandell,” Miss Abby called out.
“Good afternoon,” the second woman replied at a soft level Kyle could barely hear.
The shopkeeper asked, “How’s that boy of mine doing in school?”
“He does quite well in his numbers, but lacks diligence in learning his letters. Discipline in his home studies would improve his performance. Is my package prepared?”
Kyle took a moment from his study of the town to smile. A lady, all right, probably straight out of some fancy finishing school. No doubt she came from a good family, though not exceptionally rich, and as out of place on the western frontier as could be, school teacher or not. The effect of her speech resulted in an uncomfortable silence until she came back out almost immediately, parasol back in place to avoid looking at him as she passed.
“Snotty,” the shopkeeper declared. “Don’t know why she ever took a job here if she figures she’s too good to mix with the folks in town.”
“Perhaps her family fell on hard times. I would imagine coming alone to so unfamiliar a place is quite frightening for her.”
Miss Abby gained respect from Kyle. She had a kind heart. She might be approachable whereas he discarded any idea of going to the town sheriff’s office across the street. Whatever terrified the storekeeper more than likely either terrified the sheriff as well or whoever caused it owned him.