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The Reclusive Man, Book 15
BY DONNA SCHLACHTER
Dianna Dewalt, a journalist with the Colorado Springs Weekly Gazette, is assigned a story she isn’t the least bit interested in—the May 15, 1881 incorporation of La Junta, Colorado. She is interested in keeping her job and someday becoming editor, so she travels via stagecoach to the small town. Arriving a week before, she endures the heat of the area and the bad manners of the men in the town as she gathers personal interest stories about the town and its incorporation. She meets a handsome man who seems out of place. Cultured accent, well-read, educated. A gaze that never quite focuses on her. And a patchwork past that doesn’t fit him. She asks around town, but nobody knows anything about him. Her investigative nose for a mystery begins twitching. She’s certain he’s keeping a secret. But what, exactly? Something criminal? Immoral? Or is she wrong about him, and he’s telling her the truth?
Samson Macon, known to his few friends as Sam, works for the local stage line as a tack and saddle maker. He keeps himself to himself because that’s the easiest way to keep a secret. He came to Junction City three years prior to escape the memories that haunted him: his wife and child died because he wasn’t a good enough doctor to save them. He simply walked away from his profession, causing a stir at the hospital in Denver and in the news. Rumors abound as to his whereabouts.
When news arrives in town about a man being arrested and charged with the murder of a missing doctor from Denver—a Michael Swanson. Dianna’s itchy scalp, now stitched by the saddle maker, means she’s onto something. Could Samson Macon and Michael Swanson be the same man? Will he let another be hung without revealing himself? If so, he isn’t the man she thought he was. She telegraphs her office and asks for information on Doctor Michael Swanson. When she receives it, she considers whether to go to the sheriff or to Samson.
Samson must decide whether to admit his past and trust that God will heal his broken heart, or forever carry the real blame for another’s death. Dianna must choose whether to break her promise or save another’s life. Both must determine what’s most important to them.
Monday, May 9th, 1881
Colorado Springs Weekly Gazette
Dianna Dewalt skimmed over her notes once again, then nodded. “Alice, I believe I have the makings of the story of the century.” She tapped the page. “Right here. Now Mister Steele will have to promote me to a byline.” She adjusted her hat, the only one she owned, complete with pheasant feather and voile bow. “Complete with my likeness, of course.”
Alicia waggled her fingers in Dianna’s direction. “But of course, milady. How could he deny thee?”
Dianna snorted at her friend’s mockery. They’d teased each other for years about getting ahead in the newspaper—basically, a male bastion until their arrival. “Well, he will. Just you wait and see.”
Benjamin Steele, the man under discussion, flung open his office door and scanned the newsroom. “Dewalt. Now.”
Dianna’s heart took off like a racehorse from the starting line. Did she detect anger in his voice? If so, what had she done? Perhaps he’d overheard them talking about him. In that case, she might find herself out of a job.
Unable to loosen her tongue from the roof of her mouth, Dianna nodded and rose. When she glanced at Alicia, her friend steepled her hands together, signaling she’d be praying for her. Well, Dianna could use plenty of that anytime. Some of the predicaments she found herself in…
But not even one from recent days came to mind. She’d been uncommonly placid over the past few days.
So why the bellow?
She crossed the now-hushed room. Without looking, she felt the pitying glances. Saw the averted eyes. On one or two faces, a smirk. Or unconcealed jealousy.
She lifted her chin. If she was going down, she’d do it with pride.
Dianna entered the editor’s office and paused. Without lifting his eyes from the paper before him, he tossed her a curt order. “Close the door.”
She obeyed—as would anybody in her position—catching the hem of her best day dress in the doorjamb. Hoping he wouldn’t notice, she eased the door open, swished her skirt out of the way, and closed the door again. There. At least there’d be no fiasco like the time she interviewed the new mayor of Colorado Springs. Not knowing her predicament, she’d stepped confidently into his office, freezing at the unmistakable ripping of fabric. How humiliating. She’d been the talk of the journalism world in the Springs for weeks.
Once again, she obeyed. A scripture came to mind from yesterday’s sermon about Jesus being led to His crucifixion like a lamb to the slaughter. Meekly, without protesting His innocence.
She drew a deep breath, then exhaled. Perhaps he waited for her to take the lead? She cleared her throat softly and tied her fingers into an elaborate knot in her lap.
Mister Steele looked up. His unlined face made him look younger—much too young to be the managing editor of the Gazette. “Thank you for coming.”
As if she had any choice. She sought the proper response, wishing she’d thought to bring her notebook. Her mind went as blank as a new sheet of paper. “Sir.”
“I hear you enjoy investigative reporting.”
This boded well. She was probably the best investigator on the Gazette’s staff. Well, its only one. With a journalism degree, she was also one of only two employees—including Mister Steele—who had graduated college. No matter his was an Ivy league school out east while she’d attended a school for women in Georgia. “Yes, sir. In fact—”
He set the page aside and met her gaze for the first time. Steel-gray eyes peered out from round glasses perched on the end of his nose. Which he didn’t seem to need, as he watched her over the top of them. “I have an assignment. But you must move on it today. Time is of the essence.”
And so with her own investigation. “Sir, actually I was—”
He shook his head. “I’ll hear no unnecessary thanks. You can travel there next Saturday, arrive late evening. The incorporation ceremony takes place on Sunday. Come back that night with your story.”
“La Junta. New town. Make it a personal interest story. Rags to riches, if you like. Phoenix from the ashes. Readers love that sort of thing.” He peered at her. “But only one night in a hotel, mind you. Return on the late stage. You should be able to sleep most of the way and still have plenty of time to make it to work on Monday morning.”
~ ~ ~
La Junta, Colorado
Samson Macon adjusted the wick on the oil lantern, then attacked his latest creation—a lightweight saddle intended for Joe Tardy’s racehorse. Samson had read a newspaper account of a recent race where the horse with the lighter saddle won by a nose.
When he shared that information with Joe, the man instantly lit up. “Say, maybe that’s what I need.”
“I don’t think so. Your thoroughbred can beat the shoes off the quarterhorses and pinto ponies from around these parts.”
Joe stroked his beard. “Still, no sense taking chances. Might up the odds, too.”
So Samson embarked on a new enterprise. Sure, he’d made plenty of saddles since hiring on with the Barlow and Sanderson Mail and Stageline here in La Junta. About as far from Denver as he could be and still be in the state. His distaste for the metropolis in no way lessened his love for his homeland. He had no plans—or desire—to leave. And surely this small town was far enough removed to protect his secret—and his heart—from further exposure and hurt.
He poured more oil onto a rag and rubbed it into the leather around the cantle. Mere feet away, in a stall, a horse whinnied, and another answered. He wondered what they might say to each other. Then he focused on working the oil into the grooves in the leather. While completely unnecessary to its success as a racing saddle, he’d included vines and leaves as decoration, along with shiny brass buckles on the braided cinch rope. Since locals held the race on an open field outside town, he’d toned down the stirrups to bare metal dangling from simple leather straps, rather than the bulkier version that protected cowboy’s legs from brambles and goring cattle.
The reddish-brown cowhide, almost the color of the local dirt, shone in the flicker from the lantern. He straightened and shrugged kinks from his shoulders and neck, then bent over his task again. He’d promised the saddle to Joe for tomorrow, so he could train early with it. Samson Macon might be many things, but he didn’t lie.
Although he didn’t always tell the complete truth.
But that wasn’t the same, was it?
When a few minutes later, a fist pounded on the barn door, he groaned. So close to completion. Wiping his hands on a clean rag, he opened the mandoor and peered out.
A boy stood before him, holding the traces to a team of four. The horses, lathered as if from a long run, hung their heads, noses almost touching the ground.
“What is it, boy?”
“Pa caught these stealing from our feed trough. Figured you’d know who owns them.”
Samson didn’t need to check further than the one nearest. “Sure, they belong to the stageline. Most likely, the incoming stage.” He glanced around. The saloon down the street was still in full swing, which meant it wasn’t overlay late. He gripped the closest halter. The gelding reared back, eyes wild, then settled down. “I’ll look after them. Can you make it home on your own?”
The boy tipped his hat. “Yes, sir. We live just outside town.”
After the young man turned and raced off into the darkness, Samson waited until his footsteps faded before leading the team inside the barn. He unharnessed them and turned them into the box stall, two at a time. Not wanting to neglect them completely, he filled their water buckets. They’d run hard, so food might make them colicky. He’d feed them when he returned.
As a station point for the stageline, the livery always had a team of four ready for the next coach, which should have been the one from Colorado Springs. In fact, it was about an hour late.
Samson hitched the new team together, then saddled a mare for himself and headed off into the night. Somewhere along this road, a stagecoach sat stranded.
He prayed it wasn’t worse than that.
A hybrid author, Donna writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 50 times in books; is a member of several writers groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both.
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