Blann Phifer is an
author and columnist, book reviewer and author interviewer, who's work
has appeared on various Web sites and writer periodicals both in print
and online. She is also an avid reader who loves to escape by diving
between the covers of a good book. Peg enjoys handcrafts of all kinds
and her home shows off some of her work, though most end up as gifts
for friends and family. A retired executive assistant, Peg now makes
her home in southern Nevada with husband Jim. Drop by her blog, Sips N Cups Cafeand
leave a comment.
Molly Dugan clutched a key and a scrap of paper in her hand. Stunned, she watched her brother’s casket being lowered into the ground. Snake bite, they’d told her.
Patrick’s gasping last words echoed through her head. “Go . . . bank . . . before . . . Collins. Signed . . . only copy. Property. Build . . .” He’d reached for her hand. “Sorry.”
Patrick had left St. Paul for the gold fields in southern Nevada two years ago. He’d connected with Sam Collins, a man several years Patrick’s senior. Eventually they’d fought over something and Collins left. A few months later Patrick hit a decent vein near Searchlight and sent for Molly to join him in the new railroad town of Las Vegas.
Go . . . bank. Would Sam Collins try to claim the gold? Could Collins have any legal rights after deserting Patrick the way he had? She winced when some men began shoveling dirt onto the coffin and turned away to ask directions to the bank.
The merciless August sun baked the parched street, rutted from wagon wheels and horses hooves. Her steps kicked up sand beneath her skirts. Gritty perspiration trickled down her back beneath her corset, making her skin itch. A whirlwind twisted its way down the street, collecting sand and trash, darting between wandering burros and suspendered men in dusty trousers.
Inside the bank, Molly approached the teller behind a barred window.
“I’m looking for Mr. Reuben Fairfax.”
The teller pointed with his chin, indicating a middle-aged man with spectacles coming toward her sporting a bushy moustache that seemed to occupy half of his face.
“Mr. Fairfax? I’m Molly Dugan—“
“Mrs. Dugan,” the man said softly, extending his hands. “I’m so sorry to learn of your husband’s death.”
“Thank you, but I’m not . . .” and stopped. Why not let them think she was newly widowed? In town only two days, no one knew her. Maybe it was better this way.
“Mr. Dugan is not the first unwary man to succumb to rattlesnake bite. All this building frenzy has upset their habitat,” Mr. Fairfax said. “Now, how may I help you?”
Molly blinked back the welling tears and held out the key. “Patrick gave me this and told me to see you.”
“Of course. This way, my dear.”
He led her behind the tellers counter to a small room. Halfway down the row of boxes he removed one and swung it to a table behind him.
“I’ll leave you to your privacy, Mrs. Dugan. Please let the teller know when you are finished.”
Molly inserted the key and raised the top. She picked up a bank book with both their names on it. No wonder Mr. Fairfax thought they were married. She gasped at the balance. Her hands trembled as she reached for some bundled papers: a title to two lots purchased at auction on May 15, 1905, a plat showing block and lot numbers and lastly, a hand-written paper bequeathing all of Patrick Dugan’s possessions to Molly Dugan, signed and dated yesterday, August 22, 1905, witnessed by John B. Blankenship.
“Wait, Collins, you can’t go back there!”
Molly froze. Collins?
“You can’t stop me, Fairfax. Dugan is dead and I want what’s mine. I got a key to that box.” Sounds of a scuffle jerked Molly into action. She stuffed everything into her reticule, locked the box and slipped it back into its slot. No place to hide, she had to walk out. Collins didn’t know her. It might work. Please, dear God, help me!
Mr. Fairfax struggled with an unkempt, bearded man at least a foot taller, and the banker was losing. Molly neared the front door when Collins thrust Fairfax aside and rushed to the safe deposit box area.
“Draper, call the sheriff, now>” Mr. Fairfax signaled Molly to keep going.
“Empty!” Collins stomped back and grabbed the banker’s collar, twisting him around. His gaze caught Molly at the door. “Wait a minute. She just came outta there. What’s going on?”
“She’s Dugan’s wife,” Fairfax choked out.
“Dugan ain’t got no wife.”
Molly stiffened and faced the red-faced, beefy man. “Nevertheless, I am Molly Dugan.”
Collins released Fairfax and loomed over her. “Gimme what you took from that box. I’m his partner. It’s mine.”
“No, it’s not. There’s a signed paper that gives everything to me. Besides, you forfeited your rights when you deserted him.”
Collins charged, fist raised to strike her. She ducked and screamed as a shot reverberated through the room. Collins body lurched and thudded to the floor inches away from Molly’s feet.
A man wearing a star lowered his rifle. “Sorry, Collins, but we just don’t cotton to beatin’ up on women folk.” He turned to Molly. “You all right, Mrs. Dugan?”
“Y-yes, I’m f-fine.” Ears still ringing, she looked down at the motionless Collins. “I-is he dead?”
“Reckon so. I had to get the shot off before he reached you.”
Molly could only nod as reaction set in.
“Sheriff Riley, we are grateful.” Fairfax wiped a handkerchief across his damp forehead.
“I’ll send Underwood over for the body.” He tipped his hat to Molly and left.
“Come over here and sit down, Mrs. Dugan. You’re trembling.”
Molly allowed him to guide her to the chair by his desk. “Thank you,” she said. “But it’s Miss Dugan. Patrick was my brother. I didn’t mean to deceive you. It just seemed easier to allow the assumption. Please accept my apologies.”
He patted her hand. “No apologies required, Miss Dugan.” He sat in the chair next to her. “What are your plans, now?”
Molly took a deep breath and smiled. “I think I’m going to build a fine house on Patrick’s two lots and settle down right here. There’s nothing for me back in St. Paul, and Patrick’s dream was for us to live here. So, I’ll fulfill his dream.”