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Fiction by L.K. Campbell

The Deputy & Mirabel

By the time Mirabel had finished washing dishes, Camille still hadn’t stirred. With snow flurries abating, she decided to walk to the General Store in hopes of purchasing peppermint candy. I hope they have it or this jaunt will be for naught. To protect her legs, she put on two pairs of stockings and high-top boots. She donned the heavy coat and hat she’d worn on the stagecoach and scribbled a short note for Camille.

Jack had swept off the porch and steps earlier, but she still took great care walking out. She’d fallen once on an icy sidewalk in Chicago, bruising her hip—not to mention her pride. When she entered the road, a man on horseback went past in the other direction. He rode his horse at a quick pace given the inclement weather. A tan scarf and the raised collar of his black coat had hidden most of his face, but his eyes had struck a chord of familiarity.

Mirabel kept walking until she saw Deputy Hansen sweeping snow from the sidewalk in front of Jack’s office.

“Good morning, Mirabel. It’s awfully cold for a morning stroll, isn’t it?”

“Yes, cold is an understatement. Camille is sick, and I’m on my way to the General Store to pick up something to help her.”

“Get what you need, and I’ll bring the wagon around to take you home.”

“Thank you, Deputy Hansen that would be very much appreciated.”

He leaned on the broom handle and smiled. “Please, call me Micah.”

For a moment, she took in the sight of him. Did someone cut him from a book of paper dolls?

She nodded. “Okay, Micah. See you in a few minutes.”

His smile broadened into a grin. Focusing her attention straight ahead, she continued down the street.

Warmth enveloped Mirabel upon entering the store. An orange glow shone through a smoky window on the potbellied stove a few feet in front of her. She removed the glove from her right hand and extended it to an older gentleman behind the counter.

“Are you Mr. Milton?”

He shook her hand. “Yes, I am. Would you be Mirabel Findley?”

“Yes, sir, how did you know?”

“Jack was in here talking about you,” he said. “He’s right proud of you. He says you’re a top notch nurse.”

Her posture straightened, and her cheeks tingled. Considering the fiasco that had brought her to Red Gorge, Jack’s compliment stoked her self-confidence.

“I’m on an errand of mercy this morning,” she said. “Camille has an upset stomach. Do you carry any peppermints?”

“I certainly do. A shipment of candy arrived on the stagecoach yesterday. People who have children will need it for their Christmas stockings.”

While shifting a pair of spectacles from his head onto the bridge of his nose, he turned toward the built-in shelves on the wall.

“My wife, Lilly ate tomatoes to stop the morning sickness. I can’t remember how many tomatoes she consumed, but it was a lot.”

“It seems I’ve heard of that,” Mirabel said. “People often come up with their own remedies.”

Her eyes wandered—taking in the contents of the small store. At left, she noticed a teller’s cage with a “U.S. Post Office” sign hanging above it. Wanted posters tacked to the sidewall jumped out at her. Danny McGowan’s occupied a prominent position. The artist’s rendering resembled Danny but didn’t do him justice. Though not extraordinarily handsome, he was good looking enough to have a dangerous appeal to women.

Across the bottom of the poster, it read, Wanted for six counts of armed robbery and escaping the custody of a U.S. Marshal. She closed her eyes and inhaled a deep breath. Oh, no. I think I’m going to need those peppermints.

“Here you go,” Mr. Milton said. “Mirabel?”

Shaking off the feeling of dread, she jerked her line of vision from the poster to her purse.

“How much do I owe?”

“Since it’s for Camille, I’ll put it on Jack’s account.”

“Oh, that’s very kind of you.”

On a table near the counter, she saw cornhusk dolls, pipes, and woodcrafts displayed on a small table.

“Christmas is next week. I had almost forgotten,” she said. “I didn’t get to see any of my family last year. I think I’ll enjoy spending this holiday with Jack and Camille.”

Racks containing bolts of fabric also caught her eye. She meandered over to them. One particular print gave her an idea.

“May I have two yards of blue plaid wool? I might sew something pretty for Camille. I appreciate her taking me in on short notice.”

Using a yardstick, Mr. Milton measured off the fabric while she chose matching thread.

“She’s probably glad to have a live-in nurse,” he said. “And especially a midwife.”

They went to the counter where he rang up her purchases and wrapped the cloth in brown paper. After she placed the exact change in Mr. Milton’s palm, she dropped the spool of thread and tin of candy into her purse.

“Jack said that you might stay around Red Gorge,” he said.

“At least for the time being,” Mirabel said. “I…”

A chilly breeze interrupted her when Micah and another man entered the store.

“The wagon is out front, Mirabel,” Micah said.

She noticed Mr. Milton’s peculiar smile. Will I be the subject of town gossip now?

The other man gave her the once over with small, narrow eyes. While he tipped his hat, she observed his nervous demeanor that reminded her of patients who feared doctors.

“How do you, ma’am?”

She nodded but didn’t respond verbally.

“Give me a tin of tobacco,” he said to Mr. Milton.

“Sure thing, Wilbur.”

Turning his back on Mr. Milton, he addressed Micah. “Has Sheriff Findley done anything about catching those McGowans yet or is he just leaving everything to Marshal Davis?”

“Sheriff Findley is putting in long hours on it,” Micah said. “He wants to apprehend the outlaws as much as anyone does.”

She took note of Wilbur’s crooked finger that he pointed at Micah—probably broken in the past and not set properly.

“He’d better find them soon. My night shift workers are getting jumpy over it.”

If they’re any jumpier than Wilbur is, they must be plenty nervous.

“Tell your men to calm down,” Micah said. “We’ll have Joe and Pete in jail shortly.”

Wilbur threw up his hands. “Yeah, tell Ned Morrison to calm down. He has a crazy idea that the thefts could be an inside job even though Reuben saw Joe do it. The old man is threatening to let some men go. We can barely mine the amount of gold he wants taken out every day with the manpower I got now.”

“Try to see Ned’s side,” Mr. Milton said. “He’s lost a lot of money.”

Wilbur snatched the tobacco off the counter leaving two coins in its place.

“Hell, I might pack it in and go back East. Maybe I’ll take up farming again. I won’t have to worry about outlaws running wild and lawmen who aren’t worth a plugged nickel.”

Summer Sale

Blurb

Mirabel Findley has been fired from her nursing position for allegedly aiding notorious outlaw, Danny McGowan's escape from a clinic. She hopes to find refuge in Red Gorge, Dakota Territory where her cousin is the town's sheriff. However, Mirabel soon learns that Danny has also arrived in Red Gorge. He's determined to exonerate his brothers of a crime he claims they didn’t commit and coerces Mirabel into helping him. In the process, he traps Mirabel and Deputy Micah Hansen in a perilous situation. The deputy and Mirabel must work together to escape and survive in order to ensure that justice is done.

Category: Western Fiction, Historical Mystery

Published: Oct. 30, 2019

Words: 39,130

ISBN: 9780463265703