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Fiction by L.K. Campbell

The Sheriff & Camille

WHEN CAMILLE OPENED her eyes, she saw a small amount of daylight through the lace curtains covering her window. A rooster crowed somewhere nearby. She’d been restless all night and hadn’t slept much. The rooster let loose with another chorus as the sun grew brighter and cast its rays across her bed. She hoisted herself into an upright position. What am I going to do? What should I do? First things first. She stood up and grabbed her green, silk dressing gown from the bedpost. Her grandmother had made the garment for her as part of her trousseau. Even though the marriage had gone by the wayside, she still treasured her grandma’s handiwork.

She retrieved her toiletry case from her luggage and stepped out into the hallway. Jane’s bedroom door stood ajar. She knocked first; then peeked inside. She saw Jane’s empty brass bed. She must have risen before dawn, but I didn’t hear her stirring. Camille trotted downstairs to the saloon.

“Jane,” she called out.

She received no answer. She went to the door behind the bar. The previous day, she’d seen Jane tote a crate of whiskey from the room and marveled at her friend’s strength. She jiggled the handle but the door didn’t give. She isn’t in there. She went out to the kitchen and saw a strange woman standing at the stove. Her long blonde hair was tied back at the nape of her neck with a satin ribbon.

“Is Jane about the place?” Camille asked.

“Yes, she’s in the bath house,” the woman answered. “Would you like some breakfast?”

“Thank you that would be nice. My name is Camille, by the way.”

The woman turned from the stove and smiled. She had a sweet cherubic face, but her eyes seemed sad and far away.

“And I’m Sally,” she said.

“Oh, you were playing the piano and singing last night,” Camille said. “You have a lovely voice.”

“Thank you. It’s work and a roof over my head,” she said.

“What brought you to Red Gorge?” Camille asked.

“My husband caught what they call gold fever,” she said.

“I’ve heard people speak of it. So you’re married?”

“No, I’m afraid that the gold fever killed my husband,” Sally said. “A mine shaft collapsed, and…I’d rather not talk about it. It’s too painful.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Camille said.

“Jane was kind enough to give me a job,” she said. “I was glad because the saloons in Deadwood and Rapid City expected me to perform in a way that wasn’t proper for a widow. Jane is a good person no matter what some people might say about her.”

Camille nodded. “I can attest to that. She’s been my friend since we were small children. Did she happen to say anything about me this morning?” Camille asked—not that she expected Jane to talk freely about the altercation with Mr. Barnes.

“No,” Sally said. “She scarcely said good morning. She went straight out to the bathhouse.”

“Did you hear anything unusual last night after you went to bed?” Camille asked.

Sally hesitated before answering. “No, nothing unusual.”

Camille didn’t care for the emphasis Sally put on the word unusual. So Mr. Barnes’ late night visits are a regular occurrence. She didn’t get the chance to question Sally further. Jane strolled in the back door.

“Good morning, Camille,” she said.

An icy chill ran down Camille’s spine. She didn’t need a circus fortuneteller to ascertain Jane’s thoughts. Jane went to the stove and poured a cup of coffee from the pot that Sally had brewed.

“Would you like some coffee, Camille?”

“I’ll get coffee and breakfast after I’ve washed up,” she said. “Please don’t go anywhere until I come back. I’d like to speak with you.”

Jane didn’t look at her. “Don’t take too long,” she said. “I have a shipment of whiskey coming in this morning so I’ll be busy.”

Camille excused herself and walked the short distance to the bathhouse. She hurried through her morning necessities in order to have time to speak with Jane. Despite Jane’s wishes, she couldn’t let what had happened with Samuel Barnes go. As she gathered her toiletries into the case, she saw Jane’s ring on the shelf. She’d noticed it the previous day but hadn’t mentioned it. She picked it up and studied the unusual design. The setting resembled a blooming rose. Rubies had always been Jane’s favorite gemstone.

When she returned to the kitchen, Sally wasn’t there, but she’d left the biscuits and gravy warming on the stove. Camille poured a cup of coffee and placed small portions of food on her plate. Jane didn’t make eye contact with her when she sat down across from her at the table. They ate in silence for a few minutes, while Camille thought of the best way to express her thoughts.

“I understand that you’re angry with me, Jane,” Camille said. “But you might as well know that I’m not going to apologize for what happened last night.”

Jane glared at her. “You charged downstairs, waving a gun around, and threatened to shoot my business partner. I think you should apologize.”

Camille lifted her eyes from her plate. “I woke up in the middle of the night and heard you screaming. I thought that man was raping you,” Camille said. “Did you think I would just lie in my bed and do nothing?”

“I wasn’t screaming, and I wasn’t being raped,” Jane said.

“That’s not the way I saw it.”

Jane stood and took her empty plate to the sink. How can she be so nonchalant about this?

“Sam gets a little rough when he’s been drinking,” Jane said. “That’s all it was.”

Camille laid down her fork and pushed her plate away as the realization of what Jane was trying to tell her took hold.

“I noticed that he was wearing the kind of ring married men wear,” Camille said.

Jane spun around. “Yes, he’s married.”

The pit of Camille’s stomach burned. She couldn’t suppress the memories that Jane’s admission brought to the surface. When she’d finally discovered the truth about Matthew, it had been as if the floor had fallen out from underneath her. At first, she’d tried to keep it to herself—to go on as if she knew nothing. It had worked for a while until he’d disappeared. One morning, he'd kissed her goodbye, and she never saw him again. For days, she’d walked around with no idea of what to say or do. What if people thought she’d been a bad wife, and she’d driven him away? She needn’t have worried because everyone, it seemed, had known what was going on long before she had. That realization had caused her a different sense of shame. I’d been such an idiot.

“I can tell you want to say something,” Jane said. “Go ahead and say it.”

She sipped her coffee to wash down the bad taste in her throat.

“Does his wife know about his visits with you?”

“She doesn’t care,” Jane said. “They’re only together for financial reasons.”

“Really, Jane? Gullible was never a word I would have used to describe you.”

“It may sound that way,” she said. “But what I told you is true. They don’t even sleep in the same bedroom.”

“And how do you know that?”

“Because he…”

Camille finished Jane’s sentence. “Because he told you.”

“It’s not a secret to anyone,” Jane said. “She owns a gold mine near Deadwood and some buildings in Rapid City. She owns the dress shop where I used to work.”

“So he married her for her money,” Camille said.

“Not exactly. Sam has plenty of money, too,” Jane said. “There’s a lot more to it.”

“Is it something illegal? Are they in cahoots? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

Jane slammed her fist against the table. Camille jumped.

“Alright,” Jane said. “There was some legal trouble, and they got married to get around it.”

Camille buried her face in her hands. “Oh, Lord have mercy. I knew he was a bad man from what you said yesterday, and I got the impression that you thought he was bad, too.”

“I never said he was bad,” Jane said. “I just said he had some enemies because of his shrewd business dealings.”

“You said that he cheated his partners. I wouldn’t call that shrewd. I’d call it underhanded.”

“It didn’t have anything to do with me,” Jane said. “Or my business dealings with Samuel. It’s not as if I’m in love with him or hope to be his wife someday.”

It took Camille a moment to find her voice.

“I guess you were right last night when you said that I don’t know you anymore,” she said. “Because the friend who left Memphis five years ago would never have allowed a man—not even Zeb—to treat her so disrespectfully.”

Jane turned to the sink and poured hot water from the stove into the dishpan.

“Camille, I love you, but you need to go home. Tell everyone I’m fine. I’m doing just fine.”

“I can’t go home, yet. The stage won’t be through here again until tomorrow.”

“Then you can stay one more day, but I forbid any more talk of this.” She finished washing her dishes and headed toward the door. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go upstairs and get dressed before the delivery wagon arrives.”

“Yes, I think I’ll do the same,” Camille said. “I might hire a driver to take me over to Rapid City. Mr. Milton said that I could hire a buggy driver at the livery.”

Jane’s shoulders slumped, and she let out a loud sigh.

“Camille, don’t go to Rapid City and poke around in Samuel Barnes’ business. He wasn’t making idle threats last night. He can make your life difficult.”

“I’m not going to poke around in anything. I simply wanted to get out and explore the area today, and I need a new petticoat. I tore my good one getting off the stage at one of the way stations between here and Yankton. Since Red Gorge doesn’t have a dress shop…” She stopped. From the expression on Jane’s face, she’d touched a sore spot.

“I apologize for jumping to conclusions,” Jane said. “Go and have a good time.”

“Jane, please, we’ve been friends for too long. I don’t want to go home with this bad business between us. Why don’t you go with me to Rapid City? I’ll even treat you to a nice mid-day meal.”

Jane shook her head. “I can’t. I told you that I have work here that needs to be done.”

It was on the tip of Camille’s tongue to ask if work had anything to do with Samuel Barnes, but she kept quiet.

Summer Sale

Blurb

In 1884, Camille Canfield arrives in the small gold mining town of Red Gorge, Dakota Territory to deliver tragic news to her childhood friend, Jane Ford. When Jane’s business partner is murdered, Jane is the prime suspect, and Sheriff Jack Findley wastes no time arresting her. Camille refuses to believe her friend is guilty and will go to any lengths to discover the truth, even if it means provoking a man she's grown to admire.

Category: Western Fiction, Historical Mystery

Published: Dec. 16, 2017

Words: 36,270

ISBN: 9781370903115