At one point, I had a blog started called “Tales of the Old West.” I posted this and the earlier excerpt which I posted here yesterday. I had some links on that blog to merchants for “Rustic Decor” and “Western Decor” furniture, as well as some cowboy type belt buckles. Unfortunately, the site was tanked with the server crash I had a few weeks back and I still haven’t gotten it rebuilt. But I always thought it might draw some traffic, perhaps even gain me some sales.
So here’s the second part of the first chapter of this Western novel:
“I’ve told you many times, Jonathan, never to call me ‘boss’ when we’re at a social function. I suggest you try harder to remember that.” The tall, slim man with the manicured hands and soft smile kept that smile carefully in place as he chided the younger man with a quiet aside. But the quaking young man, Jonathan “Stewy” Storm, saw fire in his boss’s eyes that betrayed the gentle words. Stewy knew his employer, Matthew Baron, wasn’t one to let mistakes be forgotten. Lucky for him, Jonathan realized, that they were in the Grand Exhibit Hall of the Mining and Industrial Exposition. With all these people around, he knew he’d at least forestalled the punishment he feared.
As Matthew Baron advanced into the hall, he was both impressed and astonished at what he saw. Surely, there had never been such a gathering of scientific mechanical advancements in one place. And just as surely, there had never been such a gathering of so many people in one place in Denver. Baron recalled that the day’s newspaper said nearly 150,000 had passed through the doors into the Exposition Hall–and this first National Mining and Industrial Exposition was to run yet another 10 days. The Exposition Hall itself was admittedly a gaudy structure. Its design was a puzzling blend of the popular Second Empire and Richardsonian Romanesque schools of architecture.
The towers on the south end of the elongated crucifix floor plan were more Gothic battlements than simple towers. But even in its brash mixing of styles, and though it had been built in only two months, it carried a permanence that made it likely to stand forever — or at least for as long as the mining boom spurred Denver to continue its crawl off the plains up into the foothills. Except for the half-mile long sightseers’ promenade that wound around the entire interior of the building at balcony level, its vaulted ceilings gave it the look of a medieval cathedral. But it would be a cathedral in which the village peasants had accidentally misplaced their marketplace.
Exhibitors filling that marketplace and appealing to the jostling crowds both on the floor and around the promenade included manufacturers, engineers, scientists, and inventors of every nature. Also holding down booth space were brokers and investors, both legitimate and bogus, who appealed to the greed and dreams of the thousands who had thronged through the Exposition Hall in the first month and a half since the show began August 1.
Baron, by habit, translated those crowds directly into an abundance of “marks” for the many confidence games he and his associates ran regularly for Denver’s top crime lord, Ed Chase.
Yes, indeed, Baron thought as he leaned toward one of the exhibits to view a display of hard-rock mining equipment. Tabor, Haskell, Perky, Loveland, and the other boys had really outdone themselves putting on this little show. He turned his back on the display and gave his attention to the attractive young ladies at a nearby booth. Hard-rock drills, smelter stoves and all that paraphernalia be damned. Matthew Baron hadn’t risen in the Rocky Mountain underworld by dint of sweating and risking his life in some dark hole in the ground.
He really couldn’t care less about such muck, he thought, sniffing lightly to gain the attention of a particularly fetching blond near the booth’s entrance.
“Ah, Lisa my dear, so good to see you at the big show,” Baron’s attention was distracted from the blond by an attractive redheaded woman in a teal gown standing alongside the trolley display at the south side of the hall. “Please do join me, love, and I’ll show you the world,” he said to the redhead.
“Of course, Matthew,” the redhead said. Her giggle seemed out of place in someone dressed so tastefully in the latest calf-length style with a high waist, neckline near the chin, and ruffled sleeves. She beamed at Baron. She knew and he knew that many of the women gracing the booths throughout the hall were on hire, just as she was, from the better sporting houses along Market Street. Being seen with Matthew Baron would certainly enhance her status, even if only for the day and the upcoming evening’s celebrations. Only Ed Chase would’ve made a better catch, Lisa knew. And it had been several years since Chase had allowed himself to be seen in public with one of the Market Street girls.
“Sorry, Mr. Baron,” a voice interrupted his game and Matthew Baron pivoted smartly on one heel away from the charming Lisa only to see that fool Stewy wide-eyed and quivering behind him.
“What are you sorry about now, you stupid lout?” Baron snapped. His impatience grew and became more open as the crowds thinned momentarily. Stewy knew the lighter crowd was a bad sign. He feared Baron would display open hostility, maybe even cuff him, with fewer around to see and take offense.
“Well, Mr. Baron, I’m sorry, sir, but Goldy got away.”
“What do you mean Goldy got away? How could he get away? Didn’t you cover every entrance and exit as I told you?” Baron was not happy. It enraged him just to think about the way that old fool Goldy Edington and the girl had stolen important documents from his office safe. It still amazed him that he’d let down his guard when he saw the girl’s lovely eyes, lithesome legs, and let her into his office.
“I assume, Mr. Storm, that you’ve informed everyone to be on the lookout for Goldy?” Baron said. “It would not be a good idea to let the old man roam loose too long, do you understand? I want him brought to me at the Haven just as soon as he’s found. And I pray you won’t keep me waiting long, will you, Stewy?” A silence descended on the hall just as Baron finished speaking. Stewy, so called for his ravenous love of Mulligan stew, was more than a little shaken.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Baron, I’ll see to it myself, sir, that Goldy is brought right in.” Stewy’d seen the last associate who’d crossed Matthew Baron. Or at least, he’d seen what was left of him when they recovered the body from the ravine below Lookout Mountain.
With his lackey hastily retreating toward the exit to hunt for Edington, Matthew Baron continued his regal stroll toward the main exhibit area, surrounded by an entourage of the famous and near famous of Denver’s society. Each of them was eager to be seen with the powerful man, yet hesitant to approach him openly. Though treated outwardly as an upstanding member of the Rocky Mountain city, Baron was well aware of the air of shady mystery that hung about him in the public mind. He cultivated it. All who knew him even slightly knew he was not to be crossed, nor were they eager to ask questions about information which he chose not to volunteer. Such awe-inspired distance was useful.
“Let’s see what we can see, love,” Matthew Baron said. He smiled and offered his lovely companion his arm once more. Stewy and the irritating Goldy Edington both were forgotten as the pair swept on into the main exhibition hall and headed toward the Denver Telephone Company display. The telephone was all the rage in Denver, just as it was elsewhere in the West. The city of some 37,000 people had 200 customers hooked up, with the copper lines carrying their voices magically around town. Telephone lines had been strung over the Rockies as far as Leadville. Everyone was marveling at Mr. Bell’s invention. Baron heard the device had become almost common-place back East. Lindsey Cunningham, the famous Boston actress, was supposed to be at the exhibit. Matthew Baron was especially eager to see that particular young lady.
As they passed through the hall, Baron and his companion paid no attention to the little man in the tattered buckskin jacket standing just inside the entrance to the north lobby. The small man, on the other hand, noted their passing with great care.
Comments? Suggestions? Any reactions?
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