Notorious in the West(4)

By: Lisa Plumley

 She hadn’t been able to help herself.

 It had been for his own good, he reckoned.

 He had to make up for his flaw somehow, Griffin knew. He had to amass other things, things that would compensate for his appearance. Things that would make him wealthy, make him whole, make him a real man—a real man who wasn’t afraid of rats, didn’t make coffee for the womenfolk and refused to be called Hook Turner by those knucks at the glass factory. Whatever it took, Griffin vowed, he would remake himself into someone stronger.

 He couldn’t remake himself into someone better. He knew that now. Given his birthright, he couldn’t be good. So he would have to settle for being strong. Being hard. Being tough.

 He would have to settle for being invulnerable.

 As a first step, Griffin schooled his face into an impassive mask. It was sorely difficult, but he did it. Then he drew in a deep breath. He looked squarely at his mother.

 “Someday,” he said, “you’ll know you were wrong about me.”

 She gave him a dubious look. Pointedly, she glanced away.

 “Someday,” he added, pushed by her obvious skepticism, “you’ll be proud to call me your son.”

 His mother’s obstinate expression didn’t change. Neither did her refusal to acknowledge his promise. But Griffin didn’t care. He couldn’t allow himself to care. He wouldn’t.

 What he lacked in other ways—what he longed for and couldn’t have—he could make up for with single-mindedness, Griffin reasoned. His mother might be stubborn—too stubborn, even, to love him—but he was stubborn, too. Stubborn and smart and ready to work his fingers to the bone to earn his success. Whatever it took to change his life, he would do it.

 “You will be proud of me,” he repeated. “I swear it.”

 Then, without waiting for his mother to answer him, Griffin left her with her cold coffee and her charity Irish stew and went to figure out how he could most quickly make his fortune.

 Because everything started with money, he knew...and ended with him forcing the world to admit it was wrong about Griffin Turner and what he was capable of—hawklike nose and all.

                       Chapter Two

 June 1872, Morrow Creek, northern Arizona Territory

 As a girl who had never experienced neuralgia, lassitude or vexing biliousness, Olivia Mouton should not have felt drawn to the traveling medicine show that came to town on the Sunday after her thirteenth birthday. But there was something about the peddler’s intriguing medicinal claims that pulled her nearer.

 “This latest miracle elixir will end nervous troubles and colonic maladies alike. It will restore youth and vigor!” The charming peddler, finely dressed in a woolen suit with a fancy waistcoat, held aloft a full glass bottle. Its label was typeset with an impressively diverse list of the ailments it purported to achieve a remedy for. The man wasted no time explaining his wares’ efficacy. “Wise lore from the savage! Grandmother’s soothing tinctures! Scrupulous scientific approaches! All are represented here!” He gave a graceful gesture, then grinned invitingly at the crowd. “Step right up and see for yourselves.”

 Interestedly, Olivia examined the wares he’d arrayed in tidy rows atop his wagon’s hinged backboard. There were brown and green bottles full of distillations, cork-stoppered vials of fascinating tonics and flat tins of curative powders. There were jars of creams and ointments, sachets of dried herbs and boxes of exotic-smelling teas printed with celestial characters. There was even a selection of preserved exotic fruits, which—according to their labels—could improve “stamina.” Olivia knew it was unlikely that the medicine show’s merchandise could accomplish even half the things the peddler promised in his spiel, but that hadn’t stopped an eager crowd from forming.

 After all, his arrival was the single most exciting occurrence in sleepy Morrow Creek township since the circuit judge had rode in a week or so ago...and promptly gotten too drunk on mescal to hear any cases or cast any judgments on wrongdoers.

 Most days, nothing much happened in her tiny territorial hometown. Miners trudged off to their claims in the surrounding mountainside. Rail workers toiled on the incoming rail spur, felling the obstructive ponderosa pines and laying track past the burbling namesake creek. Wives and laundresses went about their chores and tended their children with dusty equanimity.

 Someday, perhaps, Morrow Creek would be a bustling place, full of vigor and industry and stirring intellectual societies. At the moment, though, Olivia’s rough-hewn hometown lacked everything from a decent mercantile or a completed rail depot to a proper schoolhouse. Lessons were sporadic and held outdoors. The town leaders were attempting to woo an instructor from the East to educate the youth of Morrow Creek. Given their current rate of progress, such a teacher’s potential students would have long gray beards before that teacher’s hiring was complete.

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