Inez Stannert, one of the partners in the Silver Queen Saloon in Leadville, Colorado, travels to a fashionable summer retreat for a reunion with her son, now a toddler in the care of her sister. Manitou, at the foot of Pike’s Peak, was not just a spa tourism destination in the summer of 1880—it was often a last resort for those ill with tuberculosis.
Inez and her photographer friend Susan chose the stage coach for the scenery, but their journey to Manitou turns lethal when East Coast businessman Edward Pace grows faint, swigs some medicine, and dies under their horrified gaze. On their arrival at the posh Mountain Springs House, Pace’s widow rejects a weak heart theory and begs Inez to investigate. As Inez digs deeper, she uncovers the shady side of spa tourism including spurious claims, profiteering from the coming bonanza in medicinal waters and miracle cures, and medical practitioners who kindle false hopes in the desperate and the dying.
Pace’s sudden demise is not the only event that tarnishes Inez’s hopes of a happy reunion with her son and sister. Mark Stannert has reappeared after a year and a half’s unexplained absence. Now she must fight to hold on to her child and the life she has built for herself in an era where “independent woman” is an oxymoron.
Inez Stannert had nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide.
Since she couldn’t escape the purgatory that was the confined and crowded stagecoach, Inez tried to let the droning voice of the man seated across from her wash over like the water in a mountain stream. But Edward Pace, Boston businessman and investor questing after yet more wealth in the West, went on and on. His monologue was interrupted only by the occasional screech from one of his three children—pushed beyond endurance by the heat, the cramped quarters, the dust—or punctuated by the muffled shout of “G-long!” or “H-up!” from the coach driver on the seat above them.
Mr. Pace’s voice accompanied the rhythmic cadence of horses’ hooves as they pounded mile after mile of red dirt roads. Yesterday, the coach had stopped only for short rest breaks and a non-restful scant handful of hours sleep at a “hotel” in Fairplay. Today, the hapless passengers continued their journey, crammed together shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh, as the coach steadily lengthened the distance from their starting point in Leadville and drew ever closer to their destination of Manitou.
The coach was now edging toward Florrisant, and the final descent out of the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the lesser lands at the edge of the mountain range.
The end of the trip could not come soon enough.
Inez clenched her hands, fingernails biting through thin leather gloves. The backs of the gloves were covered with the fine dust that swirled throughout the interior of the stagecoach. A rusty tinge painted every surface and every passenger—Inez, her friend and traveling companion Susan Carothers, the Pace paterfamilias, his wife, their three children, and the unintroduced nanny. Inez fervently wished the dust would simply choke Mr. Pace into silence. But Lady Luck was betting against her, and the businessman appeared impervious to the dust’s strangling effects.
Behind Inez’s traveling veil—which had proved almost useless in keeping the airborne dirt at bay—sweat trickled from her hairline, down temples and cheeks to drip off her chin.
The clattering stage rocked forward, back, forward, back: a metronome in motion, a mother’s nudge to a cradle.
There was a sudden, violent pitch forward, a sharp jerk back, a whistle from the driver above, and the snap of a whip. Inez, crammed on the leather seat between her friend Susan and the nanny, clutched Susan’s arm to keep from falling forward into Mr. Pace’s lap. As the stage lurched from rut to rock, a hard jolt shuddered through the thinly padded leather seats. Pain raced up Inez’s back, tracing the corset laces, and set her teeth rattling. She bit the inside of her mouth to keep from uttering an oath that, most likely, would have stopped the businessman dead in his oratorical tracks.
Ann Parker is a California-based science/corporate writer by day and an historical mystery writer by night. Her award-winning Silver Rush mystery series, featuring saloon-owner Inez Stannert, is set in 1880s Colorado. The latest in the series, MERCURY’S RISE, won the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award, and is a finalist for the Macavity/Sue Feder Award, a Willa Literary Award (historical), a Colorado Book Award (genre fiction), and an Agatha Award (historical novel). Website: http://www.annparker.net Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/annparker