Authors: Pamela Nowak
Daniel glanced at the trio, his face filling with distaste.
“We’ve saved you a chair,” Bill called with a wave.
Daniel moved across the room with reluctance. His hazel eyes bore into Sarah and she was glad for the buffer of the crowd.
Pumping Daniel’s hand, Bill made short work of introduction. “My wife, Elizabeth—I call her Libby.” He gestured to the women. “And you already know Sarah Donovan.”
Daniel curled his lip and Sarah held back a smile. Lord, he was angry.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Daniel replied. “How do you do, Mrs. Byers?”
“Oh, please.” She waved her hand dramatically. “Call me Elizabeth. Bill, move over. You’ll have a better view next to the aisle. Daniel can sit next to Sarah.”
Daniel stood stone-faced as the newspaperman and his wife shifted to the right. He took the empty chair, then glared at Sarah. “You have some nerve,” he whispered.
Sarah batted her eyes at him and smiled innocently. “I?”
Daniel’s face darkened and he leaned toward her. “You overstepped your bounds, Sarah, and you know it.”
“And you overstepped yours.” She let the statement sink in, refusing to take all the blame, even if it was deserved. Besides, it was a good enough excuse. She’d be hog-tied if she’d reveal her true reasons to him. “I don’t think I was quite clear about that the other day. This should clarify things nicely, I should think.” She gave him a smug smile.
“Is that what this is all about? Good God, Sarah, I apologized.”
Elizabeth peered at them, her eyebrows raised.
Sarah kept her voice low. “Yes, you did. But I forgot to slap you. I figured this would be a good substitute punishment.”
“Punishment?” Daniel whispered, incredulous. “Oh, now, that’s low. I would have thought you a bit more open minded.”
“I am. I just thought that a backward thinking man such as you might misinterpret my tolerance. I didn’t want you to assume a lack of morals on my part.”
“Oh, for God’s sake.” He threw up his hands in a helpless gesture.
“Have you ever noticed how often you curse around me?”
“That’s it, right there, around
.” He was pointing now, more animated than he’d been in their previous discussion. “You can ask anyone in this room if they’ve ever heard me speak that way before, and they’ll tell you it isn’t my habit. You have this uncanny ability to make me do things I do not do.”
Sarah glanced around the room, realizing others were beginning to stare. She dropped her voice again. “And if you quit feeling guilty about doing them, you’d realize it makes you feel better to say what you mean and be done with it.”
“Just because you say anything that pops into your head doesn’t mean we all have to.” The words came out in a hiss.
“I’ll have you know that most of the time, I give a great deal of thought to my words before I say them.” She straightened and smoothed her dark green skirt.
In front of the room, the city councilmen were entering and taking their seats.
Sarah leaned toward Daniel, tossing him one last challenge. “Speaking of thoughtful words, I’m quite sure you have a stirring speech planned for the folks tonight.”
“Hmph,” was all he said.
“Shush,” Elizabeth admonished. “It’s time.”
The audience murmured quietly as the councilmen went about their business. Coughs and sneezes filled the air as they moved down the agenda. A few seats away, a lady with a baby stood and left the room, the odor of the infant’s soiled diaper lingering in their wake. Elizabeth pulled a packet of lemon drops from her purse and passed them down the row. Daniel popped one into his mouth. Sarah smiled at the pucker that appeared on his face as he sucked on what was likely a forbidden treat.
“We now move to our final item of business. The Council has received a petition requesting repeal of the dog bounty statute. Are there public comments at this time?” The chairman tapped his gavel, silencing the muttering crowd.
The petition had been an unexpected Godsend, lending more legitimacy to the public outcry. Sarah wasn’t sure if Elizabeth had played a role in instigating the action or not, but she was pleased nonetheless.
Daniel sank into his chair and Sarah leaned toward him. “Your public is waiting.”
He frowned at her.
“What if it had been Molly or Kate in the wagon, Daniel? What if those boys had shot your child? All that blood. Would she have lain there, suffering, calling for her daddy? Could I have kept her alive until I pulled that wagon, dripping blood all the way down the street, to your house? Would you have held her lifeless body in your arms only to carry her inside and make her coffin with your own hands?”
“Good God,” he muttered as he stood and waited to be recognized.
The City Council Chairman nodded at him solemnly. “State your name and address for the record.”
Sarah crossed her hands and waited for Daniel to begin, hoping he was stirred up enough to deliver a rousing speech.
Daniel cleared his throat and introduced himself, then closed his eyes and drew a breath. “Last week, my daughters trudged into my front yard, blood covering their usually neat dresses. It was enough to pull me to their sides immediately. My first thoughts centered on them. Were they hurt? What had happened? By the time their protector explained that it was their beloved dog, Biscuit, whose blood covered their clothes, my concern had turned to anger. Those of you who know me know that I am not a man given to displays of emotion. But I tell you now that I was scared and I was angry. What kind of law encourages ruffians to kill family pets and endanger this community’s children? Has the City of Denver sunk so low?”
Silence reigned as his words hit home, then shattered as he sat and one after another in the audience vied for attention.
Elizabeth patted his arm and offered her praise while Bill nodded his assent.
Daniel slouched in the chair and closed his eyes.
Sarah granted him his peace. Lord, he looked overwhelmed. What came so easily for her must have been a monumental effort for him. She’d pulled off her letter assignment well and, despite her worries, he hadn’t muffed it. Elizabeth would make sure the local suffrage leaders knew of her abilities. Next time, they would offer a bigger assignment, one she could carry out easily, without involving anyone else.
What’s more, Daniel had done the unexpected. He’d stood up and voiced his opinion with fire and determination. It was a good first step. She hoped he’d gained from it, that he’d be able to take it home and apply it with his girls.
She concentrated on the debate. There was much more to the issue than she’d realized. One of the grocers was telling the crowd about the number of times the strays had gotten into his produce when a red-faced butcher jumped up and added his complaints. There
a problem with dogs in the city; that was clear. One of the physicians even pointed out the health hazards of so many loose animals.
By now, Daniel sat quietly listening and Sarah wondered what he was thinking. He nodded from time to time, his brow wrinkled in thought.
The audience was growing restless. There were points made from all corners. People were tiring and tempers grew short. Twice the chairman had to bang his gavel and call for order.
Daniel glanced at her. To Sarah’s surprise, he stood.
“I’ve listened to all of you as you’ve added your insights to my concerns and learned a few things. It seems clear that Denver has a problem with strays. I’ll concede that we need to address the problem and that we need to continue to round up the strays from the city streets. I remain unconvinced, however, that offering a bounty for any dog brought in is the best way to address the problem. I’d like to call for the appointment of a committee to explore alternatives.”
Elizabeth started the applause. Sarah sat in amazement, then joined in.
“Excellent idea, Mr. Petterman, excellent idea. I hereby establish said committee and appoint Daniel Petterman to serve as its chair. Mr. Byers, will you serve?”
Bill Byers nodded his agreement as other appointees were named. Elizabeth leaned toward him, whispering.
Daniel glanced at Sarah, uncertainty in his expression.
“You can do it,” she told him.
He sat, wearily. “I’m not so sure.”
“From here on out, it’s as simple as managing a meeting. You won’t even need to push people.”
“I guess you got even, all right, huh?”
“Guess I did,” she said quietly. “Now we can go our own separate ways.”
A few chairs down, Bill was standing. “Mr. Chairman,” he said. “In the interest of being fair to everyone in the community, I’d like to call the appointment of a few women to the committee. My wife Elizabeth has generously offered her services, and I’d also like to nominate our female telegrapher, Sarah Donovan.”
“Point well taken, Mr. Byers. Ladies, consider yourselves appointed.”
Sarah caught Elizabeth’s triumphant grin and saw the move for what it was, an effort to more actively involve women, a further weapon in the suffrage arsenal, a way to show the men of Denver that women could contribute politically.
Beside her, Daniel ran his hand through his hair. “Oh, God, not again.”
Sarah grimaced. Daniel Petterman had a way of messing up her plans. The last thing she needed was his mule-headed concern for decorum getting in the way of her political action.
“You just run the meeting, Daniel, that’s it. Don’t jump in, don’t get involved, don’t even join the discussions.”
Bewilderment flashed across his face. “But, Sarah, I think I rather like this involvement you’ve shoved upon me. People actually respect it. I’m going to do this, Sarah, and you’re going to show me how.”
Sarah dropped her head into her hands. Would she never be rid of the man?
The events of past week had surprised Daniel more than he thought possible. Whistling, he gathered embalming fluid, a bottle of M. & L. Flesh Tint, and a collection of bulbs and syringes from the cupboard, then headed into the small rear room of the coffin shop to begin his day’s work.
He’d mulled that regrettable kiss over in his mind for several days before finally settling on a shaky conclusion. It happened, it was no one’s fault, and he wasn’t going to feel guilty about it anymore.
The unexpected decision left him feeling rebellious.
That night it had happened, guilt had made sleep difficult. A lifetime of imposed self-restraint told him his actions were ungentlemanly, improper, and immoral. He couldn’t decide what bothered him the most—the impulsive loss of control, the act itself, or his pleasure at the softness of Sarah’s lips.
At one point, he tried to justify the kiss by telling himself Sarah had asked for it. She’d pushed at him to let his emotions take control, after all. But deep down, he knew that was no excuse. Sarah hadn’t behaved seductively. Even her shoulder massage had been innocent, despite how it made him feel.
Then, after he read that damned letter in the paper, he tried to convince himself she’d plotted his downfall. Yet he survived the meeting and had discovered a thing or two in the process.
First, there was Sarah herself, or, more to the point, her view on the kiss. She sat there and lectured him about his behavior all the while smiling and batting her eyes until he finally realized that she wasn’t truly insulted. He suspected she was more pleased by his impulsiveness than angry. He should have expected as much from a suffragist. And if she didn’t care, why the devil should he beat himself up about it?
Then, there was his speech. Sarah and her perky little challenges had goaded him into voicing feelings he hadn’t wanted to reveal. Yet no one considered it the least improper that he’d shared them with a room full of people. In fact, they’d applauded him and made him chairman of a committee.
He’d sinned several times over and no one had been harmed. The world did not look upon him with horror and distaste. He’d garnered respect and he was accomplishing good.
It all made feeling guilty a pretty big waste of time.
He’d made his peace with his impulsivity, forced his father’s voice to be silent on the matter.
At his daughter’s searching voice, Daniel glanced up. “In here, Molly.” He moved to shield the body he’d been working on from her view.
She entered the back room of his shop and peered at him with wide eyes. “You were whistling. I thought we weren’t supposed to—”
“We’re not,” he confirmed. Had he really been whistling? It was an old habit, long abandoned at his father’s insistence.
“Then why are you?”
Now how in the dickens did she expect him to answer that when he hadn’t even known he was doing it? Sometimes his daughters, especially Molly, vexed him. He shrugged and offered a weak excuse. “I decided to break the rule.”
Molly’s eyes widened again. “You did? But, we’re not supposed to break the rules.”
“No, Molly, we’re not.” He set the embalming syringe on the table and peered at her. “Is there something you wanted?”
“Oh! I’m supposed to tell you Mr. Byers is waiting in the parlor.”
“Thank you, Molly. I’ll be right in.”
She scampered back into the house while Daniel turned, injected the last of the fluid, and covered the body. He wished more families would allow him to embalm. He was convinced the technique was the way of the future and a solid step ahead in the preservation of bodies. Still, many remained skeptical.
Wiping the ill-smelling liquid from his hands, he left the room and moved to the front of the shop, wondering what Bill was doing in the parlor. The carefully lettered “will return” sign hung on a small nail next to the doorframe. He reached for it, noticing that the “closed” sign still hung in the window. He’d never even opened up. No wonder Bill had gone to the house.
He replaced the sign and retraced his steps, through the two-room addition that comprised his business shop, and into the parlor of the house itself.
Bill Byers sat on a neat but well-used sofa, flanked by Kate and Molly. Mrs. Winifred stood in the kitchen doorway, shaking her gray head at the trio. Molly’s tiny china tea set decorated the table in front of the sofa.