Authors: Darlene Franklin
Tags: #Mystery: Christian - Cozy - Gunfight Reenactment - Oklahoma
|Darlene Franklin - Dressed for Death 01 - Gunfight at Grace Gulch|
|Dressed for Death Mysteries |
|Heartsong Presents (2008)|
|Tags:||Mystery: Christian - Cozy - Gunfight Reenactment - Oklahoma|
|Mystery: Christian - Cozy - Gunfight Reenactment - Oklahomattt|
GUNFIGHT AT GRACE GULCH
A Dressed for Death Mystery, Book 1
“Thank you” is inadequate to my faithful critiquers: Susan Page Davis, Rhonda Gibson, Lisa Harris, and Lynette Sowell. I am proud to join your ranks.
Published by Forget Me Not Romances (a division of Winged Publications) 2015
Cover by Cynthia Hickey
Copyright © 2008 by Darlene Franklin. All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the permission of author or Forget Me Not Romances.
Scripture taken from the H
®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Scripture taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events is purely coincidental.
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How I have dreamed of describing for you the lovely piece of land that God has given us as our own. I truly believed the opening of the unassigned lands in Indian Territory was God’s provision for us. At last I could leave my wandering cowboy ways and start my own ranch, with you by my side.
Last Monday I jostled with thousands of others stretched along the border to the unassigned lands. I wish I could send you a picture of the strange conveyances I saw gathered, everything from laden-down wagons to newfangled bicycles. I stayed with trusty old Patches. He’s seen me through many a scrape on a cattle drive, and I figured he could outsmart all those other horses.
Oh, Mary, how do I tell you? I failed! Patches flew straight and true through the dust-filled air. I cannot fault his speed. But others reached the land before me. I was unable to stake a claim on even the most miserable of the plots open for settlement.
Take heart, dear one. God must have another plan for us.
Your loving fiancé,
Friday, September 20
The grandfather clock inside Cici’s Vintage Clothing chimed 2:00 p.m. I strained my ears for the cries that would announce the arrival of Grace Gulch’s two most famous participants in the 1891 Oklahoma Land Run. For once, I wished my store wasn’t full of customers.
“Cici, look! They’re coming!”
I hurried over to the customer who stood by the front window display of prairie bonnets. In minutes, the store emptied as effectively as if a fire alarm had sounded. I considered putting on my Edwardian hat but decided against it. People wanted to see the horsemen, not a bunch of feathers and ribbons. I joined my customers on the sidewalk to watch the race for Grace Gulch. I wouldn’t cheer for either rider—no successful businesswoman could afford to show partisanship for either a Grace or a Gaynor in our town—but inside I rooted for Cord Grace.
Hoofbeats drummed the hard-packed earth. One horse, tall and black against the sky, crested the hill at the far end of the gulch.
My heart raced at the sight of my childhood friend and persistent suitor. I might not want to marry him, but he looked every inch a hero on horseback. Seconds later, another horse, as white as the first one was black, appeared from a different direction.
So the cell phones worked
I bit back a smile. Unlike the original race, the outcome would not depend on the fastest horse and pure luck. This reenactment was the brainchild of Audie Howe, interim director of the Magda Grace Mallory Theater—the MGM for short—named after the town’s leading patron of the arts. In order to make sure that the right person won the race, Audie arranged to phone Penn Hardy, owner of the
Grace Gulch Herald
, when it was to time to move. Audie used every modern convenience to keep his plays running smoothly, even in telling a century-old story.
News of the reenactment had spread. Twice the normal crowd had come to town to celebrate Land Run Days. A sigh passed through the people gathered on the sidewalk. They cheered on their favorites.
“C’mon, Gaynor! Beat him to it this time!”
“You’re the man, Grace! Get here first!”
“Yee-haw!” I couldn’t contain my excitement any longer. My breaths came in short gasps as I wondered if, this time, history might be altered. Of course it wouldn’t. Cord Grace could ride circles around Penn Hardy any day of the week. A working cowboy had all the advantages over a newspaper editor in a horse race. If they were riding for real, Cord and his horse Smoky would still come in first. Hands down.
The figures became bigger on the horizon. I could distinguish Cord’s wide Stetson hat, his boots working spurs into Smokey’s side. Behind him, Penn rode a bit like a proper English gentleman, upright in the saddle. He wouldn’t get the maximum out of Starlight that way.
True to history, Cord and Smoky dashed down the path that would have been a tangle of undergrowth and leafy trees during the original run. Main Street stretched out from one end of the gulch to the other. Cord reined in his horse in the center of town and planted a flag in a small patch of grass.
“This claim belongs to Bob Grace!” Cord’s voice rang with exhilaration. He sounded as pleased as his great-grandfather must have back in 1891. I released my breath, gasping in relief that the history of Grace Gulch would remain unchanged.
Penn Hardy, playing his ancestor Dick Gaynor, pulled Starlight to a halt beside Cord. “You’re a dead man, Grace.” He spat in the other man’s direction. “You cheated. There’s no way you left at the same time I did and got here ahead of me.”
I allowed myself the luxury of booing with the audience. Of course I was booing Penn—er, Dick—for his unfounded accusation. But I might also be booing Grace for cheating on the land run.
Grace shrugged. “Smokey’s a mighty fast horse. You might want to keep moving, if’n you want to stake a claim farther on.” He nodded at the crest of the hill. Half a dozen riders appeared and galloped down the hill, ready to plant a flag on any unclaimed land. One of them represented my great-grandfather Billy Wilde, who founded the Crazy W Ranch after the run.
“You haven’t heard the last from me,” Gaynor threatened. He spurred Starlight into motion and headed down the main street in the direction of the far end of the gulch. Grace waited until he rode out of sight, then let out a rousing holler.
I joined with the crowd in clapping for the performance. Cord grinned and bowed. “I worked up a mighty big thirst on that ride. I think I’ll ask Miss Suzanne for a drink of sarsaparilla over in that fine eating establishment.” He nodded in the direction of the Gulch. A false front had been added to the local café to convert it into the saloon it had been in early days for the duration of the festival.
People laughed, whether at Cord’s overacted mannerisms or at the notion of a cowboy drinking sarsaparilla, I couldn’t tell. I laughed along with them.
“So, Cici, you liked our little play,” Audie Howe said. Sunlight glinted off his blond-capped head where he nodded in the direction of Cord’s departing back.
Audie was dressed like a cowboy, and I had to admit that the man carried the part well. His neckerchief and hat showed the right amount of wear, and he appeared at ease in the outfit. Only his too-pale skin gave away his city roots. He wouldn’t don stage makeup for this role, but he looked good, and I was glad the play turned out well for him.
“It seemed so real. I almost imagined it was the original Bob Grace and Dick Gaynor riding flat out for the gulch.” I turned, enjoying the swish of beige silk flowing from the princess waistline of my dress, an original from the year Oklahoma became a state—1907. “I wondered for a minute if we would have to rename the town Gaynor Gulch!”
“Why not?” Audie teased. “You have two of everything here. Why not two towns?”
Like most newcomers, he couldn’t understand why a town as small as Grace Gulch needed two newspapers, two banks, and two community churches in addition to mainline denominations. That was easy, once you knew the history.
The land run initiated a lifelong feud between Bob Grace and Dick Gaynor. Anything Grace could do, Gaynor could do better. So he did. It broke his heart when the townspeople decided to name the town Grace Gulch.
“I confess that I wondered what Penn would come up with when he offered to write the play for the reenactment.” The sun beat down on me as the crowd dispersed, and I wished I had worn my hat after all. “When he said he had access to correspondence between Bob and Mary Grace, I thought maybe he uncovered new information. If Bob Grace told anybody the full truth, it was his wife, Mary.”
“In other words. . .did Bob Grace win the race fair and square?” After spending six months in Grace Gulch, Audie understood how important the question remained to our town over a hundred years later.
“Penn didn’t show us anymore in the race today than we already knew. Grace arrived first.” I smiled, reassured by that knowledge.
Audie’s mouth twisted in a bit of a sneer. Maybe he wished that Old Bob Grace could be proven a cheat. Perhaps Audie thought that would give him an advantage over Cord, a Grace ancestor, in the romance department. Audie had asked me out a few times. More than a few times, to be honest. Last July, we met during rehearsals for his first play in Grace Gulch—
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
—when I helped with the costumes. After that, we fell into an easy friendship. We were part of the same Christian book club. Sometimes, only the two of us showed for the monthly discussions, and people started linking our names.
That wasn’t fair, anymore than it was fair that people assumed I would settle down some day and marry Cord. For the first time in my life, I had two men competing for my attention. I was flattered. What girl—well, what woman knocking on thirty—wouldn’t be? I know thirty isn’t that old, but most of my high school friends were married with children by now. If I had to make a decision today, I didn’t know which man I’d choose. In fact, I was going to a town barbecue with Cord tonight, and to the Land Run concert tomorrow with Audie.
“I see you have customers.” The corners of Audie’s mouth twitched. “See you tomorrow at the big showdown?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
.” Audie took my hand and kissed it, stepping out of his cowboy character for a minute. His eyes gleamed in appreciation.
I allowed myself a moment to celebrate the success of my feminine Edwardian dress, in spite of the nuisance of needing someone to help me fasten the eleven mother-of-pearl buttons up the back. My sister Dina came by long enough to complete the job this morning.
Now that the excitement outside had ended, I could see I had a full store again. A pint-sized customer stood in front of me, holding a red bonnet in her hands. She was adorable.
She must have sensed me watching her. “My name is Susie. I can’t decide which hat I want.” She picked up a green bonnet, as well. She smiled at me, and I imagined I was a schoolteacher gazing into the face of a pupil. Children were my favorite customers. If they could catch an interest in history through the clothing they bought in my store, they might tell the stories to following generations.
I looked at the bonnets. Both of them clashed with her orange T-shirt. “Which of them do you like better?”
I held back a smile to reflect her serious demeanor.
Susie twirled the hats, one in each hand. I could almost hear her thinking “eeny-meeny-miney-mo.”
“The green one, I think.” She grinned, emphasizing the freckles on her dimples. “Mom, can I have it?”
A woman hovered nearby, and the saleswoman in me kicked into high gear. “If you like the bonnet, why don’t you show your mother the outfits over here? We have some ready-made dresses that are a perfect match for that bonnet.”
I pointed out the rack of clothes, only to discover that the choices had dwindled throughout the morning. Time to restock. “Excuse me.”
I went to the back room and grabbed for the supply of reproductions I had sewn in expectation of big sales for this year’s Land Run Days. There was one, a lovely spring green, in the right size for my little friend. Her mother agreed to buy it along with the matching bonnet. The girl slipped into a stall and changed on the spot.
The hours whizzed by, and only when my stomach grumbled a complaint did I look at the clock and realize I hadn’t taken a break. It was past closing time—eight o’clock in honor of the celebration. Most Fridays I closed at seven. People said the sidewalks rolled up in Grace Gulch at sundown. They didn’t err by much. Only the Denny’s on a spur from Route 66 and the movie theater stayed open in the evenings—and the theater operated only on weekends. Of course, the MGM also kept late hours when they were presenting a play.
After the last customers paid and left, I locked the doors behind them with a satisfied sigh. “What a profitable day.” I smiled as I checked the visitor’s log. I kept track of as many customers as possible to add them to my computer database. Most of the time Internet sales from my Web site provided my major source of income. A lot of today’s visitors came from out of state, in addition to those from all around Oklahoma. When Graces and Gaynors learned we were recreating the famous feud, they made every effort to return to their hometown. Prospects looked good for future sales.
In preparation for the Land Run Days, I had forgone my usual practice of marketing authentic clothing only. There simply wasn’t enough available. I had sold out most of my inventory by early September. Audie and my sister Dina, who volunteered as props manager at the MGM between college classes, had arranged for the loan of authentic period costumes for the reenactment. I was happy to oblige. Most of the town would do anything to help Magda Grace Mallory, the closest thing we had to royalty. Many of our town celebrities, including Magda, had purchased outfits, as well. I had reserved one of my favorite finds for myself: the Edwardian beige silk I had been wearing all day, the lace capped sleeves and square neckline a picture of grace from another time. It did nice things for my figure, too.
To accommodate the influx of business I expected, I had located patterns from 1891. I brought in fabrics that would have been used in that time period. People liked the idea of making their own clothing. I also spent hours churning out clothes in every style and size possible. Today made a sizeable dent in my stock, a good start to the weekend.