Read Disorder in the House [How the West Was Done 2] (Siren Publishing Ménage Everlasting) Online
Authors: Karen Mercury
Garrett hadn’t figured out yet how to explain to Levi Colter how this information had come to him. It was far too embarrassing and potentially damaging to himself, especially if revealed to a man distraught in matters of love. So he said, “Perhaps it’s best if I just show you.” He withdrew a couple folded pieces of paper from inside his frock coat and handed them to the irritable, lovelorn man.
This seemed to give Levi pause for thought. He slowly accepted the papers, the anger falling from his face. He abruptly turned to stalk back to the agent’s office, Garrett following with long-legged strides.
Levi absentmindedly puffed at a pipe while reading the strange, foreign writing. Garrett had been appalled to see the writing, too. The handwriting was so spiky and unnatural and quite unlike Garrett’s own rounded penmanship. He was surprised Levi was taking it so casually and not tossing him out of the room on his ear.
It wasn’t just the unusual handwriting that had Garrett shaking in his boots when he’d first viewed the letter. The information conveyed terrified him more than anything. There was no reasonable explanation for the letter. More than once since first seeing it a week ago, he’d considered the possibility that he’d gone loco—that he was studying to be a half-wit, as they said here in the Far West.
Having no pipe of his own to smoke, Garrett had nothing else to do, so he watched Levi read. He knew from the various emotions that swept over the agent’s face which part of the letter he’d arrived at. He could tell Levi was a strongly sensitive man like himself, not a buffoon like Shady. Levi’s nostrils flared angrily when he read about Caeser’s death. He frowned in confusion when the writer described his own arrival yesterday in Laramie City. And his eyes became amazingly soft and limpid when “one of Hudson’s daughters” was mentioned. Levi Colter was obviously a man ruled by his emotions, which could be a good thing—or an extremely terrifying thing.
Garrett’s eyes lingered over the tattoo on the Indian agent’s collarbone. It was exactly as the letter described, about one inch tall. If Garrett leaned forward a bit he could see that it was, indeed, a Christian cross of some type with a snake coiled around it.
By the time Levi had finished reading, his pipe had gone out from neglect. Garrett tensed, waiting for Levi to haul off and belt him. Again, Levi surprised him by his intelligence and consideration. He merely put the letter down and stared thoughtfully at the wall.
Finally, he turned to Garrett, his eyes shimmering with emotion. He asked calmly, “How did you get this letter?”
This was the moment Garrett had been dreading. But he couldn’t lie. Starting a new journey with a lie would just confound and distract everyone. “I wrote it.”
Levi remained unperturbed. “I don’t understand. How could you have written it, when the writer refers to himself as Paddy Worth? Who is Paddy Worth, and how did you get this letter from him?”
Garrett leaned forward, sighed heavily, and clasped his hands between his knees. He had been practicing this moment for a week. “Because a week ago, I came to, or woke up, or whatever you want to call it. But I suddenly became aware I was sitting at my table with a pencil in my hand. This piece of paper was underneath my hand, and the pencil was poised over the final word.” He pointed vaguely at the letter. “There. Moses Taggart.”
Levi still said nothing. This man didn’t even blink, so he had obviously heard some loco things in his time.
Garrett sighed deeply again and went on. “I didn’t even know there
such a person as Moses Taggart until after I woke up and asked around. It turns out Moses Taggart was some kind of chiseling snake who hung around Laramie City and vanished around the same time Shady Barnhart did. I figured if we could find this Moses Taggart fellow, we could find Shady.”
Levi finally spoke, clipped and studied, as though he was used to public speaking. “And is it customary for you to do this? Wake up with a pencil in your hand to discover you’ve written strange things?”
Garrett protested, “Not at all! No, sirree. I can testify that this has not once happened to me, Mr. Colter. I was just as shocked as you probably are. Of course I thought I might be as crazy as a run-over possum, but once the entire letter started making sense, I started to believe there might be something in it. Of course I wouldn’t approach you unless I thought there was some sort of veracity to it.”
Maybe because he’d used the word “veracity,” Levi finally exhaled, too. Maybe he started to somewhat trust Garrett. Levi looked at the letter again and shook it. He said quietly, “I’ve heard about this sort of thing happening before.”
Garrett held his breath. “You
? Because if you have, please enlighten me. It would ease my mind greatly if I knew this sort of thing had been known to happen.”
Levi picked up his unlit pipe. “I used to work for a newspaper in Chicago. One day, some odd books came across my desk,
The Spiritist Codification
. Of course I thought the entire thing was a joke until I started reading them. Apparently the author had observed some mediums who could go into trance and communicate with spirits, sometimes writing down what the spirits commanded them.”
Garrett was so stunned it felt as though his brain was bleeding. He had so many questions they all stumbled across his tongue at once. “But how—who—who has done that?”
An amused smile played over Levi’s lips. “Rest assured, dear fellow, you’re in good company. Or,” he added thoughtfully, “at least in the company of other cracked eccentrics with a screw loose.”
One question asserted itself in Garret’s head. “Would these mediums be in trance or aware of what they wrote?”
“Some were aware. The writing simply flowed from their pens. Others went into a trance, which it appears you were capable of. They were completely surprised to see what had been written when they awoke. I believe they called this practice ‘psychography.’”
Garrett leaned so far forward on his chair it tipped up. “And did any of what they wrote turn out to be true?”
“Yes. Quite a bit of it, if I recall correctly. Apparently a select few mediums have highly developed abilities in this area, and some eventually become able to control it.” Levi chuckled reflectively then, as if fondly recalling something humorous someone had done while pickled, like slipping on a rotten apple. “I remember this one medium who went into trance and wrote about some fellow’s true love for a chambermaid. She was so astonished she didn’t know what to make of it and left it on her desk. The next day, a new client appeared at her door, wishing to know if her husband had been faithful. The client saw the psychography, and…Well, you guessed it. The names and places matched exactly.”
When Levi chuckled, Garrett was finally able to exhale. He rose, swinging his arms about and pacing the small room. “So you
believe me, then!”
“As far as you writing this, certainly. As far as a new Indian agent arriving, anyone could have known that.”
Garrett was so carried away with emotion, he actually snatched the letter from Levi’s hand. He’d written it, after all. It belonged to him. He read aloud, “‘The new Indian agent with the tattoo on his neck will arrive, in love with one of Simon Hudson’s daughters.’” He flung his arm wide and cried, “How on earth could I have known
? And don’t try to tell me it’s wrong.”
Levi stood now, too, nervously relighting his pipe. He paced, too. “You could have heard about Simon Hudson and subconsciously written that down. He’s the biggest merchant in town. You could have easily heard that he has several daughters.”
“And that you’d be in love with one of them?”
Levi stilled. He cranked his head slowly to face Garrett, and his look was deadly. Instantly, Garrett wished he had never said that. He now saw that Levi Colter had many layers to him. Like an onion, one had to be careful how slowly one peeled. One might get the poisonous layer capable of causing great damage. Garrett had evidently just found the murderous layer that no one ever wanted to touch.
Levi snarled, “Don’t you ever.
Mention that subject to me again.”
Garrett exhaled and paced about again. Now he really didn’t want to ask about the tattoo, either. He had heard, through non-trancelike channels, that Levi had previously been the agent at Standing Rock Agency, but Sioux men didn’t tattoo themselves. So he must’ve gotten the tattoo in Chicago. “All right. Then why don’t we discuss what this Paddy fellow says about Caeser’s death?”
That was a good move for Garrett to make. Levi visibly relaxed and went to the table to shuffle Shady’s papers around. “Yes. It appears that Shady has absconded with, or sold, all of the supplies meant for the Indians. I was expecting to find a whole storehouse full of sugar, ketchup, and”—he rattled another piece of paper and frowned at it—“skunk skins, and all I apparently have left to give the Indians is a sausage grinder.”
“Yes,” Garrett agreed. “Shady used to say the position of agent at Fort Sanders was worth four thousand a year. I know his salary was only fifteen hundred. I’d like to help you find Shady. I can speak Lakota passably and used to interpret for Shady all the time. The post commander will give me leave.” He paused. “Shady also made off with something valuable to me.”
Levi raised his eyebrows at Garrett, but thanks to the incident about Liberty Hudson and the tattoo, Garrett knew Levi wouldn’t ask him about it.
“All right,” said Levi warmly. “But where do we find Shady and this Moses shit sack? All your letter said was that we’d find Caeser’s body under a rock with a pine tree sticking out of it. There must be a thousand of those. And what was that about a cactus?”
Garrett read from Paddy’s letter. “‘Go to the cactus in Laramie where they eat.’”
“Does that have any meaning to you?”
“None at all. There’s a sort of cactus the Sioux peel and toast to eat, that’s all I know. White people call it whiskey-root.”
“Maybe you can go into a trance again and find out.”
“That would be a good idea. But I have no idea how I managed to do it the first time. So how can I do it again? How did the people in the books you read bring it on?”
Levi looked thoughtful. He was an extremely handsome man, especially when looking thoughtful, and it was a pleasure just to gaze upon him. Garrett wanted to know everything there was to know about this man, maybe because their fates were obviously intertwined. “I think it was usually a surprise the first time, but they trained themselves to manage it, to induce it at their whim. Maybe you could sit where you sat the first time, to recreate the conditions.”
Garrett grinned, knowing that he, too, looked exceptionally handsome when smiling, with his even, white teeth. “I’ll try. First, I’m going to Lieutenant Colonel Potter’s headquarters, to ask about leave.”
Levi nodded. “Let me come with you to introduce myself, and you can show me the storehouse. I certainly hope old Shady left a mattress, so I have something to sleep on.”
“Or maybe a few skunk skins,” Garrett said.
“Welcome to the Cactus Club.”
The Cactus Club wasn’t much of a club yet. Right now, it was just an enormous barn with tables and chairs and a long sideboard where Liberty ladled out stew for voracious townspeople. Neil Tempest’s partner Harley was overseeing the building of it, and when complete, it would have a soda fountain and fans. But for now, lines of starving and roostered brawlers came to put some food in their stomachs—and on their shirtfronts, shoes, and other men’s heads, sometimes. The only other restaurant in town, the Belle of the West, had become glutted with diners since the train’s arrival, so Harley had asked Liberty to help at the Cactus. She liked it for now, until she found something more worthwhile to do, and her sister Ivy ran the telegraph next door.
She could tell this man was different—educated, well-mannered, even a bit shy—so she greeted him personally instead of slopping the chile con carne into his mug. He looked up at her politely from underneath the sootiest lashes she’d ever seen on a man, and she only caught a glimpse of his beautifully outlined eyes from under the brim of his white planter’s hat.
But she must’ve been wrong, because now he merely gaped at her, his shapely lower lip drooping.
“This place is called the Cactus Club?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied, already serving the next man in line. That thug went to pay the cashier at the end of the line, but already three men jostled to take his place. Normally another girl served alongside her, but Irene had gone an hour ago to the Bucket of Blood saloon.
“Why is it called the Cactus Club?”
“I think it has to do with the whiskey-root cactus.”
Someone shoved this elegant man in the shoulder, causing some chile to splash the waist of his army coat. His wonderfully muscled, lean waist, Liberty shamefully noted.
“Move it, buck!” the yokel shouted.
But since he was built like a brick house, the man didn’t move the tiniest inch, so another roughneck shoved him.
“Take a walk, shade!”
Liberty knew how ugly these men could become even when not hungry, so she bellowed at them, “Shut your traps, or you flatheads ain’t getting no fixings!” She had already learned to talk like that, and she’d only been in Laramie for three days.