The Outlaw Series - Book Four
For Clay Martin his parents' past is something he knows nothing about. He's hoping a summer spent with his Uncle Gary in Missouri will shed some light on it. Amy Baines has a secret too, but doesn't know it until Clay comes to town and helps her delve into her forgotten past. By the time they realize their friendship could lead to more, Clay has gone back to San Francisco and Amy is coming to grips with her St. Louis family. Can they bridge the miles and find love?
San Francisco 1915
Clay Martin returned to his dorm room. He hated being so far from Virginia City, but his mother insisted if he wanted to become a doctor, the best place to study was in San Francisco.
With the long winter over and his final exams finished, he would soon be able to return home. He missed his mother and father to say nothing of his sister, Ellie.
A banging on the door drew his attention from all thoughts of home. “Are you Dr. Clay Martin?” the messenger boy from the telegraph office questioned.
The only people who called him doctor were his family from Virginia City. He kept telling them he had to finish this year of school and pass all his exams before he could use the word in connection with his name. Hearing this stranger call him doctor told Clay something had to be wrong at home.
“Yes,” he replied, apprehension growing.
“This wire is for you.” The boy held out a yellow envelope and waited as if in anticipation of a tip for his service.
Clay dug in his pocket for the coins to give the boy so he could have privacy to read whatever was so important to send a wire rather than a letter. As soon as he was alone, he ripped open the yellow envelope. The neatly printed words were like a slap in the face.
PAPA SHOT—NOT EXPECTED TO LIVE—MAMA HAS TAKEN TO HER BED—YOUR RETURN IMPERATIVE
It seemed as though his heart stopped for several seconds, even though it hadn’t. Breathing deeply, he focused on the message from his sister. At times like these, he wished he’d been able to have a telephone installed in his dorm room. Even if he had, he knew his sister wouldn’t have been able to make such a call. It was entirely possible Jason was the one to prompt Ellie to send a wire instead.
“Hey Martin, are you just going to stand there by the door?” His roommate Jackson Palmer called as he barged into the room. “They’ve posted the results of our finals. We’re going to go down to the commons and see how we did before we go out and celebrate.”
“You go ahead,” Clay finally managed to say. “I have to send a wire, talk to the dean, and get a train back home.”
“Home? I thought you weren’t going until the term ends next week.”
“My pa’s been shot. If I leave tonight I might be able to get there before he dies.”
“Is your ma strong enough to handle something like this?”
Clay didn’t have to answer Jackson’s inquiry. It was no secret Clay’s mother wasn’t a strong person.
“That’s why I’m going to talk to the dean and go home early. With Pa shot and Ma sick, Ellie will need all the help she can get.”
* * * *
The train pulled into Virginia City. Clay picked up his traveling bag and made his way down the aisle toward the door.
As soon as he stepped onto the platform, he breathed deeply, enjoying the crisp mountain air. Before him was the panorama he’d loved all his life. It was a normal homecoming. Normal, except for the fact his parents weren’t there to meet him. As he looked around, he saw his sister wasn’t among the people waiting for the train. In her stead, Jason Bellinger, his family’s longtime friend stepped forward to greet him. Clay wondered if it was his imagination or if Jason had aged since Clay left for school last fall.
“Clay, my boy, it’s good to see you,” Jason said as he pumped Clay’s hand in greeting.
“How are they?” Clay did not really want to hear the answer.
Jason’s expression said more than any words. It was as though the man had lost everything that gave his life meaning. “You mother passed away this morning. It was peaceful. I don’t think she could have gone on without your father.”
Clay felt as though the strength suddenly left his legs. Before he lost control, Jason’s bodyguard, Sam, was at Clay’s side.
“Come along, son,” Sam said. “You pa has been hangin’ on ‘til you could get here. We’re to bring you back to the house.”
Clay nodded and allowed the big black man to lead him to the waiting carriage. He’d known Sam and his wife, Sally, all his life. The two of them along with Jason were as close as any family could ever be. Even though Jason ran the elegant gaming club, The Mother Lode, Clay’s mother cherished Jason’s friendship.
The trip from the train station to the mansion where Clay grew up was made in silence. Clay relished the quiet as his thoughts centered on his father. How could anyone callously shoot down a U.S. Marshal? It was something the family always knew could happen. Clay also knew this was hardly the Wild West he read about in the dime novels his mother never wanted him to read. In 1915, people were more civilized. The modern world was no longer as lawless as the area had once been.
A glance at Jason left no doubt as to the thoughts crowding the man’s mind. Whatever the connection with the wealthy gambler and Clay’s deeply religious mother, Clay never knew. What he could tell was Jason was devastated by what he considered a personal loss.
The mansion, which usually bustled with activity, was strangely quiet. As though one with the house, Clay’s sister, Ellie, appeared before him. Her normally sun darkened skin was a translucent white, making her green eyes and red hair even more striking than usual.
“Mama’s gone,” she managed to say before allowing him to take her in his arms.
“I know. Jason told me.”
“Sally and I were with her. I thought Sally’s heart would break the way she cried. She told Mama she was like her own child and she never loved anyone the way she did her.”
“What about Pa?”
Ellie began to shake, while tears ran down her cheeks. “It’s bad, Clay. He keeps telling me he’s going to be all right, but he’s not. He’s going to die. I know he is. He’s only waiting for you to get here. It’s best if you go up to see him, so he can stop struggling. This game of pretense is draining him.”
Clay kissed the top of his sister’s head and then took the stairs two at a time until he reached the second floor of the house. At the top of the stairs, the door to his parents’ room stood ajar.
Clay’s father, Russ, lay in the big bed. All his life Clay looked up to his father. Russ Martin was always larger than life. Although Clay was as tall as his father he knew he could never measure up to the man he loved and respected.
The man Clay saw lying in the bed was suddenly old, suddenly frail. If it weren’t for the slight rise and fall of the sheet, Clay would have thought his father already dead.
“It’s me, Pa,” Clay said, his voice hardly more than a whisper.
Russ’ eyes opened and then focused on Clay. “Jesse’s dead. Your ma is gone. I felt her spirit leave.”
“I know, Pa.”
“I don’t have much longer.” A fit of coughing cut off his words. It took several moments before he had enough breath to continue. “You and Ellie have to know the truth. The secret must be told.”
“What truth, Pa?” Clay was bewildered by his father’s words.
“Your mother’s Bible. Promise me you and Ellie will read the papers it holds once I’m gone. If you have any questions, Gary will answer them.”
“Gary?” Clay frowned.
Russ nodded and then closed his eyes. Clay listened as his father drew his last breath. Unwilling to release Russ’ hand, Clay sat by the bed for nearly an hour.
“What were you talking about, Pa? Who is Gary? What’s hidden in Ma’s Bible?”
“Just the truth about who your mother was.” Clay turned to see Jason standing in the doorway. “Is your father gone?”
Clay nodded. “He died just after I got here. I—I...” Unmanly tears kept the rest of the words from passing his lips.
He was barely aware of Jason helping him to his feet and guiding him down the stairs to the parlor where Ellie waited for him.
* * * *
Two caskets were lowered into the double grave, which had been dug in the cemetery overlooking the mansion.
“Dear Lord,” the minister said, as clumps of dirt clattered against the tops of the wooden caskets. “We commit the bodies of our brother, Russell, and our sister, Jesse, to the ground and their souls to your loving care.”
Ellie’s soft sobs tore at Clay’s heart. As he held her close, he couldn’t help but remember Jason’s promise to tell him about the truth his father mentioned with his dying breath.
With all the preparations for the funeral, Clay hadn’t found the time to search his mother’s Bible for the answers to the questions his father’s settlement provoked.
Clay turned from the grave. For the first time, he took note of the people who came to say their final farewells to his parents. The elite of Virginia City as well as the surrounding area stood shoulder to shoulder with U.S. Marshals, miners and saloon girls.
One by one, the people left the hill where the sun baked the soil rock hard. Within minutes only Jason, Sam, and Sally remained with Clay and Ellie.
“It’s time to get you two lambs back to the house,” Sally said. “Mr. Jason says the time is right for you to know who your mama and papa were before they came to Virginia City.”
Ellie looked as though she had no idea what Sally was talking about. Could it be their father only told Clay of the secrets hidden in his mother’s worn Bible only two days earlier?
Obediently, Clay and Ellie followed the three older people down the hill to the waiting carriage. It only seemed fitting for Sam to have brought the team and carriage rather than the car to the cemetery. For one thing, the road was too rocky for the automobile to maneuver. Sam drove while Jason and Clay sat beside him on the wide seat. Behind them, Sally comforted Ellie while she cried.
After Sally served a lunch of cold sliced beef and fresh bread along with some aged cheese and soup, they all took their coffee into the parlor.
“I’ve purposely waited until now to tell you the truth about your parents,” Jason began. “Your mother deserved to have you mourn her without the judgment of what I have to say may bring.”
“Judgment?” Ellie echoed. “What are you talking about?”
“Before your mother became Jesse Martin, she led many different lives. As Laurel Morgan she was the toast of Virginia City.”
“Laurel Morgan?” Clay interrupted. “I’ve heard of her. She was one of the girls ...” He left the rest of his realization unspoken.
It was no wonder his mother never told them about her past. She must have been ashamed of being one of Jason’s whores.
Before he could storm from the room, Sam stopped him. “Miss Laurel wasn’t no whore,” he declared as though he read Clay’s thoughts.
“She was a poor frightened child,” Sally interjected. “I thank the Lord every day that it was Mr. Jason who found her on that riverboat and not someone else. By the looks of the two of you, she never told you about it. I know you want to run off and hide like two scared kittens, but you will hear Mr. Jason out.”
Clay took a deep breath and then clasped Ellie’s hand. “I guess we don’t have much choice.”
Jason smiled. Before starting again, he poured himself another cup of coffee.
“I met Laurel on a riverboat trip from New Orleans to Dubuque. She was a beautiful woman, who in actuality was little more than a frightened child. It didn’t take long for me to see through the story she told about her limp coming from a riding accident.”
Clay thought about the story, which was so much a part of his mother. She’d explained her need for a cane by telling them of a tragic accident she’d had as a young girl. Now Jason was telling them it was all a lie.
He listened as Jason continued to tell him about Jessie Tyler, the outlaw’s daughter, and how one of her father’s men shot her in the back. Names like Caleb, Frank, Will, Ed, Clay, and Gary Tyler permeated the narrative.
The stories of bank robberies sickened Clay. He couldn’t stop either his tears or his anger, when he learned he carried the name of his dead uncle, an uncle who was hanged for murder before his twentieth birthday. Even more devastating was to learn his sister was named for his father’s first wife, who had been killed by the Tyler gang.
“It was your mother’s faith that brought her through those terrible years of riding with your grandfather,” Jason ended.
“Are you certain about this?” Clay finally managed to say.
Jason nodded. “After your parents returned from their wedding trip, a writer from San Francisco contacted them. Your father convinced Jesse to talk to the man. When he was done, the Tyler gang was immortalized in a dime novel.”
For the first time, Clay understood why his mother disagreed with his love for the tales of the old west. He couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if he’d read the story of his family in a book.
“Your mother agreed to the writing of the story only if the book wouldn’t be distributed in San Francisco or in Virginia City. She did keep a copy of it for herself. I don’t know if she thought it was the last link to her family or a bitter reminder of her past. Whichever it was, I know she read it only once, but kept it hidden away from the two of you.”
Jason reached into the inner pocket of his jacked and produced a book that looked like it was never opened, to say nothing of being read. Clay took the book and looked at the cover. His mother’s face stared back at him. Behind her stood six men, half of them looked like his mother while the other half bore a strong resemblance to the older man who stood in their midst.
“None of them can hurt either of you,” Jason said. He pointed to the youngest of the six. “This is your Uncle Gary. He’s the only one left alive.”
The name Gary brought back the memory of his father saying Gary would explain everything.
“Your mother kept in touch with her brother, but refused to let him contact you.”
“Why wouldn’t she want us to know her family?” Ellie pleaded, speaking for the first time since Jason began his explanation.
“As much as Jesse and Gary loved each other, her past was so painful she decided to hide it from you. Although they corresponded, she never mentioned either of you. We all tried to convince her to change her mind. Several times I pushed your father to tell Gary, but he respected and loved your mother too much to go against her wishes.”
Jason continued to explain Jesse’s reasons for keeping the truth of her past from Clay and Ellie, but Clay hardly listened. Throughout the afternoon, he fingered the cover of the book written about his family.
When Jason, Sam, and Sally finally left the mansion, Ellie went directly to bed. As tired as Clay was earlier, he found he couldn’t sleep. Instead, he prepared for bed, then propped up with pillows began to read the book his mother never wanted him to see. It was well past midnight when he read the last words and put the book aside.
The account read more like a news story than a sensationalized story romanticizing the lives of outlaws and hired gunmen. The thought of his delicate mother living such a life made him sick. He wondered how much of what he just read was true. With both his mother and father dead, only his Uncle Gary remained.Since he didn’t have to return to school until the fall when his work in the hospital began, Clay knew how he would spend his summer. A trip to Loveland, Missouri would be more than a vacation. It was high time he found his family and confirmed the story he’d just read and found hard to believe.