Here is an excerpt from James D. Best’s fifth Steve Dancy novel, Jenny’s Revenge, which was published February 2, 2015. Best’s westerns are written in the spirit of Zane Gray and, to quote Larry Winget, writing in True West Magazine, March, 2012,”The James Best books…are about the best new Western series to come along since Larry McMurtry.” All five Steve Dancy novels are available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions. — Editors
After securing a license to use Thomas Edison’s inventions for mining, Steve and his friends return to Denver to pick up belongings they left behind on their way to New York. Steve and Virginia plan to marry, and Captain McAllen retires from the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to start a horse ranch. Eager to begin new lives, everyone enjoys a respite in Denver before the long horseback ride south to Durango, Colorado.
Jenny Bolton has different plans. Married at fifteen to a Nevada politician, she has suffered repeated assaults, witnessed her husband’s ghastly murder, buried her vile mother-in-law, and killed a man herself. Abandoned on a raw frontier, she has single-handedly built an empire that spans the state. Despite her triumphs, she feels she should never have been left to fight alone. Steve had once served as her Paladin, but he abruptly rejected her without so much as a goodbye. Now, she’s mad for revenge.
Can a young girl destroy all of the futures of Steve Dancy, his fiancée and his best friend? She may, unless the two-year old feud is ended…one way or another.
I assumed the clock in the tower of the new Denver Union Station was accurate. I reached into my pocket and glanced at my watch. It also showed six o’clock. I wound the stem a couple of times and tucked it back in my pocket.
“Are we walkin’ or takin’ a cab?’ Sharp asked.
“Cab,” I answered.
The Inter-Ocean Hotel was only two blocks away, but we had just arrived from New York City and had piles of luggage. Virginia, my fiancée, hung on my arm, but she seemed more interested in the new train station. We had left Denver only a few months ago and Union Station had looked like a battle zone as we dodged and weaved our way to the eastbound train. Somehow they had cleaned up all the construction equipment and debris to expose a stately Victorian building that was so wide it straddled three of the main arteries of this thriving town.
“Let’s walk and get a porter to bring our bags along later,” Sharp said. “Do us good to stretch our legs. Been sittin’ for nearly a week.”
I thought a second about the value of our belongings, but I abandoned my musings with a simple sentence from Virginia.
“I prefer to walk. I want to see what else is new.”
A man denies his fiancée little, so I pointed out our bags to a porter, tipped heavily, and the three of us traipsed down the boulevard as if we didn’t have any worries. In fact, we didn’t. Life seemed perfect at the moment.
Denver had indeed changed in a few short months. Buildings had been finished and others started. No vacant lots remained in the two blocks to the Inter-Ocean Hotel. Huge fortunes pulled from the dirt made townsfolk keen on accumulating the accoutrements of a major metropolis. Less than twenty years old, Denver had boomed after gold and silver were accidentally discovered by prospectors on their way to the California Gold Rush. Denver’s new train station let arrivals know that this was a city to be reckoned with. The city’s official name was Denver City, just in case a newcomer questioned its bona fides.
The Inter-Ocean Hotel was located on the corner of 16th Street and Blake. The Second Empire architecture with mansard roof made the hotel appear grand. We had stayed here previously and the four-story hotel could compete with finer establishments in San Francisco or New York. The decorations included bronze chandeliers, satin trimmed velvet drapes, brocaded upholstery, and lace curtains.
A hotel clerk stood behind a polished black walnut semi-circular desk. I gave him my name and told him we had a reservation.
“Of course,” he said, with a smile meant to imply that he knew me.
After studying a register, he slid a card in my direction before saying, “Welcome back, Mr. Dancy.”
I picked up a pen to sign the registration card, but stopped midair when I saw the rate.
“Six dollars per night?”
“May I see the suite?”
Virginia squeezed my arm. “It will be perfectly fine.”
I never took my eyes from the clerk. “I’m sure, but I’d like to see it just the same.”
The hotel clerk nodded. Behind him was an annunciator with speaking tubes to every room. He picked up the speaking tube and plugged a wire into a socket to call for a bellboy, then reached behind him and took down a key from the highest row on the walnut rack. He held it in his hand as he patiently waited for the bellboy to arrive.
“I’ll take a standard room,” Jeff Sharp said from behind me.
“There are no standard rooms at the Inter-Ocean Hotel,” the clerk said grandly. “All the rooms have—”
“Quit the speechin’ an’ give me the room,” Sharp demanded. “I have a reservation for the third floor.”
Jeff Sharp, my closest friend, could be gruff on occasion, especially when he was tired and eager to get to his room. He was probably irritated at me for holding up his registration.
Sharp and I had sold all of our business interests to explore the American frontier of 1881. Neither of us owned anything that would weight us down. I had made my fortune in New York City with an exclusive gun shop and some astute railroad investments. Sharp had built his fortune owning and operating mines, but he looked more like the trail boss he had once been. He had tried his hand at numerous things at one time or another, even owning part of an import business which had allowed him to travel the world and get into predicaments in different languages. Sharp either enjoyed trouble or had experienced a nasty streak of bad luck. At times, it seemed as if he had reached his mid-fifties by the skin of his teeth.
“Is there a problem?”
The neatly dressed black man who asked the question was Barney Ford, owner of the Inter-Ocean Hotel. I knew him slightly from a prior visit.
“No problem, Mr. Ford. I just want to see my suite before agreeing to the rate. Your prices have gone up since my last visit.”
Ford extended his hand, “Mr. Steve Dancy, correct?”
We shook. “Yes, I’m surprised you remember. It’s been months since we stayed here.”
Ford laughed. “I try to not forget a guest, but you were memorable … as was your beautiful lady friend.”
On our way to New York, we had stopped in Denver to catch our breath after a harrowing street fight in Leadville. Virginia and I had used the visit to buy wardrobes that would be acceptable in Eastern society. Our lavish shopping spree was the talk of the hotel and merchant class. Or perhaps it was our undisguised amour. We certainly paid little attention to anyone other than each other.
Ford turned his attention to the clerk. “Mr. Myers, please put the Dancy couple in the Presidential Suite. The rate will be six dollars per day.” He turned to face me “Will that be acceptable?”
“Of course. That’s very generous.”
“Not at all.” He smiled. “I’ll make it up on liquor and dining. You have expensive habits.”
I laughed. “That’s a fair deal.”
“I eat lavish as well,” Sharp interjected from behind me. “And I promise to consume vast quantities of yer best Irish whiskey.”
Ford shook Sharp’s hand. “I remember you well, Mr. Sharp. You tried to seduce every maid in my employ.”
“Succeeded, on occasion,” Sharp responded jovially. “Does that disqualify me for a concession on a suite?”
“Mr. Myers, please put Mr. Sharp in the suite next to the Dancys. Charge him the same rate.”
“Do I gotta leave the maids unruffled?” Sharp asked.
“Yes…at least during working hours.” He slapped Sharp on the back. “Now, sirs, I am running a business here and I have affairs to attend to.” He interrupted his departure. “Mr. Sharp, I have a large supply of Jameson’s. I expect my stock depleted upon your departure.”
Sharp rubbed his chin and pretended to mull it over. “The Jameson’s no problem…but damn…not during working hours?”
Ford chuckled, but iterated, “Not during working hours.” He turned to me. “We have your trunks in storage. Would you like them delivered to your suite?”
“Yes, thank you, but no rush.”
We had left our trail clothes and other garments in storage until our return. We had also boarded our horses at a nearby ranch, but would not be in a hurry to bring them into town either. They were better cared for at the ranch until we left for Durango, our next destination.
“Do you know Joseph McAllen?”
“Yes, he heads the local Pinkerton office.”
“We planned to meet him in an hour for supper. Could you please tell him we’ll be late? Make him comfortable and charge his bill to our room.”
“No need,” Sharp said. He hooked a thumb at us. “My friends’ dalliance will not interfere with me meeting the good captain. We’ll be making our first withdrawal from your whisky stores.”
Captain Joseph McAllen was another friend who had traveled with us from New York. I had engaged his services several times, but now I was as close of a friend to him as the bad-tempered McAllen would allow. Sharp had a long-term relationship with McAllen that was far stronger than mine. The two men respected one another. In the beginning, both had been leery of me. After we had survived a few dangerous situations together, the three of us had learned that we could depend on each other.
Barney Ford brought me back to the situation at hand. “Mr. Dancy, we’ll delay delivering your trunks until you come down for supper.”
All I said was a thank-you. I didn’t need to draw further attention as to why I intended to be late for supper.
Two bellboys accompanied us up the stairs to our suites on the fourth floor. On the second floor landing, one of them asked, “Either of you two gentlemen gamblers? The Cattleman’s Room at the Windsor hosts the fairest games in Denver.”
Sharp stopped climbing. “Son, does Mr. Ford know yer pitchin’ a competin’ establishment?”
“No, sir, no pitch. Lots of folks want to know where there’s an honest game.” He set our luggage on the floor. “Figured you looked the type.”
“The Inter-Ocean tables ain’t honest?” Sharp asked innocently.
“Of course, sir. I didn’t…it’s just we got no high-stakes tables.”
“How much do they pay ya if we happen to wander over to the Windsor for a few hands?”
“Sir, taking a gratuity from another establishment would be disloyal to Mr. Ford.”
“It would,” Sharp said with an edge. “How much?”
The bellboy picked up our luggage and started to climb to the next floor. “I apologize for my comment. I was only making conversation.”
Neither Virginia nor I had moved during the exchange. The pitch hadn’t surprised me. Hotel employees often hustled well-heeled guests. I was ready to my resume my climb when Virginia grabbed my elbow.
She faced the bellboy who had remained silent. “Do you also encourage guests to visit the Windsor?”
“That was not our intent, ma’am.”
“Of course it was. Take our bags to our suite.” She tugged on my elbow. “We need to return to the lobby for a moment.”
I could guess what she wanted to do in the lobby. I thought about dissuading her from tattling, but decided she was right. Ford had treated us well, and he deserved to know that these boys were picking up extra cash by steering gamblers to another establishment.
Speaking fast, the first bellboy said, “Ma’am, we didn’t mean anything. How ‘bout we just forget it.”
“I’m afraid it’s too late for that, young man,” Virginia said. “I don’t know what Mr. Ford will do, but I’ve run a business before and I never put up with employees working behind my back.”
“Mister, can’t you control your wife?” the bellboy pleaded to me. “You’ll get my best service the whole time you’re here.”
I held my thumb and finger very close together. “I had this much sympathy for you until you said that.” I closed the space between my thumb and finger. “Now I have none. Get our bags to our suite and then go downstairs to see Mr. Ford. He’ll want to talk to you.”
He threw our bags to the floor. “Go to hell. Take your own bags up these stairs. For your information, I have another job waiting for me where the guests aren’t a bunch of prissy swells.”
The boys turned and raced down the stairs.
Sharp chuckled before saying, “Go on up. I’ll go to the lobby and meet you in a few minutes.”
“What for?” Virginia asked. “The boys quit.”
I knew why Sharp was heading downstairs. I picked up two bags and smiled. “Virginia, those scamps ran off with the room keys.”
We laughed as we resumed our climb. On the next landing, we encountered a man bounding down the stairs two at a time. He was dressed in black with his suit coattail tucked suggestively behind a nickel plated Peacemaker with a walnut grip. He brandished a hardness that was all too common in the male dominated frontier. As he came onto the landing, he tipped his hat to Virginia, and then while still ogling Virginia, rudely backed into me so I almost fell down.
He gave me the slightest glance before bowing and apologizing to Virginia.
“I think I’m the one you hit,” I said.
He made a show of looking me over from head to foot. “You need to toughen up, cowboy. There are all kinds of bumps out here in the West.”
I realized I looked citified in my New York suit with a clean shaven face and neatly trimmed hair. I also appeared unarmed because I wore my .38 in a holster under my armpit. I almost laughed when I visualized Sharp throwing the rascal down the stairwell before he could have finished that sentence. I, on the other hand, wanted to avoid violence, so I swallowed my anger and started to step around the stranger.
“Your lady friend is watching,” he taunted.
“Yes, she is. She wants to know if I’ve learned to control my temper. I don’t want to disappoint her.”
“Maybe she’s trying to determine which of us is the real man.”
“I already know it’s not you,” Virginia said to him. “Go on down to the lobby. There’s no more fun here.”
He regarded her suggestively and appeared ready to make a lewd remark. Instead, he said, “Your skirt is pretty big, ma’am, but not big enough to hide this scaredy-cat.”
Virginia gave him a long, hard look before she shrugged indifferently and said, “Go ahead, Steve. You have my permission. Kill him.”
The man laughed uproariously, and then waved dismissively at us as he continued down the stairs, laughing all the way.
* * *