The train car undulated beneath them, a rhythmic motion that reminded Jake of the gait of his horse. Never had much occasion to travel by train, but he always found the experience to be pleasant enough
Undulated. Jake smirked. Another of those ten-dollar words that tickled him something fierce.
Crossing his arms over his chest, he stretched his legs. For most of the day they’d travelled, and they still had all of the coming night, reaching Cheyenne afore the sun had risen too much the following day. Lodgings shouldn’t be too hard to find, and once they had, he’d park himself somewhere to play a hand or two and listen to the speakings of men as whiskey made their tongues looser than they should be.
In the inbetween, he’d watch Miss Hope McElroy and count it time well spent.
Hands balled in her lap, she had her cheek turned to him as she stared out the window. The light from the outside softened the lines of her face, turning her profile into curves and shadow. Her colourless hair was again under ruthless control, scraped into a bun gathered low at her neck. In this light, he could see the silvery track of a scar beginning under her ear and running beneath the high neck of her gown.
A frown troubled his brow. It looked like the mark of a knife to his eyes. How had she occasion to gain the mark of a knife upon her? What had occurred in her rich, pampered life to warrant such a mark? However, that weren’t here nor there and none of his business besides.
That morning, she waited on the sidewalk before the boarding house in the travelling dress she now wore. He’d slowed his gait, somewhat stymied she’d been true to her word. She hadn’t noticed him immediately, giving him time to observe her, as he did now. She’d brought little luggage, her belongings packed in a trunk and a carpetbag, and she travelled without a servant, although her dress, just like the first, declared she could afford one. But then, he’d had only his saddlebags and Jack, though he supposed his horse did account for more baggage than any body could claim.
The train had arrived as it did every day at nine of the a.m. and they’d boarded with the other passengers. Miss Hope McElroy’s wealth meant they had a car to themselves and a porter besides, the man fairly falling over himself to be all sorts of useful. Already he’d been by twice, both times enquiring as to whether they wanted refreshments brought to them, or if they thought a turn about the cars to stretch their legs might be of benefit. Jake had left the responding to Miss McElroy, and she’d done so in a cool, calm voice, her gaze never leaving the porter.
Jake’s own gaze strayed again to the scar. He’d warrant she covered it with scarves and high necklines and such, but it still remained. The scar was jagged, as if pieced back together in fits and starts, and it looked to have been deep enough to near kill her. It had the look of an old injury, maybe even one before she was fully grown. Lord knew he boasted similar old scars about his person.
He shifted his weight. They couldn’t spend the entirety of their journey in silence, no matter it was a state for which he usually had a preference. “So where are you from?”
Not a flicker of response over those pale features. “West.”
His lips twitched. That answer couldn’t be any shorter. And he’d been wrong in his supposing, thinking she’d hale from Boston or even New York. “Anywhere in particular in the west?”
“Well, that narrows it down some, darlin’, but still there’s a whole state to pin down a particular locale. Sacramento? San Francisco?”
Her lips tightened. “What concern is it of yours?”
Drawing up his leg, he rested his ankle on his knee. “None, darlin’. Just aiming to pass the time with conversation and pleasant company.”
Her gaze flicked to his thigh. Concealing a smile, he rested his hand against the appendage she found so fascinating. He knew what women thought of him and it were a blessing to know she were no different.
Raising her gaze to his, she said, “My uncle’s home was in San Francisco.”
She had a freckle under her right eye, faint but there. He found himself wondering how that singular freckle came to be, how that small amount of pigment defied such pale skin. “Your uncle’s home?”
“I suppose it’s mine now.” She regarded somewhere left of his shoulder. “It may be that I will sell it.”
His chest felt tight. Fingers twitched, but he refused to rub his affliction, and even more refused to think the strength of her gaze was the cause of the tightness. “And the rest of your people?”
Her gaze snapped again to his. Breath strangled again in his chest. “My people?”
“You mentioned your uncle. You had parents? An aunt? Siblings of a kind?”
Turning her head, she again regarded the window. “I have no people.”
Her tone was flat, as emotionless as a body could make it, and her cheek turned to him presented again the scar running from her ear to disappear in her gown. Why did he feel that was part of the same tale? And if it did, what kind of hell had she been through? “I’m mighty sorry for that. I have no people of my own, least ways none I care to remember. I don’t have a fancy house to sell, though.”
She made no reply.
“What is it you do to pass time in San Francisco, Miss McElroy?”
“I would wager there would be some sort of society, and charitable notions as well. Was your uncle in a trade? Did he strike it rich on the gold fields? You can buy an awful lot of gunslingers with a thick enough vein.” He smiled, as charming as he could make it, and he knew some afforded that to be a particular brand of charming.
Her jaw clenched, yet still she remained silent.
“Alright, then.” He weren’t one to press where he weren’t wanted, even if it did give him a perverse kind of amusement to force a reaction from her, slight as it might be. Leaning his head against the padded seat, he pulled his hat low and settled himself to comfort.
Silence grew between them, broken only the clack of the train. She shifted on her seat, the rustle of her gown suggesting she’d turned to face him. He could almost feel her gaze upon him, but it were a long moment afore she finally spoke. “Why are we going to Cheyenne?”
He tilted his hat up. “Hmm? What’s that, darlin’?”
Her expression didn’t change, but she weren’t impressed, he could tell. “Why are we going to Cheyenne?”
“Because we need to start somewhere, darlin’, and it may as well be Cheyenne. Bad men and those that associate with them like the bigger towns, and it might be we’ll find someone with information and a desire to tell it.”
“What is your plan?”
Folding his arms across his chest, he slouched into the seat, glad his hat hid most of his grin. It tickled him something fierce when he finangled someone to his way of thinking, and in this case, he’d gotten Miss Hope McElroy to engage. “Now, darlin’, I’m feeling a mite tired and, seeing as you weren’t amenable to conversation, I arranged myself to rest for a spell.”
A slight tightening about her mouth was the only indication she might just be a tad annoyed. Of course, he had to push, even though he had what he wanted—her and him conversating and breaking the silence for a spell.
“Yep,” he said, settling himself more comfortably and gripping his biceps. “I reckon I might just settle down for a while.”
“Mr Wade,” she said precisely. “I am paying your salary. Kindly answer my question, succinctly and with detail.”
“Which was is it, darlin’? Succinct or detailed? Can’t be both.”
The tiniest of twitches started below her right eye, flirting with that barely there freckle. “Mr Wade.”
“Of course, Miss McElroy,” he said, imitating her tone and way of speaking. “My plan is the same as any other time I’ve tracked a body. Discover his movements, where he’s been and where he’s likely to go. Intercept him.” He shrugged. “Same as any other time.”
“Even a man as elusive as Callihan?”
“Even then. Just means it might take a while longer.”
She didn’t look convinced. “This seems an incomplete plan. Are you sure—”
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” he interrupted. “I know what I’m about.”
That look of doubt was beginning to irritate him some. He’d been a marshal since the war, and before that a soldier. He knew this stuff like it was his own soul and he never gave up. If he set his mind to finding a body, then he found them and returned them in whatever state the client wanted. She had no call to be doubtful, especially when she was the one who’d decided to engage his services in the first place. If she had so many doubts, why even come to him?
A frown still troubled her brow. “How do you propose to find information about Callihan’s whereabouts?”
Irritation solidified into vexation. “Miss McElroy,” he said, the words clipped.
“Yes, Mr Wade?”
“You hired me to find your man.”
Her frown deepened. “Yes.”
“Do you trust I have done this before?”
“Do you trust I know what I’m doing?”
“Then trust I know my mind and I know my way around the finding of a man. This will go a whole lot smoother for both of us if you do.”
Her brow cleared and she became again a blank slate.
Leaning back, he tipped his hat to shield his eyes and crossed his arms afore his chest. He had no desire to conversate with her now. Might as well get some shuteye, seeing as Miss Hope McElroy weren’t interested in expanding their acquaintance and seemed determined to malign him besides.
And if it annoyed her some, he counted that a bonus.