The last thing Shaye Montgomery needed was another man in her life. Especially a gambler who had been hanged a hundred years before she was born. But Alejandro Valverde wouldn't leave her alone. As she walked the deserted streets of a California ghost town, his image seemed to rise up out of the misty night. On the faded pages of a saloon girl's diary, his exploits came to life. And in her dreams, he was all too real - his hair long and black, his lips full and sensual, his dark, dark eyes filled with a predatory gleam.
Then, incredibly, she was drawn into his world, a world where bad men, showdowns and gambling halls had replaced the park rangers, TV shows and malls she knew. Now when she looked into his eyes, she saw a kindred soul, knew that what she needed most in the world was to share a love that was truly unforgettable.
Romantic Times said:
Madeline Baker continues to delight fans with her passionate Western adventures that thrill and captivate.
She needed a vacation, and she meant to take one. Preferably, a long one. She was fed up with the rut she found herself in, with life, with deadlines, with men. Especially men! If she never saw another one until she was a hundred and three, it would still be too soon.
Leaning back in her desk chair, Shaye Montgomery closed her eyes and pictured the lake at Plumas Pines. The water in Lake Almanor was as deep and blue as a mid-summer sky. Tall pine trees stretched upward, their emerald green branches ever reaching toward heaven. It had been years since she had been up there, but it was a place dear to her heart, and it was time to go back. Time to fish in Deer Creek where the water was so clear, you could stand on the bank and watch the trout take your bait. Power bait, she mused, that was what they liked. Time to take long walks in the twilight, time to feed the deer and the squirrels. Time to go into Chester and wander through the shops, indulge in some of the rich chocolate fudge at The Grey Squirrel, browse the antique stores, bask in the pleasure of devouring one of the huge pancakes at The Kopper Kettle.
She could stop off at Bodie State Historic Park on her way. She had always wanted to go there. The last time she had been this fed up with the demands of her job, she had thought she might give up reporting and try her hand at writing a novel set in the historic ghost town. She had long ago given up on the idea of writing a book, but she loved ghost towns, and Bodie was one that had always intrigued her.
Yes, she thought, a vacation up in Northern California was exactly what she needed. She smiled as she thought how pleased and surprised her mom and dad would be to see her. Her parents had always loved it up north and they had moved there a few months after her father retired from the Los Angeles Police Department. Three months later, they bought a cute little combination antique shop and cafe in Chester. Just thinking about some of her mom’s homemade apple pie made her mouth water.
Reaching for the phone, she dialed her editor’s number before she could change her mind.
Shaye grimaced as her Range Rover bounced over the rough road that led to Bodie. She had negotiated thirteen miles of crooked road after turning off Highway 395. It had been fairly smooth going until the last three miles or so, and then the paved road had run out.
“I guess this is so tourists will get the full flavor of ‘roughing it’,” she muttered as she swerved to the left to avoid the worst of the ruts. “But I think a mile would have been more than enough.”
At the entrance, she paid the two dollar admission fee, noted in passing that it would have cost her an additional dollar if she’d had a dog. She gave the attendant a dollar for a guidebook to the park, wrote the three dollars down in the little notebook she carried to log her expenses.
She parked her car in the lot, grabbed her backpack which contained her wallet, camera, extra film, a couple bottles of Evian water, her cell phone, and some other odds and ends, and opened the door.
The weather was perfect, warm but not hot, with a mild breeze. She followed the other tourists toward the path that led down to the town, glancing at the guidebook as she went. Bodie State Historic Park. There was a quote at the bottom of the booklet that read,
And now my comrades are all gone;
Naught remains to toast.
They have left me here in my misery,
Like some poor wandering ghost.
She stood at the top of the path for a moment, gazing down at what was left of the town. There were a number of buildings and houses still standing. According to the guidebook, only five per cent of the buildings from the original town remained, “just as time, fire, and the elements have left it – a genuine California gold-mining ghost town”.
Even though she didn’t believe in ghosts, a shiver slid down her spine as she read the last two words.
Reading on, she learned that Bodie had been designated a state historic park in 1962.
She continued reading as she walked slowly down the hill. Bodie had been named after Waterman S. Body, also known as William S. Bodey, who had discovered gold there in 1859. Some thought the change in the spelling of the town’s name was due to an illiterate sign painter, but the booklet said it had been a deliberate change on the part of the town to insure proper pronunciation.
Shaye grinned, amused that people of that time and place would have worried about such a thing.
Reading on, she learned that Bodie had boasted a population of about ten thousand by 1879 and was “second to none for wickedness, badmen, and the worst climate out of doors”. One little girl supposedly wrote “Goodbye God. I’m going to Bodie” in her diary. The booklet noted that killings occurred with monotonous regularity, and that robberies, stage holdups, and street fights provided variety, while the town’s sixty-five saloons offered many opportunities for relaxation. In 1881, the Reverend F. M. Warrington saw it as “a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion”.
She felt a shiver as she read the last few sentences: “Bad men, like bad whiskey and bad climate, were endemic to the area. Whatever the case, the streets are quiet now. Bodie still has its wicked climate, but with the possible exception of an occasional ghostly visitor, its badmen are all in their graves”.
The booklet made for fascinating reading. At one time, there had been thirty mines in operation, and enough saloons, pothouses, restaurants, gin mills, and ale stoops to cater to the miners. The names of the saloons conjured up images of long bars and spittoons, billiard tables and floors covered with sawdust – the Occidental, the Grand Central, the Parole Saloon, the Rifle Club, the Senate, the Champion, the Sawdust Corner, the Bonanza. Three breweries had supplied the saloons.
Booklet in hand, she turned left at the end of the path and began the self-guided tour marked by numbered posts. She fell in love with the Old Methodist Church on the corner of Green and Fuller. Quaint was the word that came to mind. Several houses came next – the McDonald House, the Metzger House, the Miller house. She paused at Site Number Six – a residence of James Stuart Cain. According to the guidebook, Mr. Cain and a Mr. Maguire had leased a block of ground from the Standard Mine and Mill and took out ninety thousand dollars in gold in ninety days. She was surprised by the large bay window that looked out on the street. Moving on, she passed a small sawmill used for cutting firewood. The Donnelly house was notable in that, in its prime, the garden in front of the house had been the only green spot in town.
Referring to the booklet yet again, she read that winters in Bodie were harsh, with snow often up to twenty feet deep, winds up to a hundred miles an hour, and temperatures plunging to thirty and forty below zero.
She took pictures of practically every structure, more fascinated than she would have thought possible by a bunch of old buildings pummeled by the passage of time. She was surprised by how large most of the houses were, many having rooms that looked to be about twelve by twelve. Wallpaper covered most of the walls. Of course, the paper was badly faded now, and most of it was peeling.
In one of the few dwellings open to the public, she ran her hand over the paper above the fireplace, which felt much thicker than the wallpaper she was used to, and seemed to be backed by cotton cloth. To the left of the fireplace was a bedroom with a double bed. To the right, was a dining room with a rectangular table and four chairs. There was a hutch of sorts across from the table, a stove for heating. Beyond the dining room was the kitchen which contained a sink, a cupboard, and a small round table and three chairs. Another bedroom was located off the kitchen.
It was hard to believe that people had just packed up their clothing and personal belongings and left town, but it was obvious that was what had happened. Beds, tables and chairs, stoves, dressers, pictures, a wrought-iron crib, all had been left behind. There were pots and pans in the cupboards, dishes on the table in the kitchen.
She wiped off the window of the mercantile and peered inside. In the dusky light, she could see the items stacked on sagging shelves, canned goods, jars, bottles, boxes of baking soda, most with faded labels still intact. Another shelf held piles of clothes.
There were a number of caskets left in the morgue. All empty, she hoped.
Pausing in the shade of the Moyle house, she read the paragraph about Chinatown, which had been located off King Street. Apparently several hundred Chinese had lived in Bodie at one time. A town within a town, the Chinese had had their own stores, gambling halls and saloons, as well as a Taoist temple. The main source of income for the Chinese had come from peddling vegetables, operating laundries, and cutting, hauling and selling firewood.
Shaye grinned as she read two of the street signs – Virgin Alley and Maiden Lane. Even without being told, she would have known this had once been Bodie’s red light district.
She paused at the jail. It was made of weathered wood with a peaked roof. The door to the sheriff’s office was locked, of course. The window beside the door was boarded up. She moved to the second window and peered through the thick iron bars. She could see another door, set with a window with iron bars that she assumed led to another cell. She walked around the building, and found another barred door. Looking inside, she saw another cell.
She checked the guidebook, which stated "the TOWN JAIL may not look like much now, but it had its day". It went on to say that only one prisoner was known to have escaped. Bail for "guests" was five dollars. A man named Joseph DeRoche had been taken from the jail by a vigilante group known as the Bodie "601" and hanged.
She walked back to the front of the building and looked inside again. There was no furniture of any kind. She tried to imagine how the cells must have looked. She supposed there would have been a cot in each cell, perhaps more than one. Possibly a chair or two. Maybe a small table. And a chamber pot.
She was about to turn away when she felt a breath of cold air and for a moment, just a moment, she thought she saw a man standing against the far wall…a tall man dressed all in black, with long dark hair. His eyes were brown. Deep, dark brown beneath straight black brows.
I didn’t do it. Maldicion! How many times do I have to say it?
A chill ran down her spine as the words echoed and re-echoed in her mind.
She blinked, and the faint wavery image was gone.
Telling herself it had been nothing but her own shadow and an all too active imagination, she turned away from the weather-beaten jail and forced herself to walk, not run, to the Stuart Kirkwood Livery Stable and Blacksmith Shop, which was just across the way. It had been nothing but an illusion, she assured herself, wrought by the light of the sun pouring in through the window. But try as she might, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she had actually seen one of the ghosts she didn’t believe in.
She felt better when several other tourists came into view, even managed a grin when she overheard one of them remark that having the stable right next door was really handy in case of a jail break.
The schoolhouse was a large two-story building that had originally been the Bon Ton Lodging House. Peeking in the window, she saw several rows of old-fashioned desks, the teacher’s desk at the head, and beside that, an easel with the day’s reading assignment. The first school, originally located two blocks away, had been burned down by an early-day juvenile delinquent.
She noticed there were signs on several of the houses that read “Employee Residence”. In one such house, old and new lived side by side…the room on the right side of the front door depicted the scene as it had been a hundred years ago; the room on the left was furnished with a new cot and an exercise bike.
She gazed up at the old buildings scattered on the far hillside, at the remains of the Standard Mine and Mill on the west slope of Bodie Bluff, and tried to imagine what it would have been like to live in the town a hundred years ago. Hot summers with no trees to provide shade, no air conditioning. Freezing winters, the snow whipped by a fierce wind. No forced air heat, only fireplaces or cast iron stoves for warmth. No indoor plumbing, no hot running water. No radio or t.v., no computers. No malls.
“I would have hated it,” she muttered. “In spite of smog, global warming, road rage, and all the other ailments that plague modern civilization, I’ll take today over yesterday.”
There might be a lot to be said for a slower, more pastoral life but, given a choice, she’d take a microwave oven over a cast iron stove, and flush toilets to an outhouse any day of the week.
Bodie. It was a nice place to visit, but she wouldn’t want to live there.