Gunfighter's Legacy: The Rising Star

A preview of Volume 4 in the Beth Carver Saga

Prologue

 

Sterling, Colorado, 1886

 

The late afternoon shadows had grown long when the horse and carriage moved slowly along the road adjacent to the railroad yard. The well-dressed passenger sitting in the back looked at the railroad facility with considerable interest. It was a small compared to places like Denver and North Platte, but that was all right.

  

“Driver, stop here, please.”

 

The coach pulled to a stop and Wade Hinnick climbed down. Mid-thirties, he wore a coat and tie and looked every bit like a successful businessman.

 

“Wait here,” he told the driver. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

 

Wade walked toward the railroad yard, glancing around to see if anyone else was nearby. Reaching the track a moment later, he walked along the roadbed toward the station until he saw what he was looking for.

 

A smile crossed his face when he saw the track switch from which a sidetrack emerged from the mainline and ran toward the passenger station. Trains headed for the station would pull into the sidetrack to stop. By stopping in the sidetrack, the passenger train wouldn’t block the main and other trains could get by it. A further switch, on the other side of the station, allowed the passenger train to regain the main and continue eastbound.

 

Right in front of him was the switch mechanism. It was the movable part of the switch that allowed yard workers to align the switch either straight through on the main or into the sidetrack. The switch itself was locked, probably to prevent vandals from tampering with the switch and perhaps causing a derailment.

 

“Excuse me, sir.”

 

Startled by a voice behind him, Hinnick turned and a man on horseback, the badge attached to his jacket clearly visible.

 

“Oh, hello, officer,” he said politely.

 

“Sir, this is railroad property. You shouldn’t be here.”

 

“Oh. I’m sorry, officer. I just wanted a close-up look. Is this where all the local freight traffic is switched?”

 

“Yes, sir, it is, but you are trespassing on railroad property and we don’t allow that. Please go back to the road. You can watch from there or from the station if you wish. Shucks,” he said with a smile, “you’ll probably get a better view from there anyway.”

 

“That’s a good idea, officer. I’ll try that. Sorry to be a problem.” He turned and walked toward the road.

 

“Have a good day, sir,” the officer called after him.

 

Wade climbed into the carriage.

 

“Let’s head back to town.”

 

The driver turned the carriage around and they headed back, but Wade paid no attention as he considered what he had learned from this short visit. The lock on the switch was no problem, he could deal with that. The real issue was the railroad policeman, for that might mean the facility was patrolled more closely than he expected.

 

By the time the carriage returned to his hotel, he had decided to come back at night a few times and look for any other signs of patrol activity. Other than that, this place was perfect.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

A New Assignment

 

Railroad Division Headquarters, Denver, Colorado

 

Harvey Benton, superintendent of the railroad’s Denver Division, took off his glasses, leaned back in his chair, and stretched. It was Friday afternoon and it had been a long week, filled with challenges both minor and not so minor, but somehow they’d managed to get through it.

 

Now in his late forties, Harvey had been with the railroad a long time and had worked in many different jobs during that time. The last five years had kept him chained to his desk and the long hours and a lack of exercise had affected his waistline. Still, he was a good-natured man and got along well with both his superiors and those who worked for him.

 

Just then he heard a knock on his doorframe and a smile came to his face when he saw a young woman in her early twenties. Tall and with reddish-gold hair, she had a lanky figure, and in pants and boots she looked more like a young man. Indeed, Elizabeth Carver was actually a tomboy, but the pretty dress she wore today softened her figure considerably. Of particular interest was the blue sapphire ring on her left hand. She was engaged to Ted Rawlings, a civil engineer who worked for the railroad.

 

“Hey, Beth. Come on in.”

 

They’d hired the young Miss Carver just over a month or so ago. She had known nothing about railroading, but Harvey’s boss, Dalton Davies, Vice President of Operations, had seen something special in her right from the start. His intuition had proved to be accurate, for Carver had learned quickly and her actions had not only helped save a trainload of passengers from a raging prairie fire but thwarted an outlaw gang from blowing up an important railroad trestle. That had probably saved the railroad from bankruptcy.

 

Her quick action had earned her a promotion to Operations Manager, but during the battle for the trestle, she had been shot twice and had spent the last two weeks on sick leave while she recovered from her injuries. Once the doctor had cleared her for light-duty and she spent the last two weeks at headquarters while Harvey and several of his managers had begun her training in railroad management.

 

Leaning on her cane, Elizabeth crossed the room and put a tray with two cups of coffee on Harvey’s desk, then set one of them in front of her boss. “Here you go, sir, special delivery.”

 

“Great,” Harvey replied in satisfaction. “Just what I needed.” He took a sip. “Ah, that’s good. Have a seat. How did your week go?”

 

The young woman seated herself and smoothed her skirt. “It went pretty well, I think. I've learned a lot, but to tell you the truth, sir, I’m pretty much in overload. Too much information at one time, I guess.”

 

“Then I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear your schoolwork is finished for the moment. The doctor has cleared you for full duty, but he advises you to take it easy while you recover your strength. Continue to take your cane with you and use it whenever you feel the need.”

 

“I understand.”

 

“Now I have a new assignment for you. Remember we talked about the problem with the station manager over in Julesburg?”

 

“Yes, sir. Several people have told me that he’s a real problem. Morale is really low. One person even said the manager had people on the payroll who were no longer work for us. He is apparently pocketing the money himself."

 

“Not good, Beth, not good at all. Before he left for Omaha, Dalton said that once the doctor released you, he wanted you to head over there and have a look at the situation first hand.”

 

“Did he say what he wanted me to do about it?”

 

“Nope. Just go and see what needs to be done. If I can help, send me a telegram or a letter by train if it’s something confidential.”

 

“That sounds good.”

 

“Tomorrow, take the day off and pack for your trip. And,” he continued as a grin crossed his face. “Shane and his crew just happen to be working in the yard. He said you’re welcome to come and get some more locomotive driving experience if you feel up to it.”

 

“Really? That sounds wonderful.”

 

“Take the noon train Sunday. It’s about a five, maybe six-hour trip to Julesburg. Be at the Julesburg station Monday morning to start your investigation.”

 

“Got it.”

 

“Have you heard from your fiancé lately?”  

 

Beth smiled and glanced down at the blue ring. She and Ted Rawlings had only been engaged for a few weeks.

 

“Only a brief note a couple of days ago,” she replied. “He’s up to his ears designing the improvements in the yard facility at North Platte. I’m really looking forward to seeing him again.”

 

* * * * *

 

The next day, in the Denver railroad yard, Locomotive engineer Shane McDougal and Brian Carrik, his fireman, were about ready to start the day’s work when Brian saw Beth crossing the tracks. “Our assistant engineer is here, Shane.”

 

Shane smiled as Beth reached the locomotive now dressed in trousers and a plaid shirt, her reddish-gold hair pulled behind her in a long braid.

 

“Good morning, lass,” he called. “Great to see you again. How are you feelin'?”

 

“Much better. In fact, I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks. You got room for one more up there?”

 

“Not unless you’re plannin’ to earn it. We don’t have room for spectators.”

 

Beth laughed, grabbed the ladder and pulled herself up into the cab.

 

“Hey, Brian,” she said giving him a kiss on the cheek. “How’s my favorite fireman?”

 

“Just fine, Miss Beth. Welcome back.”

 

She turned and saw Shane watching, a sour expression on his face. “Something the matter, mister?”

 

“Nah, kid,” he declared. “Let’s just get to work.”

 

She stuck her tongue out at him. “Brian gets a kiss because he’s been nice to me. Unlike a  certain engineer I know.”

 

Shane tried hard not to smile. “Well, see if I invite you back again, Miss Ungrateful.”

 

“I bet you will,” she teased, then slid into the engineer’s seat. “So what’s first. Do we have a manifest?”

 

Shane handed her a clipboard. “Fourteen cars headed north to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Another crew will take those later. Then we need to make up an eastbound train for North Platte, Nebraska. Twelve cars. Brian and I will leave in about 90 minutes.”

 

“Sounds great.”

 

Shane watched with great satisfaction as Beth maneuvered the engine around the yard. Her confidence had grown considerably since their first session and it didn't take her long to assemble the first train. She made it through the second train as well, but she appeared to be tiring.

 

She took a deep breath and turned toward him. “That was fun, Shane. I just love being out here with you guys, I really do, but I’m afraid this is all I can physically handle right now. I'll do better next time.” She slid out of her seat and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "There, are you happy now?”

 

He sighed. “Yeah, better late than never, I suppose.”

 

She laughed, said goodbye to Brian, and Shane watched her climb down the ladder.

 

“You’re welcome back anytime, Beth,” he called after her.

 

Take care, girl. Don’t you go gettin’ yourself hurt.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Old and Dingy

 

The last hint of a spectacular sunset lit the western sky as Beth gazed through the train window, her mind on the situation in Julesburg. On one of her first train trips after joining the railroad, she had met Hentis Johnson, who was the conductor on her train. It was Hentis who had told her about the problems with the station manager in Julesburg, a man by the name of Bill Dawkin. Apparently Dawkin was lazy. He was often late—sometimes very late—coming to work and the roughshod way he ran the crew had caused morale to deteriorate. As a result, some employees resigned, but Dawkin put off hiring a replacement, increasing the workload on the other employees.

 

Another employee, telegrapher Avery Bennett, discovered Dawkins had kept two employees on the payroll who no longer worked for the railroad. When Avery confronted the manager about it, Dawkins fired him. Beth had discussed the situation with Dalton earlier, but this was the first chance she’d had a chance to investigate it.

 

The sound of the car door opening drew Beth’s attention back to the present and she saw the conductor step inside.

 

“We’ll make our next station stop in Julesburg in about five minutes, folks. If you’re getting off here, please check around your seat to be sure you have all your belongings. If you’re continuing east with us, please remain on the train as this stop will be very brief. Julesburg, Colorado, folks, five minutes.”

 

Beth stood up and reached for her traveling bag.

 

“Wait, Miss Beth,” the conductor called. “Let me do that for you.”

 

“I can—”

 

“I heard you were hurt, so let me help this one time. Next trip you can grab it yourself if you wish. Fair enough?

 

She smiled. “Thanks, Russ. I appreciate it. My cane helps a lot, but juggling it and luggage is not much fun.”

 

He pulled the bag down. “Good to have you back on board. We’re right on time.”

 

“Thanks,” she replied with a smile. “Good trip. No derailments or prairie fires for a change.”

 

He chuckled. “See you next time.”

 

A few minutes later, she stood on the station platform and watched the train pull away. Then Beth turned toward the station, her cane in one hand and her bag and purse in the other as her mind turned to the task at hand.

 

The Julesburg facility was smaller than Angel Creek.  It had dual tracks where trains could pass each other, a two-track holding yard for local traffic and a small maintenance building, but that was all. The station itself was small. The whole area seemed strangely dark and the only light came from inside. A light fixture hung over the door, but it wasn’t working.

 

Pushing her way into the station, Beth found the place empty except for a man seated at a desk behind the counter, his feet propped across one of the drawers.

 

“Yeah?” he called. “You need something, lady?”

 

Strike one, mister, she thought. Do you treat all of your customers this way?

 

“I’d like to speak to the manager. Is he here tonight?”

 

The man shook his hand. “Him? Not a chance. He goes home at five o’clock on the dot. What’s it about?”

 

“It’s a private matter.”

 

“Well, in that case, I can’t help you.”

 

He returned to his newspaper, leaving Beth staring at him.

 

After a moment, he looked up.

 

“You need anything else?”

 

“What time does the station open in the morning?”

 

“Six o’clock. We have a couple of early morning trains.”

 

“And what time is the manager expected in?”

 

“He’s supposed to be here around nine, but mostly it’s later.”

 

“Thank you,” she replied pulling a small notebook and pencil from her pocket. “One more question. What is your name?”

 

“My name?”

 

“Yes, is that too hard a question for you?”

 

“It’s Robinson, Cody Robinson,” he replied, a wary expression on his face. “Why do you want to know?”

 

She wrote the name down. “And what is your manager’s name, please?”

 

“Dawkin, Bill Dawkin.”

 

“Thanks for the help, Mr. Robinson. I’ll come back in the morning to speak with him.”

 

She stepped out onto the front sidewalk and glanced up. A light fixture hung over this door, too, but like the one in the back, it didn’t work.

 

Not good. Not good at all.

 

* * * * *

 

The next morning she arrived at 8:45 AM, curious to see if the daytime operation proved to be as shoddy as the night shift. Bypassing the front door, she walked back to the station platform and looked around, particularly back at the yard. As she had guessed, there were overhead lights in the yard, too, but they hadn’t been working last night, either. Worse, trash and miscellaneous junk lay everywhere.

 

Turning toward the station, she noticed a schedule board on the wall. A glance showed an eastbound train had left ninety minutes earlier and a westbound train was due in about twenty minutes.

 

She headed into the station and found it to be only slightly better than the exterior. The walls needing painting and everything looked old and dingy.

 

Ten people were waiting, a family of four, two couples and two cowboys.

 

“Good morning,” she said with a smile when they looked up.

 

“And to you, ma’am,” replied the father of four. The others nodded and smiled.

 

Crossing to the counter, she saw a dark-haired woman behind the counter. She appeared to be in her thirties and she promptly got to her feet and came over.

 

“Good morning, ma’am,” she said with a pleasant smile. “May I help you?”

 

“Good morning. Is the westbound running on time.”

 

“Pretty close. He was about ten minutes late leaving North Platte, but he may have made up some of that along the way.”

 

“That’s good to know,” Beth replied. “I need to speak with the station manager. Has he come in yet.”

 

“No, ma’am. Is there something I can help you with? I’ve been here for five years and I know a lot about how everything works. I’m also the senior telegrapher.”

 

I wonder if this is a chance to get some inside information before the manager arrives?

 

The woman seemed reasonably conscientious, so Beth decided to take a chance.

 

“Could I ask you a few questions in private?” Beth asked.

 

The woman hesitated. “You can, ma’am, but I have a train due in just a little while and I need to make preparations.”

 

“How about after the train leaves?”

 

“Sure, ma’am, that would be fine.”

 

Beth started to walk away but changed her mind. “By the way, what is your name?”

 

“Edwina. Edwina Sanford.”

 

Beth offered her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Edwina. My name’s Elizabeth. We’ll talk again in a little while.”

 

Beth sat down near the door to the platform where she could observe the activity. So far, she’d seen nothing this morning that would raise a red flag, but a number of small things needed fixing. The station looked old and dingy. That was one situation she could do something about.

 

Two other passengers came in, got their tickets and sat down. Edwina treated them all with respect, exactly as Beth would expect herself.

 

Before long, they heard a train whistle.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Edwina called, “the train will be here in just a moment. This a westbound train to Denver and points in between. Please gather your belongings and head out to the platform. Stay close to the station and away from the tracks until we tell you it’s safe to board.”

 

As everyone passed through the door, Edwina closed the office window and headed to a back office. Beth wandered outside and within a minute, Edwina emerged through another door pulling a baggage cart. She pulled the cart down the platform to where Beth guessed the baggage car might stop.

 

Once the train pulled to a stop, the passengers and luggage were handled efficiently and within a couple of minutes, the train departed.

 

After making some notes on what she’d seen, Beth headed back inside and found Edwina waiting for her.

 

“I’ve got some time now, ma’am. How can I help you?”

 

“Maybe this will save us some time,” Beth said, handing her the letter Dalton Davies had written for her.

 

To all railroad employees:

 

The bearer of this letter, Miss Elizabeth Carver, is a Special Operations Manager for the railroad. All employees are hereby requested to assist her promptly in any way she requests. Any questions should be directed to the undersigned.

 

Dalton Davies

Vice President of Operations

Executive Assistant to the president

 

Edwina’s eyebrows rose in surprise as she read the note.

 

“You’re Beth Carver?”

 

“That’s right. And now you know I work directly for Mr. Davies.”

 

“I’ve certainly heard of you, Miss Carver, dealing with the mainline outage and the Larston branch business a few weeks back. What brings you to Julesburg this morning?”

 

“Do you remember Hentis Johnson?”

 

Edwina smiled. “Of course. He was a good man and I was sorry to hear about the accident.” Hentis had been killed in a prairie fire as he tried to get his train across a burning trestle.

 

“How about Avery Bennett?”

 

“Sure, he was a good man, too. I hated to see him go.”

 

“What happened?”

 

Edwina hesitated. “I really shouldn’t talk about that, ma’am.”

 

“Don’t worry, I already know most of it. I just wanted to hear your version of it.”

 

“Well, ma’am, I heard he got fired because he found out Mr. Dawkin—“

 

“I know who he is.”

 

“Well, Avery discovered Bill had kept two men on the payroll who no longer work for us and he was putting the money in his pocket. When Avery confronted him about it, Bill fired him.”

 

“That’s what Avery told me as well. So tell me about Bill Dawkin. What kind of manager is he?

 

“Just tell me what you think, Edwina,” Beth said when the other woman hesitated. “You’re not in any trouble, just tell me the truth.”

 

It took nearly ten minutes, but Edwina gave Beth an earful and she scribbled as fast as she could to write it all down. It certainly confirmed what Hentis and Avery had told her earlier.

 

“Thanks, Edwina. How would you describe the morale here?”

 

“It’s pretty bad, ma’am. We’re always short-handed.”

 

“One final question. Where are the station record books kept?”

 

“Bill keeps them locked in his desk and he has the only key.”

 

“Thanks for the information. I appreciate your candor. Don’t worry about Bill, I will deal with him directly. And don’t mention this conversation to anyone, okay?”

 

“Sure.”

 

“I’m going to stick around until he arrives. Don’t tell him I’m here. Hand me a message form, would you, please?”

 

After writing for quite a while, Beth handed it back across the counter. “Send this right away and give the message back to me after it’s been sent. I don’t want Bill to see it.”

 

She resumed her previous seat and used the time to complete her notes. Finally, about 10:45 AM, a man entered. His clothes were dirty and he looked like he hadn’t shaved in several days.

 

“How many passengers this morning?” he asked as he stepped behind the counter.

 

Edwina got up and checked the log sheet on the counter.

 

“Twelve on the westbound and ten on the eastbound,” she told him.

 

“Well, that’s something, I guess. Anybody call off?”

 

“No, sir. Not this morning. Harmon said to remind you he can’t fix locomotive 634 until he gets the parts on the list he gave you two weeks ago."

 

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll get around to it one of these days.”

 

“We have freight to be delivered and we need 634 to do it.”

 

“I heard you the first time, Edwina, and I said I’ll deal with it when I’m good and ready.

 

He turned toward his office, but she followed him. “But, sir, the shippers are—”

 

To Beth’s surprise, Bill grabbed her upper arms and slammed her against the wall.

 

“I’ve had enough of your backtalk, Edwina,” he said, his face six inches from hers. “One more word and you’re fired. You got that?”

 

She hung her head. “Yes, sir.”

 

He released her. “See you remember it.”

 

Beth had heard more than enough.

 

“Bill Dawkin?” she said as she approached the counter.

 

He turned at the sound of her voice. “Yeah, what do you want?”

 

“You’re the manager here, is that correct?”

 

“So what?” he demanded.

 

“Not anymore, you’re not,” she said handing him Dalton’s letter.

 

“What the heck is…oh, uh, you’re Beth Carver?”

 

“I am and what I’ve seen in the last couple of minutes is positively disgraceful.”

 

“But—”

 

“Mr. Dawkin, you are fired.”

 

Dawkin stared at her in disbelief. “Now wait a minute, you can’t—”

 

“I just did. You’re fired. Edwina, please get the sheriff and bring him here as soon as possible.”

 

Edwina got up, but Bill grabbed her by her arm. “Siddown, Edwina.”

 

“Let go of her, Bill,” Beth demanded, dropping her hand into her purse. “Right now.”

 

“Or what? You gonna make me?”

 

“I’ll tell you one more time, mister, let go of her and back away.”

 

He stared at her and about two seconds later, he found himself looking down the bore of Beth’s revolver.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

Telegrams

 

“Mister, let go of her or you’ll be sorry.”

 

The former station manager finally released Edwina and took a step back.

 

Beth glanced at Edwina. “Sheriff. Now.”

 

“Yes, ma’am.”

 

“Let’s go back to your office,” she told Bill after Edwina left.

 

He continued to stare at her, a sullen expression on his face.

 

“And if you’re thinking about trying to jump me ‘cause I’m a woman, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I’ve been shooting for more than ten years and I’m pretty good at it. Just ask the two men who tried to kidnap Dalton a couple of weeks back.”

 

“You’re the one who shot them?” he asked incredulously.

 

“That’s right. So if you want to survive the day, do exactly as I tell you. Understood?”

 

He led her back to the office. Following her old mentor’s advice, Beth kept her distance, just in case Bill decided to do something stupid.

 

“Now what?”

 

“Unlock the desk drawer,” she said forcefully. “Pull it open, but do not put your hand inside.”

 

He complied, not looking at all happy about it.

 

“Leave the key on the desk, then move over against the wall, turn your back to me and stand perfectly still.”

 

Looking in the drawers, she found not only the station records but a sizable amount of cash. The drawer also contained a small revolver.

 

“The sheriff is here, Beth,” Edwina called from the other room.

 

“Please show him Dalton’s letter and after he’s read it, the two of you come on back. Sheriff, be aware I have Mr. Dawkin at gunpoint.”

 

She heard footsteps behind her but kept her eyes on Dawkin.

 

“Monte Maddock, Miss Carver,” the sheriff said as he stopped next to her.

 

Beth glanced at him and a smile touched her mouth.

 

“Pleased to please you, Sheriff. Thanks for coming so quickly. Did Edwina tell you what’s happened?”

 

“She did, but I’d like to hear your version as well.”

 

“I didn’t do nothin’,” Bill complained.

 

They ignored him and it didn’t take but a minute for Beth to confirm Edwina’s story.

 

“So I got Mr. Bill to unlock the desk drawer. Take a look.”

 

“Whew, that’s a lot of cash.”

 

“Do you have handcuffs with you?”

 

“Sure.”

 

“How about you cuff Bill to keep him out of trouble?”

 

That didn’t take but half a minute.

 

Beth slid her gun back into her purse. “Do you have a safe in your office?”

 

“Yes, a good one.”

 

“Here’s what we’ll do. Edwina, leave $100 in the drawer for the office, then count the rest and have the sheriff sign a receipt for it.

 

“Then, sheriff, if you would, please take the Bill and the extra cash to your office. I need to finish a couple of things here, then I’ll be right over. We can talk further then.”

 

“Sure thing.”

 

He and his prisoner left and Beth asked Edwina for another message form.

 

“While I’m working on this, Edwina, please write a detailed description of what’s happened while it’s fresh in your mind. I’ll take it to the sheriff when I head over there.”

 

“Yes, ma’am.”

 

“How long has loco 634 been down for lack of parts?”

 

“Over two weeks.”

 

“Two weeks? Good grief. And you’ve had freight in the yard waiting all this time?”

 

“Yes, ma’am, and not only that, we have loaded cars that need to be picked up as well. Our customers are not happy about it.”

 

“That doesn’t surprise me. I would be mad, too, at such poor service.  When you get a moment, make me a list of those clients. We need to apologize to them.”

 

A few minutes later, Beth handed Edwina the telegram to be sent and took Edwina’s statement over to the sheriff’s office.

 

“While I’m gone, start getting in touch with our employees and advise them we’ll have an employee meeting tomorrow afternoon at shift change. This is a mandatory meeting and everyone must attend, even those who are scheduled off. Tell those folks they’ll get an extra half day’s pay for coming in.”

 

* * * * *

 

Harvey Benton returned to his Denver office and sat down at his desk, still thinking about Beth’s earlier telegram. It was quite a document and she had made several requests which he had already acted on. Her intention to fire the Julesburg manager, though, had concerned him. That was a big step and he hoped she had plenty of evidence to support such as decision.

 

“Excuse me, Sir.”

 

He glanced up and smiled, following it with a sigh. “Let me guess. Another telegram from Miss Carver?”

 

The telegrapher chuckled. “Yes, sir, it’s a long one.”

 

TO:                  HARVEY BENTON, DENVER, DALTON DAVIES

COPY:                ALEX CLIFFORD, DENVER

                       TED RAWLINGS, NORTH PLATTE

 

FROM:              ELIZABETH CARVER

 

RE:                  PROBLEMS AT JULESBURG

 

---CONFIDENTIAL, TO RECIPIENTS ONLY---

 

  1. TODAY I PERSONALLY WITNESSED LOCAL MANAGER BILL DAWKIN ASSAULT TELEGRAPHER EDWINA STEWART. STOP. I FIRED HIM AND HE IS CURRENTLY IN JAIL

   2. FORCED MANAGER TO UNLOCK HIS DESK DRAWER, WHERE I FOUND THE OFFICE RECORDS AND A        LARGE AMOUNT OF CASH. STOP. AFTER WE KEPT $100 FOR THE OFFICE, SHERIFF SIGNED RECEIPT          FOR REMAINING AMOUNT AND WILL KEEP IN SAFE STORAGE TEMPORARILY.

   3. TED, PLEASE FIND AN ACCOUNTANT TO AUDIT SAID RECORDS AND BRING HIM TO JULESBURG,              TOMORROW IF POSSIBLE. STOP. SUSPECT EMBEZZLEMENT. STOP. PLEASE CONFIRM YOU AND HE          ARE COMING.

   4. WE HAVE UNDELIVERED FREIGHT THAT HAS BEEN SITTING IN THE YARD FOR TWO WEEKS OR              LONGER. STOP. SHIPPERS ARE COMPLAINING ABOUT THE DELAYS.

   5. OUR SWITCH ENGINE, 4-4-0 LOCOMOTIVE NUMBER 634 IS DOWN FOR LACK OF PARTS. STOP.              PLEASE SEND A REPLACEMENT LOCO RIGHT AWAY, TODAY IF POSSIBLE.

   6. ACCORDING TO ITS NAMEPLATE,  634 IS QUITE OLD. STOP. ADVISE IF BETTER TO REPAIR OR                REPLACE PERMANENTLY.

 

   6. STATION IS GREATLY IN NEED OF SMALL REPAIRS AND NEW PAINT. STOP. CURRENT APPEARANCE         IS SHABBY. STOP. SUGGEST WE USE EMBEZZLED FUNDS TO PAY FOR REPAIRS. STOP.                           ALTERNATELY,  REQUEST BUDGET AMOUNT I CAN SPEND IMMEDIATELY FOR REPAIRS PLUS AN             ADDITIONAL AMOUNT STATION CAN USE IN THE NEXT SIX MONTHS ON FURTHER                               UPGRADES. 

 

   7. INTEND TO HOLD AN EMERGENCY STAFF MEETING TOMORROW AFTERNOON TO ANNOUNCE THE          NEW MANAGER AND OTHER CHANGES I HOPE WILL IMPROVE MORALE HERE, WHICH IS QUITE LOW

   8. MY INTENT IS TO REMAIN HERE FOR A SHORT PERIOD AND GIVE NEW MANAGER A HAND WITH            REPAIRS AND EMPLOYEE MORALE CONCERNS. STOP. ADVISE IF I AM NEEDED ELSEWHERE INSTEAD.

END

 

Harvey leaned back in his chair, trying to digest what she had said. After a moment, he realized the telegrapher was still waiting.

 

“Do you want to send a reply, sir?” he asked.

 

“Yes, but I need to think about it first. I’ll bring it over later.”

 

The man left, only to have his place in the doorway taken by Alex Clifford, the railroad's police chief.

 

“Got time for one more, Harv?”

 

Benton waved him inside. “Why not? Miss Carver has the whole office in an uproar anyway.”

 

Alex chuckled. “You’re right and I think from now on we’ll call it the “Carver Effect.”

 

“That’s good. Appropriate, too. What’s new?”

 

Alex sat down across from him. “Other than her last email? I talked with Avery Bennett, the former telegrapher, and I think he’ll be fine. Nothing serious to report and believe it or not, we spent most of the conversation on changes he thinks should be made at Julesburg.”

 

“Really? That’s interesting.”

 

“Yeah, he’s excited about going back. Recommend we approve his reinstatement.”

 

“Approved, Alex, and it confirms what Dalton has said all along; employee morale is the key to this whole thing. If the employees are with us, it will result in better attendance and improved service to our customers.”

 

The telegrapher appeared in the doorway.

 

“Another one?” Benton asked incredulously.

 

“Yes, sir, but this one is from Mr. Davies.”

 

“Oh? Bring it in.”

 

TO:                  HARVEY BENTON, DENVER

 

FROM:               DALTON DAVIES

 

RE:                  CARVER TELEGRAMS

 

THIS IS WHY I HIRED BETH, HARV. STOP. GREAT IDEA TO USE EMBEZZLED FUNDS FOR REPAIRS. STOP. SEND HER ANOTHER 4-4-0 IMMEDIATELY AND RETURN 634 TO DENVER TO SALVAGE FOR USABLE PARTS. STOP. KEEP ME INFORMED, AND AS USUAL, MANY THANKS FOR YOUR GOOD WORK.

 

END

 

“And?” Alex asked seeing the expression on his friend’s face.

 

Harvey passed the telegram across.

 

“See for yourself.”

 

Alex read it and grinned. “Harv, I do believe our boss has fallen under the girl’s spell.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

Staff Meeting

 

Early the next morning, Beth requested a buggy and someone to drive her to visit the freight clients. The first was Richard Tillman, owner of Tillman Lumber. He was not a happy man.

 

“What’s going on with you people at the railroad? I requested my flatcars weeks ago. Now I’ve got finished lumber sitting in my warehouse and an angry customer waiting for his delivery. What are you going to do about it?”

 

“Mr. Tillman, your flatcars will be delivered today, either late this morning or early this afternoon.”

 

“I’m not happy…wait, what did you say? Today?”

 

Beth nodded. “Yes, sir. We apologize again for the delay. When do you want your loaded cars to be picked up? Is tomorrow soon enough or do you need them picked up today?’

 

He looked surprised. “Oh. Uh, tomorrow would be fine. Thanks.”

 

“Tomorrow it is. Anything else I can do for you?

 

“Uh, no, not right now. Say, what’s your name young lady?

 

“Elizabeth Carver. I’m an Operations Manager for the railroad.” She offered her hand. “My friends call me, Beth, or Miss Beth, if they prefer. I’m pleased to meet you.”

 

He took her hand. “I must say, I’m surprised, Miss Beth. Service from the railroad has been poor for a year or more. I’m sick of it. Especially that Bill Dawkins.”

 

“I don’t blame you, sir. I’d be mad as well. And just so you know, Bill is gone and you’ll a new manager here in a couple of days.”

 

Beth drove from client to client and most everywhere the story was the same. Poor service. She did what she could to help and made notes about follow up.

 

She arrived back at the station just as the westbound train pulled in with Ted and the accountant, Graham Driscoll. She led them to the local diner for coffee and filled them in on the situation. Afterward, they headed back to the station, where Graham took over the manager’s office and began to go over the books.

 

“You know, Beth,” Ted said once they’d stepped out on the station platform, “I think you just used this as an excuse to get me over here for another kiss.”

 

She laughed. “What a terrible thing to say, Mr. Rawlings.” Then she kissed him briefly.

 

“There. Are you satisfied now?”

 

“Not a chance, lady.”

 

“Well, if you take me to dinner tonight, sir, there might be another opportunity.”

 

“I’ll hold you to that, Beth”

 

She glanced at him and smiled. “I’m counting on it, good sir. But that’s not the real reason I asked you to come over.”

 

“No?”

 

“The station is badly in need of repairs. A lot of it is relatively minor, but I’d like you to have a look around and see if anything can be done to the building to make it a nicer station instead of just a shed by the side of the track.”

 

“How much can we spend?”

 

“I don’t know yet. Probably not much, but if you could make a couple of suggestions and give me an approximate cost, I’ll ask if we can do it.”

 

As it turned out, Ted had several interesting proposals and she asked him to make drawings for each she could submit for approval. They did have some time together but had to return to the station to meet the eastbound train from Denver.

 

Alex Clifford was the first passenger to get off. After they’d exchanged greetings and some information, he headed to the sheriff’s office to start the paperwork for him to take custody of Bill Dawkin and transport him back to Denver.

 

As the time neared for the meeting, Beth and Ted met with the accountant.

 

“I’m not finished yet,” he told them. “But from what I’ve seen so far, it seems clear we’ll have solid evidence of embezzlement.”

 

“How much money is involved?” Beth asked.

 

“I can’t tell you exactly, but we’re probably talking a few thousand dollars. It looks like he had his fingers in a number of different things. I’ll know more precisely when I finish my report.”

 

“Thank you, Mr. Driscoll. I appreciate you being able to come out here on such short notice.”

 

“Ted and I have known each other quite a while and I’m glad to help.”

 

“Go get ‘em, Miss Carver,” Ted said with a grin as they returned to where a sizeable crowd had gathered in the main room.

 

“Are we ready, Edwina?” she asked.

 

“Yes, ma’am. Everyone’s here.”

 

* * * * *

 

Seated in the back of the room with a scowl on his face, Arden Putnum, one of the yard workers, turned to his friend, Elmer Penn.

 

“Did they tell you why we have to come in on our day off?”

 

“Nope, Edwina just said everyone had to be here." Elmer lowered his voice. "Someone told me Bill's been fired.”

 

“Really?" Arden replied. "It's about time if you ask me. Those people in Denver are a bunch of fools.”

 

“Who the heck is that?" Elmer said as a woman in a long dress passed them and walked to the front of the room leaning on a cane.

 

“Looks more like a kid to me,” Arden observed as the woman turned to face them. "I wonder what she’s doin’ here?”

 

"Could I have your attention, please," the woman called.

 

"Guess we’ll find out.”

 

* * * * *

 

Beth waited for them to quiet down. Some looked curious and others looked unhappy to be here.

 

“My name is Elizabeth Carver. I’m one of the Operations Managers on the road. We’ll get to why I’m here in just moment. In case you didn’t see it, Miss Edwina’s brought us some coffee and snacks. They’re in the back, so feel free to wander back there and help yourself whenever you wish.”

 

“First item of business: My friends call me, Beth, and that includes all of you. Or Miss Beth, if you prefer. First person to call me 'ma’am' gets fired, okay?”

 

That brought smiles from most everyone, as she hoped it would.

 

“The exception might be in a more formal situation, such as when a member of senior management is present, where ‘Miss Carver’ might be more appropriate. Are we clear on that?”

 

“Next item: As you’ve probably heard by now, Bill Dawkin has been fired and a new manager will be taking over soon. I actually saw Bill assault Edwina right here in the office yesterday. I fired him right then and there. Such things are not acceptable and he deserved it. There’s also an accountant in the office right now going through the books. It’s likely Bill will also be charged with embezzlement.”

 

She had noticed Alex slip into the back of the room and pour himself some coffee. She beckoned him to come forward.

 

“This gentleman with the fancy badge is Alex Clifford and for those who don’t know him, he is the railroad’s police chief. He’s here to do some investigative work and take Bill back to Denver.”

 

She turned in his direction. “Your turn, sir.”

 

“Hello, everyone. I just want you to know company management is aware of your bad situation here and we’re going to fix it. We apologize for engine 634 being out of service for so long. Last night you received a replacement, engine 745. It’s only a few years old and it’s in pretty good shape. I understand the urgent shipments were delivered this morning and the rest of it later today.

 

That brought a buzz of conversation.

 

“So who’s gonna drive it?” someone called. “I was kinda hoping we could keep Miss Beth and have her drive it for us.”

 

Everyone laughed, including Beth.

 

“Thanks for the offer, good sir,” she answered with a grin. “But I’m afraid my boss has other plans for me. I’ll stick around a while to help until the new manager can take over.” She shrugged. “But since I’m here anyway, do you think I could get someone to give me another driving lesson?”

 

That brought another laugh and several hands shot up.

 

Alex raised his hand and the crowd quieted.

 

“Two more things and I’ll let Beth finish up. Anyone here know Pete Decker?”

 

“He’s the yard foreman down at Angel Creek, ain’t he?” someone suggested.

 

Alex nodded. “That’s correct. He’ll be here day after tomorrow and he will become your new station manager.”

 

Another murmur of conversation.

 

“Pete’s worked for the railroad a good while and he has plenty of experience, especially in construction, maintenance and yard operations. This will be his first time as an actual manager, though, and so we’ve decided to appoint an assistant for him who is well versed with scheduling, dealing with customers and that end of the business. The new Assistant Manager at Julesburg will be Edwina Sanford.”

 

That brought both surprise and applause from everyone and Beth smiled. Appointing Edwina had been her recommendation, and it pleased her to see Edwina’s widespread acceptance from her fellow workers. She was also pleased Harvey and Dalton had been willing to appoint a woman to a job traditionally held only by men.

 

Alex raised his hand again.

 

“Let me continue so we can let you get back to work or head for home. How many of you remember telegrapher Avery Bennet?”

 

Half a dozen hands went up.

 

“I’m pleased to announce that Avery will be rejoining the staff soon. I talked to him yesterday and he’s really excited about it.”

 

“He’ll be here in a couple of weeks,” Beth added, “but right now he’s in the hospital recovering from a bullet wound.”

 

That brought looks of puzzlement from the assembled workers.

 

“And just so you know, he got shot while saving my life recently and I’m grateful to him. He’ll be joining us as soon as the docs release him.”

 

“I have to leave in a little while,” Alex told them. “I'm returning to Denver on the afternoon train and I'll be taking Bill with me. We’ll also tow 634 to the engine shop to salvage for parts. After that, I’ll drop by once in a while to see how you’re doing.”

 

Everyone applauded.

 

“Good luck, Beth,” he told her quietly. “Looks like Julesburg is off to a good start.”

 

“Thanks, Alex. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

 

“A few more things, folks,” she continued once he had left. “Then we’re done.”

 

“As Alex said, Pete will be here day after tomorrow. He’ll stop in to say hello and meet all of you, but he and his wife will be looking for a place to live so that will be his main focus for this trip. But once they get packed up, they’ll be moving up here permanently. Please do your best to make him feel welcome and give him a hand when he needs it, okay?”

 

“You better or else you’ll deal with me,” declared Edwina sternly, then followed it with a grin.

 

“Yes, ma’am,” someone called, resulting in more laughter.

 

“And if you know of a house that might be for sale,” Beth continued, “please give Edwina a note and we’ll pass it on to Pete.”

 

Beth paused and took a deep breath. “Well, that’s the good news. Now we come to the part you may not like as well.”

 

The crowd quieted.

 

“Since I arrived last night, I’ve had an opportunity to take a good look around. The station looks shabby and desperately needs a new coat of paint. None of the exterior lanterns work and there’s junk lying around everywhere. It’s a mess and while part of it is bad management, a part of it your fault. Our fault, actually, because you and I all work for the same railroad. We need to take pride in our work and make our station a pleasant experience for every passenger who travels with us.

 

“That also goes for our freight shippers. Their shipments need to get where they're going on time and in good shape. Do you realize some of our freight has been waiting two weeks or longer for delivery? That’s completely unacceptable. Now, before you protest it was Bill’s fault, I know that and I’m not blaming you, but now we’ve made a new start and we need to make it a priority to get our freight delivered and picked up on time. This morning I drove around to most of our shippers and apologized to them for the poor service they’ve received. Folks, we’ve got to do better.

 

“In fact, I’d like you to do me a favor. If you ever see a long delay or something similar and you can’t solve the problem here, contact me directly by telegram or if it’s confidential, then write me a letter through the Denver office. I will investigate it. Any questions on that? Remember, it’s the customers who ultimately pay our wages, and we need to do everything we can to keep them happy.

 

“Starting tomorrow, we’re going to begin a ‘fix up-clean up’ schedule. Passengers and freight have first priority, of course, as always, but when we have downtime, we’re going to be cleaning, fixing and painting. That includes everyone, myself included. I’ll be working along with you. If you have any special skills beyond your regular job, such as carpentry or metalwork, please let Edwina know and we’ll talk further. Who is the yard foreman?”

 

A man stood up about halfway back. “Harmon Blalock, ma’am. Oh, sorry, Miss Beth.”

 

There were chuckles around the room and Beth smiled.

 

“Harmon, please get with me in a little while and let’s talk about ordering paint and supplies.”

 

“Sure.”

 

“Folks, I need your help in one other area. If you have suggestions for improving things in Julesburg or if you can think of a couple of people who might be good additions to the staff, please write them down and give them to Edwina. I can’t guarantee we can take all your suggestions, but I do guarantee I will read every one of them and get back to you.”

 

She noticed Ted standing in the back and waved for him to come forward.

 

“Finally, I want to introduce Ted Rawlings. He’s from North Platte and he works for the railroad as a design engineer. He designed the new bridge we’ve just installed over the South Platte River and I’ve asked him to come up with some simple ways to improve the look of our station. Please help if he has a question and let’s make Julesburg a station we can be proud of.

 

“And speaking of proud, I am proud to say Ted is my fiance.” She held up her left hand and everyone could see the blue ring on her finger.

 

That brought plenty of smiles and good wishes and Beth kissed him on the cheek.

 

“That's it, everyone. You’re dismissed. If any of you have questions, I’ll stick around for a while and attempt to answer them for you. Thanks for coming.”

 

“And please take all those snacks back there,” Edwina called. “I don’t want to have to throw ‘em out.”

 

* * * * *

 

"Whatcha think, Arden?" Elmer asked as the meeting broke up.

 

"About time they replaced 634. That thing's a bucket of bolts. Has been for a long time.”

 

“True,” Elmer replied. “Glad to hear Bill is gone. Sounds like he might even be headin’ to prison for a spell.”

 

Arden grunted. “Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”

 

They watched as a small group gathered around the Carver woman.

 

“So, what did you think of the Carver woman?” Elmer asked, hooking his thumb in her direction.

 

Arden shrugged. “Woman? She looks more like a girl to me.”

 

“And?”

“Well, she talks good, right enough. But I'll tell you what; I've been here six years. I know my job and I ain't lettin' no twenty-year-old woman tell me how to do it.”

 

He turned to Elmer. “C'mon, let's get outta here. I got better things to do than sit around all afternoon.” He lowered his voice. "Carver better stay out of my way or there'll be trouble."

This is the end of the preview. Hope you enjoyed it. For copyright reasons, I can't post the rest it right now. If you'd like to read a preview copy, drop me an email and we can work something out. CRB

I'm a paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It's easy.

Short Stories:  1  2  3

Entire site (c) 2019

Privacy Policy - Click here