Book three in the Series Of Amazing Gracie Mysteries
At the crack of dawn, chaotic noises funneled through the window pane from the alley below. The loud racket vibrated off the hotel room walls, making it seem like what ever was happening was taking place right in the room. One thud after another was followed by a horse’s shrill, frightened whinny.
Restless yet not quite awake, Gracie Evans, tossed one way then the other. Finally, she turned on her side to face the window. A man’s rough voice, venting angry curses, jarred her to her senses. She batted her eyes against the bright sunlight and swiped a thin strand of gray, wavy hair out of her face. Gracie turned over to look on the other side the bed at Melinda Applegate. Her eyes were closed.
Under her breath, Gracie growled in her gruff voice, “What’s going on down there anyway? A body cain’t sleep for all that racket.” Holding up the front of her cotton nightgown,
she sucked in a quick breath when her warm, bare feet touched the cold, wooden floor.
Feeling the mattress move, Melinda slurred softly through a yawn, “What could be the matter at this early hour?” She brushed one of her mass of gray curls out of her eyes and rose up on her elbow to watch Gracie at the window.
“A man in the alley is trying to control his skittish horse while he throws the hotel garbage in his wagon. Looks to me like the fellow’s making matters worse by getting hostile with the horse. If you was to ask me, that man’s not much good with horses. He’s not smart enough to realize the poor nag’s scared more by his voice than by the noise the garbage makes hitting the wagon bottom,” the elderly woman surmised in an expert tone.
The jittery critter pranced, jerking the wagon back and forth. The man had trouble hitting where he aimed when he threw the garbage at the wagon. Finally, he emptied the barrels and climbed up to the seat. With a loud curse, he gave a hard flick of the reins. The skittish horse moved forward with a dancing prance.
Now that the show was over, Gracie took the time to inspect another man, leaning against the back of the saloon. With one foot hiked up on the wall, he sat on his worn thin, scuffed, boot. If not a tramp then maybe a sharecropper. He wore faded jeans with jagged holes at the knees and a thread bare, reddish, flannel shirt. An indolent air was apparent about him as he reared back against the building with his thumbs stuck in his jean pockets. His head, hidden by a dusty, straw hat with the brim drooping, turned slightly as he watched the garbage collector leave the alley.
With as much noise as the collector and horse made, the sharecropper being able to sleep that close seemed like an impossible feat for sure. Besides as far as Gracie knew, only horses could stand and sleep. Maybe cows sometimes, but not men. One thing for certain, she couldn’t sleep for that noise, and she was way up on the second floor of the hotel. So how could that man doze off right down there near the racket? From the look of him, most likely he spent more time with his elbows propped on the bar than he did working on his farm. That might explain his hearing problem.
The man raised his head up. He peered from under his straw hat’s frayed brim at Gracie’s window. He stiffened when he spotted her observing him. In a matter of seconds, he straightened up and put both feet on the ground, seemly more alert. He lowered his head again, but not quick enough. Gracie caught the cold look on his face and the thin lip sneer his seeing her produced. He had the look of a man who had been weaned on sour pickles. Puzzled by his reaction, she reasoned that since the man didn’t know her, it must be women in general that he didn’t like. He turned his back to the hotel and moseyed away with a right sided limp down the alley as though he didn’t have a reason to hurry. All at once, the man stopped. He leaned forward, putting his hands on his knees. His shoulders shook as he barked a racking, dry, smoker’s cough. Once the coughing fit left him, he walked to the boardwalk and turned in the direction of the saloon.
A feeling of foreboding attacked Gracie as he disappeared from sight. She hated it when that warning of danger surged through her. More often than not something came of the threatening premonitions that overwhelmed her.
Trying to ignore the dreaded feeling of something terrible to come, she turned back to Melinda and complained, “Sometimes I get mad at that rooster of Sara Bullock’s when he crows so early across the street from the rest home. Right now that rooster would be easier to take then these city noises. I’ll be glad when we get back to Locked Rock and can sleep in our own beds.”
“For Heaven sake, we just got here yesterday afternoon. Give it a chance. The time will
fly by. You’ll see. We’re awake now so we might as well get dressed. Miss Molly will be knocking on our door before you know it to get us to go with her for breakfast.” Melinda said in her soft voice. She stood up and leaned over the other bed in the room. Gently, she shook the sleeping woman’s limp shoulder. “Time to wake up, Libby.”
“Beats me how you can sleep so sound, Libby,” groused Gracie. “There was a ruckus in the alley just now, and you didn’t even hear a thing.”
The bed covers stirred. Libby Hook groaned. She stretched and rubbed her eyes. “You’d get used to city noises if you’d lived in a big enough one for a while,” she snapped sassily.
“Ain’t gonna happen,” Gracie bristled back at her.
As Melinda predicted, in a short time a series of light knocks tapped on the door. Molly Moser Lang called, “Ladies, are you awake?”
“Who’s got the key?” Libby asked, pulling her dress down over her petticoat. Pinching a handful of material on both sides, she shook her skirt the rest of the way to the floor.
“I have,” Gracie said. Reaching over to the night table beside her, she picked up the key and tossed it to Libby. “Good catch.”
Wordlessly, Libby opened the door and stood back. She pushed hairpins farther into the dark gray bun rolled on the back of her neck while she waited for Molly and Moxie to enter.
“Come on in, Miss Molly,” called Melinda. She placed the comb she’d used on her short, gray curls back in her black, cloth bag and tightened the drawstrings.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Gracie deftly whipped three, long, thinning strands of gray hair into a braid while she studied Melinda. The lady’s soft, cheerful voice always sounded too sugary for so early in the morning, but Gracie resisted the urge to say so. Melinda would just laugh at her. She’d say Gracie was all out of sorts because of being woke up so rudely. Now that she had time to think about it, Gracie reckoned Melinda was probably right.
Molly hurried through the door. “Are you ladies ready? We best go down to the dining room before we go over to the courthouse.”
Molly’s short statured friend and permanently, visiting house guest, Moxie McEntire, slid from behind her. “Good morning to ye all,” she greeted. “Let’s go sample city fare for a change. Sure and it tis a fact, I’m ready to eat breakfast.”
“You’re always ready to eat,” groused Gracie, stabbing a hairpin through the two braids she’d crowned round the top of her head.
She straightened her shoulders and flexed her fingers in her lap. She was always glad when she had that chore done. Didn’t take very long holding her arms up in the air to start her shoulders aching. That worried her. How would she get her hair braided when she couldn’t do it herself. The sad thought struck her that maybe she wouldn’t. Her scrappy hair would fly about her face and shoulders, giving her a witchy look. That thought didn’t make her mood any better.
“Well! Sure and ye are a chipper songbird this very morning,” quipped Moxie.
Gracie narrowed her eyes at Moxie.
Before she had a chance to retort, Molly asked, “Is something wrong already? Golly Moses, we just got here?”
“Gracie just woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” Libby criticized.
“I see.” Molly gave that an instant of thought. She decided to put off asking what was the matter with Gracie that early in the morning. “Why don’t we discuss it over breakfast. I agree with Moxie. I’m starving. Let’s go eat.” She headed out the open door.
As the Moser ladies trouped down the hall, Gracie let her mind wonder to what was ahead that day. She wanted to see justice done as far as Mavis Jordan was concerned. After all,
she did commit the murder of their neighbor, Rachel Simpson, across the street from them in Locked Rock, Iowa the summer before. That wicked woman deserved whatever punishment she received from the law. Actually, Gracie thought she’d look forward to coming to the county seat to testify at Mavis’s trial. After a long, winter, the idea of doing something different besides sitting in front of the parlor fireplace all day seemed exciting to her at the time, but sleeping in this fancy hotel and putting up with all the finery that went with it hadn’t entered her mind. She was definitely out of her element. Now that the time had come, all she wanted to do was head back to Locked Rock as soon as she could. She wanted to be in familiar surroundings, with people she knew and to sleep in her own bed. No other bed at night felt as good as a fellow’s own bed.
Walking behind the other ladies, Gracie descended on the wide, scarlet carpeted stairs to the lobby. She looked down over the women’s bobbing heads in front of her at the vast space. This county seat hotel, for sure, was grander than Molly Lang’s Moser Mansion Rest Home For Women. She never thought she’d see the day she’d be staying in a building fancier than that place.
Forked shadows flickered across the wall beside her. Out of the corner of her eyes, Gracie caught the movements. She stopped, placed a hand on the beefy, oak railing to steady herself and looked up. Above her dangled two enormous chandeliers trimmed with shimmering, crystal bells. The lighting glowed through the glass bells, reflecting prisms that played off the lobby’s dome shaped, gilded wood ceiling. The prisms danced in brilliant, pastel shades of a rainbow like one that dressed up the sky after a quick, spring shower.
An urge of another sort hit her. What she wouldn’t give to be out on her farm on an April morning after a spring shower settled the dust, smelling the crisp, cleansed air. Instead, she was stuck amid dressed up strangers scurrying who knows where with never a how you do to anyone. In the next second, Gracie consoled herself that she wasn’t missing much on the farm right then. So far the first of April hadn’t felt much like spring. The days stayed stubbornly cold and dreary with the threat of a late snowstorm in the air.
Gracie surveyed the lobby. She wondered when the last time was she had seen so many people in one place. Maybe it was at Molly and Orie’s wedding last October. Though it could have been that ill fated barn dance after the wedding that Molly made her go to. Plenty of people turned up there. Even Millard Sokol showed up. Gracie shook her head. She decided she best not think about that wedding dance and her old beau if she wanted to get over her bad mood any time soon.
The hotel bustled with wall to wall people. A line formed at the reception desk. Dressed in a black, broadcloth suit and white shirt, the same clerk, that helped Molly yesterday afternoon, accepted returned keys or handed them back out from the wooden pegs on the wall behind him to other people checking in. A nervous fellow, his eyes darted around the lobby, seeming to miss nothing that went on around him. All the while, he talked to the hotel guests as if they had his full attention.
Over in one corner, people waited in line for their turn to ride up in the bronze elevator. A load of passengers behind the barred door rose and slowly disappeared from sight. That wasn’t to Gracie’s liking to be packed tight like a mess of catfish on a stringer in that hot cage. Besides she’d rather be doing the moving on the stairs with some elbow room instead of riding in that elevator with a cavernous hole under her. The stairs felt safer to her.
Covered with a stack of newspapers, a shiny, mahogany table, with bowed legs and gilded clawed feet, set between two large, crimson sofas in the middle of the lobby. Both sofas were already filled with people, reading the Cedar Valley newspaper. Glancing over one woman’s shoulder as she past by, Gracie made out the bold headlines, “Mavis Jordan Trial Starts Today - April 8, 1904”.