Seated beside him, next to the steamy window, was a young woman who was there when he’d boarded at Butte. His several attempts to start a conversation with her had died aborning. She had smiled politely, but her brief responses to his comments didn’t encourage him to press on.
He’d had a run of bad luck with the sweet-smelling gent across the aisle, who had also boarded at Butte. By the time the train stopped for supper in Missoula, the man, who had introduced himself as Leon Allison, had won a dollar from him, matching for two-bit pieces.
Orchard was curious about his occupation. With his fancy clothes, rakish hat, and as handsome as he was, he could have been a thespian. However, his muscular, work-worn hands seemed to hint at a hardier profession. However, this wasn’t something one asked on such short acquaintance, so he’d have to live with his curiosity.
Above the train’s constant mechanical clatter, rose the occasional raucous laughter of the four roughly dressed men seated several rows away, smoking stogies and passing a bottle from one bearded mouth to another. Strikebreakers, bound for the Coeur d’Alene, Orchard surmised, needing the whiskey to stiffen their spines for the dangerous game they’d chosen to play.
The region’s newspapers had been full of the atrocities being committed in the Rocky Mountain mining camps by both sides in the ongoing struggle between mine operators and union miners. Greed versus need, Orchard thought; need epitomized by the dying woman in the facing seat. She was probably the wife of some poor stiff who was mucking out stopes ten hours a day for three dollars or less.
Through half-closed eyes, Orchard glanced sidelong at the young woman next to him. Not a great beauty, but not unattractive either. She had a plump fullness of face and figure which might delay the premature onset of old age which inflicted itself on the women of the mining camps, be they whores or homemakers. A widow perhaps, he speculated. His eyes drifted to her ungloved hands, lying ring-free and capable-looking in her lap.
A loud clanking of couplings announced that the engineer was braking for a curve. The smelly little boy, who had fallen asleep, opened his eyes to stare dully at the steamed-over window.
“Are we stopping, Momma?”
Orchard’s alarm clock jangled stridently at six-thirty, which was, by some miracle, the correct time. He rolled quickly out of bed and by seven had completed his ablutions and was dressed in overalls and a rough sweater. Before he left the room he gathered up the two apothecary bottles on his wash stand,wrapped in a copy of the Spokane newspaper.
With the lethal parcel under his arm, he left the hotel and walked up Mill Street at a leisurely pace, enjoying the fresh mountain air and the quiet of an early Sunday morning. While others with Christ in their hearts would trek to the little churches in Kellogg and Wallace, he would be doing the devil’s business, but that bothered him no more than any other job for which he’d be paid. Right or wrong didn’t enter into the equation when it came to union work. He accepted the assignments without question and was paid accordingly. Life was good, for the task at hand would command substantial remuneration…
When Orchard opened his eyes he was conscious of only two things; a terrible burning in his left side and a strong, unpleasant smell. He tried to pull himself up to see where he was but the pain drove him back into the pile of straw he was lying on.
He rolled his head from side to side to assess his surroundings. He was in some kind of rough shed made out of weathered boards haphazardly nailed together. Afternoon sun penetrated cracks in the structure. He appeared to have found his way into someone’s pig pen but that didn’t explain the blanket that was covering him. He raised it to look at his wound and found himself heavily bound with strips of muslin bed sheet. Some blood had seeped through but he didn’t seem to be gushing.