I’ve never done one of those “Tuesday Teasers” I see flood my inbox on Tuesdays, but in an attempt to keep up with the Joneses, I’ve decided to do one!
A little set up:
Allison, the heroine is traveling via stagecoach from Boston to Santa Fe to meet her betrothed. Unfortunately, she’s having a little stomach trouble (maybe she should have taken that Nexium Bob mentioned yesterday…) and got off the stagecoach to buy some peppermint when they stopped to ask for directions:
The unmistakable sound of a husk broom scraping a wooden floor stopped Allison mid-step. She looked to the right and relief coursed through her. The little room to her right looked exactly like the general stores she’d seen in Missouri.
“Sir,” Allison called, stepping inside his store.
A graying man with a tanned and wrinkled face looked up from where he’d been sweeping the floor and blinked.
Odd. “Sir, I’d like to buy some peppermint, please.”
“How did you get here?” he asked, his gray, bushy brows knitting together.
“On the stage.” She pointed in the vague direction of the stagecoach.
“The stage?” Frowning, he set his broom in the corner, walked to the window positioned at the back of his store, peeked his head through the hole, and looked in one direction, then the other. “I don’t see no stage.”
“My peppermint,” she prompted.
The man came to stand behind his counter, then crossed his arms and quirked a brow. “And what will you give me for it?”
He chuckled, then reached for a little glass jar of mints on the shelf beside him. “Yer in luck. I have fifty cent’s worth left.”
“Very well, I’ll take a nickel’s worth, please.”
“No trade.” The old man shook his head and set the jar of peppermints down on the counter in front of him.
“What do you mean, no trade?”
He shrugged. “I mean I ain’t sellin’ ya a nickel’s worth. That’s what I mean.”
“Because I ain’t. The price is fifty cents.”
“Fifty cents for all of it?”
“Very well, I don’t want all of it. I just want five.”
“All right, ya can have five—for fifty cents.”
“That’s thievery,” she exclaimed. Were she in Boston, this wouldn’t be a problem. She’d just pay the swindler his price, then remember never to return to his store again. But this wasn’t Boston, and she had only eight dollars and fifteen cents that had to pay for all of her meals and lodging until she reunited with Nicholas in Santa Fe next week. She couldn’t afford to spend fifty cents on a few mints.
The old man shrugged. “Man’s got to make his livin’ somehow.”
“And stealing is your method, is it?”
“Selling,” he corrected, idly spinning the jar of her much-needed peppermint in front of him—taunting her with it. “I’m a trader, ma’am. You give me what I want and I give you what you want. Seems an honest profession to me.”
“Unless what I want to give doesn’t match what you think I ought to give. Then you refuse to trade, thinking I’ll relent and agree to pay that horrendous price you’re asking. But that’s where you’re wrong. I won’t.”
The shopkeeper shrugged and, much to the dismay of Allison’s lurching stomach, put the jar of peppermint back onto the shelf along the back wall by his window. “Say, isn’t that the stage ya said ya rode in on?”
Allison craned her neck to see out his window just in time to glimpse the coach she’d come in on rolling down the road.
Terror shot through her, and pushing aside the queasiness that was threatening to overtake her and reduce her to nothing more than a boneless heap, Allison ran out of the back of the store, along the row of rooms, past the jail where the shirtless, leering man was licking his lips and making kissing noises at her, past a man on a horse, and in the direction of her coach. “Wait! Wait!” she yelled as loudly as she could.
A cloud of dust filled the air in front of her, but she didn’t stop her pursuit.
Lungs burning and eyes stinging from the dust, she ran after the stage. “Stop!”
But the stage kept rolling down the dirt road, heedless of her commands. The only sign that someone had even heard her cries for help was the sight of a hand—likely Mary’s—as it reached out the window and waved to her.
Desperate and tired, but not going to give up without a fight, Allison bent down and grabbed a stone from the middle of the dirt road and hurled it at the stage. She missed. She scooped up another and continued her run after the coach, waiting for just the right moment to throw it.
Energy waning, Allison threw the rock.
Breathing heavily, Allison stared with wide eyes as the rock flew through the air. With every second that passed, the rock got farther from Allison and closer to the stagecoach. And then… And then… Then, it hit…the ground.
Allison sank to the dusty, rocky ground, defeated. Tears she’d somehow managed to suppress until now filled her eyes as silent sobs wracked her body.
“Don’t be so glum. That was an excellent throw,” a stranger drawled from the direction of the commissary. “Keep practicing and I’m sure you’ll be good enough to join the first official rounders team when we start one here at Fort Gibson. We’ll be able to beat the boys at Fort Supply in short order with you on the team.”
His casual tone and glib remarks were enough to spark her anger. Taking to her feet and steeling herself to look every bit the Boston lady her mother had raised her to be, Allison inclined her chin and said, “You may find this laughable, but I do not.”
His easy grin didn’t fade a bit. “I’m sure that if you were me, you’d find it quite humorous, indeed.”
She pursed her lips at the way he mimicked her accent and speech. She shook her head. He was a southerner, likely one who could not be confused for a gentleman. To him, she was nothing but someone to make sport of. Not that she cared overmuch. He could have his fun at her expense now. That was fine. She’d be gone from this abominable little town soon enough. She just needed to get her fare from the shopkeep and book a seat on the next stage.
“I’m not the most educated man in town, but I don’t think you’re going to catch them by walking in the wrong direction,” the insufferable man said, falling into stride beside her.
It was moments like this Allison wished she had her parasol. This infuriating man might benefit from a tap on the head.