In March of 1901, the Durango train blew one long whistle as it chugged into snow-covered Silverton. Young minister Jonathan Farley analyzed the oily-haired gambler running his finger along the newspaper lines describing how Choynski knocked out Johnson in the third round. A faded green silk waistcoat under a pink dress jacket with shiny elbows hinted that he was on a losing streak. Farley wanted to save him from the gambling life. He followed the finger over the page again. Familiar with the game himself, he smiled at the skills of the smaller boxer. The gambler caught him reading, jerked the paper down and grunted, “Thou shalt not steal.”
Those words warmed Farley’s face as he looked out at the yellow platform where a small lady sat on the bench, black pigtails poking from her bonnet, gripping a red-yarn leash on a squirrel which she was rocking like a doll. He grabbed his two bags and stepped into the aisle. The steam brakes jerked him forward. The gambler spilled his stuff in the floor and cursed.
Farley stepped down from the coach and smiled at the girl. The gambler shoved him from behind and rushed toward her. She squinted her eyes and wagged her finger at him. “I know a secret.” The gambler pushed her aside. “Shut up, idiot!” Farley squeezed his fists, then looked to the sky and released them.
The gambler’s push caused her to drop her squirrel. She waved her hands and screamed. Farley stepped on the yarn so she could scoop up her pet. She hummed to it, then she wrinkled her nose and blushed at Farley. She opened her black eyes wide and put her finger to her lips. “I know a secret.”
“I believe you,” Farley said. He patted her bonnet and turned to help a matron and her daughter dismount the coach. He picked up his bags and followed them in.
The gambler was demanding a telegram from the tall, black-haired station agent, who explained in a Boston accent that it hadn’t arrived yet, shuffling through papers to prove it.
A big man with a big star and a big mustache stepped up to Farley. His voice was deep and sweet and droned like Texas. “Pastor, I’m Sheriff Waters, one of your parishioners. Welcome to Silverton. I’ll help you get settled.”
“Thanks, Sheriff.” A deacon, probably. Farley pointed to the counter. “Let me send a telegram and I’ll be right with you.”
He held up a finger to the agent. “Can you send a telegram to Santa Fe for me, sir?” He smiled broadly and offered a handshake. “Jonathan Farley, new pastor of the Congregational Church.” He curled his finger. “Let me invite you attend.” He turned up his palms. “You can call me Rev. Farley if you like.”
“I don’t like,” came the Boston reply. Farley felt the agent scanning his black suit. “Nobody is reverend as far as I’m concerned.” He dashed into his office and came out brandishing a well-worn Bible. “I’ve read your book many times, Farley. Great literature—of the first water, I must admit.” He held up both hands. “However. Along with many contradictions.”
Farley glanced around at the dozen people in the station, smiled at the sheriff and said, “Well, Mr. Waters, we may have our first convert here.”
“Or I might convert you, sir.” The clerk offered his ink-stained hand. “Prometheus Dutch, non-believer, station agent and part-time detective. Ask Sheriff Waters about my skills.”
Waters spoke in his baritone voice. “That’s right, Dutch. You’ve helped me on several cases.”
The girl zig-zagged her squirrel across the board floor. “Promo? I have a secret.”
Dutch hugged her like a big brother. “Eudora, my dear, I’ll be with you in a moment.” He turned to Farley. “Contradictions, I say.” He snapped his long fingers. “Contradictions.”
Farley smiled. “I’ll take your debate. Let’s duke it out.”
The face of Dutch dropped. “Duke? Not the famous . . . Duke Farley? Have I read something about you?”
Oops! Parry and deflect. “Ha-ha! I get that a lot, Mr. Dutch.” He rubbed his knuckles. “Let’s ring the bell and start on your contradictions.” He closed the door on those memories, focusing on the present conversation.
Eudora picked up her squirrel. “Promo. Listen to me, Promo.” She tugged the brown garter on his sleeve. “I have a secret.”
He hugged her and swept the hair from her face. “I know you do, sis. Just a minute.”
“Okay,” he said, “let’s begin at Matthew chapter five. I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” He lowered the Bible and focused his black eyes. “Do you believe that, Farley?”
Instinctively Farley clenched his fists, then looked at the ceiling and released them. “Yes, I do. And I try to practice the teaching myself.”
Eudora tugged at Dutch. He kissed her forehead and held her at his hip. “And now, Farley, let’s go to John chapter two, where Jesus made a scourge of small cords and drove the moneychangers out of the temple, poured out the money and overthrew the tables.” He smiled and said in a slow Boston accent, “Do you believe that also, my friend?”
Farley caught the sheriff watching the debate and stroking his mustache. “I do, Mr. Dutch. And I see no contradiction.”
Dutch slapped the Bible. “So the same kindly Savior who told us to just take it on the chin is now beating up those with whom he disagrees?”
“The second case is about justice and not about protecting his own ego.” He heard Waters grunt.
“A secret, Promo.” Eudora stamped her feet. “A secret.”
“A moment, sis.” Dutch smiled at Farley lifted his visor and nodded at each of the people in the station. At the scowling face of the gambler his face dropped. He led with his wrist as he gestured to Farley. “Do you hit people, sir?”
Not any more. Farley felt his face blanch. He swallowed. “I have done so in the past, but I try not to.”
The telegraph clattered. Dutch pulled his station visor down tight and stepped into the office.
Waters ran his fingers around the brim of his Stetson. “Let me know when you’re ready, pastor. The buggy is outside.”
“Certainly, sheriff.” He nodded. “Is there a Mrs. Waters?”
Waters appeared be observing the bulge in the green silk vest pocket. The gambler was massaging it. Waters spoke sideways to Farley. “No. She died six years ago. I just have a daughter now, Rowena.” He appeared to be guessing about the contents of that pocket. He smiled. “About your age, I think.”
Farley heard himself inhale. Being single had limited his opportunities in the ministry. Most people held their daughters away from him. Now it sounded like Waters was offering Rowena. Be careful.
Dutch came out waving a telegram. “Baker? Nimrod Baker?”
So that was the gambler’s name. He pushed through and snatched the telegram. Pulling out a coin, he pressed it into Dutch’s palm.
Eudora grabbed her squirrel close and stage-whispered, “Promo. I have secret, Promo.”
Farley remembered he needed the telegraph service. “Mr. Dutch, how much to send a message to Santa Fe?”
Farley fumbled for his wallet but came up empty. “I seem to have misplaced . . .”
“A secret!” Eudora screamed.
All eyes turned to her. Farley could feel the anger exploding through her.
Dutch knelt down. “What is it, sis? What’s your secret?”
She pointed at Nimrod. “That man. He took it from —“ she point to Farley, “THAT man.”
She tucked the squirrel under her arm and, like a sheriff’s deputy, walked straight up to Nimrod. She wagged her finger. “Give it back!”
Nimrod slapped her to the ground. “Get out of the way, idiot!”
Farley covered the distance in three strides. Nimrod raised his fists, but Farley shot an uppercut to his chin. The man grew taller for a second, then fell back with a bang, unconscious.
Eudora jumped forward, reached into that bulging pocket and brought out the wallet. She stood up and shoved it at Farley. “A secret! I have a secret.”
Waters slapped Nimrod awake and pulled him to his feet. “We have a new jail, sir. You’ll like it. Rowena is making dumplings today.”
Farley knelt and hugged Eudora. She blushed at him at said, “You’re handsome.” She kissed his cheek. “And you believed me.”
“Yes, I did.” He stood and delivered her to the side of Dutch, who raised his eyebrows knowingly.
Farley laid a hand on his shoulder. “Your sister can keep a secret.” He patted her head, then squeezed his shoulder. “I hope you can also, Mr. Dutch.”
“It’s a family trait, my friend. And desperately needed in our situation.” Dutch shook hands with him. Farley felt him squeeze. “Reverend, welcome to Silverton—a town with many secrets.”