The Pinkerton investigator August Lepke finds an assignment in Alaska to be more than he expected. A serial killer would have been bad enough. He also has to deal with suffragettes, native policemen, political powerhouses, Austrian noblewomen, English journalists, belligerent immigrant cold miners, saboteurs—all of this against the backdrop of America’s greatest source of gold just as the nation is on the verge of entering World War I.
In 1915, seasoned Pinkerton investigator August Lepke is sent to Alaska Territory to “box up” captured serial killer Edward Krause, a job that should be routine. But once in Juneau he encounters complications, starting with suffragette Florence Malone and her shady, politically powerful father, Jack. The Tlingit policeman, George Mak-we, is nothing like the Red Indians Lepke had expected, not to mention the college-educated Filipino grocery clerk, Begay Santo. And how do the newly widowed flirtatious Austrian noblewoman Amanda Ganbor and the English journalist Arnold Williams fit into the picture?
There is more going on than August had supposed. To start with, numerous attempts on his life make clear that Krause can reach far beyond the bars of his cell in the federal courthouse. The belligerent European immigrant miners have short fuses—so do their dynamite charges—and seem to have at least one saboteur among them.
The mines of the Juneau Gold Belt help fill U.S. coffers and the vast Treadwell Complex dominates the region in production and cutting-edge engineering. Its loss could jeopardize the United States’ ability to enter the Great War enveloping Europe.
Gold mines can be murdered as well as men.
Duncan Canal, Alaska Territory,
October 24, 1915 — Sunday late afternoon
Captain Jim Plunkett felt proud of the Lue, his little twenty-four-foot gas boat.
She counted as both his family and the sum of his worldly possessions.
His passenger sat quietly as the Lue motored down the narrow channel. Heavily forested fingers stretched out from Woodsky Island as if to pluck an unwary boat from Duncan Canal.
Early rain had tapered off and southeast Alaska lay swathed in misty rainbows hiding the mountaintops.
Since building her at Juneau City back in ‘12, Plunkett had made his living chartering the Lue out to hunters, miners, and the occasional tourist. The large cabin offered bunk space for four and two more could sleep comfortably on the floor. The small galley proved adequate and the table running down the centerline could seat six in a pinch.
This charter seemed somewhat stranger than most.
“I demand complete secrecy, Captain,” the big man with black hair and mustache told him two weeks ago. “You are to tell no one of the nature of this trip.”
“Mr. Krause,” he had replied. “Since I don’t know anything about this charter, how could I tell anyone about it?”
He scratched his jaw through a salt-and-pepper beard as he thought about the man’s odd manner. At fifty-one, Jim Plunkett had almost two decades in the Territory. During that time he had met some outlandish characters, but this fellow took the prize.
He stretched and glanced over his shoulder at his passenger. The man sat at the small chart table, face shaded by his wide-brimmed hat, fondling his revolver. They were supposed to be searching for a specific location on the shore and the fellow wasn’t even looking out the damned window.
“Mr. Krause, I’m afraid we’ll miss your landing while you’re not watching. I don’t know where we’re going, you do.”
“Illusion, merely illusion,” the dark man said, not looking up from his weapon.
“It doesn‘t matter, Captain. How much would it take to buy this boat?”
“Buy the Lue? Why, she’s not for sale! I wouldn’t sell her for love nor money!” he said indignantly.
“What if you didn’t have a choice?” Krause asked quietly. His eyes gleamed up from his shadowed face.
Plunkett stiffened while a wave of fear washed through him. His mouth went dry. They were miles from the nearest town. The Olympic mine was a few miles away but at this time of year it might be deserted. Sometimes people just vanished in this part of the world. He didn’t want to be one of them.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he said carefully.
“What I mean, Captain Plunkett, is you may sell her to me or I will simply take her.” The revolver in his hand pointed at Plunkett’s chest.
Stay calm, he told himself. Give him what he wishes. The authorities can sort it all out later.
“All right, since you put it that way. She’s worth three-thousand-five-hundred dollars in any man’s language. I won’t sell her for a cent less.” He stared down at the man and felt a surge of relief when the revolver thumped down on the chart table.
“I’ll give you a draft for the full amount drawn on a bank in Seattle. You must promise me you’ll go outside and not come back. A man can start a new life with thirty-five hundred dollars down in the States.”
There was something almost hypnotic about the way his eyes pierced Plunkett’s being as his words sought to chain the older man’s mind.
“Do we have an agreement?” Edward Krause asked.
“Yah, you bet,” Plunkett said instantly. This fellow must think him a fool!
“Stop the boat and drop anchor, Captain,” Krause ordered.
Plunkett shut the throttle down but didn’t switch off the battery. It might be easier to catch this thief if he had a dead battery. The throbbing engine went silent and the boat slowed, drifting with the incoming tide. He went out on deck and lowered the anchor carefully over the side.
The painted chain gave way to manila rope as the anchor disappeared into the dark water.
Out of habit he counted the knots tied at fathom-lengths in the rope. At twenty-one-and-a-half, the anchor hit bottom. He set it, grunting a little with the effort, and went back into the cabin.
Krause pulled a sheet of paper from his inside breast pocket and handed it to Plunkett.
“Here’s your draft. Now where are the boat papers?”
“You’ll have to move, they’re in the strong box.”
“You tell me how to get them. After all, this boat is mine.”
Krause’s smile infuriated Plunkett. He thought longingly about the .38 Colt revolver waiting in the strong box with his papers. Well, the fellow had the drop on him anyway, better to make the best of it.
“Sure, good idea. Here’s the key.” His hand dropped inside his coat pocket.
The weapon suddenly pointed at him again.
“Make sure it’s a small key, Captain Plunkett,” Krause said, pulling the hammer back.
Slowly Plunkett pulled a key from his pocket and held it out to the man. You’ll pay for this, Mr. Krause, he vowed silently. “The key, sir.”
“Excellent. Now where is the box?”
“Under the chart table,” he pointed toward the wall, “there’s three small braces, see them?
Now pull down on the center one.”
A panel opened outward revealing a strong box built into the cabin wall. The brass keyhole caught the light, gleaming in the dim recess.
“Very ingenious, Captain. My hat is off to you.” Krause quickly opened the small door and reached into the box.
When he pulled the .38 out he carefully examined it before looking up again.
”You weren’t really going to try something, were you, Captain?” The words grated through the black mustache, muddy eyes bored into Plunkett.
“I’m not that big a fool, Mr. Krause. Now let me sign the papers over to you.”
Krause sifted through the papers quickly and selected the boat documentation. He reached into the valise he brought with him and pulled out two sheets of paper. He put everything on the chart table, the blank paper on top of the others.
“Sign this as if it were the boat papers,” he commanded.
“So I’ll be able to compare the signatures. In fact, sign both of these sheets.” Krause stood and moved to the other side of the cabin, one revolver in his belt, the other hanging from his hand.
The bastard didn’t miss a trick, Plunkett reflected. He hadn’t even considered sabotaging his own signature.
“All right.” He sat down at the chart table and opened the ink well. He signed both sheets of paper and then the documentation. He replaced the pen and ink and stood.
“You’ll see they are all the same. There is no deception here on my part.”
“Of course not, Captain. Now let’s get the skiff launched, we have a long way to go.”
“We’re going over to the mine?”
“No, not the mine. Petersburg. We are going to Petersburg, and you are doing the rowing.”
A creeping fear kept him silent as he lowered the fourteen-foot skiff from its davits into the water. Hell, he couldn’t row twenty-two miles. Doctor Eames had told him his heart couldn’t take a lot of sustained stress.
“Slow down, Jim, or you’ll make an early grave,” echoed through his mind.
“I’ve agreed to everything you said. Why can’t we take the Lue to Petersburg?”
“She’s mine now, and I want to leave her here,” Krause said gruffly. “Now get in the boat.”
Plunkett carefully lowered himself into the skiff, his hands beginning to shake. This fellow had twenty years and fifteen pounds on him, why the hell couldn’t he row?
Krause stepped down swiftly onto the rear bench and settled comfortably.
“You may proceed, Captain. Next stop is Petersburg, then we might go on to Fort Wrangell.”
“Musta been in the army. No civilian calls it that.” Plunkett took the first pull on the oars.
“I even made sergeant and went to fight Chinamen,” Krause said. “Row a little faster, I need to be in Petersburg by ten tonight.”
Captain Jim Plunkett quickened his exertions and felt invisible fingers tighten in his chest.
Maybe if I just pace myself. He began perspiring heavily as a light fog settled in his head.
The skiff moved away from the silently waiting Lue in the quiet, misty afternoon.
October 30, 1915 —Saturday morning
Edward Krause, mingling with the crowd off the Juneau ferry in the cold, relentless rain, pulled his hat down over his eyes.
The less attention he received today, the better. He patted down his dyed mustache, keeping his gaze on the ground as he trudged up the steps to the plank street connecting Douglas with Treadwell.
He pulled the slicker up to completely cover his dark wool suit. The steady thunder of the stamp mills rose to a tangible, physical presence the closer one got to Treadwell. Krause smiled.
He’d worked at the Treadwell crusher four years ago. Then he’d gotten smart.
In those four years the mining complex had grown even larger. Now the company touted it as the largest low-grade gold mine in the whole world. At any rate, he couldn’t remember the location of his destination.
“Excuse me, friend,” he said to a passing miner. “Can you tell me how to get to the 700
Mill foreman’s office?”
“Sure. See th’ big water tower? Well, his office’s jist below it one street,” the miner said, staring hard at him.
“Thank you.” Krause continued down the plank street into Treadwell. As he approached the office, his slouch disappeared and he pushed his hat back so his face was clearly visible.
“The wolf assumes yet a different guise,” he muttered to himself.
A medium-sized man wearing spectacles looked up from his high desk when the door opened.
“May I help you?”
“I need to see Foreman King.”
“And you are?” Spectacles asked.
“Miller. I got a subpoena. This is a legal matter.”
Spectacles stood up, suddenly much more polite. “One moment, Marshal. I’ll go tell him you’re here.”
“You just do that,” Krause said quietly to the room as Spectacles disappeared through a door boasting a leaded glass window.
A tall, sandy haired, slightly built, well-dressed man appeared immediately. Spectacles hung behind him like a caboose.
“I’m Foreman King, Marshal. What can I do for you?”
“Is William Christie here today? I need to see him.”
“Why, I believe he should be down at the change house right now, getting ready for his shift. Check that, Morgan,” he ordered over his shoulder.
“Yes, sir,” Spectacles Morgan said, hurriedly opening a ledger. His finger moved down the page and stopped. “Yes, sir, you’re correct. Bill Christie is on the next shift.”
“Would you please go ask him to come here?” King asked.
“Right away, sir.” Morgan grabbed a slicker and pulled it on as he went out into the rain.
King stared at the big man.
“Are you new in the district? I thought I knew all the deputy marshals.”
Krause nodded. “Name’s Miller. They keep me moving around a lot. But I worked here at the Treadwell Crusher back in ’11.”
Morgan came through the door followed closely by a man in rough, heavy miner’s clothing.
“You wanted to see me, Mr. King?”
“This gentleman does, Bill.”
William Christie looked at Krause.
“What can I do for you?” His voice carried a soft Scottish burr.
Krause handed Christie an envelope.
“I have a summons for you to appear in court. You will have to accompany me to Juneau right away.”
Bill Christie examined the document for a moment before handing it back to Krause. He looked at King and shrugged.
“Guess I best go get it over with.”
“I need you to sign this as proof of service,” Krause said. He laid the summons on the edge of King’s desk, and casually placed the envelope over the typewritten portion, leaving only a large blank area free for the signature. Christie signed his name.
“Christie, why don’t you go change into your street clothes if you’re going to appear in court,” King suggested.
Christie nodded and left the office.
King studied Krause as if memorizing everything about him. “Will he be back in time to work part of his shift today?”
“Sure. This should only take about an hour and a half. I got a launch waiting down at the Douglas wharf.”
“Well, Deputy Miller, I have work to attend to. Mr. Christie will be back in a moment. If you’ll excuse me?”
“Thank you for your time, Foreman King,” the big man said. He hooked a stool with his foot, pulled it away from the wall and sat down on it to wait for his man. Morgan resumed scratching at his ledger.
Minutes later the door opened and Christie stuck his head in.
“All right then, I’m ready to go.”
They walked down the wide plank street built on pilings above the beach. Treadwell consisted of a complex of four gold mines sitting side-by-side on the edge of Douglas Island.
The mines stretched for three and a half miles south from the town of Douglas. If one tallied all the people living on the island the number would be in excess of three thousand, making it the population center of Alaska Territory.
An ore train ground past on narrow gauge rails. The din of the stamp mills and the pounding rain made conversation difficult so the men didn’t bother. Outside the Treadwell Club, domain of the bachelor miners with its extensive services and stores, stood two women sharing an umbrella.
“That’s my sister-in-law!” Christie shouted, pointing.
Krause nodded, and averted his face as they neared the women.
“William!” the smaller of the two shouted, pronouncing the name as “Villiam.” “You’re
‘sposed to be at work. Where are you going?”
Without losing stride, he shouted back, “Juneau!” and waved in passing.
As they neared the wharf they saw the Island Ferry Company’s new gas boat, Gent, chugging away toward Juneau. Krause nodded to a green-painted gas boat tied at the wharf.
As soon as they boarded, Krause started the engine and cast off the lines.
He put the boat in reverse, abruptly it jerked back and sideswiped another boat with two men on it.
“Watch where you’re going, mister!” shouted one.
Ignoring them entirely, Krause piloted the boat out into Gastineau Channel. Christie sat on a bench in the small cabin and looked out the oval window.“Pretty fast with women, aren’t you, Billy?” Krause said accusingly.
“Wh-what are you talking about?” Christie looked at the big man, blinking rapidly.
“Took up with that widow so damn fast that the man she really deserved didn’t have a chance to ask the time of day. You were Johnny-on-the-spot for fair.” Krause glanced out the window and altered course slightly.
Christie’s face went red. “My wife spent an entire year in mourning before she’d talk to any man. And I met her at the home of friends. This is quite infamous, Deputy Miller. And you may be sure I’ll let Marshal Bishop know what I think of his staff!”
“Yeah,” Krause said, ignoring the indignant outburst. “I figured it’d take her longer than that to get over John’s death. That’s why I didn’t let her know how I felt for so long after I shot him. You and Celia have been married for three weeks now, isn’t it?”
William Christie suddenly saw the cocked .32 revolver in the deputy’s hand and gasped like a fish out of water.
“I hoped she’d change her mind. I just can’t stand the thought of her with someone else, with you. Y’see, Billy, I’m a funny man that way. It always makes me angry when people get in the way of what I want.” His voice dropped to a whisper as he stared into Christie’s fear-wide eyes. “And I always get what I want!
A deafening explosion filled the closed cabin. The bullet smashed into William Christie’s chest and he fell back against the bulkhead. Stunned and overcome by shock, he sagged down the smooth wood, unable to move.
Krause glanced out the window again before turning back to his victim.
“This isn’t anything personal, I’d kill any man who had her.”
Christie, struggled, tried to form a word.
Krause shot him again.
As the body rolled off the bench and hit the deck, Krause changed course and headed north up the channel past Juneau. Once in mid-channel, he tied the wheel down. Then he reached under the bench and dragged out three twenty-pound rocks crisscrossed with rope.
He tested the ropes before tying the rocks to the body. After the corpse was firmly anchored, Krause untied the wheel, made a slight course correction, and lit a cheroot. He stared out the window.
“The boys in the organization are going to give me old Ned for this one, Celia. The things I do for you,” he said conversationally. “Now if you’ll just give me a little more time than before, I’ll have it all set up and we can be married. Well, maybe not get married right at first. We’d want to be sure of each other.”
The boat slowly passed Juneau City on the mainland off the starboard side. Krause puffed on his cheroot and flicked ashes down on the dead, confused eyes of William Christie.
“Crab food, Billy. You just grew up to be crab food.”
Al Sarby pushed into Foreman King’s office.
“Hey, Morgan, there was a big guy lookin’ for this office earlier on, did he find it?”
“Yes, he did. Marshal Miller had a summons for Bill Christie to appear in court in Juneau.
Bill was supposed to be back to finish off his shift, but he hasn’t shown up yet.”
“Marshal Miller? Who’s that?”
“The man you talked to, Al. The one asking directions.”
“Miller, hell. That was Ed Krause. He worked here in the crusher back in ‘10 or ‘11. He ain’t no marshal neither; he’s some sort of socialist.”
Morgan frowned at the miner for a moment.
“Maybe you should tell Foreman King about this, Al. Have a seat, I’ll be right back.”
November 4, 1915—Thursday morning
Lepke, come in here, please.” Superintendent Todd felt nearly paternal pride as his best operative walked across the busy bullpen toward him. Lepke’s medium frame carried no extra weight, and the sandy-haired man’s step resembled that of a cat.
“What is it, Superintendent Todd?” Lepke asked as the door shut behind him.
“Have a seat, August.” Todd settled his beefy frame comfortably onto his protesting chair then leaned casually on the cluttered desk. For a moment he regarded the bright-eyed man, relishing what he had to say.
“The Bureau of Investigation just telephoned. Tompkins is down with influenza and probably won’t be up and about for a few weeks.”
Lepke’s eyes showed mild interest. “That’s unfortunate. Why did they phone us about it?”
“Because they’ve been asked to investigate a kidnapping up in Alaska. Now they’ve asked us to handle the work,” Todd said with a grin. “Once again the Pinkerton Detective Agency pulls the federal fat out of the fire.”
“Ah! Now understanding I am. I mean, I understand. Am I to investigate the incident?”
“Absolutely. After the job you did on that dynamite bombing, this should be a breeze.
They’ve already identified the kidnapper and have a territory-wide manhunt going on right now.
But this could be a bit complicated legally.”
“Officially, we are being retained by a consortium of organizations; the Juneau Masons, the Oddfellows, and the Treadwell Mining Company. They want us to produce the missing man, or bring his murderer to justice. But because this Krause fellow impersonated a U.S. Marshal, there were federal statutes violated during the kidnapping.”
“Which is why the Bureau of Investigation was requested,” Lepke said.
“Exactly. The Bureau said they would ask the marshal’s office in Juneau to cooperate with us in every way, so there shouldn’t be any problem. Go in and pay your respects when you arrive. You know the drill.”
“I will do my best, Superintendent.”
Todd grinned. This was the only man he’d ever met who had been recommended for the Medal of Honor. Over the past seven years Lepke had proven to be a flawless operative.
“I know you will, August. By the way, your English is excellent. You’ve become fluent and accomplished.”
Lepke blushed slightly. “I still make many mistakes. When I get excited or tired I slip into my old speech patterns. Thank you for noticing my progress.”
“Sure. Go down to accounting and get your advance. I want you out of here tonight.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll send you a postal card.”
“You just send reports twice a week and I’ll be satisfied.”
“Don’t forget to pack your long johns. I understand they have real winters up there.”
Lepke grinned and waved as he left the office. Todd watched him walk across the bullpen.
I wish all my operatives were that diligent.
Juneau City, A.T.,
November 6, 1915 —Friday morning
iona, have you seen my button hook?”
The contralto voice drifted down the carpeted hall.
“Yes, Florence,” came the slow answer. “I’m using it.”
Florence Malone, completely dressed except for shoes, padded quickly to her sister’s room and entered the open door without knocking. The cozy, floral-papered space lay ankle-deep with Fiona’s clothing.
“Fiona Malone. I told you to ask before using my things! You never put them back where you find them. Besides, you have a button hook of your own.”
“I’ve misplaced it. What do you want me to do, run down to Goldstein’s and buy another before I get dressed?”
“You’d probably enjoy the stir you’d make doing it,” Florence snapped. She stood in the door watching her sister finish buttoning her shoes. Fiona was beautiful, with long auburn hair, trim figure, and womanly bosom.
Both women wore stylish clothing. Florence’s year in Seattle forever banished bustles and other silly accouterments of women’s dress trying to hang on from the turn of the century. The modern styles didn’t call for whalebone and wire assemblages. Now one could discern a woman’s actual shape; she wasn’t hidden by extra yards of cloth and convention.
Even so, a lady’s skin didn’t show above her elbows or below her neck. Modernity was to be appreciated, but it should not usurp morality. Dress was one thing, attitude quite another.
Fiona radiated an air about her that brought glances admiring from men and calculating from women. Florence felt like a small, gray vole next to an ermine when she went anywhere with her sister. Fiona suggested excitement, Florence realized, and she merely promised restraint.
Finishing the shoes, Fiona straightened up. She smiled and handed Florence the button hook. “There you are, dear sister. Thank you very much for allowing me to use your property.”
“I don’t mind you using my things. I just wish you would ask first and return them after,”
she said. Realizing she repeated herself, she returned to her bedroom. As she slipped her shoes on and began the tedious task of buttoning them, Fiona drifted through the door.
“Florence, where should I look for a position?”
“Position? Have you finally decided to do something other than be entertained by young men?”
“I’ve been graduated from high school for two years now. I want to do something exciting with my life. But where should I look?”
“Anywhere within walking distance. You don’t want to have to take a ferry to Douglas or Treadwell every day, do you?” Florence didn’t look up from her task as she spoke.
“Oh, I don’t know. That would be a good way to meet men,” Fiona said lightly.
Florence quickly looked up, color rising in her cheeks.
“Why don’t you marry Mr. Saunders? He has a good job at Mr. Behrends’ bank; he likes you, and I think he has probably asked you to marry him, hasn’t he?”
Now Fiona colored. “That’s none of your business. I think Frank is a fine man. I just don’t want to get married yet. There will be enough years of babies, laundry, and pipe smoke in the parlor. I needn’t rush into it.”
“It is not seemly in polite society to engage strange men in conversation at every opportunity. People are already watching you as if you were part of a moving picture. Father has mentioned to me more than once he regrets not remarrying after Mother’s death. He feels we should have had a good woman’s firm hand in our upbringing, and it’s you he’s worried about, not me!”
“Florence, you were an old woman the day you were born. I would surely have gone insane if there had been another like you around for the past six years. I’m doing just fine by myself, thank you.”
“You needn’t be rude. You are my little sister and I’m only giving you my opinion.”
“You’re two years older than I am, you do outrageous things, and you’re still unmarried.
Yet you constantly harp on me to marry Frank Saunders. At least I have a beau. Do you plan on being an old maid forever?”
“I believe we’ve had this discussion before, Fiona. I consider myself a modern woman and refuse to feel I am less a woman simply because I do not have a husband or even a beau. You make no secret of the fact you regard the suffragette movement as something humorous.”
Fiona abruptly burst into laughter. “Oh, Florence, if you could only see yourself when you talk like that! You look like Father Reynolds when he’s delivering a stem-winder!”
Florence snapped her mouth shut, pulled the final elastic loop over its button, stood, and exited the room with her chin held high.
“Don’t go outside with your nose up like that,” her sister called after her. “It’s raining, you might drown.”
Florence refused to be baited, kept her silence, and descended the carpeted stairway to the first floor. Mrs. Milivich stood in front of the kitchen stove cooking breakfast. The high-ceilinged room was redolent with the odors of fresh baked bread, frying bacon, Turkish coffee, and soap.
Mrs. Milivich defined ancient, so old she had ceased to age. The word “fossil” came to mind, but Florence refused to acknowledge it. Mrs. Milivich was small, exacting, diligent, and rooted firmly in the nineteenth century. She had been housekeeper for the Malones as long as Florence could remember.
Although uneasy about the amount of labor the old woman performed daily, Florence felt thankful for the woman’s perpetual presence. If the Malones didn’t employ a domestic, the running of the house would fall to Florence.
She didn’t want to run a house. She wanted to make her own mark on society. In order to prove her equality in what was obviously a man’s world, she shunned any task habitually associated with women.
For that very reason she had entered the profession of photography. Florence owned her own Crown Full Bellows, complete with tripod and portable dark room. For one glorious year she lived with Aunt Mary in Seattle while attending the University of Washington.
Her father’s primary goal for financing her education was for her to obtain teaching credentials and then return to Juneau for a life-long bout with unruly students. She felt quite negative about the prospect, not that he had ever asked her opinion. Mrs. Milivich wasn’t the only one in the house rooted in the nineteenth century.
Rather than concentrate on educational course work, Florence discovered the suffragette movement and photography instead. Soon after her father sent the tuition money for her second year, she returned home with her freshly purchased camera gear, and the resolve to become the first professional woman photographer in Alaska Territory.
Her father had been shocked and angry beyond words.
She tried to explain, but there seemed to be an entire vocabulary they didn’t share. She knew he didn’t understand, but that didn’t mean he had to pull back from her. But he did.
He didn’t explain the world to her any more. He just told her how it should be and what facets of it she should accept. His dogmatism elicited her rebellion.
She squared her jaw and stuck to her goal. Two of the Territory’s most eminent photographers, Lloyd Winter and Percy Pond, hired her as a combined dark room technician and counter sales clerk. She held hope one day soon they would allow her to take some of the studio portraits for which the photographers were famous. Already she took views of the area, confident the partners would allow her to sell her work next to theirs.
But she hadn’t spoken to them about it yet. Perhaps after she had accumulated a portfolio.
“Good morning, Florence,” her father said.
“Oh. Good morning, Father,” she said, turning to the kitchen table where he sat. “I didn’t realize you were down yet.”
“Y’were staring at Mrs. Milivich like she were a ghost or something. Do you feel all right?” Jack Malone pushed his chair back and stood with his arm extended. “Would you like a hand, daughter?”
“No, thank you, Father,” she said with a chuckle. “I’m fine, I was just gathering wool.
Please sit down and drink your coffee.”
He eased back into his chair, but continued to watch her. She had caught up with her father in height, but not in girth. She wondered if her face would ever be that heavy and creased with lines. Was his hair turning gray?
“I’ll be out this evening. You and Fiona have dinner without me.”
“Yes, Father.” She sat at the table in the same place she had taken every meal eaten in this house. The table remained bare where her mother’s place used to be. Nobody ever sat there now.
Mrs. Milivich shuffled in and set a large platter of fried eggs, bacon, and ham in the center of the table. Jack Malone served himself and dug in with gusto. Florence didn’t move. She sat and watched him with raised eyebrows.
In the midst of his second bite, his eyes found her face. He stopped chewing for a moment, before resuming with a dark scowl. As soon as his mouth became empty he looked toward the paneled stairs and bellowed, “Fiona!”
Florence heard her sister’s footsteps as she hurried down the carpeted risers.
“I’m so sorry, Father, I misplaced my button hook,” Fiona said breathlessly as she took her place.
Florence gave her a small scowl, then made the sign of the cross.
“In the name of the Father…” she slowed so the others could stay with her.
“…the Son, and the Holy Ghost,” they intoned together. “Bless us, oh Lord, for these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, Amen.” They crossed themselves again.
Jack began eating as fast as he could. “I’ve got an important engagement at eight-thirty,” he mumbled through his food.
Fiona and Florence ate with decorum.
“I’m going to find a position today, Father,” Fiona announced. “Possibly an even finer one than Florence has.”
Florence frowned at her. “I didn’t realize my position was all that fine.”
“Well, you are the only woman I know who is both a technician and a clerk,” Fiona said airily.
“But you haven’t any education past high school. One doesn’t just get handed important positions. You must work up to them or have studied for them.” Florence broke off abruptly when she realized how stuffy she sounded.
Why do I do that with her all the time? she wondered. She’s a grown woman, let her make her own way, but she makes so many mistakes! She doesn’t have her feet on the ground.
“What sort of a position did you have in mind, Princess?” Jack asked.
“I don’t know, Father. Something interesting that pays well, and where I can meet a lot of m-, ah, people.”
“Well, you keep in mind that after the next election, we’ll all no doubt be movin’ to Washington City,” he said grandly.
“What if the Democrats don’t win?” Florence asked.
“We’ll win,” Jack said. “Wilson will easily win another term. The Republicans can’t match his quality with a washed-up judge. And speaking of judges, this Territory is fed up with that pompous jurist as delegate. Between him and that damn prohibitionist, Snow, I don’t know which is the bigger fool!”
“Father, I wasn’t asking about Judge Wickersham or Representative Snow,” Florence replied. “I was trying to point out that there is no guarantee as to how an election will turn out, and–”
“Duchess, you haven’t been voting as long as I have. Leave the politicking to your old father. We’ll live in Washington City after the next election.”
“Father, I understand the political workings of our country. There’s no way to predict the outcome of an election unless it is rigged. And I don’t think you can rig that large an election.”
Florence clamped her jaw and lowered her head, too angry to respond further.
Jack ignored her.
“Will we have a grand house, Father?” Fiona asked.
“Of course we will, Princess. And we’ll have one of those elegant automobiles to take us where we wish.” He smiled widely at her, his eyes glinting.
Mrs. Milivich brought in the morning paper, which Jack eagerly grabbed. His attention shifted to the newsprint as he shook the paper out and began to read.
Florence took a few bites and realized her appetite had fled.
“First the Lue burns, an’ now there’s a fellow vanished from the Treadwell,” Jack commented.
“I wish Uncle Jim would write us a letter,” Florence said. Both she and Fiona had called the kindly bachelor “uncle” since they were children, even though they were not related by blood or law. Since reading about the loss of his boat in Hobart Bay the week before, they had anticipated word from him.
“I still don’t know why would he would go to Seattle,” Jack muttered. “There’s nothin’ for him there. He has friends who would help him here.”
“Maybe he went down to buy a new boat?” Fiona suggested.
“With what? His boat wasn’t insured.”
“Well I just don’t know, Father. You needn’t be brisk with me!”
“Sorry, Princess. There’s more to this than meets the eye. I’m worried about Jim.”
“If you both will excuse me?” Florence left the table and moved quickly through the small, dark-paneled parlor into the front hall where her fox-trimmed coat hung. The coat always lifted her spirits. She had bought it herself.
Photographers needed good equipment, and a coat is part of one’s equipage, she reasoned at the time. She never regretted the decision. She would be the first to admit the fox trim was not a necessity– but it did set the coat off to a turn, and it was irrefutable proof she made better wages than a mere clerk.
She felt armored as she carefully shut the front door. The steady rumble of distant stamp mills, the heartbeat of Gastineau Channel, carried easily through the cold rain. She walked down the graded gravel street toward the business district.