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  • Jennifer Mueller

New work alert excerpt

So after 25 years of writing and being from Kansas originally, I have started writing a book set in Kansas. I haven't decided if this intro will stay, and the title at the moment is the Mystery of Aurore. It might change. Update it's title is currently Killer at the Cimarron Social Club.

1954

“There should be a road up here I think, maybe.” It looked like the same place, not that there was anything to see anymore. Sagebrush spread out in every direction along the banks of the dry Cimarron River bed. It was the wrong time of year for it to have water. Bluffs of red and yellow rose above the sandy river bank and around it nothing. Kansas plains with hardly a tree, cows still roamed the land, one thing hadn’t changed in 60 odd years. Three towns once dotted the area, all gone now. Fargo Springs and Springfield vied for the Seward county seat but when it went to Liberal there wasn’t much left for them to survive on when the railroad passed them by too. Arkalon at least had the Chicago, Kansas and Nebraska Railway and the stockyards in the rush to send beef east to all points. The other two dying had given a boost to the last as people picked up house and moved. Arkalon only started in 1888 itself and gone by the 20’s. The newspaper lasted only 4 years, and that was hardly longer than the other two towns entire life practically. The sandy riverbanks just wouldn’t support farms. Cows were the only thing to survive in that climate on the short prairie grass. “Are you sure? I thought you said you wanted to see the place you met great Grandfather one last time? This is the middle of nowhere. But there does seem to be a road, not sure anyone has used it recently.” As they turned down the barely there ruts, a grouping of cottonwood trees soon revealed the ruins of at least a building. Faded paint, if it even existed still on dried out ruins of a very few buildings as they rolled down the ‘street’. The river might be dry most of the year, but when it rained the floods were enough to take out bridges and the trains on them. All until they built the Samson bridge, a marvel of a bridge built of steel trestles. Samson on the Cimarron they called it. The death knell of the town, the old bridge was right by the town, but when they moved the tracks to take out a kink that slowed trade through the west the town was miles from the massive new bridge. Once again people moved buildings or just left them after so many death knells. Now there was nothing but dust and a rather well-populated cemetery. Somewhere at least, it was hard to tell with so much gone as a landmark. Cedars grew where once buildings had been. Headstones wouldn’t rot away though, well some might. “Arkalon.” She whispered. “Seriously, this is where you met.” “Let me walk the streets again, Joe.” He pulled the 1954 corvette in Sportsman red to a stop, a dusty breath of air greeted her as Joe opened the door. It always was a gritty place to live, literally. And in the Dustbowl one of the worst hit areas. Joe gave her his arm and helped her up, at 87 she didn’t get around as well as she once did. A few more windswept cedars broke the horizon, the remnants of a tortured orchard someone had planted long ago, the streets still ran through the grass and sage. Never growing back despite the passage of decades. “The store was there on the corner, a post office, the newspaper office, blacksmiths, a hotel, doctor's office. Train station of course over by the tracks.” “How long did you live here? There isn’t much left.” “Not long, a week or so in 1889 then I married your great-grandfather. Beautiful man he was.” “Gran!” They walked down the barren street without her giving an answer, not until she stopped them before an empty lot scaring a scissor-tailed flycatcher into flight. Her smile faded as she stared still able to see the building that once stood there. A brothel catering to all the cowboys that brought stock to the railhead. Sort of. “This is where I met your grandfather. A sporting house where I worked.” “Waiting tables…” Joe whispered. Her grandson wasn’t that naive. “No, waiting on men. Only way for a woman to support herself, we couldn’t vote, Oklahoma just over the border wasn’t a state, the Dakota Territory had barely become North and South Dakota, couldn’t do much of anything if we married but have a man lord over us. Do laundry or clean, do you know how little you make doing that. I was already a girl with no income doing all that trying to get by.” Joe just stared at her and sank onto a rock. “And great grandfather…” “Can we find the cemetery? If this is the house it shouldn’t be hard to find. Down the road and a bit out of town.” “Gran?” “He paid for my time while the poor woman was killed.” She walked off the way the cemetery was. Joe caught up with her and gave her his arm again. He looked much like his grandfather even with a generation or two between, maybe not in specifics, but giving a description one would choose either from the same. “You always said you were from a farm in McPherson County. You just ignored this part or was that a lie?” “I was born in Russia, I was 2 when they arrived in McPherson County and set up a farm. I was married when I was 16 to a man twice my age. Not your grandfather. I was a widow by 19. I don’t talk about him either.” Joe looked over slowly. “He wasn’t a nice man.” “He didn’t beat me if that’s what you think. Her grave should still be here, that’s who I want to go see. The woman killed.” “Why don’t we get in the car? It’s likely to be a walk. You insisted we bring a picnic, surely it will be a pleasant spot to dine.” “As long as there isn’t a dust storm that comes up.” She murmured. It was a walk indeed as Joe drove them, the distance seemed far closer when she was 22 and without a bad hip. She was wrong as they neared, the headstones weren’t stone unless the family had money, most wood slabs. No one had been there in years, Walking down the rows, it took a while to find the right one. Only a single name and death date. “Aurore. 1889. Not much to say is it?” Joe whispered. “Pull out the basket.” “What did you make?” She laughed at that. “At 87? I made the hotel make it. I believe there’s some Caesar salad, meatloaf sandwiches, pineapple upside down cake and gallons of iced tea. Unfortunately, I think they put in some jello salad thing with vegetables or fruit on a 90-degree day so it’s probably soup.” Joe laid out the blanket and a opened a chair for her, no one planned on her sitting on the ground. Indeed, he laughed as he dumped out a foul colored soup with bits of who knew what in it. “Always preferred your cinnamon braid.” “Pity, I’m too old to make it much anymore. But with praise like that maybe I could try.” Joe handed her a plate and sank on the blanket. With a large bite of his sandwich, he looked over at her. “Gran, you are seriously saying you were a prostitute?” “3 years.” “Does anyone else in the family know?” “Not something your grandfather and I spread around much. And I’m only telling you because She finished chewing the bite of salad that she had taken and looked at the gravestone. “In my bag there’s a photo.” Joe leaned over and dug it out. “Is this the woman that was killed?” “No, that’s me.” Joe stared at her in shock. “Gran, you were a looker. And I don’t mean pretty, you should have been in England seducing Prince Bertie. This is movie star looks.” That made her laugh. “I’m fairly certain a Kansas farm girl would take more than a pretty dress to find a Prince. Cinnamon braid doesn’t impress their sort.” “But here?” How to start a tale of a life she never spoke of. Never thought of in decades. “Well I didn’t start out here…”

The rest is set in 1889.


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