In this sneak peek from Jenny Goodnight, Jenny, a burnt-out missionary, has just arrived in the small town of Legacy, where her Uncle Matthew has started a small but controversial newspaper. As Jenny waits in her uncle's print shop to greet her uncle for the first time in a long while, something happens to disturb the peaceable reunion:
How long I waited, I can’t say. Time stretched out until I lost track of it. My head grew lighter until it seemed ready to float away. My legs were heavy, like blocks of wood, and there was a general fogginess about my ears that blurred what few sounds there were. I was slipping away again – dreams beckoned with dark arms.
Then, just I was on the verge of falling asleep properly, an explosion occurred.
I exaggerate, of course. It was merely the front door bursting open under someone’s impatient shove – but it might as well have been an explosion from the way it made my heart skip a beat and shook me out of my reverie.
The door slammed back against the wall, making the windows rattle. A big, bulky man stormed past me. His boots hit the floorboards like weights, and when he slammed his large fist down on the counter, everything on it shook and danced the jig.
“Goodnight!” the man roared. “Goodnight, where are you?”
I caught my breath.
The man’s voice was as big as his presence. He was dressed in the usual cowboy gear – blue jeans, a faded button down, boots curiously spur-less, and a hat which he pulled off to reveal a head full of dark hair. He was coated in dust and grime and might have been just any no-account worker, except for his good quality leather vest and the hand-tooled leather belt carrying his six-gun – both too expensive for the ordinary ranch hand.
I jumped when his fist struck the counter again.
“Dammit, Goodnight, don’t make me come in there after you!”
He tossed his hat on to the counter, freeing his gun hand. It was then that I saw the newspaper, clutched tight in his fist. The white knuckle grasp on the newspaper, the rigid clench of his jaw, and the tension of his big shoulders radiated not only outrage, but the ability to act on it. This was a very dangerous man.
Slowly, lest he catch sight of me, I bent down towards my carpet bag.
The call came, not from my uncle’s office, but from the open doorway behind me. A slim man stood there, also dusty and breathing heavily.
The big man at the counter whirled around and pointed at the new figure.
“Stay out of this, Olsen,” he threatened. He saw me then and I froze, bent at the waist over my carpetbag. His eyes raked over me, a brief but penetrating evaluation. Then he looked back at Olsen. “I’m just going to have a friendly chat with Mister Newspaperman here.” He turned and pounded the counter once more. “Goodnight!”
“This ain’t no way to do it,” Olsen said. He pushed the hat back from his sun-weathered face and stepped cautiously into the room. “Let Schuyler handle it – that’s what you pay him for.”
That only seemed to enrage the big man more. He slammed his palm into the counter (I was surprised that the board withstood such punishment) and roared, “This is a family matter and I’m not paying any lawyer to do what I can do myself. Goodnight, are you coming out here or am I coming in there?”
I fumbled with the catch on the carpetbag.
Then the office door opened and Matthew Goodnight emerged.
A decade had passed since I had seen my uncle, but I would have known him anywhere. The fearless smile, the sharp blue eyes, the almost military carriage were all so reminiscent of my father that, under other circumstances, I might have had a misty moment.
But Uncle Matthew was not my father and he had changed with the passage of time. Though his good looks remained, his features had softened and his face showed shades of cream and pink beneath the ever-present tan. There was something disheveled about his person, as though he no longer cared so much for appearances. He and my father shared the same feckless courage in the face of danger and he displayed it now, stepping out of his office as casually as if this were a social call.
“Ah,” he said, carefully shutting the office door behind him. “Mr. Evans – to what do I owe the pleasure?”
I did a double take. So the big man beating the counter was John Henry Evans, a member of the Evans clan I’d heard so much about. It explained the swagger, Olsen’s deferential manner, and Evans’s air of outraged dignity. It was his brother, Ben, who was running for office and it was their mother who was running the campaign. His family had founded this town and they weren’t accustomed to be being argued with or challenged. They were, in short, precisely the kind of people most likely to provoke my uncle’s ire.
“You know what a firebrand crusader your uncle can be…”
Aunt Alice always said that Uncle Matthew had the looks of a politician and the manner of an Irish pugilist with a sense of justice that would have impressed Solomon himself. It looked as though that moral courage was about to be reckoned with.
Matthew Goodnight didn’t act like a man afraid. His voice was the same as I remembered from childhood – a blend of formality and superiority – and he smiled up at the big man as though he wasn’t concerned in the least. It was not calculated to be conciliatory and it had the expected effect.
The big man slapped the newspaper down on the counter with such force that even Uncle Matthew jumped and Olsen took a half step forward.
Evans pointed at the open page.
“What do you mean by this, Goodnight?” he demanded, through gritted teeth.
Uncle Matthew leaned over to look.
“That,” he said, “is an editorial, an opinion piece. It is common in all papers, and it is usually meant to stir thought and to comment on recent events.” He flicked some dust from his jacket.
“It’s a pack of lies, is what it is,” Evans said. “You came just short of calling my father a murderer!”
Olsen took another cautious step forward.
Uncle Matthew grinned.
“I stopped short enough so that you won’t have a case if you try to sue this paper for libel. Not that you would or could, anyhow. Neither you nor your mother or your brother or his pretty little wife want to risk any of this going to court, do you?”
He had barely finished when Evans grasped him by the shirtfront and drew him half-way across the counter until they were nose to nose. Olsen squawked, but didn’t try to interfere. I gasped and rose before I remembered what I was doing.
“Now, you listen here.” Evans’ voice was low and dangerous. “You leave my mother and brother alone. If you’ve got a problem with the Evans family, you go through the court system, when and if you ever get the evidence. Do you understand me, Goodnight?”
Matthew was as helpless as a rag doll in his grasp, but he eyed the big man with a steely gaze.
“You couldn’t be more clear, Evans,” he said.
Evans dropped him. Uncle Matthew recovered quickly, straightening his shirt front. Olsen relaxed, until Evans asked, “You’ll print a retraction, then?”
Uncle Matthew laughed.
“Retraction? You listen here, Evans, this paper doesn’t apologize for its opinions. We apologize for errors in facts, but never for our interpretation of them. No one asked your brother to make this foolish attempt at public office and someone should have warned him that all candidates are subject to scrutiny. If the precious Evans name doesn’t hold up under it, that’s not my fault. Tell your mother, the grand lady herself, to keep a tighter leash on Ben – better yet, make him drop this whole run.”
“Not on your life,” Evans said. “The Evans family has nothing to be ashamed of, Benjamin the least of all.”
“Oh, he’s too young to have done too much harm,” Uncle Matthew agreed. “But you might want to warn your mother that all good investigative reporters dig into the backgrounds of candidates and their families. I’m famous for my excavations, you know. The skeletons in your family closet had better be buried pretty deep if you don’t want me to find them.”
“You’re a damned fool, Goodnight,” Evans said. His hands were balled into fists, his knuckles white under the pressure.
“I’m just repeating what everyone else is already thinking. Twenty-two years ago, your father, Jacob Evans, and Ezra Jones, his partner, rode into this valley to look for gold. Five months into the search, up in the hills, Jones was bitten by a snake and your father was just a little too slow getting him to the doc – something about his horse stumbling and dying on the way. A month later, he finds ore in those same hills and is suddenly the biggest man this side of the Mississippi. And he doesn’t have to share it with anybody. All I’m suggesting here,” he laid his hand on the offending paper, “is that it was awful lucky for your old man: that snake bite and that accident with the horse.”
Olsen whistled and half turned.
My hand found what it was looking for. Buried under layer of calico, the smooth heft of the pistol grip filled me with reassurance and a trickle of fear. I always kept my revolver loaded with one empty chamber so it wouldn’t go off by accident. Wrapping my hand around it, I pulled myself back into an upright position, careful to keep my hands hidden in my skirts.
Evans put both hands on the counter and leaned in.
“You’ve got an accusation to make, newspaperman?” he asked. His voice was low, slow, and dangerous, and my pulse jumped. “Why don’t you just make it to my face and quit hiding behind that paper of yours?”
“I’m just asking questions, John Henry…”
“You call me Evans, Goodnight. Mister Evans.”
“…and I’m not the only one who’s asking these questions.”
Uncle Matthew leaned forward and even from that distance, I could see the dangerous glitter in his eyes. My hands began to sweat, slicking up the grip.
My uncle said, “Now, folks around here have been asking a very logical question: Was it just luck that caused that snake bite and that horse to stumble? Maybe it was. But if you, the great John Henry Evans of the Evans Empire, are so sure this is the truth, why would a little thing like this opinion piece bother you, eh? If your father was the man you claim he is, if there isn’t a shadow of a doubt that he did all he could to get his partner to the doctor, that he had no idea of the ore up in those hills, if this was just one huge lucky break, why would you take time out of your busy day to come down here and threaten me?”
“Goodnight, I’m a patient man…” Evans said warningly, but Uncle Matthew didn’t let him finish – he just leaned in further.
“The only reason I can think of, John Henry, is that you yourself aren’t all that sure. You have doubts too. Did the horse really die of an accident? Was Jones even bitten in the first place? Or did your father decide that he didn’t want to share the ore up in those hills, so he killed his partner to keep it all for himself? Does your mother know-?”
He never finished the sentence.
Evans’ fist flashed and Uncle Matthew’s head snapped back with a sickening crack. Olsen cried out and jumped forward as the newspaperman dropped behind the counter. Evans was half-way across the counter when I found my feet and made my voice ring out across the room.
“Now, you just hold it right there, Mr. Evans.”
I doubt he would have stopped had I not accompanied my words with the ominous sound of the hammer of a Remington New Model Army .44 being drawn back...