“The Mulligan? Sounds more like a do-over than the name of a boarding house.”
“There are three hotels in this town and all of them are full. The waitress at the café slipped me a card for this place. Looks like it’s the Mulligan or sleeping under the stars for us tonight.”
“The Mulligan it is.”
The pair of travelers ambled along, the heels of their boots striking a nostalgic rhythm against the aging wood of the boardwalk, the wheels of their luggage clacking behind them in a less-than-nostalgic echo.
“This is it.” Two sets of eyes took in a weathered sign and the Victorian style home it announced—The Mulligan House – Rooms to Let.
“Welcome to the Mulligan,” a woman behind the desk greeted as the two entered.
“We’d like a room, please.”
“Second floor,” the other traveler requested. “Overlooking Main Street.”
“Really?” The dark-haired partner raised an eyebrow.
“It’s what they would have done,” her friend insisted in a whisper. “Have to keep an eye out for the sheriff, you know.”
“You may be in luck.” The desk clerk, Aileen, according to her name tag, tapped the keys of her computer at a fevered pace. “Ah yes. I have a room…” tap, tap, tap, “on the second floor…” tap, tap, tap. “It doesn’t overlook Main Street, but it does have a view…of the alley.” She paused, peering over the top of her glasses to study the screen. “That’s it. Only room I have.”
“We’ll take it!” both women replied in unison.
“You ladies here for the Western Writers Conference?”
“We are,” the writers confirmed, nodding.
“Alias Smith and Jones fans?” the desk clerk asked.
Melinda and Jessica exchanged a grin. “How did you know?”
“There’s no mistaking the Baron’s reproductions.” Aileen briefly raised a finger to gesture in the general direction of their hats, then continued her tapping. “I’m a Bonanza fan, myself,” she confided. “That Little Joe Cartwright…” Aileen sighed and let her sentence hang, unfinished.
“There are conference schedules on the table over there. And of course, the grand finale will be the Legends of the West Parade down Main Street on Sunday afternoon.”
She finished entering the women’s information into her computer and grabbed an ancient-looking key from a hook-board on the wall behind her. “You’re all set. If each of you would, please sign our register.” Aileen opened a huge ledger and turned it toward the ladies.
“I didn’t know anyone still used these,” the first woman said, signing her name, Melinda Wilson.
“Or these,” her friend commented, inspecting their room key and appreciating its intricate design.
“Here at the Mulligan, we like to preserve the flavor of the past as much as possible,” the clerk informed them. “With the exception of my computer,” she smiled, “and a few other modern conveniences like electricity, heat, and indoor plumbing.”
Melinda finished signing, then slid the book toward her friend.
“Shall I use my alias?” the other woman giggled.
“Your screen name or your pen name?” Melinda wondered.
“Neither. I was thinking of Smith or Jones.”
Both women laughed heartily, but Jessica Scott signed her legal name on the line below her friend’s.
“Your room is up the stairs, turn left. Last room on your right.”
“No elevator, eh?” Jessica asked, eyeing first her luggage, then the stairs.
“Oh, an elevator would be difficult to add without compromising the integrity of the building’s original structure,” Melinda answered, “and I’d bet this used to be someone’s home.”
“That’s right,” the desk clerk interjected. “This was once the home of Red Rock’s mayor, Fergus Mulligan. After he died in 1879, his spinster daughter ran it as a boarding house.”
“Interesting,” Melinda remarked. “Did anyone famous ever stay here?”
“Or infamous?” Jessica’s eyes sparkled with excitement.
“Sounds like you two might enjoy a tour with our docent.”
“Do-cent,” Melinda corrected, placing the emphasis on the long O sound. “A docent is a tour guide of historic places.”
“Would you like me to reserve a place for you ladies on tomorrow’s tour?”
“That sounds great,” Melinda answered for both of them.
“Okay. Meet here in the lobby right after breakfast.”
“Good thing it’s not before breakfast,” Jessica quipped, as their suitcases bumped behind them up the creaking flight of stairs.
“I can’t believe we’re here!” Jessica exclaimed, pulling back the lace curtain to look out behind the Mulligan. “Just think, Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes could have crept down this very alley after a bank robbery! They could even have stayed in this very boarding house! In this very room!”
Melinda finished stashing her jeans in the drawer of a beautiful antique dresser. “You do realize that Heyes and Curry are fictional characters, don’t you Jess?”
“Of course,” Jessica admitted, red-faced. “I only meant, just think what amazing fan-fiction we could write for them, taking place right here in Red Rock. You heard the desk clerk. Mayor Mulligan’s spinster daughter turned this place into a boarding house. And the era is correct. Don’t you think that Kid Curry would have made it a point to stay in a boarding house run by the SINGLE daughter of the mayor?”
“He would have, yes,” Melinda conceded, dropping onto her bed with a copy of the conference schedule in her hand. “IF he were a real person. Which, may I remind you again, he was not.”
“Don’t be such a party pooper,” Jessica admonished, undeterred. “I say let’s meet up with the other gals from the writing forum for dinner, and then get back here for a good night’s rest.”
“Good idee. We’ll need a good night’s rest if we’re going on the tour tomorrow morning and attending conference events all afternoon.”
Promptly at 7:55am Melinda and Jessica descended the creaking stairs into the lobby of the Mulligan and waited for their docent to arrive.
At exactly 7:59am a grey-haired, weathered-looking fellow, stooped at the shoulders but with a twinkle in his eye, entered from a back door.
“Ladies,” the old man greeted, removing his cowboy hat and wiping his boots. “I’m Kendrick. Looks like the other folks must’ve slept in, eh? Guess it’ll be just the three of us takin’ the tour this lovely mornin’. Let’s go. Time waits for no man, or woman, and neither do I,” he added with a wink.
Jessica smiled. “Sounds like a good deal to me.”
Melinda rolled her eyes. “C’mon. Let’s go.”
Kendrick escorted the ladies, taking in the best of Red Rock’s historic locations: Town Hall, featuring a small roped off area dedicated to the first mayor of Red Rock, the Bank of Red Rock with its very own original Pierce and Hamilton safe, and the library boasting a large collection of Western novels.
“Before we head back to the Mulligan, is there anything else you ladies would like to know about Red Rock?” Kendrick asked.
“What about gunslingers? Shootouts? Any gunfighters facing off on Main Street at high noon?” Jessica’s face shone as she envisioned the setting for an upcoming monthly story challenge.
The blood seemed to drain from Kendrick’s face, leaving him white as a sheet, and his eyes took on a far-off, glassy stare, as if he were looking through the women, rather than at them. “Follow me,” he said, and waved a hand.
Jessica and Melinda exchanged a hesitant glance before coming to a silent agreement. They followed Kendrick through an iron gate, deep into the cemetery it surrounded. The trio passed grave after grave, where marble memorials, fading tombstones, or simple crosses marked decade upon decade of dearly departed inhabitants of the town of Red Rock.
Finally, they arrived in a small section of plots, marked by a single monument at its center. The women solemnly walked toward it, reading its inscription. Transients. A list of names and dates was inscribed below.
Melinda ran her hand reverently over some of the names, as if by touching them, she could impart a measure of the respect and reverence due each and every one of these human beings.
Suddenly, her fingers stopped.
“I can’t believe Kendrick just left without even saying goodbye,” Jessica remarked while researching historic newspaper articles at the town library.
Melinda, seated next to Jessica, shrugged. “He probably had another tour booked. We did take up his entire morning. Wait! I think I found something.”
Jessica pulled her chair close to read over her friend’s shoulder.
“Here. In the death notices. 22 November 1885. Thaddeus Jones – Gunshot wound.”
“That’s it?! Nothing about who killed him, and why? Nothing about his family or friends or…” Jessica stopped, realizing that her voice had risen enough to draw the attention of others.
Melinda shut down the computer. “I don’t think we’re going to find anything else. Come on. Let’s go back to The Mulligan.”
A gentle breeze cooled the afternoon while the two women walked wordlessly back to the boarding house. As they opened the front door to enter, a sudden gust of wind burst in along with them, scattering papers from the check in desk and conference schedules about the small lobby.
Since the desk clerk, Aileen, was nowhere to be found, Melinda and Jessica quickly put things back in order.
As Melinda placed a stack of papers back onto the boarding house desk, she noticed the large old ledger, the one she and Jessica had signed the previous night when they checked in. It was lying open on the counter–open, but not to the page which they had signed.
“Jess! Look at this!”
Jessica joined her friend at the counter. “November 1885!”
Two sets of eyes scanned the names scribbled onto the yellowed page.
“Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones!” Jessica cried in amazement.
“Take a look at this.” Melinda pointed to the name directly below Smith and Jones. “Kendrick MacCabe.”
“You don’t suppose…”
“Well, there you ladies are!” exclaimed Aileen, emerging from a room somewhere in the back of the boarding house. “It’s a shame you missed this morning’s tour.”
“Yes. The tour group finally left without you at 8:15.”
Behind the gates of the Red Rock Cemetery, far away from the hustle and bustle of Main Street, Melinda Wilson and Jessica Scott stood beside the Transient monument.
“It’s a shame no one knows the full story of what happened to him,” Melinda said, watching the Legends of the West parade go by in the distance.
“It’s a shame no one even believes that Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones were real people,” Jessica added, her fingers lingering on one engraved name in particular.
“Whoever Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones were, they must have been friends,” Melinda continued, “since the ledger listed them as sharing a room at the Mulligan. But I wonder who Kendrick MacCabe was? What did he have to do with Smith and Jones? And, why did it seem important to him, or his ghost, or whatever it was that took us on a tour of Red Rock, to show us Thaddeus Jones’ grave?”
“I wonder what became of Joshua Smith. Kendrick MacCabe too.”
“You don’t supposed Roy Huggins knew, do you? I mean, he included lots of history into his scripts. Maybe he knew about these two seemingly insignificant men and decided to bring them back to life through a couple of fictional outlaws.” Melinda placed her black hat back onto her head as the last of the parade participants disappeared from sight.
Jessica lifted her eyes from the monument, bubbling again with adventure. “You know what I think?” She positioned her brown hat confidently over blonde curls. “I’ll bet Roy not only knew about Smith and Jones being real people, I’ll bet he knew that Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones were real aliases for a couple of REAL reforming outlaws — Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry!”
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.