Chapter 1

 

EVERY SATURDAY during the summer, Big Roy Marsh made his way down from the boardinghouse he lived in, precariously attached to the mountain, all the way down into Telluride. It was a hellacious trip, but he owned his own mule, which made him something of a wealthy man, and he was big and strong enough to keep her too, which made him doubly lucky.

So on Saturdays, Roy climbed on his mule and went to town, stopping first at the livery to stable her, then going on to the barber for a shave and a bath. Roy always brought his own bread and cold meat in his saddlebags so he didn’t have to eat in town, saving his money for what he truly wanted: a night at the Opera House.

Oh, the other miners laughed at Big Roy, they truly did, telling him he was trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, going and getting all cultured, and that they were amazed that the fancy even let Roy in. Sometimes it amazed him too, but he was always clean and always wore his Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, and his money was as good as anyone else’s, wasn’t it?

Sitting in the dark in the theater, watching the singers and actors and other stage folk, no one even noticed Roy with his scarred hands and his hulking shoulders; no one even cared. A man couldn’t ask for more than that. He surely couldn’t.

 

 

“YOU HEADING into town again, Roy? Getting a mite cold for that, isn’t it?” asked Eli Goldman, coming up to pat Roy’s mule, Annie, on the nose.

“I reckon, but I mean to go anyhow,” he answered. He smoothed the blanket into place on Annie’s back before hoisting the saddle easily, getting it strapped on good.

“Well, you watch yourself on Fool’s Turn.”

Roy nodded, giving Eli a tiny smile. Out of all the fellers he roomed with at Miss Lee’s boardinghouse, Eli was the best. Small and dark, with curly hair and a harelip, Eli worked his ass off every week, setting charges and running, quick enough to stay one step ahead of the blasts. Roy liked him.

“I’ll do that. Is there aught you’d like from the sundry?”

“Nah.” Eli gave him one last grin before sticking his hands in his pockets and turning about. “I’m not fastidious like you, Roy. You have a good ’un.”

“I will.”

Roy mounted up and headed out himself, the early morning air so crisp he could see his breath. He sighed. Wouldn’t be long before the first snows came, and then he’d not be going to town more than once a month if he was lucky, and then on snowshoes. No sense risking Annie’s life for his own frivolity.

The ride down took nigh on two hours, and the town had just started to wake up when Roy paid John Colfax ten cents to stable Annie for the day.

“You might oughta stay the night in town, Roy,” John said, spitting into the straw and manure in one of the livery stalls. “Gonna be cold as a witch’s tit tonight. Trail will be icy.”

“I’ll think on it, John,” Roy replied, nodding his head, feeling his too long hair brush his collar. “If I do, I’ll leave another dime for you in the tinderbox.”

“Much obliged, Roy.”

The next stop would be the barber. The other miners laughed at his clean-shaven face as much as they did his Opera House visits, but one followed the other, didn’t it? In the hard winter, he’d let his beard grow out, but as long as he was visiting town, he’d get it cut off.

“Mornin’, Roy,” said old Geezer Harris as Roy walked into his shop. The place smelled like Bay Rum and tonic and sweat, with that undertone of burnt hair that made his nose sting.

“Morning. Shave and a haircut today, Mr. Harris.” Roy was probably the only man in Telluride who called Geezer “Mister,” but it never hurt to show some respect, did it? Especially to those who didn’t get it elsewhere. Roy knew what it felt like to be thought low of, and he knew he didn’t like it one bit.

“That’ll be two bits, then, Roy.”

Up front. Just in case Geezer cut his throat or something and he couldn’t pay. Roy grinned and dished out a quarter dollar, settling in the chair for a little pampering. Geezer didn’t have the best hands or nothin’, but he did have hot towels, good quality shave soap, and a well-honed razor.

By the time his beard got scraped off and his hair trimmed back down, Roy felt almost human, almost good. Until Geezer slipped a little chunk of mirror into his hand to see, and he had to look at his big old nose and square chin, his eyes still just as odd a yellow as a cat’s.

“Well,” he said. “You didn’t make me no more good-looking, Mr. Harris, but you sure cleaned me up.”

“You’re a good feller, Roy. Twice as good as any of the others, and three times as good as the placers up on the west end. You don’t need a pretty mug.”

“Gee, thanks, Mr. Harris.” There was no rancor in it, though. Big Roy knew what he was and what he wasn’t.

“You going to the Opera House tonight?” Geezer asked, grabbing up a stick of broom and then sweeping up the fallen locks of dark brown hair.

“I am.” Didn’t he always? And didn’t they always have just this same talk?

“I hear they’ve got some fancy new actors. Them’s gonna do a play by Mister Shakespeare.”

“Yeah?” Well, that would be a first in Telluride. Roy had seen a play by Mister Shakespeare once, in Topeka, long time ago. He’d barely understood any of the language but had been transfixed by the costumes and the fancy accents and all. There had been a man who’d played the lead, some prince or other, and he’d worn tight black pants, almost like stockings. It had made Roy twitch in a good sort of way.

“Yessir. From back East, even.”

“Well then, they ought to do a good job,” Roy said, smiling as he donned his coat and hat. “Good day to you, Mr. Harris.”

“And to you, Roy. Enjoy the show.”

Whistling, Roy made his way out to the street, where the shops were just starting to open. He’d go to the general store, he decided, and get a new shirt. Then maybe he’d look for a nice quiet place to sit awhile, perhaps eat the lunch he’d packed into the saddlebag he carried.

He’d gone maybe a block when he was hailed by Andy Laury, who ran the town newspaper. Andy had sandy hair and no eyebrows to speak of, and he always seemed to wear a surprised expression. He talked fancy too.

“Roy! Glad to see you. Are you, by chance, attending the play this evening?”

“Yessir, I am. I hear tell it’s by Mister Shakespeare.”

“It is,” Andy agreed. “Sadly, I cannot make it to the showing. I was hoping you might give me your opinion. Will you stay in town tonight?”

Roy scanned the sky, frowning a little at the clouds gathering. “I’m not sure I ought, Andy. I’d hate to get snowed in.”

“Oh, please?” Andy patted his arm. “This is the most interesting bit of culture to hit our town in some time, and I should like to have a story. I would be glad to buy you breakfast at the hotel in the morning.”

Oh, now. The hotel had fluffy eggs and light-as-air biscuits, and Roy had only ever eaten there once, because he just couldn’t afford it.

So he nodded. “All right, then, Andy. I’ll do it.”

“Good man. I shall see you at eight, then, at the hotel.”

“You betcha.”

Whistling some more for the pure joy of it, Roy headed over to the livery and put an extra dime in the box, because he might as well while he could, then went to the theater to get his tickets. Mrs. MacGruder always opened the box office promptly at ten. He’d want to be there to get the best seats he could, wouldn’t he?

“Good morning, Mrs. MacGruder,” Roy said as he strode up to the box office window.

“Why, good morning, Roy. How are you this morning?”

“Looking forward to the show, ma’am.”

Mrs. MacGruder was a frosty old dame who wore hats with dead birds on them. She had paper-skinned, wrinkled hands, and her lips looked so dry you’d think she had been left out in the desert to cure awhile. She always had a smile for Roy, though, and that warmed his heart, because she was a fancy lady, and fancy ladies usually hadn’t the time of day for men like him. He admired her, too, for her tireless volunteering at the theater. Without her, Roy’d not have so many good shows to watch.

“As you should be,” she replied. “This is a fine company. And they are staying on all winter.”

Roy felt a little leap of excitement. Maybe if he restrung his snowshoes, he could come down without Annie. He just wasn’t willing to give up his job at the Tomboy mine for the mill, as some married men did in the winter.

“Well, that’s right fine, ma’am. I hear they’re doing Mister Shakespeare.”

“They are. Macbeth, in fact. One of the bard’s best.”

He didn’t rightly know what a bard had to do with Mister Shakespeare, but he didn’t want to look ignorant, so he didn’t ask. “I’ll take one ticket as close to the stage as you can get me for fifty cents, ma’am.”

“I’ll take your fifty cents and give you a dollar ticket. We’ll not get many in tonight, as they say it will snow.” She smiled at him, her lips sort of crackling, and handed him his ticket.

Roy blushed, but damned if he would argue. He wanted to sit right close. And he had an excuse.

“Thank you. Mr. Laury will thank you too. I’m giving him my jaw for his review tomorrow.”

“Oh, how wonderful! Be fair, but do not give anything but your true feelings, Roy. You’re a discerning theater man.”

Now that liked to make him fall over in a faint, it was so nice. Roy tucked his ticket away and tipped his hat. “I do thank you kindly, ma’am. I’ll see you tonight.”

“You certainly shall. Good day, Roy.”

“Good day.”

Could a man get any luckier? He could indeed, as he found a room at Mrs. Alma Joy’s boardinghouse for the night, which meant he didn’t have to stay at the saloon. That nasty place would give a man fleas. By the time the show was about to start that night, Roy figured he was having the finest kind of day a man could have.

Not much of a crowd at the theater, which Roy had kind of figured on. Was gettin’ on toward winter, after all, and lots of folks who came to town for the cooler summers left come snow fly. It suited him to the bone, for the fewer well-dressed, high-toned folks there were, the better he felt in his new shirt and pink scrubbed face, his hair slicked back with tonic.

Oh, what a play. Roy didn’t understand much of the fancy wording, he had to admit. He liked the witches, though, and understood enough to know how that Macbeth feller killed the king and how Macduff killed Macbeth at the end because Macduff was unnatural born or something.

Roy figured maybe a man ought not admit to that.

Still, the costumes and the funny accents and the fancy sword fighting held Roy entranced. And Macduff… well, the man they had playing Macduff was something else again.

Billed on the program as Sir Edward Clancy, he was a golden-haired angel of a man. Tall and lean, though not at all a boy, the man moved like a dream, like water in a sluice. He was simply beautiful, and his voice…. Oh, his voice gave Roy tingles all over.

Roy just sat, the uncomfortable theater seat and lack of leg room fading away in the face of such a man, and he remained rapt until the very end, when the players took a bow. Then he erupted into thunderous applause.

All the way back to Mrs. Alma Joy’s, Roy thought about Sir Edward Clancy’s performance, about how good the man looked in those tight trousers and the big puffy tunic and about how his leg muscles had flexed as he danced about the stage with his sword.

“How was it, Roy?” Eddie Freemont asked as Roy passed by the saloon. The old feller always sat outside, even when it was cold as a well-digger’s ass, smoking a smelly old pipe he’d bought off a Ute over to Montrose.

Roy started a little, stopping in his tracks. He’d been so wrapped up he hadn’t even smelled that pipe. “It was glorious, Mr. Eddie. Just fine.”

“That’s all right, then. I sure don’t understand why you go to them things, Roy.”

“Well, I reckon lots of folks don’t. I like them,” Roy said, smiling at the man. Wasn’t Eddie’s fault he had no culture, nor a wanting to acquire any.

“Won’t be many more you can come to, I suppose.”

Roy had thought not either, but for Sir Edward Clancy he would make the trip. He only nodded to Eddie, though. “Well, I ought to head on. Night, Mr. Eddie.”

A cloud of smoke enveloped Eddie’s whole head as he breathed out. “Night, son.”

The boardinghouse sat quiet and close, and Roy took off his boots just inside the front door, stealing as quiet as a man his size could up the stairs. He didn’t want to talk to nobody else; he just wanted to wash his face and crawl into bed and contemplate whatever happy circumstance had brought Sir Edward Clancy to Telluride.

If doing what he was about to do with his hand could be called contemplating.