Today's Reading

Mr. Call took off his glasses and cleaned them again before tucking them into his breast pocket. "Do you have family in Calvada, Miss Walsh?"

"I had an uncle. He died and left an inheritance."

"In Calvada?" Wiley snorted again. "Good luck with that." His eyes narrowed. "If it's worth anything, someone's already laid claim to it."

"Perhaps I can be of assistance," Call interjected. "I'm a lawyer. If you need help making your legal claim, feel free to come to me."

"That's most kind of you, Mr. Call."

Wiley stuck another pinch of tobacco in his cheek while eyeing Henry Call. "You might as well turn around now, instead of wasting time hangin' up your shingle in Calvada. We got more lawyers than dogs got fleas. And about as welcome."

"I'm employed, Wiley. I won't be in Calvada more than a few months before I head back to Sacramento."

"Who're you working for? Morgan Sanders?" Wiley put his boot up again. "He's one mean—" he glanced at Kathryn—"bird dog."

"I'm not at liberty to say."

"Well, there's only two men in Calvada who'd have money enough to bring up a fancy lawyer from Sacramento or wherever you came from. Sanders or Beck, and I wouldn't want to get between those two."

"Who are they, Wiley?" Kathryn wanted to know something about the town that would soon become her home.

"Morgan Sanders owns the Madera Mine. Rents shacks to his workers. Owns the company store where they have to buy their supplies. Beck came lately, went into partnership with Paul Langnor. Good man, Langnor. Never watered his whiskey. Beck's been doing well with the saloon and casino since Langnor died. Added a hotel. Beck saw the elephant and got sick of buckin' the tiger, was smart enough to find somethin' else to do and make himself rich doin' it."

"Elephants and tigers?" Kathryn felt her anxiety rising.

Henry Call smiled. "Seeing the elephant means learning life the hard way, Miss Walsh. Bucking the tiger means playing faro. The game originated in Europe, and they used cards with pictures of Egyptian pharaohs on the back."

"Been playin' it since I came west in '49," Wiley confessed.

"Gambling, you mean." Kathryn understood now why the man appeared to have nothing more than his worn-out clothes and down-at-the-heels boots.

"Life's a gamble, ain't it? There's risk in anything you do." Wiley Baer, the sage.

"What can you tell me about Calvada?"

"Well, it sure ain't Boston!" He gave a snort of laughter. "I can tell you that much."

"Do you work in the Madera Mine, Wiley?"

"Work for Sanders? I ain't no fool. Once down those shafts, you never get out. Got a mine I work alone in the mountains. Claim goes way back to '52. Got papers to prove it. Good thing, 'cause the record office burned in '54. Burned again in '58. I dig what I need to live on. That way the ore will last a lifetime." He eyed Henry Call suspiciously. "Nobody knows where it is but me." Ruminating a moment, he spit out the window again. "Every now and then, a man has just got to go to a bigger town." He winked at Henry. "Trouble is, I think I got lice..."

"Lice?" The mere mention made Kathryn itch.

"You bet. Some an inch long."

Mr. Call shook his head. "A tall tale, Miss Walsh."

"Who says?" Wiley Baer glowered at Call before giving Kathryn an innocent smile. "You gonna believe a lawyer over an honest man who's lived in these mountains for more'n twenty years? I'm tellin' you, we got ticks you can saddle and ride. The mosquitos carry brickbats under their wings so's they can sharpen their stingers. But you needn't worry, ma'am. There's a surefire way to get rid of them. I just draw a line down my middle, shave all the hair off one side, douse the other with kerosene, and light a match. The critters run to the clear side and I stab them with my hunting knife." He pulled one out of the sheath at his waist and held it up so she could see the nine-inch blade.

She gave him a droll look. "You'd better have good aim."

Wiley laughed. "You betcha." He winked again, at her this time.

"Are there many women in Calvada, Wiley?"

"Women? Yes, siree. About twenty, I'm guessing, if the last count stands. Not many ladies, though, and no one like you, that's for darn sure." He looked her over again. "Are you spoken for?"

"I beg your pardon?" Kathryn blushed, surprised he'd ask such a personal question.

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