It was the sixties, and all that folks could talk about was the railroad.
It was going to span the entire United States, they claimed. It would stretch all the way from the civilization of the East Coast out to the wild West, to those hills that prospectors claimed were full of gold. It would connect the two halves of the world, would let folks travel the whole length of the continent in under a fortnight.
Even now, although the great Trans-Continental project wasn’t yet completed, there were already folks heading in both directions as fast as they could, searching for some sort of magical opportunity, as if they were certain to find it if they just traveled far enough.
For Carson, he didn’t much mind when folks from his town vanished overnight, leaving behind just a scrawled note announcing that they were going west. Most of the folks who left weren’t exactly the most stable type to keep around. Many of them had spent at least a night or two cooling off in his cells downstairs.
If they just left, well, Carson wouldn’t complain over that.
But for each one who left, another individual would appear, taking their place. And these individuals, these newcomers, they usually brought their crazy foreign ideas in with them. Those ideas often stirred up trouble.
Particularly the girl who now glared defiantly across the room at Carson, her hands wrapped around the heavy iron bars of his cell.
Something about the girl’s wide eyes put Carson a little off balance. Even though she was the one locked up, after he’d dragged her away from the town square even as she dug in her heels and yelled, she didn’t act like she was imprisoned.
“How long do you think you can keep me here?” she demanded, glaring at Carson with eyes that seemed to blaze. “You can’t just leave me locked up!”
“Sure I can,” the man returned, not letting his tone betray any slip in his calm demeanor. He lifted up his chipped coffee mug, taking a slow sip as the girl glared daggers at him. His eyes roved over the girl from above the rim of his mug.
She was dirty, and definitely looked as if she’d just rolled in off the railroad, into sleepy Mississippi. But under that layer of dirt and grime was thick, strawberry blonde hair, and her skin had the bronze sheen of a life spent out under a sun less harsh than here. Her clothes were ill-fitting, but covered in riotous color. If she just cleaned herself up a bit, Carson thought, she would be quite an attractive young woman.
But she’d have to get that scowl off her face, first.
“So, California,” the police officer said, using the name he’d given her when he dragged her in yesterday afternoon, “what brings you out here?”
The woman stared defiantly back at him. “Life,” she fired back, as if this was the obvious answer that he’d somehow overlooked.
“And life brought you here,” Carson finished, reaching up and rubbing one hand through his own hair. He looked at her again, sizing her up as she kept on staring back, through the dirty strands of hair hanging down across her forehead.
“Listen,” the cop finally said, setting his coffee cup aside. “You want a shower? Get yourself cleaned up?”
The woman looked suspicious still, but she nodded.
Carson rose up, picking up the keys from the old roll-top desk beside him. “Now remember, don’t try anything,” he warned her. “But I’m trusting you, not putting any cuffs on you. And I’ll send someone running down to Miss Fansworth down the street, see about getting you some clean clothes.”
For just a moment, in California’s eyes, Carson saw a hint of something unexpected. Was that gratitude?
But a moment later, she had raised her shields once again, and was glaring back at him. “Don’t think that you’ve won me over with this,” she snapped at him.
Carson rolled his eyes as he unlocked the cell door. “Perish the thought.”
To be continued!