SADDLEBAGS,Trunks, and Tombs
Book 1: Chapter 3, Chapter 4, and Chapter 5
The smoke was clearing, though he could not truly see it. There were screams. No one screamed at gunfights anymore. The women, who might be around, were very good at keeping it down as gunfights were illegal. Gunfights were a thing of the distant past now a days, but every once in a while.... He had felt the bullets sear into his skin. Four? Five? Yet he felt no pain. Nothing but utter stillness hung in the air around him. Jackson could feel the noonday sun beating down on his skin as well as what felt to be numerous pairs of hands grabbing him on every side. Still, he could hear the screaming and now what sounded like the muffled distress calls of a child. There had been no children around when he had run into street, yet the cries were definitely those of a child. Something wasn’t right. He would bet his life on it, if he was lucky enough to have a life left after all was said and done.
‘Old Jack’, watched the two bodies being taken from behind the railway postal building where they had been hidden from the sun and the local brass. The men who carried the bodies began to walk off into the cool darkness of the moonlit desert. As he stood off in the distance, he watched the first body being carefully placed into its grave, covered, and what appeared to be a cross of Jesus Christ placed above it. A bright column of golden light appeared, though the men digging the graves didn’t seem to be disturbed by it. Not too far away, the second of the two bodies was dragged and tumbled into the second grave. He could almost feel each grain of the desert sand on his skin as the grave was covered. When it appeared that the burial was complete, he heard a thud near the grave and those that were there began to walk away.
There was no strange column of light around the second grave and no cross to mark it. Jackson Winchester stared at the second grave for a long time. Were his feet beginning to move him forward? He would have sworn not and yet he seemed to be moving closer and closer from the spot where he had been watching the double burial. The light atop the first grave, to his right, was starting to dim now. He was, somehow, standing at the foot of the unmarked grave when he felt the first pull. There was suddenly no darkness and no light, just the gentle pulling. He began to fall forward onto the mound of dirt in front of him. He instinctively threw his hands out, hoping to catch his own weight and roll off to the side, but it was not to be. There was a flash of light as he hit the softness of the desert sand that covered the grave but the falling didn’t stop when it should have. He tried to scream but the darkness swallowed his final call.
I am not a drinker. As I told you before, I enjoy my wines, but this night I was finding my solace in a cheap bottle of spiced rum. I don’t remember buying this crap, but here it was held tightly between my hands. I just don’t know what to think. I’m not sure if I am thinking at all at this point. I have been staring out of the window, the window that has given me such pleasure over the years, sunken within the couch, waiting. The night lights of the river front condominiums, shimmering off the water, are as they have always been for this time of year. Shock?? I wish that were all I was feeling. Or maybe it was, as I can’t say that I have ever been in shock before, but if not, this seemed to be everything I ever thought shock would and more.
For all I was feeling and going through this night, part of me, the writer in me, wanted the window to swirl again, with its nauseating twists and turns. I wanted the window to show me something, something I could watch, something I could write. A small movement caught my eye. The letter on the coffee table had moved slightly, as if there were a small, silent breeze that had blown through the kitchenette window even though that window was closed. Bending slightly forward, I reached forward to pick it up.
Cornish, New Hampshire 1905
Franklin J. Winchester was livid! He’d finally had enough! Out of all of his sons, this one had to be the most infuriating, impetuous young man he had ever met! For all of the hair brained schemes over the years, especially the little “trips” Jackson started taking at five years old, this was possibly the worst thing he could have done and Franklin would have it no more!
Franklin remembered the night he had heard his wife’s frightened screams. It had been just past 8:00pm and she had gone upstairs to say her final goodnights to the boys when one of the servants said that Master Jackson was not in his room. The whole manor had been searched from top to bottom. The sheriff had been called as his wife stared out of the large window in their last child’s room, the pale tan curtains blowing in the wind from a breeze that was making its way through the window which had been left slightly askew.
The child had been found of course, crossing the Cornish-Windsor Bridge. Franklin inflicted the thrashing that he felt he could not help but to administer, even as his teary eye though, relieved wife protested. What in the world would make a five year old child climb out the window in the middle of the night? The boy had said he had to see something and over the years, Jackson would go on his little adventures to “see” things.
Over the years this roaming streak in his son continued and worsened. He had thought that sending Jackson to New York for college would quell the wandering streak and help him prepare to settle down and become a lucrative member of the family business. It hadn’t. Well, this time, Franklin was going to send his twenty-five year old, youngest child on what would hopefully be his grandest journey and far enough away from Cornish so that his father could clean up this last and hopefully final mess. What would make his son think that he could get away with sneaking off and marrying one of the young servant girls?? This was unheard of and would not be tolerated!! Regardless of who she was, she was still a servant!!
It was autumn of 1905 when he convinced the boy to go west and help establish a new Winchester Savings and Loan in Arizona. He had heard the small choked sound coming from the girl his son had secretly married as she dusted the foyer. Jackson had looked uncertain, but his eyes danced with the chance to “see more”, just as Franklin had known they would.
A few days later, with Jackson safely boarded on the train, Franklin had returned home to complete the clean-up of what he hoped would be the last mess his youngest son would make in Cornish. Franklin, being one of the most influential men in New Hampshire, had called in a favor and made the unsavory marriage of his son to the teenage servant girl disappear with the swipe of a pen.
He wasn’t totally cold hearted as he put her into the street. He gave her what he thought would be enough money for her to live on until she procured another job and shut the door behind her. By the time his son finished his task in Arizona, young Martha Edgemore should be nothing but a fleeting memory.
As Martha walked away from the house, green eyes sparkling with tears, she held her head up high, refusing to be broken. She would keep the promise she had made to Mr. Winchester, the promise that had secured her the money she would need to live. She would also keep the secret of the life that had begun to stir within her womb.
Jackson would reach Kingman, Arizona in the early winter, in his own way and in his own time. There were things to see, and by God, he would see them. His father had given him a substantial amount of start-up money to start the new savings and loan. He sat comfortably in his seat on the train, remembering the look in his young wife’s eyes as she stood in the picture window of his father’s manor, trying not to cry as the carriage had pulled off.
He would send for her, he would do all the things he had promised her in the still of their last night together with her curled in his embrace. She hadn’t made a big fuss, she was unhappy, but she knew him, knew his need to “see”, and had seemed to console herself in the fact that he was going to set them up nicely in the west and send for her. They would be in touch, but in the meantime there was a whole world to see and he was about to see it on his father’s money.
The newspaper would tell of another train robbery. More bandits seeking to make their riches by robbing the money from the railway post office and anyone else that may be on board the train at the time. The story would get back to Franklin Winchester that bandits had held up the train and had robbed everyone on board. The band of bandits, truth be told, would be one very gentlemanly bandit.
One who would make off with the Winchester money and the money from the post. One who would kill just enough people to get away with what he wanted. One who would jump the train before he reached the west and would see the country as he chose to. One, Jackson Winchester, who would pull off one of the biggest train heists on the Santa Fe line, and get away with it, alone.
Jackson, or ‘Old Jack’ as he would come to be known in the next five years, was living the life! As promised, he did start out by sending secret letters to his bride that unbeknownst to him were carried to her in secret by one of the cooks at the manor. He never knew what had taken place after his departure. He also never knew that on July 8, 1906, young master Charles Jackson Winchester had been brought into the world.
As fate would have it, he would never know the trials that Martha had gone through awaiting his letter to bring her and Charlie home. For four years he wrote, more and more infrequently. By his fifth year away from Cornish, as his father had surmised, Martha seemed too have faded from his thoughts and his heart.
Somehow I knew that the scene in the window was about to change. This time, even though I remained fear struck, I was able to sit down. The nausea didn’t come, though I truly expected it to.
The picture in the window became clear. It was a little faster than last time. I tried to convince myself that I was watching the largest big screen television in history. Hey, my imagination is good, but not that good. Nonetheless I sat and prepared to soak in as much as I could while the left side of my brain danced on the edge of panic.
The sign on the building said “The Hotel Brunswick”. It seemed to be on an old dusty road with a small railroad station on the opposite side. As the picture took me inside, there was an old piano to the right being attacked by a rustic looking man, a lot of people and activity at the bar, and the girls there were dressed in “Lady of the Night” clothes for that period. It looked like the old western bars I had seen on the old television show, “Bonanza” that I loved to watch while I was growing up.
Next it seemed as if a camera was taking me up a flight of steps, past working girls and drunken men. Paying a little more attention, as I was writing this down, it seemed as if those who weren’t drunk, yet, were waiting for something. For a moment it seemed as if I was actually there, a part of the scene, but I realized that the picture in the window came to me as if I was there. If I looked to the right, the picture looked to the right. It was the same in any direction I looked. The picture gave in to my curiosity even as it continually moved me forward to where it was taking me, like a small child holding onto his mother’s hand.
When I reached the first landing, the picture veered forward and then to the right. Looking back, I noticed that there was another flight of stairs, and at least one more floor above me, but it was on this second floor that the picture wanted me to be. We ended up going down a long hall to a single door that led out onto a balcony overlooking the dirt road we had come in from.
There was a young man with dark brown hair under a black cowboy hat, maybe in his early thirties. It was his eyes that caught me. Something in the dark blueness of them made him look older as he stood leaning against the wall, looking into the street. The time on the clock behind him said it was five minutes until noon. I looked out into the street and noticed that there was no movement what so ever. Where there had been people a few minutes ago there were now none.
I turned my head to the right and on closer examination I realized that there was one lone figure in the road. I was compelled to look to the left and further up the street stood another lone figure, opposite the first. The window turned me towards the clock again, four minutes to noon and then to the young man leaning on the wall with what appeared to be a shot of whiskey in his hand. There was going to be a gunfight and we, the man and I were watching it!!
Across the road, the train had pulled up and slowed to a stop. I watched as the passengers unloaded and noticed a pretty, petite, though tired looking young lady, with the most beautiful strawberry blond hair, stepping off of the train. It was at this moment that the window took over and I was only allowed to see what it wanted me to see. The picture went into slow motion. The clock said two minutes until noon.
The young man that had been leaning against the wall had dropped his drink and was making his way down the steps off the side of the balcony. A set of stairs that had gone unnoticed. It appeared he also had noticed the woman at the same time as myself. The young lady had turned around and bent over into the train. The man had now hit the street and hollered out. The town clock began to chime, the young lady turned around and began to run towards the road, the young man ran out into the road, hollering at the top of his lungs and the shots rang out.
When the smoke cleared there were two bodies lying in the road. The young man and the woman he had tried to save were both lying still on the dusty ground. The gunfighters at either side of the road, one of which should have been dead if not both, were nowhere to be seen. All of a sudden there was a bustle of activity in the street. The men moved as if they had to get these bodies out of the street and quick. Just as I was trying to focus on the scene in the street I noticed a little boy, maybe four years old, standing on the last step of the exit from the train. He was looking toward the street and began to cry out for his mom. The window faded to black.
Vera Cole had been one of the first people into the street. She too, like Jackson, had seen the young girl stepping off the train. She had seen the picture on ‘Old Jacks’ night table numerous times since the first time she had gone to his room. A couple of years ago, on one of their evenings together, he had even spoken her name, Martha. Vera had actually probably noticed the picture more than he had in the past year. She was, no, she had been jealous of the pale, red haired girl that now lay in the street, lifeless.
She had also noticed Jackson coming from the balcony moving with the speed of an African gazelle. Now, as she neared his body, she could hear screaming. Was that her? The cries came uncontrollably until she saw the child standing by the body of the young girl. The young boy had strawberry blond hair like the dead woman but the eyes, the deep blue eyes...she stopped crying almost instantly and left Jackson’s body to run to the child.
Though his eyes were wet with tears and rift with the confusion a child would have at seeing his mother lying in the street, Vera was able to get the boy to tell her his name as she attempted to comfort him. He said his name was Charlie and he had a birthday coming up soon. That was why his momma had brought him here, so he could have a happy birthday with his poppa.
Vera took his hand and led him away from the body of his mother and past the body of his poppa, the father he would never know, and into the hotel.
As the days passed, no information could be found concerning Charlie nor an address for his mother’s kin. Jackson had never spoken of a child nor his own people. The boy was so small! Vera began to realize that Jackson hadn’t known he had a boy, and never would. Vera had no idea what to do with the orphaned boy. Then one morning, as she watched him eating a bowl of oatmeal, it came to her. She would do what Jackson would have wanted her to do.
Vera gathered her savings and all the other money she could get her hands on, bought a small ranch at the end of town and took the boy home. Over the years, she made sure that Charlie lived the life she knew Jackson would have wanted for him, the life of a gentleman.