The bittersweet heat of the tobacco was soothing, and he breathed the smoke out through his nose in thin, blue streams, trying to settle his thoughts.
He’d shaved his beard today, carefully scraping the coarse, whiskey-colored brambles into the basin as if he were shedding a mask. It had been a very long time since he’d shown his bare face to the world. He felt naked. The only people that might have recognized him from his other life had been very scarce these last months, and mostly preoccupied with other things. But he knew he couldn’t hide forever...and he didn’t want to anymore. I’m done changing how I look and hiding. Done forgetting who I am. And I am especially done forgetting where I need to be.
Monahan, the coach guard might have recognized him if he'd been paying attention. But the man was tied up between courting one of the local schoolmarms, raising his teenage cousin, and helping his trail partner, Peter Bari, build a house. So might Bari, but he was making long-term plans with Lynch’s cook, Miss McMillian, and was preoccupied with other things. Neither man had taken a hard look at him, and he intended to keep it that way. At least for the time being. And thank goodness it was Egan and not Lynch who hired me. Lynch is in here all the time. So keeping a low profile had been relatively easy.
He’d intended to come here and get things up and running, get the team here settled in after the Express had gone bankrupt, and then move on. And move on he would, but not in the direction he’d initially planned.
The man who called himself Griffin knew he had let fear rob him of his happiness. Of his life. And today, he was going to take the first step to taking it back, if taking it back was possible.
It had been the last time Peltier had come through here with his white wife, Fiona, that had turned it for him. Peltier in his trapper’s leathers, and the Mrs. with her books and ledgers and her expensive dress. They’d come in with the Lakota woman and Jesse Hanson, the couple he’d defended against Spires and Harper, his late surveying partners. Hanson and his wife had brought their infant son by the office before the four of them headed back to their fledgling fur trading outpost near Fort Bridger.
The baby had looked to him like hope and miracles, with his dusky skin and hair like dark honey and eyes the color of summer. Like happiness against all odds. Like courage.
The door swung open, the sound startling him out of his reverie. He jerked his head up, watching Luis and Tommy approach his desk.
“Hey, Mister Griffin,” Luis said. “Mister Lynch needs...” He stopped, sniffing the sweet blue smoke hanging in the air. “That smells exactly like my favorite tobacco.”
“I have a confession, boys,” the man who called himself Griffin said. “Two confessions. I used to be a man named McGrath. I wanna be him again. And two...” He took another drag on his quirly, bracing himself. Steady, Adan. The first step’s always the hardest. He drew in a deep breath. “I need Tommy to mind the office for a couple days. I gotta ride out to Church Buttes. I need to do right by someone...some family...I got out there.”
I've been putting off finishing this. It's been done for about two weeks, and when I finished, I didn't know how to feel. I've been doing this so long, I don't know how not to do it now. I have other projects in the works, and this will not be the last you hear of me. And I will definitely keep you posted on what will be coming up the trail.
I'm working on re-writing the final book in the Five Dollar Mail series, The Road Home. That's not to say I won't write any more Five Dollar Mail stories. I probably will at some point down the line. But we're done with the main body of work. I tried really hard to wrap things up nicely. And this is, after all, the draft version. So if you all see something that you feel is not resolved or wrapped up, please say something and let me know. I'm not always as clear as I mean to be. The book will be available on Amazon as soon as we get through the process. I'll announce it here.
Planning on leaving the blog up for about a month so my readers here can finish up if they need to. Then I'm going to strip out quite a bit of it. I'll leave the artwork and the extras and whatnot. I'm trying to direct traffic over to Wattpad for the time being.
But anyways, what I really want to say is thank you. Thank you so much, all you regulars, all you amazing people I have met along the way. All you people I never spoke with, but who lit up my statcounter every week.
I'm a published author now because of you. Because I would have quit a long time ago if you all hadn't been holding my hand the whole time. You all know who you are.
I'm gonna hit "publish" now. My hands are shaking about as bad as they were the first time I ever posted a piece of work online.
I love you guys. I really, really mean that. I owe you. More than you'll ever know.