CROSSROADS #8 A Stage to San Quetzal

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic

Famed actor James Rutherford cones to town and there he meets a charming young woman who would love nothing more than to be alone with this debonair gentleman. She has her chance when the two share a stage to the town of San Quetzal. The ride is one that will change both their lives forever and expose Mr. Rutherford's darkest secret.

Welcome to Texas, the mid-1880s, and a tiny incidental desert hamlet named Crossroads. It's a little known, seldom spoken of frontier town, snugly nestled beneath majestic mountains along the south-western border between Texas and Mexico, and morally poised between virtue and corruption. It's a mundane community barely on the maps of this vast region, a unique shade of gray in this harsh black and white world. It's a tiny society unto itself where the sublime sometimes means the surreal. It is a place where wandering souls come for a variety of reasons. For some it's to seek a better life away from the increasingly modernized mayhem of progress. For some it's a place to hang their hat before moving on to their destiny. Still for others it's a sanctuary from the past, a last chance of sorts to start anew.

So welcome, my friend.  Welcome to a town where last chances meet new beginnings.  Welcome to a town on the edge of the American spirit, where the unimaginable is cultivated from the seeds of the human condition. Welcome to a town where the past and the present roll the dice with the future hanging in the balance.

Welcome... to Crossroads.

II=====II=====II=====II=====II=======II======II

CROSSROADS

 “A Stage to San Quetzal”

by LW Thunder

II=====II=====II  * PROLOGUE *  II=====II=====II

Meet Anne Styles; a woman with a single purpose in mind and the wares to see that purpose through to her final satisfaction. She has been in town for the past two weeks. It’s been longer than she’d planned to spend here but it was with good cause. Like many women who venture to the West she is looking for the one thing that has eluded her to date. She’s looking for a man.

Enter Rutherford James.

James is a famous actor and well-to-do socialite. of the highest order. He is a pure thoroughbred of society’s top shelf and if you don’t believe it just ask him. There’s also one other thing that sets Mr. Rutherford James apart from his fellow man.

He has a secret. It is a secret that will most certainly alter the course of his life.

However, all of this seems lost on one Miss Anne Styles as she has made several attempts to make his acquaintance to no avail. One certainly cannot fault her for lacking spirit. Nevertheless today Mr. Rutherford James will most assuredly notice Anne Styles as the pair will share a fateful ride to the sleepy town of San Quetzal.

It will be a ride that neither will ever forget for like many who venture west to find what they seek, they often discover that things are not what they seem when fate shows its cards and leaves you at that unimaginable fork-in-the-road which always awaits you... at Crossroads.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER ONE * II=====II=====II

“How soon before you leave?” asked Anne Styles of the stagecoach driver as she stood in the dusty street. She was dressed in a flowing calico dress. A red knitted shawl adorned her neck and a flowered hat sitting upon her head. She shielded her eyes from the bright noonday sun as she awaited the driver’s response.

“’Bout fifteen minutes ma’am, as soon as my shotgun gets a meal down his gullet” the driver replies. “Will you be coming along?”

“Ah...” she pauses, looking around the bustling Main Street. “I’m not sure just yet, sir.”

“Well, like I said, it’ll be ‘bout fifteen minutes ‘til we pull out” the driver reiterates.

“Yes, thank you” says Miss Styles as she continues searching the street for something or more specifically someone.

Miss Anne Styles, from St. Louis, Missouri, is a handsome woman in her late 30s. She is prim and proper and has a very businesslike manner about her. She shares a very nice estate with her younger sister, Abigail, in St. Louis where she is heavily involved in the social circle of the local society there. By many accounts she is said to be a woman who gets what she wants and is not to be trifled with.

Despite her cultural experiences in high society, this is the first time she’s ventured this far from home without Abigail and has an uneasiness about her demeanor. She makes her way down the windswept lane and onto the boardwalk in front of Mooney’s Last Chance Saloon. Reaching into her handbag, she retrieves a photograph of a younger women approximately in her mid-twenties and a very debonair gentleman. That gentleman is James Rutherford himself. She smiles fondly and puts the picture back into her handbag as she takes a cautious step towards the swinging doors of the Last Chance.

“You’re not going in there are you, miss?” a stern voice says from behind startling her.

“Oh!” she says in a yelp. She she can then see the silver badge on the man’s leather vest and she catches her breath before speaking again. “Oh my, Marshal, you gave me a bit of a start!” she says trying to hide her obvious intent.

“Well, I’m sorry, Miss...?”

“Styles. Anne Styles. I spoke with you the other day about the stagecoach schedule?”

“Oh yes, I remember. The stage to San Quetzal, right?”

“That’s, uh, that’s right” she says with a sheepish grin.

“Well, if I’m not mistaken that’s the San Quetzal stage right there. Are you leaving today?”

“Well I...”

Suddenly a man steps thru the swinging doors right between Marshal Benson and Miss Styles. It is Rutherford James, a tall handsome man in his late thirties. He is dressed in a fancy three-piece suit such as the fancied dandy he believes himself to be. He is reading a newspaper but quickly folds it up. He casts a quick sideways glance of condescension towards Miss Styles before immediately turning his attention to the Marshal.

“Oh Marshal, good to see you again” he says in an almost manufactured superior manner.

“Afternoon, Mr. James. I hear you’re leaving us today?” says Marshal Benson with more than a slight happiness in his tone.

“Yes, well I am overdue in San Francisco. I’m going to be headlining a big theatrical play there; perhaps you’ve heard of it? ‘The Merchant of Venice’”

“Well can’t say that I have, Mr. James but –“

“Just the same, I shall be leaving your little... hamlet... for San Quetzal and then onto San Francisco. I do hope you come up and see the show sometime.” says James dripping with insincerity.

“Don’t get over that way too often myself but I wish you the best of luck with your play”

“Yes well, thank you. Good day” says James, again casting a quick glance down at Miss Styles but not acknowledging her.

Benson shakes his head as he watches Rutherford James cross the road and head to the stagecoach.

“Quite the dandy” he says under his breath.

Anne Styles also follows James with her gaze. Her face lights up like a schoolgirl when asked to the local barn dance.

“Miss Styles?” says Benson clearly seeing the stars in Miss Styles eyes.

“I’m sorry, Marshal. I don’t want to be late for the stage.” she says almost absentmindedly as she steps down into the busy street.

Marshal Benson smiles and shakes his head once again.

“Now there’s a pair” he mutters to himself as he turns and makes his way down the boardwalk.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER TWO * II=====II=====II

“This suitcase too, don’t forget this” says Miss Styles to the driver.

“Don’t worry, ma’am. We ain’t never left anything or anyone behind yet and dang sure ain’t about to start now”, he says with a touch of indignance at the thought.

Once the suitcase, is secured atop the stage, the driver then opens the door for Miss Styles to enter the coach. As she steps inside her eyes meet with Rutherford James’. A wide but dainty smile appears on Anne styles’ face as she takes a seat opposite Mr. James. James bristles abit as Miss Styles settles in with her purse and a large cloth carpet bag. He then buries his face in the latest edition of the local newspaper. In response Miss Styles demurely glances at James and then down into her lap.

“’Bout time you got here!” shouts the driver.

Miss Styles looks out the window to see a short rotund man with gravy stains on his shirt running up to the stage. He is carrying a shotgun and a Winchester rifle in his hands.

“Now Frankie you know I need to eat in order to keep up my strength, you know, in case any bandits or highwaymen try an’ loot us” the man says with strained emotion.

 

“Yeah, yeah, the way you eat even Rudabaugh himself wouldn’t stand a chance against your mighty well-fed shootin’ prowess, heh, heh” the driver retorts with a grin.

“Aw, hang ya” says the portly shotgun rider as he climbs up into place.

“Hold on folks we’re headin’ out! H’ya!” shouts the driver as he cracks the reins and the stage jerks away down the lane.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER THREE * II=====II=====II

The stagecoach rumbles over the rough terrain for the next several hours. Its two passengers are content to let the time pass quietly until the silence is broken by Miss Styles.

“Ahem” coughs Anne in a clear attempt to get Rutherford James’ attention. James isn’t biting though and continues to hide his focus behind the newspaper. Undeterred, Miss Styles tries again.

“Ahem!” she says covering her mouth.

James gives a long sigh and then lowers one corner of the paper to see Miss Styles. her face brightens at the attention.

“Why Mr. James, I’m a big fan of yours and –“

“Thank you, madam” he replies with all the warmth of a dead fish. He returns his attention to the newspaper in its full position.

“Um, my name is Anne Styles. I’m from back East” she continues.

James slowly lowers the paper again, a look of obvious impatience on his countenance.

“I’ve seen some of your plays in Boston and St Louis. I used to go with my sister to see them. She wanted to be an actress herself actually.”

“Yes, well, it’s a very difficult profession, very demanding, you know” he says in a superior tone.

“Yes” she says sheepishly,” I know.”

“I was very surprised to find you in the town. I must say, up close, you are even more handsome than the photographs I’ve seen. What brought you way out here?”

James’ brow furrows abit as he glances out the window.

“I was, uh, just looking to get away for a little bit.”

“Oh, like on holiday?” she asks with a smile.

“Ah yes, yes, like on holiday” he says stumbling out the words.

Anne nods. The stage suddenly rolls to a stop causing James to sit upright and look out the window. The driver steps down and opens the door.

“We’re at Walker’s Well, folks. gonna switch up horses here so it’ll be a bit. You may wanna stretch your legs and grab a bite to eat inside. Ma Walker always serves up a grand spread. Biscuits, gravy, sometimes even a steak!”

The driver leaves the door open as James grumbles.

“I’m sure Mrs. Walker’s culinary skills are second only to a trail cook and just as appetizing.” he sputters gruffly as he exits the coach. He heads towards the wood log cabin with black clouds bellowing from its smokestack. His progress is soon interrupted.

“Ahem!” says Miss Styles waiting in the coach’s doorway.

James rolls his eyes briefly and then reluctantly aids Miss Styles in exiting the stage.

“Allow me, madam” he says, his words dripping with contempt.

“Why thank you, Mr. James” she says warmly.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER FOUR * II=====II=====II

“Okay folks, all aboard as they say on an iron horse” says the stage driver. Having filled their stomachs on Ma Welker’s beef stew and biscuits, Rutherford and Miss Styles slowly make their way back into the stage- coach. Once inside and settled, Miss Styles appears ready for more conversation, much to the chagrin of one Mr. Rutherford.

“That was simply delicious” she says with a smile “don’t you think so?”

James Rutherford gives a muffled cough and replies.

“Truth be told, it’s not exactly San Francisco cuisine but it serves to get the deed done.”

Anne Style frowns abit but quickly it gives way to her seemingly ever-present smile.

“Oh, I think it was very nice, a touch of home cooking way out in this barren land.”

“Yes, well…I’m sure you’re more acquainted with such culinary endeavors” says Rutherford, his voice dripping with disdain.

Anne frowns at the implication intended then her smile returns.

“The driver says we’ll be in San Quetzal by sundown” she says with excitement.

“Not soon enough to suit my taste,” retorts the stuffy Rutherford. “I’ll be remaining on this stage however as it will head west to San Francisco shortly thereafter.”

“I’ll be going as far as San Quetzal unfortunately. I’ve got family there I haven’t seen in years.”

“I’m sure it will be a quaint little hamlet much like the one we left to begin this sojourn” says James.

Anne pouts a bit but replies with an upbeat tone.

“I think it’s going to be a very happy reunion there” she says confidently.

Rutherford looks down his nose at this woman who obviously has never traveled within cultured circles.  He then turns his gaze out the window to the dusty vision of far-off mountains and dreams of what lies ahead in San Francisco.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER FIVE * II=====II=====II

James Rutherford lets loose a violent cough, a direct result of the dust from their journey.

“Would you like a little wine to wash the dust out of your throat?” she asks.

Rutherford’s eyes widen and a smile now adorns his lips.

“Why madam, I’m surprised by you” he says knowingly with a wink.

Anne pours some wine into the shot glass and hands it to him. He holds the tiny glass up to the light and grins. He sniffs it and then takes a small sip, savoring it’s bouquet of flavor.

“Aaaah, not bad” he says with a satisfied smile. “Not bad at all. Tastes like a California aged vintage.”

“You know your wines too I see” says Miss Styles. “Indeed, it is from southern California.”

“Unmistakably” he replies, satisfied with himself.

The pair sit back and enjoy the wine as the stage continues along its journey.?

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER SIX * II=====II=====II

The sun was lower in the sky when Rutherford begins coughing again.

“Are you alright” she asks.

“I-I..” he stammers as the coughing increases.

“Oh, good heavens!” says Miss Anne Styles.

“I…I can’t...” says Rutherford seemingly choking on his words.

“You can’t what?” asks Styles, a concerned look on her face.

Rutherford’s coughing spell has become a violent episode now. His body shakes and convulses with each cough.

“Are you alright?” she asks with worry in her voice.

Rutherford gives a big exhale and then slumps back in his seat. Anne Styles leans over to him fanning him with her gloved right hand. Rutherford’s breathing has slowed to him taking weak gulps of air. His eyes are wide with horror. Anne Styles looks at him…

..and smiles.

“Can you hear me, James?” she says in a cold, measured tone. “Can you understand me? Blink twice if you do.”

Rutherford painstakingly blinks his watering eyes twice.

“Good. I want you to fully comprehend this, James.” She says sitting back in her seat proper-like. “You see you don’t know me but I certainly know you. You are the one who made promises to a twenty-eight-year-old woman, crushed her dreams and then killed her.”

Rutherford’s eyes dart back in forth in abject fear.

“Oh, not me, goodness no,” she says with a slight chuckle. “No, I know what men of your type are like, what you are and what you do to people. Innocent people.”

Rutherford appears unable to move anything except his eyes.

“No, your victim this time was Abigail Styles, my little sister” says Styles.

She reaches into her handbag and pulls out the faded picture she put back in there earlier. In the picture was a young woman with a big smile and James Rutherford with a stoic visage. Anne leans towards Rutherford and holds the picture up for Rutherford to see. On the back are written "Anne - The man of my dreams". Rutherford's eyes frantically widen again.

“I can tell, you do recognize her, don’t you?” she says in a cold and calculating tone. “You see she wrote me about meeting you and striking up a friendship which she said blossomed into a love affair. She sent me this picture and told of the promises you made her; the big fancy house, traveling the world over, the life of luxury someone like you could easily supply."

Anne sits back in her seat.

“But that wasn’t the plan, was it? No. When she started to tell folks about your plans and dreams you saw that she was not just going to take some cash and go ahead like so many young girls before her. No, she was willing to fight for your love and thus you felt you were left with only one option. Kill her.”

A furious look of anger now adorns her face.

"But you didn't count on one thing" she says with all the warmth of a dead fish. "Me."

Anne looks down at the picture.

"Abigail was so young and naïve. She was full of life and wanted to share hers with the man she loved. She was not wise to the ways of lecherous men like you. She didn't know how to treat men like you. That was her kindness."

"Not a trait I share.” she says with a determined look on her gentle face.

“So, Mr. Rutherford, your time of retribution has come. You see I have family and friends, many friends. Some of those friends were kind enough to keep an eye on my baby sister, knowing her inexperience with the world beyond St. Louis. I was kept informed on what she was doing and with whom she was keeping company. When she ‘disappeared’ and you claimed to not know where suddenly she went, well…it was pretty clear what had happened. Her body was found, wrapped up in an old bedsheet and tied down with heavy logs and had been thrown into a river. I was soon informed about this and began tracking you down, Mr. Rutherford. You’re not a hard man to find what with your lavish lifestyle for opulent arrogance.”

Anne moves forward to the edge of her seat.

“It wasn’t hard to follow the breadcrumbs to that little town where I met you today. The out of the way haven you hoped would put some space and time between you and what you’d done. But like I said, I’ve got many family and friends in these parts and thanks to them, you'll be taking your dirty little secret to your death here in this dingy little stagecoach bound for San Quetzal.”

Her brow furrows with anger.

“The reason you cannot move or speak is due to the wine or rather the poison I laced your shot glass with. It’s an old recipe handed down from my great, great grandmother who came to this country fleeing the oppression in her own. That poison starts by robbing you of mobility. Next it makes it hard for you to breathe until finally…your life ends, just like you ended Abigail’s life. An eye for an eye. A life for a life. And so, it ends. She was such a sweet and innocent girl, robbed of the life she was supposed to have thanks to your hand.”

Anne Styles now sits back once more in her seat, her anger replaced by a satisfied look on her face.

“But you’ll be greeted by The Devil himself soon, Mr. Rutherford. I’m sure he’s got a special place for you prepared.”

James Rutherford’s last moments of life are accentuated by Anne Styles parting words.

“Enjoy Hell.”

Rutherford heaves one last breathe, his eyes widen once more and then…he’s gone.

Anne Styles reaches over and places her hand across his eyes and closes them. She picks up James’ bowler hat and places it upon his head, tilted down over his face. She then sits back in her seat.

“You can rest easy now” she says staring down at the faded picture in her hand. “Abigail.”

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER SEVEN * II=====II=====II

The sun sit’s low in the western skies over San Quetzal as the stage rolls to a stop on its dusty Main Street. The bustling hamlet is winding down it’s day and getting ready for its abundant nightlife of whiskey, women and song at its barrooms and dance halls.

“Okay folks we have arrived” says the driver as he applies the brakes.

Anne Styles gets out of the stage and puts a finger to her lips.

“Shhhh” she hisses, “Mr. Rutherford is asleep. He wanted me to tell you not to wake him until you were leaving for San Francisco.”

She cups a tiny hand to her mouth and leans in towards the driver.

“The poor fellow, he was so tired. I think he was into the wine a little too much” she says with a little giggle.

“Fair enough” says the driver handing down the suitcase of Anne Styles. “We won’t be leaving for a couple of hours anyways so we’ll wake him after supper then.”

Anne Styles gives the driver a telling wink and a grin. She then makes her way down to the train station.

The ticket seller looks out his window at her.

“May I help you miss?” he says with a smile.

“When is the train due in?” she asks.

“You’ve got great timing cuz it’s due here in about fifteen minutes.”

“I’d like to buy a ticket to ride please.”

“How far you going?” asks the man.

“All the way to Kansas City” she replies.

“It makes five stops along the way but you should be rolling into ol’ San Fran sometime around noon tomorrow. That’ll be eleven dollars and fifty cents.”

Anne Style gives him a polite smile as she reaches into her handbag and hands him the money.

The man turns away from the window and pounds a ticket with a stamp. He then hands her the ticket.

“Thank you very much” she says and retrieves her suitcase from her side.

The man feigns a tip of his non-existent hat to Miss Styles.

Anne Styles simply smiles.

II=====II=====II * EPILOGUE * II=====II=====II

What would you do to right a wrong so egregious as murder? Meet the multi-faceted Miss Anne Styles, cultured socialite, loving sister and erudite avenger. She had her plan and executed it to perfection. For wondering minds, Mr. Rutherford was discovered dead just two hours after they’d arrived in San Quetzal.

There’s still a mystery surrounding the death of this famed actor among the towns folk. There was no sign of foul play or confrontation. It appeared as if the man simple crossed over into eternity during his slumber.

As for Miss Anne Styles, the local authorities tried to locate her thru the railroad to see what she knew but she departed the train somewhere between San Quetzal and Kansas City. As she said, she has many family and friends in many places and perhaps a family was visited by her somewhere near Oklahoma City where her personal horse-and-buggy were held, awaiting her to return to make the five-day trip home to St. Louis, Missouri.

Of course, that’s just one of the plausible theories among the many told in the barrooms and backrooms of this part of the country. Some say she just simply disappeared into history’s tome of the unknown. Whatever the final fate of Anne Styles was, only one thing is certain; the goal she sought was ultimately fulfilled.

Evil comes to us on this earth in many forms. One such form is murder. James Rutherford made his decision long before he met Miss Anne Styles in that sleepy little town. He played his part in this tragedy perfectly right through to the final curtain fell. His just reward was delivered unto him in short order.

Life is precious and fleeting on this earthly plain. At one time or another, we will all find ourselves facing a decision with important ramifications when we all arrive at the moment of inevitable choices…at Crossroads.

II=====II=====II * THE END * II=====II=====II


Submitted: May 13, 2021

© Copyright 2021 LW Thunder. All rights reserved.

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