Montana Territory, Bitterroot Mountain Range, Spring 1889
“I think we should find another way to kidnap him.” Carrie Kerr grabbed onto the pommel to stop from bouncing out of the saddle and straight onto the barely used road as her horse lunged up the hill. She placed her free hand over her stomach to staunch the burning sensation deep within the pit of her belly. They had to do something about Simon, but Aunt June’s plan resembled a patchwork quilt made of fine silk and threadbare burlap—enticing and solid in one square, but ready to tear apart with each hole-ridden piece in the middle. “Someone who lives this far up the mountain, and isn’t a logger, can’t be trusted.”
“Oh bosh.” Aunt June, Carrie’s godmother, leaned forward in her saddle—a trick Carrie had used many times to help stay centered on the horse during a steep ascent. “Plenty of people choose to live away from the bustle of the city, and most of them aren’t bad at heart. They’re simply eccentric.”
“I don’t think an eccentric doctor is what we need right now. We need one we can trust. How long has it been since he practiced medicine? What if he kills Simon?”
“You and I will both be there. We can ensure that will not happen. In any case, we don’t need a doctor who is trustworthy. We need one with no morals. It will be fine. Wait and see.” Aunt June smiled in reassurance, but Carrie didn’t feel the effects of the grin. Simon wasn’t going to be happy once he woke up to find they’d tricked him onto a train. For his own good, of course. At least she hoped it would do him good. These days, there was no telling what might set Simon into a downward spiral of self-pity and irritating surliness. Some days he behaved as he always had—with a jaunty spring in his step—but most days he hid in a deep bottle of amber poison.
If she were going to fix Simon, he needed to get past his scars and trauma from the previous logging season. He needed to find a new passion in life, one that would keep him well for the remainder of his days.
A dilapidated cabin came into view surrounded by equally rough outbuildings. Chickens pecked the ground beside the house, and tucked behind them a mud-bogged pigpen barely held in its overfed occupants. Outside, a large man wearing a yellow-stained cotton shirt leaned into a wagon. Aside from the mud covering the wheel, the wagon was about the only thing on the homestead that looked to be in good shape. The man stood up tall, scrunched his reddened face, and blocked the sun with his hand as Carrie trotted her horse up next to Aunt June’s and stopped before the man.
Aunt June dismounted. “Doctor Larry McGuinn?”
“’Pends on who’s askin’.”
“Are you the traveling doctor who does his business between here and Seattle?”
“’Pends on who’s askin’,” he said again, and spit on the ground. “Did I sell you my miracle serum?”
“Heavens no.” Aunt June clutched the base of her throat. “Do I look like I need a miracle serum? No, sir. When God made me, he made perfection. We’re here because we’re in need of your medical services.”
“Oh?” He spit again. This time the brown stream landed on the front of his shirt, right smack in the middle of the stain. He narrowed his eyes and smoothed his long, greasy hair back. “How’d you know where to find me?”
“Mary Lou sent me. She said your going rate is ten dollars a visit, but I’m willing to give you more. Ten for your services and twenty to keep your mouth shut.” Aunt June curled her lip and stared hard at the disheveled doctor. Carrie mimicked her godmother’s stare. If this half-cocked plan was going to work, they needed the doctor.
The man smacked his lips together, no doubt envisioning all of the tobacco and booze he could procure with the money. “What exactly is it you’re needin’?”
Carrie slid another glance to gauge her godmother’s reaction. Nothing about this situation felt right. In fact a hole formed in her stomach and led straight to the bottom of her feet. She probably wouldn't eat until after Simon’s inevitable outburst once he got to the mountain. Aunt June’s shoulders relaxed and the corners of her mouth twitched as if she held back a smile. “I heard there was a concoction we can get that makes a person go into a deep sleep. We need a bottle of that.”