The 1870’s in America was a rough time to be a child. Even though slavery officially ended during the War Between the States, people like George’s parents were still only considered partial people. Except for out West. In California, the general rough and tumble nature of that rugged state allowed for more opportunities that anywhere else in country, and so the Sample family struck out to start a new life.
Though California had its perks, it also had its pitfalls. Even back east people only had a rudimentary understanding of how to control diseases, and epidemics were frequent. At the tender age of seven, George lost both of his parents because of a tainted well. The family hadn’t been in Sacramento long enough to have put down any roots or made any friends, and he found himself on his own.
He went door to door around the Sacramento riverfront, offering to do small jobs for the various hotels and businesses. A few people took him up on his offer, including a saloon owner named Viola Thorne. She didn’t ask questions at first, but sensed that this wasn’t just a kid looking to scrounge pocket money. When he’d finish his chores, she started to have her cook fix him a plate, and it wasn’t long before he was spending all of his time around her place. Vi wasn’t exactly the motherly type, but she made sure he was safe and had a warm place to sleep. Best of all, she had horse that George loved to care for and he harbored hope that she’d teach him to ride someday when he was grown up.
From No Rest for the Wicked
When George spied the lacy contents of Vi’s luggage, he averted his gaze and giggled. “I got the money, Miss Viola. Some of them are starting to wake up, but I got it.”
“Excellent. Put it on the table, and take a five-dollar bill for yourself.”
“Yes ma’am!” he yelped gleefully. Once he unburdened himself of his spoils, he waved a crumpled bill at her before tucking it into his shoe. “You say you got something else for me to do, ma’am?”
“How would you like a promotion, George?”
“I think I’d like that a lot.”
“You’ve been hanging around here going on two years now. I realized you been working here, but we never did get around to making you an official member of the staff.”
He waved away her concern. “Aw, that’s okay, ma’am. I eat awful good here, and I like working for you.”
“No, it’s not okay. You may not be all grown yet, but you deserve to say you’ve got a job and to earn yourself a salary. So, from now on, you’re going to be my valet. That sounds good to you?”
His grin widened. “I don’t know what a ‘valley’ does, but you can count on me.”
“Valet,” she gently corrected and gave his shoulder a squeeze. “And your first task will be to head over bright and early tomorrow morning to take a telegram over to the station.”
“Yes’m. I can do that.”
“Good boy.” Vi gestured to the mouth of the trunk and its many tongues of fabric and folds. “But, most of what a valet does is handles a lady’s luggage.”
His face wrinkled in confusion. “You going somewhere?”
“No, sir. We’re going on an adventure.”
Other people just think they’re “haunted by the past.” In Vi’s case, it’s true.
Clairvoyant Viola Thorne wants to forget about her days of grifting and running errands for ghosts. The problem? Playing it safe is dull. So when a dead stranger begs for her help, Vi jumps at the chance to dust off her hustling skills. The unlikely companions are soon tangling with bandits, cheating at cards, and loving every minute.
Then she finds out who referred him, and Vi has to face both a past and ex-partner that refuse to stay buried. Though she betrayed Peter, his spirit warns her of the plot that cost him his life. Vi’s guilty conscience won’t let her rest until she solves his murder. Though she’s spent her whole life fighting the pull of the paranormal, it holds the key to atoning for the only deception she’s ever regretted—breaking Peter’s heart.
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Phoebe Darqueling is the pen name of a globe trotting vagabond who currently hangs her hat in Freiburg, Germany. In her “real life” she writes curriculum for a creativity competition for kids. She loves all things Steampunk and writes about her obsession on SteampunkJournal.org. You can find her short stories in the Chasing Magicand The Queen of Clocks and Other Steampunk Talesanthologies, and her contributions to the collaborative novels,Army of Brass and Esyld’s Awakening. Her first solo novels, Riftmaker and No Rest for the Wicked are available Spring 2019.