A shocking discovery.
“Even though the day is cloudy this elevation is much closer to the sun.” She explained softy as she placed both of her hand in the pockets of her light jacket shielding them from the unseen rays of the sun.
“Oh” Gerard smiled, “Okay.” He reached again for her hand, pulling it out of her pocket then quickly entwined their fingers before putting both of their hands in the pocket of his hoodie. “This okay?”
Anna smiled, “Yes.”
“Hey girlfriend” Alicia greeted Anna. “Love your hat.”
“Thank you.” Anna said smiling from under the large brim that shielded her face. “This was a gift from Claire.”
Claire, who was standing with Bob smiled, “Yes, for your birthday a few years ago.”
Gerard frowned as he realized he didn’t even know Anna’s birthday. He made a mental note to ask Claire later.
“So are we ready?” Alicia asked as the other couples joined them.
“I’m ready.” Frank said full of nervous energy. “Wanna get to town and eat. I’m starved.”
Jamia laughed, “It’s not even lunchtime yet.”
“Hey my tummy says it is and who am I to argue?” Frank whined.
“Crap I hope it doesn’t rain.” Alicia said looking up at the clouds.
Anna smiled, “It usually rains a bit everyday here. But afterwards the air smells so sweet.”
“You sound like you really liked living here.” Ray said glancing over at Anna as they all walked towards Bennett Ave, which was lined with casinos.
Anna nodded, “It is a beautiful place.”
Christa nodded, “I agree. The air smells so clean right now. I can only imagine what it will be like after a rain.”
“Yeah, well I smell food.” Frank giggled as they neared the first casino.
Jamia rolled her eyes, “Okay guess we know where Frank is headed. Should we all just fan out and check out the town?”
“Yeah, it’s not that big.” Ray said with a nod. “I’m sure we’ll run into each other.”
Mikey looked over at Gerard, “Hey wanna head up to that mine? It’s not too far.”
Gerard really didn’t want to leave Anna’s side, “Uh, maybe later.”
Anna saw the look of disappointment on Mikey’s face. “Gee, why don’t you go now?”
He glanced over at her, “I thought we’d check out some casinos first.”
Frank frowned, “Hey I wanna go down it the mine.” Everyone groaned when he broke into an old song.. “down in the silver mine ..tricks on time.”
“Shut up.” Bob said rolling his eyes. “Besides it was a gold mine.”
Frank laughed, “Hey, a mine is a mine. I’ll go with you guys.”
“Thought you were starving.” Gerard said dryly.
“Yeah but I don’t wanna miss out on the mine.” Frank answered. He looked at his wife, “What do you say? Wanna go downnnnn with me?”
Jamia shook her head laughing, “Yeah, I better go with you. Just to keep you out of trouble.”
Bob looked at Claire, “What do you think?”
Claire looked undecided, “I am not sure I want to go 10,000 feet underground. It sounds frightening.”
“It is straight down.” Anna said, “And you will be able to understand what absolute darkness is like.”
“Shit, it’s dark?” Alicia asked.
“They do turn off all the lights once the elevator car reaches the bottom.” Anna answered.
“Okay not my idea of fun.” Alicia said, “However…” she looked into the casino they were standing near, “That does look like fun.”
“You should go.” Anna said looking at Claire. She knew Bob wanted his wife to accompany him.
Bob put his arm around Claire, “Yeah, I’ll protect you from the creepy darkness.”
It turned out that all of the men, Claire and Jamia decided to tour the Mollie Kathleen. Alicia, Christa and Anna walked into the first casino as they others made their way up the sidewalk.
“Oh look at all the different machines.” Alicia said excitedly as she looked around the casino. “I’m gonna try this one first.”
Christa and Anna followed in her wake.
Soon the women were sitting next to other playing quarter slots. Anna realized that Christa kept glancing over at her. When Alicia got up to move to another bank of machines Anna took the opportunity to speak, “I am fine.” She said softly.
Christa smiled, “Sorry guess I’ve been watching you too closely.”
“I have been aware of your concern since we first spoke of this trip. Thank you.” Anna said with a slight smile.
Christa started to speak but chose to turn back to her machine.
“What is it you wish to ask?”
“Oh” Christa said realizing Anna could tell she was curious, “Have you been back here since…” She did not finish the sentence knowing it was not necessary.
Anna shook her head, “No, I have not.”
Christa sighed, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be asking.”
“It is okay.” Anna said kindly, “I understand you are curious and yes you are correct this is a difficult trip for me. So much has changed yet so many things remain as I remember them.”
“Like where we’re staying?” Christa asked.
“Yes.” Anna answered softly, “The place is familiar to me. My sister died there.”
“Oh” Christa felt tears spring to her eyes, “I’m so sorry.”
“This is something I must face.” Anna said, “It is wrong to run from your past. There are many good memories here too. I am concentrating on those. This casino for instance was once a hotel. My mama brought me here for lunch.” She smiled but it was touched with sadness, “That was a wonderful day.”
“Hey girlfriends” Alicia said rounding the bank of machines, “Guess who just won $50.00?”
Anna smiled, “Could it be you?”
Alicia laughed, “Hell yeah, it could be. Hey you guys need to come over and try these machines.” She disappeared again.
Anna stood up but before she could move Christa reached over and touched her arm, “Anna if there is anything I can do please let me know.”
“Thank you.” Anna smiled, “But I will be fine.”
Christa looked around to make sure Alicia was nowhere within hearing distance. “Uh, Claire explained to me about how you…” she stopped unsure how to word what she wanted to say.
Anna understood, “She explained to you about the synthetic substance I inject.”
“Yes.” Christa nodded, “I hope that is okay.”
“It is fine that she told you.” Anna answered, “I am sure you were curious.”
Christa stood up and moved a step closer to Anna, “Look I just want you to know that I am always ready to help you any way I can.”
“I understand what you are offering, Christa.” Anna said smiling slightly, “Thank you but it will not be necessary.”
Christa thought this was too important to let go, “Claire told me that sometimes it isn’t really enough if you need your strength to deal with something very difficult.”
Anna sighed, “You are worrying too much just as Claire and Gerard are doing. I will handle this.”
“We just don’t want you to have to handle it alone.” Christa told her.
“Thank you.” Anna muttered before turning away.
An hour later the women exited another casino and saw that it had begun to rain.
“Oh well.” Alicia shrugged, “Just a sign we need to get into the next casino.”
Christa and Anna followed her without complaint.
They gambled for a few minutes but Alicia wasn’t happy with the machines so they decided to move further up the road.
“Man we aren’t even to the top of the road and the whole other side is casinos too.” Alicia said smiling.
“Ray just sent a text. He said they’re heading back towards town.” Christa said closing her phone.
Alicia nodded, “We can all have lunch together. Hey look.” She pointed across the street, “It’s a museum. Lets hang over there while we wait for the others.”
Anna and Christa agreed. Alicia waited until they had crossed the road to text Mikey telling him where to meet them.
They each paid admission for The Cripple Creek District Museum then entered. Slowly they walked around looking at the different displays. Most celebrated the gold mining heyday of the town.
The Indian artifact display caught their attention first. They all enjoyed looking at the items for several minutes.
Holly, one of the museum workers, joined them and noticed Christa’s attention was on a beautiful turquoise necklace.
“Lovely isn’t it?”
“Oh yes.” Christa nodded, “I love turquoise.”
“During the 1970’s many people who came to town would walk up and down the gravel streets searching for small pieces of turquoise. The rock came out of a mine near here and often there were small bits of turquoise mixed in.”
“Really?” Christa asked.
Holly smiled, “Yes I have lived here since the 1960’s and have quite a collection of turquoise I picked up over the years. Of course now that so many of our roads are paved it is much harder to find.”
“That would have been cool.” Alicia said joining in the conversation.
“In our gift shop we have many one of a kind pieces done in silver and turquoise by local artists. You might want to take a look before you leave.”
“Definitely.” Christa said already planning on buying a piece of jewelry.
“Wow look at this.” Alicia had walked across the room and was pointing to a photograph on the wall, “Look how big the town was in 1893.”
Christa moved closer to look but Anna hung back. She knew what the town had looked like the year she died.
“This is awesome.” Alicia said moving to the next photo. “I recognize some of these buildings.”
“As casinos” Christa laughed.
“Well yeah. Look we were in this one.” Alicia said noting the building that was now The Midnight Rose Casino.
“Many of the building you see today were standing during the gold rush. However sadly many did not survive the fire that swept through town in 1896.”
“I didn’t realize there was a fire.” Alicia said.
The museum worker pointed to another photo. It showed the devastation caused by the fire.
“Oh” Alicia said looking closely at the framed print, “Wow it did destroy a lot.”
While the others were looking at photos Anna pulled out her phone and read the text Gerard had just sent. She smiled at the simple words saying he missed her.
Across the room Alicia and Christa were still looking at the wall of photos. “Who are these women?” Alicia asked.
Holly smiled, “Oh that photo is one of the most rare ones we have. Those are “Soiled Doves”.
“Soiled Doves?” Alicia asked looking closer at the photo.
“Yes, that is what they were called back then. During the gold rush there were many lonely mines looking for the company of ladies.”
“Oh you mean prostitutes?” Alicia laughed.
“Yes.” Holly confirmed, “In the late 1890’s Cripple Creek was home to a very famous Madam named Pearl de Vere. She ran one of the most exclusive houses in town. That photo shows some of her girls.”
As Alicia moved even closer to the photo Christa suddenly felt a chill run up her spine. She turned quickly and was shocked when she saw Anna standing completely still with a look on her face that Christa could not describe.
“Holy shit.” Alicia said suddenly breaking into Christa’s thought, “Hey Christa look at this.”
Christa tore her eyes away from Anna. ‘What?”
“Look at this girl.” She pointed to a figure in the very back row of the photo.
Moving closer Christa looked at the picture. It showed a group of women standing outside a large Victorian house. She immediately knew which girl Alicia was pointing to. The girl was standing at the back of the group. She had long braided hair. Christa felt her heart begin to race.
“Holy shit she looks like Anna.” Alicia said not realizing the truth.
Christa remained silent.
“Hey Anna, look at this.” Alicia said turning. She was shocked to see that Anna had disappeared. “Where did she go?”
Christa moved away from the photo, “She probably stepped outside to see if she can spot the others. I’ll go check.”
Alicia nodded then went back to studying the photo.
Christa went out the door and saw Anna sitting on a bench that was sheltered from the rain. “Anna?”
Anna had her eyes closed.
“Hey” Gerard reached them first but knew immediately by the look on Christa’s face something was wrong.
“Where’s Alicia?” Mikey asked as he and the others reached the bench.
“Hey you guys come on in. This is a really cool museum and you gotta see this one picture.” Alicia said from the top step. “Anna come look.”
Claire looked at Christa hoping she could somehow clue her in on what was going on. She knew by looking at Anna who was now sitting looking straight ahead that something was wrong.
The rain began to come down harder and there was not enough room for everyone to stay dry under the small shelter. Bob gently pulled on Claire’s hand to get her to follow him inside the museum. They were joined by the other couples and Mikey. Gerard took a seat next to Anna.
Ray realized Christa hadn’t followed them inside and stuck his head back out the door, “You coming?”
“I already paid.” Christa said hoping her voice sounded normal. “I’ll be right there.”
“What is going on?” Gerard asked.
Christa tried to handle the situation, “I think Anna is a bit overwhelmed. Maybe you two should head back to the hotel.”
“No” Anna’s voice surprised them both. “Gee, go inside and look at the photo Alicia is showing everyone.”
“Photo?” He asked completely confused.
Anna nodded, “Yes, it is something you should see.”
“Anna.” Christa said softly, “It doesn’t even really look that much like you.”
"Gee, go.” Anna said again.
Christa wanted to stop him but he stood and went inside before she could react. She stood silently by the bench looking helplessly at Anna who had once again closed her eyes.
A few minutes later Gerard reappeared and spoke to Christa, “I told them I’m not feeling very good and neither is Anna. We’ll meet all of you for dinner tonight.”
Christa nodded and started to speak when Ray called out for her. Sighing she turned and reenter the museum.
Gerard leaned down and took Anna’s arm. Once she was standing they began walking down the street towards the hotel. Anna was silent. Gerard’s mind was racing. There was of course no doubt in his mind that the girl in the photo was his Anna. He now believed he understood why she chose not to speak of the time between her parents deaths and her own. In his mind he heard the words “Soiled Dove” over and over. Tightening his grip on her arm he hurried their steps. He just needed her to explain to him why.