Broomstraw Ridge

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Released November 1, 2019!

In the 1870’s, Joseph Cook quits his thirty-year railroad career after a traumatic event and returns to the New River landscape of his childhood, where he seeks peace, a homestead, and the remnant of his family. There he discovers his only surviving sibling imprisoned by an abusive spouse and his inheritance squandered. A reunion with a childhood friend opens doors to shock and hurt, as well as possibility. An expert in bridge construction, Joseph finds the bridge he most wants to build–one that can cross a personal divide–surpasses his skill.

Danger awaits him on Broomstraw Ridge as Joseph attempts to resolve one crisis. Yet its apparent solution creates more trouble. Peace, home, and familyJoseph learns, are won by letting go of his plans and accepting what he cannot attain. He must also abandon a lifetime of self-imposed muteness and release his voice.

Broomstraw Ridge serves as a sequel to Madam’s Creek but also stands alone. Several of the Lilly-family characters of Madam’s Creek play major and pivotal roles.


Excerpt, Chapter 3:

In the new state of West Virginia, the rail line had made its impossible way northwest along the New River, through tortuous miles of its deep chasm, simultaneously clawing a foothold eastward from the Ohio along the Guyandotte, Mud, and Kanawha Rivers.  The two lines joined in the New River Gorge at Hawk’s Nest on January 29, 1873. Many of the workers subsequently migrated west to the fledgling town of Huntington, where a major terminus took form on the bank of the Ohio River.

Freed from the wilderness, Jimmy Browning and other workers seized the opportunity to get drunk, particularly on paydays. Joseph and Randall didn’t normally drink. Well past the age of revelry, they preferred their own solitary company, or each other’s, to the snarls of loud young “gandy dancers” who crowded into the town’s lone saloon. Besides, Joseph had never befriended booze, which made him drunk and sick with humiliating speed.

But this night, this Christmas Eve, a coworker gave Joseph a bottle of bourbon, and Joseph tarried at a bonfire of defective railroad ties and wood scraps piled near the tracks, in no particular hurry to return to a cold, featureless room. Most of the men lived far from family, and the Christmas Eve bonfire had become a tradition, an excuse to drink and keep at bay the sadness that stalked a man away from home.

Besides, the saloon was closed and didn’t admit Negros. Whenever possible, Joseph would have nothing of a business that shunned his friend. Tonight, he’d have one shot with Randall before retiring to the boarding house, the temporary home like so many others he and his old buddy had known during their decades of rail work. It wouldn’t hurt to unwind a bit and toast the bittersweet season.

The two men sat on overturned buckets, talking little in the din of shouting and singing. Joseph reminded himself to sip from his tin cup.

What quickened his tempo was Jimmy Browning’s arrival. He despised the man. Browning had been with the crew little over a year and had been nothing but trouble. A skeletal man with dark hair and acne scars, and without a trace of social grace, he enjoyed little favor with the “ladies” who found their way to camp or town. The men didn’t like him either, except for a couple of tainted ones who gravitated to their own kind, violent and vulgar.

Before the War, most men fought the way they always had, with words and fists, and their disputes inflicted mendable harm. But now some of the newer hires, those of a certain breed of war veteran, carried barbed seeds of ferocity. They fought to kill. Two such men, Benton Kramer and John McMahan, accompanied Jimmy. Joseph saw the three look in his direction as they settled cross-legged on the ground a quarter of the way around the gathered circle.

He leaned toward Randall’s head of close-cropped, gray hair. “Let’s get out of here.”

Randall glanced over his shoulder and shrugged. “They already too drunk to stand. You go on if you want. I’ll be along.”

Woozy, Joseph wanted to get away from the choking smoke, which kept changing direction in an erratic breeze. The smells of cigars and spat tobacco juice didn’t help. But he hesitated to leave Randall alone with those venomous thugs. He downed the last of his drink, just to be done with it. He’d wait.

Randall nursed his bourbon, swirling it in the small cup, staring into it as if it were a crystal ball on the verge of revealing a portentous image. Joseph looked back at the men, who had begun a game of cards. Good, they were distracted….