Brett stared at him a moment before stepping forward and extending a hand. “I never thought I’d see you again.” He shook Van’s hand vigorously.
“I decided it was time to come patch things up with Pa.” Brett knew the whole story with his pa.
“Probably a good thing. Last time I seen him he didn’t look too good.” Brett turned his attention to the wagon.
Van’s gut tightened. He’d sent a letter once a year to his ma on her birthday, not knowing if his father allowed her to read them.
“What’s all this?” Brett tugged the tarp back.
“I’m going to start up a business. I learned how to do leather work and make boots.” Van plunked a booted foot on the hub of the wagon, showing off the intricate stitching on the side and front of his boot.
Brett whistled. “That’s a fancy pair of boots. Not sure you’ll sell many here.”
“I have people who special order these. I also make everyday boots.” He nodded to the crates. “Plenty to sell while I set up shop.” Van flipped the tarp back. “You happen to know who owns the empty shop next to the Red Dog?”
Brett nodded, but his eyes lost their hospitable shimmer. “That would be Judge Spencer.”
Damn! The circuit judge who gleefully sentenced him to ten years when everyone knew seven was fair. “Does he live here now?”
“Yep. Bought the old Harrison place.” Brett didn’t look him in the eye.
“What about Mrs. Harrison and Tessa?” Remorse gripped him at the memory of Mr. Harrison taking a bullet during the bank robbery and later learning the man had died. Tessa was only eight or nine at the time.
“Mrs. Harrison tried to keep the place going as a boarding house, but couldn’t make ends meet. She passed six months ago.” Brett slapped him on the shoulder. “You didn’t kill her husband. It was that drifter, Crane.”
“But I could have stopped the whole thing if I’d told Sheriff Burke instead of trying to further aggravate my pa.” Van ran a hand along the back of his neck. The muscles tensed. Damn, he’d ruined the Harrison's lives. “Where’s Tessa?”
Brett shook his head. “She turned down a couple marriage offers and is working in the Red Dog."
Van snapped to attention. The saloon was next to the building he wanted to purchase. “She become a sporting lady?” His gut clenched thinking his actions ruined a girl.
“Not so far, but Floyd is gettin’ a little perturb she won’t make extra money like the others.” Brett shook his head. “Since working there, she’s about lost her women friends. My Beth talks to her if no one else is looking.”
The guilt he’d slowly shed over the years now came back and smacked him in the face like a pan of hot pitch.
“Where can I find the judge?” First he’d get the building, then he’d check out his neighboring businesses.
“Should be in his office in the courthouse.”
"Courthouse?" Van raised an eyebrow. “I can’t believe the changes in this town since I left.”
“They brought the railroad through here five years ago. People started flocking in like flies to manure.” Brett slapped him on the back. “I was afraid my business would go down, but once people arrive they need transportation.”
“Keep an eye on my wagon. I’m going to do business with the judge.” Van walked to the door smiling at his friend’s prosperity. With the train coming through he’d be able to get supplies easier. This move couldn’t have worked out better. He looked down the snow trod street to the Red Dog saloon. Thoughts of little Tessa and her wide green eyes sobered him quick.
He turned right and headed up Main Street, keeping the bell tower of the courthouse in sight. His gut clenched. Hopefully the judge would recognize he’d turned his life around and wanted a new start.