Dateline: 1896 Keyville, Twiggs County, Georgia, United States

Two hangings start blood feuds between families . . . A father has wicked designs on his children . . . A sodomite, an opium dealer, a drunkard, and an informer become prey . . . A woman sets in motion a plan to end the selling of orphan children into servitude . . . Two rivals compete for the attention of an ill-used wife . . . A widow seeks to bring her family’s killer to justice . . . A railroad magnate fights to bring train wreckers to justice . . .

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It all boils down to payback … revenge …

and

peppermint oil.

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Not even  Arlene Brumby’s fight for orphan children is exempt.

Credit: The Kansas Historical Society Collection

To find room to house the children, Arlene must take on a neighbor plantation, resurrect long dead hostilities between the two of them and push others to take action against the politically-active owner, others who in the past have declared themselves against her, others who she has run rough shod over.

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One of those Arlene Brumby ran rough shod over is Thomas Hamill, the railroad magnate. Way back in the day, Arlene took from her deceased husband over a section of an association committed to returning to the horse and buggy days. The association goes by the name the Grainmen’s Railroad Association or GRA for short. Thomas Hamill and his ilk call Arlene and her bunch ruffians or as Madeline, Arlene’s aide says roughins. As with relationships, commitment within GRA takes various forms and there are depths of commitment. Arlene shunned violence directed at people, railroad workers or not. Depots, railroad tracks, bridges were fair game. She also organized protests, meetings among farmers upset with the railroad over ever-increasing rates for shipping their produce to market and ordinary folk concerned about the safeness of trains. Back then, one could not be so sure of getting to the intended destination unscathed, or even alive if one was particularly unlucky. Then the governor sought her and other civic-minded citizens out.

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Credit: Photograph formerly owned by S.L. Berry; deed of gift to Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History

That was too much for Thomas Hamill. If the governor believed Arlene, then the industry would be in trouble. Alabama would follow Georgia and Mississippi would take notice and you get the picture. And, then there were the owners of the other roads clamoring for heads of criminals who had wrecked their trains. You see it is not just about the loss of life and injury to their workers or damage to the locomotives and the rolling stock (though that was costly), it was the loss of confidence in the railroad by the traveling public and time and costs in defending lawsuits. Juries had a tendency to side with the injured passenger or the farmer who lost his crops even when it was not the railroad’s fault. So being one of the owner of the one of the largest railroad empires in the U.S., Thomas Hamill had to step up. He has put out the call for sheriffs, prosecutors, and governors around the country to punish with impunity those who dared to wreck a train.

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Credit: Image designer Chantelle Aimée Osman, president and owner of A Twist of Karma Entertainment, LLC. Photograph of people owned by S.L. Berry. Train photograph credit: Library of Congress.

In turn, Thomas Hamill made Arlene Brumby’s son, J.B. Brumby; her nephew Billy Bowman prime targets for the hangman’s noose. Hamill is not alone. Others within GRA seek to capitalize on Hamill’s quest in order to rid GRA of Arlene’s interfering and controlling ways. Take out those closest to her, those she depends on to carry out her work, and she will fold, disappear into the mists, these renegades theorize. First on the renegades list is Billy. One of Billy’s former confederates turned enemy by the name of Jeff  Edwards has set in motion alternate plans to derail two trains on Leap Year Night. Billy’s hat and a friend from childhood’s participation along with Billy’s working for GRA and his aunt will be some of the things used to make people wonder if Billy orchestrated the attacks. It is payback for Billy’s telling a jury how Edwards’ father raped a woman and ended up being hung for his trouble. The plan is not half cocked and might just succeed. You see Billy in the past has followed in his drunkard womanizing father’s footsteps. Billy to many in Keyville is a no account cheat, drunk, and fighter, but he is handsome and charming to many of the fairer sex. Men hate him; women love him. He has been in trouble with the law from the age of eight and is no stranger to a cell.

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Credit: www. histsociety.blogspot.com

Billy’s troubles are compounded by the death of his drunkard father the week before. Taking a header off into the front of a steam locomotive was a spectacularly gruesome way to  die. Along with the suggestion that Billy’s father killed himself, there is the rumor that Billy finally got tired of his old man’s harassment and pushed his father into the path of the early morning train. No doubt Billy’s reputation contributed to this rumor. The sheriff and undertaker investigate the death, which by other accounts, is likely the result of foul play. The presence of peppermint oil, a substance both father and BIlly are allergic to, at the scene suggests to the sheriff that Billy did not kill his father. One thing leads to another and though the identity of the suspect becomes clear, it is still a small town where the reason “He needed killing” absolves the wrongdoer of blame. Billy’s father’s death is ruled a suicide.

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While the investigation into Billy’s father’s death is underway, three more men are found murdered turning Keyville, a sleepy little town into a nest of crime. Each victim is unmanned and left in a pool of blood. Theirs is a slow agonizing death. All three have worked for Arlene. Investigation by the sheriff reveals that informer was apparently targeted for a secret; the sodomite murdered for his predilections; the dealer acquired the wrong customer. Are the deaths connected in other ways? Is a serial killer on the loose? Are there multiple killers? Is there a copycat? And, what about Arlene? Where does she fit in? By the way there is the odd familiar smell about the sodomite-peppermint oil.

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Credit: By Unknown photographer – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Tam0031 using CommonsHelper. Original source: http://www.chicagohs.org/history/pullman/pul1.html (CHS G1988.0426 Box 2, F.1), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5574831

As for the dealer, he came to the farm under false pretenses as Arlene and J.B. soon learn. He is running, hiding out, from the law, Thomas Hamill, and the Wilson Detective Agency. A Pullman Car exploded a few years back killing Thomas Hamill’s daughter’s husband and son. The opium-laced fireball was payback for the railroad magnate helping the law in a massive nationwide investigation into the transport of opium by train. The dealer’s supply was confiscated and his customers, some dealers themselves, found themselves on the short end of the stick. The dealer was put in a bad place and so was determined to put the magnate in an equally or worse place.  It’s all about payback …. revenge.

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Thomas Hamill’s daughter is not a wallflower. Despite the misgivings of her father and his urging to let the professionals handle it, she starts investigating alongside the agency and tracks down the dealer to the farm. The dealer however dies at the hands of another who takes revenge for the dealer stealing the killer’s clients before the daughter is able to exact her own revenge.

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While the daughter is tracking down her family’s killer, to her father’s chagrin, and despite his efforts to stop her, his daughter falls in love with Billy. This is ironic and bewildering for the pair because in the past she was determined to hate Billy for his liqurous and adulterous playboy ways. To complicate matters, Billy’s current and very pregnant wife is none other than the woman Hamill’s daughter thinks of as a younger sister.

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Billy’s second-in-command begins taking after him. Shortly after an arranged marriage to an “apple pie” woman, the second takes up with the fiery sister of Billy’s enemy even as the second seeks revenge against his wife’s lover. Making matters worse, the wife finds solace in a male farm worker. They leave in the middle of the night for what the wife believes is a better life with the man who says he loves and will protect her. Unbeknownst to the wife, her lover is in cahoots with Billy and the farm’s enemy, Jeff Edwards, who has no love loss for the wife’s husband, or her.