Eerie Saloon: Seasons of Change -- Spring, part 10 of 13

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Eerie Saloon: Seasons of Change – Spring, part 10 of 13
By Ellie Dauber and Chris Leeson © 2014

Sunday, June 02, 1872

Reverend Yingling leaned forward, both his hands braced on the altar, and began speaking. “You all know, I’m sure, of the fire last Thursday night. Many of you, no doubt, were among those who fought it. I was there myself, a part of the bucket brigade.”

“I do not know how the fire started. It may have been some careless mistake on the part of the rather foolish man, the printer, whose building it was in.” He paused a moment for effect, and, when he spoke again, it was in his most dramatic tones. “Or it may have been a punishment from our Lord for that man’s sins.” His voice went back to a conversational tone. “I do not know.”

“But I do know that we were victorious over a blaze that could well have consumed our town. We were victorious because of our righteous act of joining together – as a community – to fight it. We were victorious because of the quick thinking of Tor Johansson in alerting the town to the danger we faced. And, finally, we were victorious because the town council, in its wisdom, required the installation of a fire alarm on every block and purchased and maintained the pumper wagon, which gave us the means to fight the conflagration so efficiently.”

“Yes, we must thank the town council for its wisdom in this matter.” He paused again and frowned. “It is a shame that they are not always so wise.”

“This town, Eerie, Arizona, now faces another menace, one as potentially damaging as any flame. I speak, of course, of the potion produced by Shamus O’Toole.”

“And what has the town council done in the face of this danger? They have muffled the fire alarm by appointing the wrong people – including O’Toole himself – to the committee they created. And they have plugged the hoses and lines of the pumper wagon by making that committee no more than an advisory body to Judge Parnassus Humphreys.”

Yingling took a moment to turn and glance over at the Judge. Humphreys scowled back at him.

The Reverend smiled back, confident in the rightness of his opinion, and began again. “This cannot, it must not, it will not be allowed to continue. When the town council next meets, we must be prepared. We shall demand that the current committee be abolished, and that a new committee be created.”

“This new committee must be designed to perform the task that we have always intended to be done. It must take controlproper control of O’Toole’s potion. To do this, it must be composed of men – good, Christian men – with the will and the wisdom to carry out such a task.”

He raised his arms, as if trying to encompass the whole congregation. “Let us pray.” He bowed his head, waiting a moment for the people to do the same. “Oh, Lord, give us the strength to carry out this holy work that Thou has laid before us, and soften the hearts of the town council that they may see the right of what You, in your wisdom, would have them do. This do we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

There was an answering shout of “Amen”, but, somehow, it wasn’t as loud as he had expected.

* * * * *

“Interesting sermon,”Jubal Cates said, shaking Reverend Yingling’s hand. They stood on the small porch, the entry to the church. The Reverend positioned himself there to greet his congregants after the service.

Yingling gave Jubal a broad smile. “I’m pleased that you liked it. I trust that I can count on your support at the town council meeting.”

“Do you really think that the fire was divine punishment aimed at Roscoe Unger?”

“Who can say what will occur to bring our Lord’s will about?”

“Who indeed? A pleasant day to you, Reverend.” Jubal took his wife’s hand. “Come, Naomi, let’s not hold up the line.”

They stepped down to the ground and started across the schoolyard. “What was all that about?” Naomi asked.

“I’m not sure,” he admitted, stopping. Jubal wasn’t completely convinced that the fire was the coincidence that Horace Styron claimed it was. Styron and Ritter still were possible culprits for starting the fire, and now, considering what the Reverend had said in his sermon, he wondered if he should have doubts about the minister himself. He’d never thought of Thaddeus Yingling as a man of action. Still, a man so danged sure that he knew the will of the Lord, as the Reverend seemed to be, such a man might be willing to act as the agent of what he thought was right.

Jubal saw the Judge come out of the church and walk past the Reverend with neither man saying a word or making a friendly gesture towards the other. Jubal still thought of himself as a “Styron man”, but maybe it was time somebody talked to the other side.

“Excuse me, Naomi,” he said, letting go of her hand. “I’ll be back in a minute.” He turned and headed towards the spot where Judge Humphreys was standing.

* * * * *

` WANTED
` For Resisting Arrest
` For Flight to Avoid Prosecution
` A Possible Murder Suspect (Hanks)

` JESSIE HANKS and PAUL GRANT

` Hanks is female, about 20 year old; five foot tall; slender; blonde
` hair, blue eyes. She is riding a swayback brown gelding.

` Grant is male, in late 20s; just under six foot tall; slender; dark
` brown hair, brown eyes. He is riding a light gray cow pony.

` Both are armed and dangerous.

` If seen, contact Sheriff Elijah Whyte, Dawstown, Arizona.

Sheriff Dan Talbot shook his head. “Oh, Jessie, what did you get yourself – and Paul – into now?” He folded the telegram and set it in the top drawer of his office desk. “I’ll just have to trust him to get them both out of it. And the last thing I need to do is to let Molly O’Toole find out. There’s nothing she can do about it except fret – and, probably, make my life – and Shamus’ absolute misery.”

* * * * *

Judge Humphreys was leaning against a tree, waiting, when Liam O’Hanlan came out of the schoolhouse with Kaitlin and Emma. “Liam,” he called and motioned for the man to come over.

“I’ll be right back,” Liam said, letting go of Kaitlin’s hand and hurrying over to the Judge.

“What did you think of today’s sermon?” Humphreys asked.

Liam frowned. “I think he’s asking for trouble. I’m not absolutely sure of Shamus and his potion, but it seems to me that we should give that new committee some time to work before we talk about changing it.”

“I agree,” the Judge said, “I think that Shamus has done damn well with that potion of his. Thad Yingling sounded like he was obsessed about it.” He shook his head. “That really isn’t like him.”

“What are we going to do about it? He’ll want the church – and the board – to back him up against the town council, and I’m not sure that we should.”

“Neither am I, and I think he’ll be asking for that support at Wednesday’s board meeting. We need to talk about it first. Are you up to a getting together to talk about it on say… Tuesday night?”

“I’d better be.” He waited a beat. “Do you want Trisha in on this?”

“I think that we’d do better to keep it to active board members for now.” The Judge glanced over to where Kaitlin and Emma were standing. “Where is she, by the way?”

“She’s over at what’s left of Roscoe Unger’s print shop – her and Kirby Pinter. They’re trying to see what can be salvaged.”

Humphreys raised a curious eyebrow. “Are she and Kirby…?” He let his voice trail off.

“I don’t think so. They’re both just good friends of Roscoe’s. He’ll be stuck in bed at Doc Upshaw’s place for a while, and – to hear Trisha tell it – he was getting pretty antsy about putting his paper out.”

“That’s understandable.” If the Judge thought anything more about the pair, he didn’t speak of it.

Liam pushed the conversation back to the original topic. “It’ll just be the four of us, then: Rupe Warrick, Dwight Albertson, you, and me, right?”

“I’m afraid not. Dwight won’t be there. This whole thing’s got him nervous, and he didn’t want to seem to be taking sides.”

“Three then; where do we meet?”

“At Rupe’s lumberyard, in the office. And there will be four of us. Yingling’s rant today got Jubal Cates spooked. He asked me about getting together to talk, just as the service ended.”

Liam chuckled. “I guess some of my niece’s good sense rubbed off on him.” When he saw the Judge’s confusion, he explained. “Jubal hired Emma as his assistant. She says he’s going to train her to be a surveyor.”

“Good for him – and her.” Humphreys took a breath. “We’ll all meet at Rupe’s place about 7 o’clock on Tuesday, okay?”

“I’ll be there.” Liam turned to look over at Kaitlin. She held up her pocket watch and pointed to it. “Right now,” Liam said to the Judge, “I’d better get going. Kaitlin’s fixing a fancy Sunday meal for the three of us, and I think she wants to get home before it overcooks.” He patted his stomach. “So do I, come to think of it.”

“I won’t keep you then.” The Judge raised a finger and tapped the front of his hat. “See you Tuesday.”

* * * * *

Sheriff Dan Talbot knocked on the doorframe of the infirmary entrance. “Roscoe,” he asked, “you up to talking to me about what happened at your shop?”

“I suppose,” Roscoe answered. He was lying belly-down in bed. Edith Lonnegan was just covering him with a crisp, white cotton sheet. “To tell the truth, I was wondering why you hadn’t come around earlier.”

The Sheriff smiled. “I was here Friday, but you were so doped up on laudanum that you probably don’t remember. Mrs. Lonnegan chased me away on Saturday, her and Miz O’Hanlan. They said you needed your sleep.”

“He most certainly did,” Edith said. She picked up a small tray that had a cloth draped over it. “I’ll just leave you now to talk, but don’t take too long. He still needs his rest.” She smiled at her patient and walked briskly out the door.

Talbot looked around. “Where is Miz O’Hanlan, anyway?”

“She’s over at my shop with Kirby Pinter. She told me they were going to do some cleaning up, see if I could still get this week’s paper out. I don’t know how, if I’m going to be stuck in here for the next few days.”

Dan nodded. “I’ll head over there, once I’m done here. There may be some clues about whoever set that fire.” He sat down next to Roscoe. “Now can you tell me what happened… best as you remember it?”

“It was about 10 o’clock, and I was getting ready for bed – I have some rooms up above the shop. I heard a noise – voices -- from downstairs. I put on my bathrobe and headed for the steps.”

“Were you armed?”

“Yes, I keep a pistol in a drawer in my sitting room. I took it down with me, that and a candlestick.” He gave the sheriff a weak smile. “It’s hard to see down those steps.”

“What did you see when you came down?”

“A man was standing by my work table. Just as I came down, he pushed over the racks I keep my type in… scattered the pieces all over the table and onto the floor.”

“Can you describe him?”

“A short man, muscles, in work clothes. He had a round face… short brown hair… hadn’t shaved in a while, but not long enough to call it a beard.” Roscoe thought for a moment. “I didn’t know who he was… I-I never saw him before.”

“What did you do?”

“I had to get him to quit what he was doing. He was making a royal mess of the place. I was afraid he was going to go for the press next, so I told him to stop. He… He turned around slowly and – can you believe it? – he smiled at me.”

“Smiled?”

“Yeah. ‘How do, Mr. Unger,’ he says – or something like that. And he raised his hands, raised them really slow, like he was surrendering.”

“Did he?”

“No, he moved, shifted a bit at a time to the left.”

Dan frowned. “And you moved, so you could keep your pistol on him, didn’t you?”

“Yes, how did you know?”

“There was second man, one you didn’t see. The fellah you had your pistol on was lining you up for him.”

Roscoe sighed. “That must have been it. I… something hit me in the head, and everything went black. The next thing I know, I’m here in bed, and the Doc is doing something to my back.”

“Do you remember anything else?”

“Not really. I-I’m sorry I can’t be more help.”

“You’ve helped a lot. I’ll ask around; see if anybody’s seen a man like you described.”

“You find him, Sheriff, and I’ll be more than glad to help put him a… away.” He yawned. “‘Scuse me.”

The Sheriff shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. Sleep’s the best doctor, so they say. I’ll check back with you later, if I have any more questions.”

“O… Okay.” Roscoe yawned again, but he waited until Talbot had left before he closed his eyes and let himself doze off.

* * * * *

Arsenio opened his front door and walked backwards into the house, pulling Laura’s wheelchair in behind him.

“What’d you think of Reverend Yingling’s sermon?” he asked, as he pushed her over next to the table.

Laura stood for a moment before she shifted her body and settled down into a chair. “I think he’s going to make a lot of trouble for you, Whit, and Aaron.”

“I hate to say it, but you’re probably right.” He sighed and sat down beside her. “I think I’d better go to the board meeting Wednesday night.” He frowned. “I wish I knew what was pushing the man.”

“What do you mean?”

“He always struck me as a reasonable sort – well, fairly reasonable. Now… he’s got some crazy notion in his head, and he’s pushing himself – and trying to push the town to someplace I don’t think we should go.”

“It’s like he’s trying to start a new version of the old witch-hunting excitement, like they had in Salem a couple of hundred years ago.” She shook her head. “They killed a lot of innocent people back then.”

“Maybe. Preachers don't often run into magic these days, so he’s using a strategy that seemed to work once, long ago.”

“Are you going to stop him?”

“I don’t know,” he shook his head and sighed again, “but I may have to try.”

* * * * *

Trisha peeked into the infirmary. “Roscoe,” she whispered, “are you awake?”

“Trisha?” Roscoe said, turning his head to face her and grinning broadly. “Come on in. I was just wondering where you were.”

She stepped into the room. Kirby Pinter was right behind her. “Hello, Roscoe,” he said cheerily. “How are you doing?”

“Doc Upshaw says I’m getting better,” the printer replied. “My back still hurts like the blazes.”

Trisha smiled. “Kirby and I have something that should make you feel better.”

“It’s gonna take a lot to do that,” Roscoe said wryly.

Trisha took her hand from behind her back. “I think this may just do it.” She unfolded a sheet on newsprint and held it where he could see.

“It… It’s the paper with – how did you get a paper with Tuesday’s date on it?” Roscoe could hardly keep the surprise out of his voice.

Kirby smiled and walked over next to Trisha. “We – Trisha and I – printed it; printed what we could, anyway. We couldn’t find that – what do you call it? – that thing they send up from Tucson every week with the outside pages of the paper?”

“It’s called a boilerplate,” Roscoe answered. “I get the new one by Wells Fargo on Monday, and I send it back the same way on Thursday.” He shook his head. “I still can’t believe that you two were able to do this.”

Kirby chuckled. “How many Monday evenings have I come over to split a bottle of wine with you while you put out your paper? I’ve watched you work.” He chuckled again. “You’ve even let me try my hand at setting type or working your press just to see how you did it.”

“I found that block you had set the ads in,” he continued, “so some of the work was already done. Incidentally, a few pieces of type got melted by the fire, and some more must’ve gotten softened by the heat. The letters on them are distorted.”

Roscoe frowned. “A lot of pieces?” he asked nervously. It was expensive to replace pieces of type, and it would be hard to run a print shop if many pieces were gone.

“No more than a handful,” Trisha told him. “Most of them were still on the table, and a lot of the ones on the floor were too far from where the fire was.”

Kirby smiled, adding, “We had more than enough to put the paper out.”

“I guess I taught you more than I realized,” Roscoe said, with a laugh. His eyes scanned down the page. “But there’s more to printing a paper than setting type. Who wrote these articles about the fire?”

“That was my doing,” Trisha admitted shyly. “Kirby told me about how he rescued you, and I talked to Liam and a couple of other people about how the town fought the fire. You don’t mind, do you?”

The printer shook his head. “No, no; they’re fine.” He reached out and patted her hand. “You’re a good writer, Trisha; better than me, I think.”

“Th-Thanks, Roscoe.” She beamed at the compliment, even as she felt a tingling in the hand he was patting. “Can we go ahead, then?”

Roscoe shrugged. “Holed up in here – like this – I don’t see how I could stop you – either of you.” He paused a moment for effect, and then added, “If I wanted to stop you, which I don’t. This crazy… wonderful idea of yours could just save my… ah… – my business.”

“Glad to do it,” Trisha replied. Without thinking, she glanced quickly over at his body, loosely outlined under the cotton sheet draped over it. “Glad to do it.”

* * * * *

Dolores and Arnie walked briskly down the street towards the Saloon. “I saw you and Molly talking last night,” the older female said. “What were you talking about?”

“I-I was dancing… a little to the music,” Arnie replied cautiously. “She watched me, and she came over to ask if I wanted to be one of the ladies who take tickets and dance.”

“And do you? You told me that you had thought about it.”

“I-I still have not decided. I can do our zapateado dance steps well enough, but the dances they do on Saturday….” She shook her head.

“I know them. I can teach you -- if you want.”

“I…” Arnie sighed. She kept thinking of Hedley and how it felt to dance with him, to be in his arms. Did she want to feel that way again? Did she? “I do not know what I want.”

Dolores looked at her cousin’s face. “Think about it some more, then, and, when you do know, come and tell me what you decide.” She had another thought. “And if you want to talk to me before you know, I will be there for that, as well.” She gave Arnie a friendly smile.

“Thank you, Dolores,” Arnie replied, smiling back. “Thank you for both offers.”

* * * * *

“How’s Roscoe doing?” Kaitlin asked, as she set the serving plate down on the table, leftovers from the midday Sunday dinner.

Trisha speared a slice of ham with a fork. “Uhh… Pretty good; the Doc says that his burns are healing very nicely.”

“Will you be going to the store tomorrow, then?”

Trisha looked down at her plate. “Actually… no. Kirby… that’s Kirby Pinter, the bookseller, we’ll be working in Roscoe’s print shop. Roscoe has to get the paper out, or he’ll lose a lot of money. Kirby and I’ll be doing it for him.” She looked up at Kaitlin. “You think Liam’ll mind?”

“No; and I won’t mind, either.” Kaitlin smiled. “I’m starting to enjoy working with Liam… at the store.”

Trisha made a face like she’d been sucking lemons. “I’m sure you are.” She looked around. It was late. She had just come home and was eating alone. And Emma was upstairs.

“If you don’t like it, all you have to do is to come to work at the Feed and Grain yourself. There’d be no reason for me to go in then.”

“I-I can’t. Roscoe… he’s depending on me, on Kirby and me to get out the paper.”

“And you wouldn’t want to disappoint Roscoe, now, would you?”

“No. He's a good ally against the craziness of the Reverend and all those old biddies. They'd like nothing better than to have him put out of business.” Then she added, “Besides, he’s a friend and he needs my help.”

Kaitlin gave her former husband a wry smile. “I’m sure he does, only we won’t go into how you think he needs you, not now, anyway.” She studied the uncertain look on Trisha’s face for a moment before continuing. “You have two choices. You can go work with Roscoe or Kirby or whomever, knowing that I’ll go work with Liam. Or you can go work with Liam, and I’ll stay home.”

“Which is it going to be?” Kaitlin asked after a moment’s delay.

Trisha bowed her head, her eyes half-closed. When she finally spoke, it was in a voice that was barely more than a whisper. “Roscoe.”

* * * * *

Monday, June 03, 1872

Kirby and Trisha stepped into the Wells Fargo depot office. Matt Royce heard their footsteps and, without glancing their way, said, “Morning, folks, what can I do for you?”

The pair walked over to the counter where he was sitting. “It’s me, Kirby Pinter, Mr. Royce.” he replied. “I’m here with Trisha O’Hanlan, who you also may know.”

The manager finally looked up from the dime novel he was reading. “I… ah… I know Miz O’Hanlan, all right, “Matt said. “You might say I was there when she was born.” Patrick O’Hanlan had accidentally swallowed a dose of potion and become Trisha, when his son, Elmer, -- now Emma -- had been fatally injured at the Wells Fargo loading dock.

Trisha frowned at the memory. “Yes, we do know each other, but this isn’t a time for reminiscing. Mr. Pinter and I have come for the package that The Tucson Citizen sent to Roscoe Unger.”

“Roscoe gave us this to show you.” He took a folded sheet of paper from inside his jacket and handed it to the station manager.

Matt unfolded the paper and read it aloud. “Mr. Royce, it’s okay to give the boilerplate that The Citizen sent me to Trisha O’Hanlan and/or Kirby Pinter.” He studied the paper for a moment. “And it’s signed ‘Roscoe Unger.’ -- I recognize his handwriting – with yesterday’s date.” He initialed the paper and set it into a folder on his desk.

“Seems to be okay,” he told them. He knelt down and carefully brought up a large, obviously heavy package wrapped in brown paper. “Here it is.” Kirby and Trisha could see Roscoe’s name printed on the top.

“It’s so big,” Trisha said in surprise.

Royce nodded. “Lot of that’s padding to protect the important stuff inside. Can you manage it?”

“I think so.” Kirby lifted the package and, with a grunt, hoisted it up onto his shoulder. “No worse than a box of books.” He braced the package with his other hand. “You’ll have to sign for it, though, Trisha.”

She shrugged and picked up a pen. “I guess.” She signed her name – and Roscoe’s – in a ledger set on the desk. That done, the two of them headed for the door.

* * * * *

Phillipia Stone watched her pupils file into the classroom and take their seats. “Good morning, children,” she greeted them cheerily.

“Good morning, Mrs. Stone,” they answered in unison.

Phillipia looked down the roll sheet on the desk in front of her. “Raul Ybañez, it’s your turn this morning.”

“Yes, Mrs. Stone.” The boy walked over to the small U.S. flag that was set in a metal sheath near the blackboard. He picked it up and held it in front of him in his left hand. His right hand was over his heart.

The rest of the class stood, as did Phillipia. Hands over their hearts, they began singing.

` “O Columbia, the gem of the ocean,
` The home of the brave and the free,
` The shrine of each patriot's devotion,
` A world offers homage to thee…”

Once they had finished the anthem, they remained standing, heads bowed, while their teacher recited “The Lord’s Prayer.” After a hearty “Amen”, the children quickly took their seats. Raul returned the flag to its place and sat down with the other fourth graders.

“Before we begin today’s lessons,” Phillipia told them, “I have an announcement. I’m sure that some of you have already started counting the days until the end of the school year on Friday, June 14th.” She waited a moment, suppressing her own smile, while the class cheered.

“I am pleased to see how well you all are at containing your grief,” she continued, cutting off the cheering. “This has certainly been an interesting year, and I have enjoyed being your teacher.”

Eulalie Mckechnie raised her hand. “Mrs. Stone, will you be back next year?”

“I honestly don’t know, Lallie. The town council and I have been talking about that. In the meantime, we do know of five who will not be returning in the fall: Ysabel Diaz, Emma O’Hanlon, Hermione Ritter, Ulysses Stone…” She stopped to smile at her son. “…and Stephan Yingling. We will be having a graduation party for them on Thursday, the 13th, at 6 PM, and you are all invited.”

This time she let them cheer for a while. “There will be a speech or two, I’m afraid, but there will also cake and, perhaps, ice cream.”

And another, longer round of cheers followed. It took a minute or two before Phillipia could quiet her students and begin the morning’s lessons.

* * * * *

“Trisha,” Kirby called out, “could you come here for a moment?”

“Read this.” He gave her a handwritten sheet. “It’s the editorial Roscoe wrote.”

She read it, and, as she did, a look of concern came over her face. “It’s kind of rough, isn’t it?”

“Maybe we shouldn’t have told him what the reverend said on Sunday.”

“Maybe… but we did. I’m no happier about that sermon than he is.”

“I agree with you, but I do have to wonder… should we print it? People will know that it was us that put out this week’s paper.”

“Yes, but it’s Roscoe’s paper. If that’s what he wants…” Her voice trailed off.

“All right,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders, “but I’m going to put in a disclaimer, so people know that it’s his editorial. Perhaps that will take some of the heat off of us.”

She gave him a wry smile. “I kind of like it a little on the hot side. Besides, this is something that Yingling – that a lot of people -- need to read.”

* * * * *

R.J. was watching for Arsenio and Carl, when they walked into the Saloon. “Arnie,” he said, “go upstairs and tell Molly that Arsenio’s here.” She nodded and hurried for the stairs. “Can I get you gents something to drink while you’re waiting?” he asked the pair.

“Sounds good,” Arsenio answered. “Beer for me.”

Carl slapped a silver dollar down on the bar. “Same here; Mr. Lewis’ paying.”

“That’s real nice of him,” R.J. said, drawing the beers and putting them in front of the two men. “How’s Laura doing, Arsenio?”

Arsenio took a long sip. “Pretty much the same as last week; she wants to get up and get back to work, but every time she tries, she feels weak and needs help getting back to our bed. Amy Talbot’s with her now. Amy can go home once Molly shows up, and Molly’ll stay there overnight, while I’m out at the Triple A.”

“Sounds like you’ve got everything worked out,” the barman said.

Arsenio sighed. “I hope so. I don’t like leaving her alone. I have a contract with Abner Slocum, but I wanted to ask for a delay. Laura insisted that I go.” He chuckled and shook his head. “She’s a great one for me keeping my word, Laura is.”

“Molly’ll be right down,” Arnie announced, descending the stairs. “She went to get her carpetbag.”

The young woman came over to the bar. “Would you get me another tray of glasses, Arnie?” R.J. asked. Arnie nodded and headed for the kitchen.

Carl and Arsenio were watching the stairs as they finished their drinks. When Carl saw Nancy and Flora walking along the second floor hallways, he took one last, long sip and hurried over to the base of the stairway.

“Carl,” Nancy said, sounding surprised. “I thought that you were coming in for that talk tomorrow.”

“I am,” he replied. “I’m in town today to take Arsenio Caulder out to the ranch. I don’t have time to talk to you now because I’m supposed to be back with him by suppertime.” He smiled and turned to Flora. “Besides, I wanna spend what time I do have talking to Flora – if you don’t mind.”

Nancy glanced from her brother’s face to Flora’s and gave a slight chuckle. “As Pappa used to say, ‘Hello, I must be going,’ Very well, I’ll see you tomorrow.” She gave him a quick pat on the cheek and walked on.

“What was that all about?” Flora asked him.

“Just some family business I have to take care of.”

Flora smiled. ‘Time for a little flirting practice,’ she thought. “Well, business before pleasure.” She had spoken the last word in a low seductive tone. “That’s what I always say.”

“I’ll go along with that. And… speaking of pleasure, Flora, can I have the pleasure of taking you to dinner tomorrow night?”

“Dinner?” She raised a bemused eyebrow. Then, remembering Rosalyn’s lesson, she glanced away for a moment. When she turned back, she was looking down slightly, her eyes half-closed, as if she were suddenly shy. “Why, I would love to… Carl.” Again, her voice dipped down into the sultry.

‘He doesn’t have much money,’ she told herself, ‘and he wants to spend what he has on me. This is so easy. Besides, he is kind of…’ She stopped. She wasn’t thinking about how handsome he was, with that sweet smile and those broad shoulders, was she? No, she couldn’t have been thinking that.

‘…dumb,’ she tried to pick up the train of thought again. ‘I can take him for every penny he has just for the fun of it. He’ll be good practice for Ritter --’ and why did that thought make her feel guilty? ‘Oh, the hell with it.’ She gave up and just smiled at the man.

“Terrific, I’ll see you tomorrow then.” His smile broadened into a full grin.

He was about to say more, when Molly came down the steps with Shamus. “Shall we be going?” she asked.

“Right away,” Arsenio replied. He took her bag from Shamus and started for the door.

Molly kissed her husband on the cheek. “See ye tomorrow, Love.” With a quick wink, she headed after Arsenio.

“Bye, Flora,” Carl said. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze – no time for a kiss now – and hurried after them. Just before he got to the Saloon’s doors, he turned and added, “You, too, Nancy.”

* * * * *

Jubal Cates looked up at the sound of the bell over his office door. He marked the spot in the manual he was reading and greeted the person who’d just entered. “Good afternoon, Emma. You’re in particularly high spirits this afternoon.”

“Thank you, sir. I have the answer to the question you asked me the other day. The school term ends a week this Friday, June 14th.” She took a breath. “And I’m graduating!”

He smiled. “Yes, I know. I wanted a student who’d be graduating this year, remember?”

“I-I guess I forgot. It… It’s just exciting to be finishing school. And… and there’s gonna be a party, Thursday night before we graduate, with cake and ice cream and I-I don’t know what else.”

“Well, I’m sure that you’ll have a good time. Just don’t eat so much that you get a tummy ache. I'll need you with me when we start the Sanborn map.”

“Oh, I-I won’t, Mr. Cates. You’ll see. I’ll be a real hard worker.”

“I’m sure you will because we’ll both be very busy. In fact…” He picked up the manual. “…here’s a copy of the Sanborn manual. You take it home – I’ve got a spare copy -- and study it.” He thought for a moment. “Do you have any final examinations or anything like that?”

“I-I don’t know; maybe.”

“You find out, and, if you do, you study for them first. You’re a smart girl, Emma, but you can only study one thing at a time, and those come first, understand.”

He thought she was smart! “Yes, sir; I understand.” Emma took the book from him and quickly put it in her school bag.

“Good; right now, I have an errand for you. Take this letter…” He handed her a sheet of paper. “…over to Unger’s print shop and tell him to make me 75 copies. I know he’s got to get his paper out, so let him know I’ll pick the copies up on Wednesday, okay.”

“Yes, Mr. Cates.”

“Then get going. You can finish up your notes on that job we did last Saturday when you get back.”

Emma folded the paper twice and stashed it in a pocket of her skirt. A moment later, she was out the door and headed for the printer.

* * * * *

Flora glanced up at the clock on the wall. “My goodness, it’s almost 7.” She looked down at her plate for a moment. “I’m so sorry, Clyde, but I have to go get ready for the first show.” She sighed. “And we were having such a good time, too.”

“Can’t remember when I’ve had a better one,” Clyde Ritter said, smiling broadly. “You be sure to come sit with me after your show.”

She pulled back her chair and stood up. “I shall, and thank you for the lovely meal. It was so generous of you.” She smiled at him.

“It was worth every penny, if it got that pretty smile out of you.”

Yes! She could hardly contain herself. “You spend enough pennies on me, Clyde,” she told him, speaking his name in a sultry whisper, “and you might get a lot more than just a smile in return.”

He hurried around the table to where she was. “Oh, really?” He cocked an eyebrow. “Such as?”

“Well… this, for example.” Moment of truth; how much did she want from this man, and what was she willing to do to get it? She put her hands on each side of his head and pulled him towards her and into a kiss. Her tongue darted out to run against his lip before retreating back into her mouth. Her own lips stayed parted, inviting his tongue to follow.

It did, brushing against hers. At the same time, he stepped in close, so that their bodies touched. Her breasts were pressed against his chest. His arms slid around her, his hands moving down to caress her teardrop ass.

In spite of herself, Flora felt her body warm to his touch. Her nipples grew tight against the fabric of her camisole. And delicious sensations flowed down from her breasts to that special place between her legs. ‘Damn, that feels good,’ she thought ‘even if it's only Clyde doing it.’

“Consider that a… sample,” she said, a little breathlessly, as she ended the kiss. He reached for her, and she quickly put her hand up in front of his face. “But only a sample; I-I’ve got to go.” She wriggled free of him and walked slowly to the stairs. She walked slowly because she was so surprised at what she had just done. And she walked slowly, too, because of a sudden weakness in her knees.

* * * * *

“Aayaah!” Trisha yawned, stretching her arms out. “How much longer are we going to work tonight?”

Kirby took out his pocket watch and checked the time. “It’s already after 1, and we’re both tired. Why don’t we stop now and get an early start in the morning? I don’t believe that people will fault us if we get the paper out a few hours later than usual.”

“That sounds good. I’m so tired now, I’m not sure that I can even find my way home.” She yawned again and shook her head once, trying to shake herself awake.

“You don’t have to go home, you know.”

“Kirby!” Her eyes were wide with surprise. “What are you suggesting?”

He chuckled. “I’m suggesting that you stay here tonight. There are two bedrooms upstairs, the one Roscoe used when Ozzie was here, and Ozzie’s bedroom, which Roscoe uses now. Since he’s still over at Doc Upshaw’s, they’re both free. Pick one. I’ll lock up and go to my own bed, above my store, two doors away.”

“You, know,” she said, the fatigue creeping back into her voice, “that sounds like a good idea.”

* * * * *

Trisha looked around the room. This was obviously the bedroom Roscoe had been using. His pants were draped over the top of a chair, his suspenders trailing down to the floor. A shirt, poorly folded, had been placed on top of the pants. The bed was large, the blanket and top sheet thrown back, and the pillows plumped up for reading. A dime novel, Buffalo Bill, the King of the Border Men, was set on the night table, with a scrap of paper serving as a bookmark.

“Just the sort of thing Emma likes,” she said, holding up the book for a moment. Then she yawned again. “The hell with this,” she scolded herself, “get to bed, Trisha.”

She returned the book to the table and began unbuttoning her blouse. A clothes rack stood a few feet away, with a few empty hangers. Once she had finished with her blouse, she took it off and put it on one of the hangers. She yawned again as she unhooked her corset, but she managed to get it undone and draped it over the top of the rack. In a few minutes, her skirt and petticoat had joined her blouse on hangers.

“I’ll sleep in my camisole and drawers,” she said aloud. Then she chuckled. “Kinda naughty, though, undressing like this in a man’s bedroom and sleeping in his bed.” Somehow, she felt a thrill to be doing it.

On an impulse, she changed her mind, undid her camisole and slipped it off, tossing it up on the rack next to her corset. “Now I need something for a nightgown.” She picked up Roscoe’s shirt. “This’ll do.” When she put her right arm into the sleeve, only the tips of her three middle fingers could be seen. She giggled. “Hmmm, Roscoe’s a big man, isn’t he?” She rolled up the sleeve until her entire hand was visible, and then she did the same to the other sleeve before she put her left arm into it.

“Fits like a tent,” she said, as she buttoned it. She’d had to button the top button just to keep it from sliding off her shoulders, and it hung down almost to her knees. “Still, it’s better than nothing. “

As she climbed into bed, she felt the rough cotton rub against her breasts, tickling her nipples – and why were they so extended? She turned the wick of the lantern she’d carried down to a dim flame and snuggled down under blankets. Her nose caught a whiff of something – bay rum, the aftershave that Roscoe used. She could smell it on his shirt. “It’s almost like he’s here in bed with me.”

Her body tingled at the thought, and she was smiling as she drifted off to sleep.

* * * * *

Tuesday, June 04, 1872

“Anybody here from the Triple A Ranch?” Tommy Carson’s young voice rang clear in the Saloon. He stood just inside the batwing doors, scanning the room for any sign of his former teacher. There was none. She was in the kitchen washing the morning dishes.

Cap raised a hand. “That’d be me, son. I’m Cap… Matt Lewis, one of the owners.”

“I got a telegram for you, Mr. Lewis,” the boy said hurrying over. He gave Cap the envelope he was carrying and happily took a nickel tip. He did remember to say, “Thanks,” before heading out the door.

Molly came over, as Cap was tearing open the envelope. “Forgive me curiosity, Cap, but what’s it say?”

“It’s from Red Tully,” Cap replied in a voice that could be heard by most of the room. “He and Uncle Abner got to Philadelphia okay. That Dr. Vogel from the hospital met them at the train with an ambulance. Uncle Abner wants Red to hang around until Vogel’s done some tests. Red’s staying in a room on the hospital grounds, and he should start home in about a week.”

Bridget leaned over Cap’s shoulder, trying to read the telegram. “Does it say anything about your uncle’s condition?”

“Red said, ‘No problems on train.’ That’s about all,” Cap told her, smiling at how close she was standing. “He says he’ll bring back a letter from Vogel. He’ll probably have one from Uncle Abner, too.”

Molly smiled. “Well, he’s with folks that know how t’be dealing with his problem. That’s a blessing, at least, and we’ll all be praying for him, too.”

“Thanks, Molly. I’m sure that Uncle Abner would appreciate that. I know that I do.”

* * * * *

Trisha and Kirby didn’t get the paper out until well after lunch. The first article on page 2 was an explanation.

` Better Late Than Never

` Today’s issue of The Eerie Citizen is late, and we’re sorry.
`
` We had a break-in to our offices, and somehow a fire got started.
` Our editor, Roscoe Unger, was badly burned. He’s recovering now
` in Dr. Upshaw’s infirmary.
`
` It’s times like this when you find out who your friends are. We
` want to thank everyone who worked so valiantly to put out the
` fire. Thank you and bless you all. We also want to thank Kirby
` Pinter, who risked his life to rescue Roscoe from the conflagration.
`
` Roscoe will be in the infirmary for a few more days. Friends of
` his are the ones publishing today’s paper. We aren’t nearly as good
` at it as he is. That’s why it’s late, and why there may be some
` mistakes in this issue.
`
` Don’t blame Roscoe. With any luck, he’ll be back in time for next
` week’s issue, to show us all how it’s supposed to be done.

* * * * *

Molly was the first to see Carl coming around the corner into the long hallway where the Cactus Blossoms were practicing. She raised a finger to her lips, signaling him to wait quietly. He nodded and leaned against the wall, watching the women going through their routine.

It ended when Nancy did a double cartwheel, going from there into a split. As she landed, she let out a loud, “Yee-hah!” and raised her hands up above her head. The other dancers also fell into a split where they stood, giving the same shout and raising their arms as she had.

It was an unsettling thing to see her that way, but he forced a smile. “Way to go, Nanny Goat,” Carl shouted, clapping his hands emphatically. “I forgot how good you was at cartwheels.”

Molly pressed the lever that turned off the kalliope. “I hope ye didn’t come up here just t’be sneaking a peak at the Cactus Blossoms, Carl?”

“No, Molly,” he said with a chuckle, “but that is a pretty good excuse. Actually, I came for two reasons. First off, I need t’borrow Nancy for a bit – if I can. Then I wanted t’remind that pretty lady over there…” He nodded his head towards Flora. “…that she promised to have supper with me tonight.”

Flora smiled, but then she quickly hid her face with her hand and turned away, as if embarrassed.

Nancy glanced over at Molly. “Is it okay, Molly?”

“Well, I suppose we can stand t’be taking a wee break.” She checked the watch fastened by a ribbon to her apron. “Fifteen minutes, ladies.”

Nancy gave a nod of her head. “Thanks.” She turned to face her brother. “Let’s go into my room. It’s more private there?”

“Sounds good,” Carl said. He followed her into the room, shutting the door behind him.

A dress, petticoat, camisole, and a pair of drawers were tossed on the bed. Nancy quickly bundled them up and pushed them over to a corner. “You take the chair,” she said, sitting down on the bed.

“Okay.” He sat, crossing his arms in front of him.

Nancy had been quick to hide the undergarments in plain view, but she couldn’t hide what she was wearing. Her dress stopped only an inch or two below the knee, showing a great deal of her shapely legs. At the same time, the deep sweetheart neckline and lack of sleeves clearly showed that she wore no camisole. He could see a lot of creamy skin, including the tops of her breasts and the cleavage between them. Carl didn’t find the view arousing – hell, she was his sister, after all -- but he damn well knew what the effect would be for every other man in the house.

“Now,” he said, choosing his words with care, “suppose you tell me, real slow like, why you wanna flounce around in front of everybody in that scanty outfit?”

She threw up her arms. “What should I do, Carl? You saw that telegram. They… They took away my credentials.”

“You could ask for your old job back. The town council knows you’re a good teacher, and they all believed your version of what happened with Dell Cooper. They’d probably be glad to get you back with or without credentials.”

“But I don’t want to go back, and before you ask, yes, I loved working with the children.” She shook her head sadly, “but I-I can’t – I won’t work with their parents.”

“Not all the parents are against you. Mrs. Stone --”

“Cecelia Ritter is. So is Zenobia Carson. One – or both – of them sent that lie to Hartford. They want a prim little schoolteacher, one who’s afraid of them. They want someone who can’t think, except what they tell her to think, and can’t have any sort of a life beyond what they allow her.” She sighed. “I can’t live like that anymore.” Nancy paused suddenly. “It's strange, but if they had shown me just a little more sympathy, a little more kindness, I might never have realized what an impossible situation I was in. That would have been a shame, actually.”

“So instead, you work here and prove that they were right about you.”

“I stay here and prove that my life is what I want it to be, not what other people tell me it should be. I’ve never – never ever – had the chance to do that before.”

“Oh, Nancy, Nancy. Do you understand that you can still circle back to what was, but only if you don't go out on the stage this Friday, especially wearing that outfit? Maybe you wouldn't be able to teach again. Hell, maybe you don't even want to. But most people still think of you as a lady. You can go back to the kind of life that you've lived before.”

“But going out on that stage is going to change you. From then on, anyone who needs an excuse to despise you is going to call you a cancan girl -- and who knows what else?”

She sighed. “Haven't you been listening, Carl? That old life is empty, and I don't want it anymore. It only allowed me to be part of the person I am. Only a small part, I think. There's much more to me than that, and I'm finally have a chance to out what I'm capable of.”

“Then you're saying that you actually do want to do this! Why?” Carl demanded.

Nancy threw up her bare arms. “I could have begged a job from my friend, Kirby, and kept my head down and my mouth shut, so no one would bother with me. But that wouldn't have served notice to anyone that I was going to be my own woman from now on, and not care what they think of me.”

She took a breath before she continued. “Aunt Clemmie and Uncle Nat spent years trying to knock the rough edges off the tomboy they got stuck with after mamma and papa died. ‘A proper girl doesn’t do this,’ she’d say. ‘A proper girl doesn’t say that.’ And Uncle Nat would pray over me like I was the source of all sin in Hartford, if not the whole state of Connecticut.”

“I know,” he admitted. “I got some of the same. He had me all measured up to be a proper young gentleman. That’s why I ran off as soon as I could and became a cowboy, the kind I'd been reading about. I bet that really stuck in Aunt Clemmie and Uncle Nat's craws.”

“If I’d been a boy, I’d have run right after you. But I wasn’t. I was afraid to be so bold. I stayed, and I took it, and when I met… Bill, I, well, I decided that, maybe, being a proper lady wasn’t such a bad thing, after all.” Her expression changed, and she looked down at the floor.

Carl nodded. “Bill Meisner was a good man, all right, and I know that he loved you.” He reached over and gently touched her arm.

“He was. And he knew what I was really like, that I was only a ‘pretend’ lady. We talked about a life together, a life of travel and adventure, going to live in London or Paris, not settling down so he could run his father’s bank.” She laughed. “We even imagined exploring Africa together. He… He loved the idea of great adventure; that was why he…” Her voice faded away.

Her brother finished the sentence for her. “Why he joined the army and went off to that damned War just as soon as he was old enough.”

She shook her head once, in grief. “And…died, died in a useless battle down in Georgia, a week after Lee surrendered. We were going to be married as soon as he came home, you know. Now all I have of him are my memories and the present he gave me before he left.” She reached over and lifted the lid of a small, pink music box sitting atop her bed table. It played a few notes of the Stephen Foster tune “Jenny’s Own Schottish” before she lowered the lid. That song had been the first one that she and Bill Meisner had ever danced to.

“I… I just stopped fighting after that. What was the point? I went to the seminary, like Uncle Nat told me to do, and got my teaching certificate. If I wasn’t going to have a life – a family and children of my own – he and Aunt Clemmie decided that I might as well teach other women’s children. They thought that I'd lost any chance I might have had for something different, and I was so sick with grief that, deep down, I agreed with them. I found that I was good at teaching, and that I enjoyed doing it. It wasn’t much of a life, but I didn’t really want a life. If I thought about truly living, it made me think about Bill and the life we would have had.”

“And now you want more of a life?” Despite himself, he felt the urge to smile and – imagine that! – he agreed with what she was saying. Nancy had moved beyond the sadness that that been so much a part of her for so long, and he could see again the courageous young woman she once had been.

“Damned right I do!” She spoke the words firmly, almost angrily. “I have a life now, and Cecelia and Zenobia and all the rest of them can go to hell, for all I care. Maybe there’s no great virtue in what I’m doing, but it’s my choice to do it. They thought that they were slapping me down when they got me suspended, but, instead, they slapped me awake -- awake from the dream everybody had forced me into for all those years.” She glanced into the mirror, saw herself sporting clothes that no lady would wear, and chuckled. “In a way, I should almost thank them for that.”

“Oh, sure, you should.”

“And I would, if they’d done it for my good. But they didn’t. They did it because the only way they can be comfortable in their own miserable, little lives is to make everybody else feel just as miserable and just as little. And I actually did feel like the person they thought I was, but I don’t any longer. I feel good, good about myself, for the first time in years. I don’t care what they think, anymore, and they know it, and it hurts them. Knowing that I’m still here in Eerie; that I’m doing what I want to do and enjoying it.” She smiled grimly. “Knowing that hurts them a lot worse than they ever managed to hurt me.”

“And if it hurts me?” He stood up. “Some of the men I have to work with are laughing at me ‘cause of what you’re going about.”

“I know.” Her smile faded. “And I’m sorry, but I-I don’t know what else to do. Remember how you hurt people when you ran away?”

He sighed, sorry that he had left her alone with their aunt and uncle. For the first time in a long time, she looked so full of hope. Could he take that away from her because of some remarks made by a few idiots?

Nancy had been hurt so much by other people's advice, by people forcing their expectations onto her, that she no longer trusted anyone else, maybe not even him. She was shaping her own life now, not knowing whether that would be for good or ill. Either way, what she found there would be there because of her choices.

“I guess you ‘n’ me’ll do what we used to do back when we was living with our folks on that apple farm near Bigglersville.” He took her hands in his own. “I’ll watch your back, and you’ll watch mine.”

She looked up at him. He met her gaze and smiled down at her. “Carl…” They fell into each other’s arms, hugging as they had as children. She felt tears running down her cheeks.

“I think that’s enough,” he said, finally breaking the hug. He pulled his kerchief from his pocket and handed it to her. “You dry your eyes now, Nanny Goat. You gotta get back out there and practice that fancy dance of yours. If you're so all-fired sure you want to be a cancan dancer, you just better make sure that you're a good one. I want you to make me proud on Friday, when you’re doing it out in front of everybody.”

“You're going to be there to watch, then?”

“I have to be, sos I can beat up on any varmint there that doesn't treat you like a lady!”

Nancy sighed. “Okay, but just one time only. After that, I have to be on my own. Everyone has to see that I'm woman enough to stand on my own two feet.”

“You sure do make things hard for a fella.”

“So do you. I heard what you said to Molly, about having dinner with Flora. I'm not so sure....”

She caught herself, shook her head, and started over. “I guess we don't have to be sure about everything. We just have to have faith in each other.”

“Amen,” said Carl with a grin.

* * * * *

` Hold Your Fire
` An Editorial by Roscoe Unger

` Last Thursday, a fire started in the offices of The Eerie
` Citizen. That there was little damage to our offices – or to any
` other buildings – was due to the town’s pumper wagon and to
` the many citizens of Eerie who worked the pump or manned
` the bucket brigade that kept it supplied with water.

` To all these people, The Eerie Citizen offers a humble
` and very heartfelt THANK YOU.

` The pumper wagon performed just the way the town council
` expected it to work. That’s why they bought it. Many of you
` will remember when it arrived. The Happy Days Town Band
` played, Mr. Whitney, the chairman of the town council, made a
` speech. It was quite a party.

` But before the party started, before Mr. Whitney took
` delivery and gave the men who brought it over from Yuma the
` check, we tested the pumper wagon. Sheriff Talbot hooked it
` up to a horse and drove it over to Mr. Whitney’s barber shop.
` Those present formed a bucket brigade, and we doused the
` building. THEN we gave those men their check.

` If it hadn’t worked, we’d have sent it back unpaid. The town
` took three months to decide to buy the wagon – it wasn’t
` something we just jumped into. And we made certain that it
` worked the way it was intended to before we took delivery.
` That’s how we do things in Eerie.

` And what’s good enough for the pumper wagon is good enough
` for the committee that the town council created to deal with
` Shamus O’Toole’s potion. Some people say that the potion is
` as big a threat to our town as a fire would be.

` So we dealt with it the same way. We took our time, talking
` about the problem for quite a while before we came up with a
` solution, the committee to advise Judge Humphreys on its use.
` We have the solution -- A solution, anyway -- to the problem.
` Before we decide that it doesn’t work and send it back, let’s
` give it a try.

` This problem – if it is a problem – is too important for us to
` act hasty. Isn’t it?

` The plans of the diligent lead to profit, as surely as haste leads
` to poverty. (Proverbs 21:5)

` Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for
` a fool than for him. (Proverbs 29:20)

* * * * *

Flora put down her dinner fork. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Like what?” Carl asked, taking a bite of potato. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know; you just had a funny look in your eyes. Like you were… thinking hard, surprised, maybe.”

“I guess I am. Surprised, I mean, very pleasantly surprised.” He chuckled. “I didn’t expect to like you after the way you acted when you was Forry.”

The notion bothered her. “You didn’t? Why?”

“For one thing, I was – I am a friend of Bridget Kelly’s. I sit in on her poker game sometimes, and, well, you know what you did to her.”

Flora looked down at the table, her voice soft and, maybe, a little ashamed, “I-I know.”

“And your man, Dell Cooper, tried to get me blamed for that robbery. I coulda gone to prison for that. You knew I didn’t rob Mr. Slocum, and you didn’t say nothing. And it was you who tried to kill Abner Slocum. I liked him; he was as good a boss as I ever had.”

She sighed. “I-I admit I let things get out of hand. And look what they did to me for it.”

“I did look. I was there for your trial, remember? I saw you ‘n’ Lylah drink that brew of Shamus’, and, later on, I heard Mr. Lewis tell all his men that he wouldn’t mind one little bit if we gave you ‘n’ her a hard time.”

She nodded, remembering the trouble that Slocum’s men had piled on her. “And they certainly listened to him on that score,” she said grimly. “You gave me a hard time, too, as I recall.”

“Yes, but not for very long,” he said unhappily. “My heart just wasn’t in it.”

“May I ask why not?”

“For one thing, I kept thinking how it coulda been me out there. If they’d found me guilty of taking that money, I might’ve had to take a swig of Shamus’ potion myself. I don’t think I coulda handled it as well as you seemed to, and, truth t’tell, I kinda admired the way you were able to take what they dealt out.” He shrugged. “For another thing, well, you just was too pretty to stay mad at for very long.”

She blinked. “I-I was?”

“Yep, and you still are.” He shifted his chair in close to her. His hand snaked behind her head, pulling it even closer. Her neck stiffened and resisted his draw for only an instant. And their lips met.

Flora closed her eyes, savoring the luxurious feelings his kiss aroused. ‘This… This isn’t happening to me,’ she told herself. ‘It c-can’t be happening.’ But her body insisted that it most certainly was happening. ‘The hell with it,’ she thought, as her arms moved up to encircle him.

* * * * *

“I’m home,” Clyde Ritter, Sr. bellowed, slamming the front door behind him.

Cecelia Ritter came bustling out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. “You’re home early tonight, dear.” She glanced around. “Is Winthrop with you?”

“Things were quiet this afternoon, so I thought I’d let him close up – give him a chance to earn his keep for a change.” He took off his coat and hung it on a wooden peg rack. “Is supper ready?”

“I-I wasn’t expecting you home this early. It’ll be ready in… in fifteen minutes or so.”

“Fine; that will give me time to read the paper. They didn’t get it out till mid-afternoon. I suppose Roscoe's being laid up slowed things down.”

“No doubt.” She waited for him to say more on the subject. When he didn’t, she added, “I’d best get back to the cooking.” She gave his cheek a quick peck and hurried off.

“Yes, I'm starved,” Ritter said, before he settled down in an overstuffed, oversized Turkish-style Victorian chair and quickly skimmed over the first page. “National and international news… Grant signed the Amnesty Act, I see, gives full rights back to the South.” He shrugged. “That’s a lot better than that stupid Yellowstone Park. How can the West progress if they start closing off land that can’t be developed?” There was little else on the page. “Bizet – what kind of a name is that -- opens a new opera in Paris, and more pictures of that Vesuvius eruption. Who gives a…” His voice trailed off as he opened the paper to read page two.

Pages two and three were the local news and advertising. He checked for the small ad for his livery that he bought every week. It was nicely set along the right edge of page 3, ‘Easy to notice,’ he thought and smiled.

The short piece explaining why the paper was late was in a box, top left, on page two. “So Unger got burned in the fire… serves him right for all the trouble he’s caused.” He gave a satisfied chuckle. “I wonder who he got to put out the paper?”

“Let’s see if they know who did it.” He read the articles about the fire very carefully. “Praise for the deputy and the folks on the pump and the bucket brigade… okay.” He’d been one of those, passing the buckets of water to fight the flames.

He scowled at the article about how Kirby Pinter had rescued Roscoe. “I wonder if he’s the one who printed the paper,” Ritter thought. Then he saw something.

` “Mr. Unger describes the culprit he saw as a short, muscular man with
` a round face, short, brown hair, and several days growth of beard.
` Anyone who knows anything about this man should talk to Sheriff
` Talbot at once.”

“Damn!” he swore under his breath. “Good thing those two bastards are long gone. As long as nobody remembers them – and they weren’t very memorable – or, worse, remembers where they were heading, I’m home free. That’s almost worth the money they cost me.” Then Clyde reflected, “I hope the Sioux scalp them up in the Black Hills.” He leaned back and relaxed, reading the paper and enjoying the smells coming in from the kitchen.

Then he saw the editorial.

“What!” he howled. “Is that all that son of a bitch knows to say?” He crumbled the paper in his hand and threw it across the room. “Of all the G-d damned, misbegotten, bull. I’ll… I’ll…” He stood quickly, his hands in front of him, fingers apart, curved as if about Roscoe’s neck, squeezing and shaking. Clyde’s face was beet red, eyes popping, and lips pulled back to show his teeth. “I’ll make Unger wish he’d died in that fire.”

Cecelia hurried with the meal. She suddenly heard her husband's angry shouting. As she drained the fried chicken pieces on a towel, her eyes glanced upward. Her younger children were in their rooms on the second floor, doors shut. They knew their father, and they’d wait until their mother thought he was calmed down enough to call them to dinner.

* * * * *

Rupe Warrick leaned back in his office chair and looked at the three other men seated around his desk. “Okay, we’re all here. Who wants to start?”

“I will,” Jubal Cates said. “What’re we going to do about Reverend Yingling?” He shook his head. “That sermon of his…” His voice trailed off. “I never heard the man get so worked up over such a little thing as that committee of his.”

Judge Humphreys nodded in agreement. “Don’t I know it? I thought we were over and done with the potion committee.”

You’re not done with it,” Liam answered. “You’re the one they work for.”

The Judge shrugged. “Work with would be a better idea of what I had in mind, but it surely doesn’t seem to be what he had in mind.”

“What does he have in mind?” Rupe asked. “I can’t figure that out.”

“Da --” Jubal didn’t like to curse when he talked about church business. “Danged if I know.”

Humphreys gave them all an odd look. “Maybe I should ask him.”

“What do you mean?” Rupe looked puzzled. They all did.

The Judge smiled. “How does this sound.” The Judge shifted his body and his voice into what he thought of his “formal” mode. “Since the good Reverend Yingling has some… some serious concerns regarding the committee, and since I’m the one that the committee is supposed to – no, is charged to work for, I’d like a chance – an opportunity – to meet with him prior to his asking the church board to take any action.”

“The committee hasn’t met yet, and it may be that we can find a way to meet – to address those concerns of his under the present structure. This would avoid the Reverend having to go back to the Town Council and explain to them where he feels they erred in the creation of the committee. Instead, he could begin doing the work that he and I both agree is the potion committee’s proper duty.” He looked at the others. “Well?”

“Sounded like a speech to me.” Liam replied with a chuckle.

Humphreys grinned. “It was, and one of my better impromptu ones, I think. After all, it won't improve things if he gets another chance to do some more public grandstanding. And if Thad Yingling doesn’t take the hint, I’m going to move that the board table any further discussion of the potion committee until after the two of us get together.”

“And I’ll second it,” Liam said quickly. He looked at Cates. “Can I count on you to go along, Jubal? You and I don’t always agree on board issues, and we’ll need four votes to slow down the Reverend.”“

The surveyor looked thoughtful. “It does seem fair to give the committee a chance, so, yes, Liam… You Honor, in this matter, you can count on my vote.”

* * * * *

Wednesday, June 05, 1872

“So,” Kaitlin said, as she finished buttoning her dress, “now that you and Mr. Pinter put out this week’s newspaper for Roscoe Unger, will you be going back to the Feed and Grain today?”

Trisha was sitting on their bed, tying her shoe. “Would… Would you mind going in for me again? I meant to ask you last night, but I was bone tired.”

“Why can’t you go in? You don’t look very tired this morning?”

“Roscoe’s not getting out of the infirmary till Friday, maybe not till Saturday. Somebody’s got to work in his store till he can do it himself.” She looked over at her former wife. “He depends on the print shop for his living.”

‘Can’t Mr. Pinter do it?”

“Kirby has his own business to run. He doesn’t have anybody working for him, so he has to stay there.”

“You still didn’t say why you have to be the one in the print shop. You have a business to run, too.”

She really couldn’t explain why it seemed so important to her, but it was, and she had to say something. “Be-Because I do. You can cover for me, but there's no one else who can cover for Roscoe. He’s depending on me.”

“Well, I suppose, if you have to help Roscoe, I can spend another day or two at the Feed and Grain.” She smiled. “If Liam doesn’t mind, that is.” And she was sure that he wouldn’t.

Trisha missed Kaitlin’s sarcasm. “That’d be great, Kaitlin. Thank you; thank you so very much.”

“My pleasure,” Kaitlin replied. “My pleasure, indeed.” And she expected that it would be.

* * * * *

Luke Freeman was sitting at a table near the stairs, when Molly and the Cactus Blossoms came down for lunch. The dancers were all wearing robes, both to protect their costumes while they ate and to keep those costumes a secret from anyone else who might be looking.

He rose and walked over to meet Lylah. “Hey, there, Lylah. How you doing?”

“Luke,” Lylah said, a bit surprised. “What’re you doing in here?”

“Mr. Lewis sent me and a couple of hands t’pick up the paper and some supplies at Styron’s. I figured they could do the loading. When they’s done, they can come over for drink b’fore we head back. I come over early t’talk to you.”

Lylah had to smile. “Just talk? Don’t you wanna have lunch with me?” It still felt odd – a little odd, at least, she admitted to herself – to actually flirt with this nigger. But she also had to admit the way his words – and his kisses made her feel -- and how much she had come to like feeling that way. ‘If I’m gonna start liking men,’ she told herself, ‘Luke’s one man – nigger or not – I wanna like.’

“Lylah, I would surely love t’have lunch with you, but I ain’t got the time – not the way I wants to, sitting back and looking at your pretty face while I eats, holding your hand now and then, and having one – or maybe two -- o’your sweet kisses for dessert t’keep me going all the way home.”

Lylah felt a blush run across her face. Her smile widened, as her body warmed with arousal. “Mmm, that does sound nice.” There was a husky tone in her voice. “You gonna be in here when we do our new act Friday night?”

“I wish I could, but so many o’the men already asked ‘bout coming in to see you pretty gals, that Mr. Lewis had t’say, ‘No’ t’some of ‘em. And he asked me t’help set an example by staying out there with him.”

“You sure you can’t come in?”

Luke shook his head. “Not Friday, I already give my word t’Mr. Lewis. But I surely am gonna be in here on Saturday. I figure that’d be better, anyway. If I come in early, will you have dinner with me?”

“Sure.” She suddenly felt a little shy. “But why d’you figure that Saturday’d be better ‘n Friday?”

“‘Cause on Saturday, I gets t’dance with you. Friday, all I can do is watch you ‘n’ them other girls dance.” He grinned, a grin that set her body tingling. “Holding you in my arms is a whole lot better.”

* * * * *

‘Now’s the time,’ Flora thought, looking around the Saloon. ‘Molly’s out gossiping with old lady Silverman, and Shamus is going to be in his office for at least another half hour.’ She sat down on a barstool. “Say, R.J.,” she said aloud. “You got a pen and some paper there behind the bar?”

R.J. shrugged. “I might. Why?”

“Oh, I was just thinking about writing… something.”

He gave her a sly grin. “A letter, maybe; one asking your father to get you out of here?”

“And if I am?”

“Are you gonna tell him that he’s got himself a new daughter?”

“No, I’ll… I’ll wait on that bit of news.”

“What’s the matter? Are you afraid that he won’t help you if he knows?”

Flora frowned and glanced away.

“Frankly, I’d have thought he'd have been making inquiries about you long before this. What sort of father won't send as much as a telegram to find out what's happened to his son and heir after almost three months?”

“He's my father, not my nanny. He knows that, wherever I am, I have things under control.”

Sure you do.” He rummaged under the counter for a bit before taking out a pen and inkwell, which he set on the bar in front of her. They were followed almost at once by a few sheets of off-white paper. “Here you go,” he said, “but I don’t think you can write that letter.”

“The hell I can’t.” She grabbed the pen and jabbed it into the inkwell, drawing the black liquid into it. She’d found that she could curse some, if Molly and Shamus weren’t around to hear.

“Go ahead and try, then.”

“Father,” she spoke the words as she wrote, very glad now that her handwriting was barely changed by her transformation. “I have been arres – What the hell?” Her right hand began to shake violently, so that the word became a jagged line on the paper.

She grabbed her wrist with her left hand to steady it, but the shaking just got worse. “What’s happening to me?”

“When you were first caught, you were bragging about how your father knew the governor of Texas, and, between your father’s money and his big shot friend, you were gonna get off the hook for shooting Mr. Slocum. You remember that?”

She nodded grimly. “Yeah… what’s that got to do with my getting the shakes?”

“When Shamus gave you the potion, he told you – you and Lylah both – that you couldn’t escape. He does that with everybody who gets changed, but in your case, he added that you couldn’t ask anybody else to help you escape.” He chuckled at her discomfort. “When you started writing something that’d make your old man try to get you out of here, the potion wouldn’t let you.”

“Damn!” She pulled her hand back, away from the paper, and its jerky movements stopped. When she slowly moved it towards the paper, the tremors came back.

“Double damn!” She threw the pen down onto the bar. It bounced and landed on her lap, leaking a bit of ink onto her light blue dress. She grabbed for it and set it carefully onto the bar.

“He's going to figure out that something's wrong and then come charging in here like an angry bull. Wouldn't it be better if I finessed things beforehand?”

“It's not for me to say. Talk to Shamus.” R.J. put the writing supplies back under the bar. “You have to get upstairs and change out of that dress. You better set the thing soaking up there. Shamus and Molly want their waitresses all neat and clean, and Maggie and Jane’re too busy working on supper in the kitchen.”

“Triple damn!” She stood and stomped towards the steps.

* * * *

Lavinia Mackechnie dealt the last card into the kitty and pushed the pile towards Zenobia Carson. Zenobia turned over the top card. “Queen of diamonds; I’ll take that as trump.” The other women nodded in agreement, and Zenobia put the card in her hand, placing another card in the discard pile. She studied her hand for a moment and placed the queen of diamonds down on the table.

Grace MacLeod frowned and played the 9 of diamonds.

“Did you all see that editorial in yesterday’s paper?” Cecelia Ritter asked as she laid down the King of diamonds. “How dare that Unger fellow quote the Good Book to Reverend Yingling?”

Lavinia played the 10 of diamonds. “I quite agree,” she said, as Cecelia took the trick. “Can’t we do something to stop that?”

“We can show how wrong he is by supporting the Reverend at the board meeting tonight.” Cecelia played the Ace of hearts.

Hilda Scudder was taking her turn at sitting out the hand. She put down the baby’s hat she was knitting. “If only he didn’t have to be so ardent about it. I hardly expected such a ‘fire and brimstone’ sermon on the subject of a committee he doesn’t like.”

“He has every right to want a committee that works the way he wants, doesn’t he?” Lavinia paused a beat, before adding, “Jack of diamonds.”

Zenobia studied her hand. She had to play a heart, but she hated to play one so high. “Of course, he does.” She sighed and put down her King of hearts.

“Couldn’t he try the new committee for a little while?” Grace asked in a soft voice, setting down the 9 of diamonds. “A month at least.”

Lavinia took this trick.

“Why should he?” Cecelia said in a firm tone. “He’s a wise man, a learned minister of our Lord. If he says that the committee is wrong, corrupt even, why should – how can we doubt him?” She fixed Grace in her eyes, a wolf freezing a rabbit. “Those who trust in the Lord need never doubt.”

Grace shuddered and forced her eyes away. “P-Perhaps you’re right. I… I’m sorry.”

“And well you should be,” Cecelia replied, smiling in satisfaction.

Lavinia nodded in agreement and played the Ace of clubs.

* * * * *

“This is the life.” Flora leaned back against the pillows propped up on her bed. She’d stripped off her dress and petticoat. The petticoat was clean, and the dress was draped over a basin to allow soapy water to seep into what was left of the ink stain. “I’ll just hide out up here until O’Toole sends somebody to look for me.”

She frowned at her mention of Shamus’ name. “He thought he was so clever, rigging things so I can’t get out of here – even with help.”

“Mrrrow!”

She leaned over and looked down at the space beside her bed. “Sweetums?” The gray kitten was still too small to jump up onto the bed. She reached for it and grabbed it, as a mother cat would, by the loose skin at the back of its neck. In a moment, her pet was snuggling down on her stomach.

“Hey, there, kitt.” She picked up a long piece of purple yarn from where she’d set it on her bed table and began to dangle it in front of the feline. The little animal tracked the yarn for a moment, and then it started swatting at it with a paw.

“What do you think I should do, Sweetums? I started playing up to Clyde Ritter and those other men just to get Shamus’ goat. It was fun, too, watching them get all hot under the collar from just a word or from batting my eyelashes at them.”

“Then Nancy Osbourne tells me about how Clyde gave her all those gifts, tried to buy her ‘favors.’ I figured I could get some nice loot from him, like that ivory pin he gave her, at least. And I surely wasn’t planning to ‘pay him back’, not like he expected, anyway.”

“You think I should do that, Sweetums, try to get some presents out of Clyde?” The kitten tilted its head and swiped a paw at the yarn again by way of an answer.

“Yeah, I thought so, too. But then I had a better idea.”

“Ritter has some real important friends in this one-horse town,” she told herself. “When he skipped dinner with me to go to that meeting, I figured I could promise him what he really wanted, but only after he got that damned judge to let me out of here.”

She gave a wry chuckle and laid the thick thread out on the bed. She pulled it in a slow, wriggling motion. The kitten watched for a moment before it sprang atop the string.

“Well, that idea’s out,” she said sourly. “If I can’t write for help to get out of here, I surely can’t ask for it.”

Then she got to thinking. “Maybe Zach Levy could send a letter for me. He's still my lawyer, after all. But how could I ask him without making it sounding like I was asking for help to escape? Maybe if I don't ask for escape. Maybe if I just say that I want my pa to know that I’m in jail in Eerie for attempted murder.”

“The problem is, O’Toole’s ‘instructions’ probably won’t even let me ask him for that. I know damn well that pa would take any word of my being in jail as a call for help. He’d come storming in, and as soon as he saw what happened to me…” her expression soured. “…as like as not, he’d go storming out of town the minute he finished laughing.” She gave a reluctant sigh. “Maybe I’d better just be careful about anybody writing to him. I’ll have to think that over some more.”

“But if a letter to Pa is out, I need a fallback strategy of some sort.” She sat up suddenly, dropping the yarn as a thought occurred to her. “Maybe I can’t ask for help to escape, but I could ask… ‘Oh, Clyde, those presents you gave me are so wonderful!’ – yeah, I’ll see if I can’t get some loot out of him first; even if I have to give him something – a little something – in return.” She giggled at the notion. “But I can’t give myself to you until you prove that you really would do anything for me.” Yes, that would work, and it would be so much sweeter if she could fix her enemies' wagon all by her lonesome, without getting her father to do it for her.

She picked up the kitten and began hugging her. “That’s right, Sweetums – and you, too, Clyde – you’ve got to get some men to avenge me. You and your friends – whoever you get – have got to beat up Shamus O’Toole, beat him within an inch of his life, him and that son of a bitch judge, along with him. You do that, Clyde, honey…” She spoke the last in a low, sultry voice. “…and I’m yours, body and soul.”

Flora fell back against the pillows, laughing and petting the purring kitten.

* * * * *

Emma’s eyes widened in surprise when she walked into Unger’s Print Works. “Trisha, what’re you doing here?”

“Working.” Trisha tried hard, but couldn’t quite read her daughter’s face. “Roscoe – Mr. Unger – needed somebody to run his store until he gets out of the infirmary, and I-I decided to do it.”

“How… How come?”

“He’s a… a friend, and he needed my help. W-Why shouldn’t I help him out?”

“Is he the… the…” Her voice trailed off as she stared down at Trisha’s belly.

“The father?” Trisha shook her head. “I told you, he’s just a friend.” And why did it seem so odd to say it?

Emma raised a skeptical eyebrow. “If you say so.”

“I do.” She took a breath. “Now, if we’re finished with me, why’re you here?”

“Mr. Cates – my boss – he sent me over here Monday with a letter he wanted copied. Mr. Pinter, he said they’d be ready this afternoon, so I came to pick ‘em up.”

“Kirby – Mr. Pinter – isn’t here. Let me look…” Trisha rummaged under the counter. After a minute or two, she brought out a package wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. The package had Cates’ name written on it. “Here it is.” She looked at the package again. “That’s seventy-five copies at a half-cent a copy… thirty-eight cents. Do you have the money?”

“Uh hunh.” She pulled a small purse from a pocket and opened it. “Here’s a quarter, a dime and… a – yeah, here’s a three-cent piece.” As she spoke, she put the coins down on the counter. “Okay?”

“Okay, here’s your copies. The original’s in there, too.” Trisha slid the packet across the counter. “See you at home tonight,”

Emma nodded and replaced the purse. “Bye,” she said, picking up the package. She left the store without another word.

‘That wasn’t my Pa, not in there,’ Emma thought, leaning against the wall of the building and clutching the package to her chest. ‘That… that was just some shop girl named Trisha. I know her good – she lives with Ma and me -- but she wasn’t anything like my Pa.’

She took a breath and started walking back towards Mr. Cates’ office. ‘Is that what folks think about me? Is there any of Elmer left in me?’ The question scared her, and she tried very hard to think of something – of anything else -- as she walked.

* * * * *

“Hello, Flora.” Clyde Ritter stood behind the woman he was addressing and kissed her neck.

Flora shivered, enjoying the sensations. She turned to face him, smiling. “Why, Clyde, this is a surprise. I know that I’d have remembered if we were having dinner together.” Her voice went sultry on the last word. “Or did you just come over real early to get a seat for our show?”

“Neither, I’m afraid. I’d like to see you tonight, maybe spend some time getting to know you better someplace more private between your two shows.”

Flora chuckled. ‘I still can’t believe he’s buying this,’ she thought. Aloud she answered, “And I’d really like to do that, but you’ve got to do something for me first, something more than just buy me a supper – much as I do enjoy that. I have to be sure that you’re serious before I… you know.” She half-closed her eyes and looked away, as if shy.

Just as Rosalyn had taught her to do.

“What – What can I do?”

“A present would be a good start, a really nice present – jewelry, maybe.”

He considered what she’d just told him. “I think that I can manage a present, one that you’ll like.” He gave her a confident smile.

“Mmm, you manage that, and I think that you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what I manage in return.”

“Will I now?”

“Let me just give you another sample of what you might get." She stepped in close, raising her arms up around his neck to pull him in close. Their mouths met in a kiss, her tongue running along his lower lip, inviting his tongue out to play.

He took the invitation. Her own lips parted, her tongue retreated, granting entrance to his. They tangled in a dance, as she moaned softly and pressed her body against his. ‘Damn, this feels good,’ she told herself. His hands roved over her body, and their erotic friction kindled sparks that flittered through her like lightning bugs.

She was only kissing Ritter as a tease, to encourage him to give her gifts and – eventually – other things. And the job wasn't half as unpleasant as she'd expected it to be.

* * * * *

Horace Styron stood, arms folded, outside the schoolhouse, watching people filing in for the church board meeting. “Welcome, gentlemen,” he greeted the three members of the town council as they approached. “We don’t often see you three at our meetings.”

“Our past decisions usually aren’t the main topic of discussion at your meetings,” Whit Whitney replied. His voice was formal in tone with his Maine accent at its strongest.

Arsenio simply walked past. He was pushing Laura in her wheel chair, and she answered for her husband when they moved past him. “See you inside, Mr. Styron.”

“Aaron,” Styron said in a cheerful tone. “This is the third or fourth meeting you’ve shown up at in as many months. You keep coming, and we may just manage to convince you to accept Jesus Christ.”

Silverman scowled at the other man. “Better men than you have tried – you momser,” he muttered under his breath, “and they ain’t done it yet.”

“What did you call him?” Arsenio asked once they were all in the building.

Aaron smiled. “Momser, it’s Yiddish, and it means… well, let’s just say that, compared to momser, calling somebody a bastard is almost a compliment.”

* * * * *

“Okay, folks,” Styron said, pounding his gavel once. “We’ve got some – I don’t know if the Reverend’s request is Old Business or New Business, but I do know that it’s important. So I’ll just ask him to tell us what he wants.”

Yingling rose confidently to his feet. “Thank you, Horace. I’ll try to be brief. After some considered thought, I have come to believe that the Eerie Town Council erred – and erred seriously -- in creating a mere advisory committee to address the very real concerns that I – that many of us – have regarding Shamus O’Toole’s potion. I intend to petition the Council at its next meeting to abolish that group and to create a far stronger group, one with the power to properly deal with the menace that his concoction truly represents. As with any action of mine, I have come to this congregation to ask on its support.”

“Second!” Cecelia Ritter yelled, jumping up as she spoke.

Horace smiled. “Thank you, Cecelia, but only a board member can make or second a motion. Having said that, I’ll move that the Board votes to support Reverend Yingling in this matter, as we have supported him on such things in the past.”

“Und I second.” Willie Gotefreund added quickly, stroking his walrus mustache with a finger of his right hand.

The Judge raised a hand. “May I say something, Horace?”

“No, you can’t,” Cecelia shouted, “you… you panderer.”

Humphreys looked daggers at the woman. “Cecelia, I was being polite – a form of behavior that you appear to be totally unfamiliar with. As a member of --”

“Who cares what you have to say.” She took a breath and began singing. “Onward, Christian soldiers…” She made a motion for the women sitting around her to join in.

Judge Humphrey’s firm voice, the one he used to quiet a rowdy courtroom or speak at a political rally, cut through the women’s clatter. “Clyde Ritter, tell your wife to be still and sit down.” He glared at them both. “If she doesn’t,” he continued, “I will have her arrested for disrupting a public meeting. That’s a felony with a fifty dollar fine and two nights in jail as maximum sentence, and, as the likely presiding judge at her trial, I can guarantee that the maximum penalty will be applied.”

“Shut up, woman!” Clyde hissed. He grabbed her around the waist and pulled her down.

Cecelia was about to argue, when she saw the look on her husband’s face. “Y-Yes, Clyde.”

The Judge smiled benevolently. “Thank you. As I was about to say, I believe that much of the Reverend’s concerns stem from the fact that I have not yet convened the new committee in order to discuss with its members how I want it to work. This is my fault, and I apologize for my delay. I would like to announce that there will be a closed meeting – that means no outsiders—of the committee at 3 PM on Monday in my chambers, to correct that grievous error.”

“No!” Yingling stormed. “I-I do not hold with the committee, and I will not attend such a travesty.”

Styron shook his head. “Me neither.”

“That’s too bad,” Humphreys replied, “but I’ve already spoken to Father de Castro – the vice-chairman, as you’ll recall. He agreed to attend and to act as chairman in your absence, Reverend Yingling. Luis Ortega and Shamus O’Toole are also coming. That’s a majority of the group, so we can certainly proceed if it happens that you two aren’t present.” He looked pointedly at the two men. “Of course, if you change your minds…” His voice trailed off.

Horace and the Reverend looked quickly at each other. Yingling sighed, trying to keep the anger out of his voice. “We shall attend.”

“In the meantime,” Horace said, trying to regain control. “We’ve got a motion on the floor to support the Reverend.”

Liam raised his hand. “It’s your motion, Horace. Shouldn’t Rupe take over?”

“Yes…” Horace handed the gavel to Rupe Warrick.

The heavy-set man shifted in his chair. “All right, then, you got anything else you wanna say, Your Honor?”

The Judge smiled. ‘Right on cue,’ he thought. Aloud, he continued, “Since all of the good reverend’s concern will – I hope – be addressed when we meet on Monday, I move to table the motion of support until the next board meeting after that.”

“Second,” Liam added quickly.

Styron glared. “You can’t do that!”

“A motion to table is always in order,” the Judge told him. “Ask Milt if you don’t believe me.”

Milt was sitting near the back, with Jane. “The Judge is right,” he said in a loud, clear voice.

“That’s not fair,” Lavinia Mackechnie shouted. “I demand that we get a chance to speak.”

Milt shook his head. “You can’t debate a motion to table, either.”

“But…” Lavinia tried to continue, but her husband, Ogden, whispered for her to stop. “Well, it isn’t fair,” she told him in a soft tone. “We ought to be able to speak when we want.”

“All in favor, raise your hands,” Rupe ordered. He turned to look at the others on the church board. “The Judge… Liam… Jubal… Dwight – thanks, Dwight… and m’self. That’s five.”

He waited while they all lowered their arms. “Opposed? Horace and Willie. That’s two. The motion to table passes.” Rupe handed the gavel back to Styron. “You be sure to put the motion to support the Judge first on next month’s agenda, Horace.”

“Count on it,” Styron answered sourly. He glanced down at the Reverend, who looked back at him, fit to be tied, his face red, and his fists clenched. Horace made a “What could I do?” shrug and said, “Moving on…”

* * * * *

Styron checked his notes. “I think the only other item tonight is Willie Gotefreund’s report on the Fourth of July town picnic. Willie…”

The rancher stood up. “I talked mit Mr. Whitney a couple of days ago.” He stroked his mustache absentmindedly. The talk had occurred while he was getting a haircut. “He’s gonna giff a speech – a short one, he promises. Der school children vill sing ‘Columbia, Gem of der Ocean.’ Den dhere’s gonna be races und a band concert. Der church… we is gonna have a booth, selling punch und cookies. In der evening, we have picnic suppers, another band concert, und firevorks after dark. Dat’s it.” He sat back down.

“Actually, it’s not,” Liam raised his hand. “Luis Ortega came into my store yesterday, and we got to talking. He – in the name of his church – challenged us to a couple competitions. I couldn’t accept, but I told him that I’d bring them up at the meeting tonight.”

“That’s kind of short notice,” Styron said. “What sort of challenges?”

Liam smiled, a bit smugly perhaps. “I was hoping that you’d be interested, Horace. First off, they’ve got a baseball team over at his church. The Coyotes, they call themselves, and they want to play us on the Fourth.”

He stopped talking to watch the reaction. Baseball was a very popular game. There’d even been talk of forming an Eerie town team and challenging Tucson and some of the other nearby towns.

“Horace,” Liam started again, “you know the game pretty good. I figured you might be our team captain – if you wanted to, and if we take their challenge.”

Styron’s expression went from suspicion to broad smile. “I don’t see why not – to either question.”

“Und what is dhere other challenge?”

“One for our ladies, picnic baskets. Those ladies that want – in both churches – fix up a nice picnic basket, food, drink, even the decorations on the basket. We auction off those baskets, and the winner gets the food and drink and the lady’s company while he eats – chaperoned, of course. Our churches split the money, less a 10 dollar prize to the lady whose basket goes for the highest price. Our share can go to the building fund.”

“What if the lady is married?” Yingling asked. “Or engaged?”

Liam chuckled. “Then her husband or fiancé better bid high.” The room burst into laughter.

“’Course, there’s a lot of pretty, single women around here that a fellah might want to have supper with.” He looked directly at Kaitlin, who smiled back at him. “Either way, it’s a chance for our ladies to show off what great cooks they are.”

Willie considered the idea. He gave a smile and a shrug. “Vhy not? I move dhat ve accept der challenges.”

“And I’ll second,” Styron said quickly. Team Captain Styron, he did like that idea. “All in favor?” Seven hands shot into the air. “Unanimous.” He banged the gavel on the tabletop. “And tryouts for my – for our team, the… the Eagles, will be on the field outside this building, Tuesday night at 7.”

‘For once Unger’s damned paper’ll be some good,’ Horace thought. ‘Anybody doesn’t hear about the team by word of mouth’ll read about it on Tuesday.’

* * * * *

Thursday, June 06, 1872

“Here is your lunch, Ernesto.” Maggie handed her son the bucket he carried his food in.

The boy took the container and placed it carefully in his schoolbag. “Thank you, Mama.” He draped the bag’s strap over his shoulder started for the door.

“Aren’t you going to give your Mama a kiss goodbye, Ernesto?” Ramon asked.

The boy turned and looked at Maggie. She stood, knees bent and arms outstretched, a hopeful smile on her face. “No… I-I do not want to be late,” he said and hurried out the door. “Goodbye,” he yelled, as it slammed behind him.

“If he is not smart enough to want to kiss you, Margarita, I am.” Ramon stood and walked quickly to his wife’s side, as she stood up. He took her in his arms and gently touched his lips to hers.

The kiss lasted only a few seconds before she began to cry. “He… He still hates me.” She clung to Ramon, her head resting on his chest. “Why…” The word trailed off into a pang of grief.

“He does not hate you, mi querida.” Ramon gently stroked her hair. “He is – his pride is hurt, and he is lashing out without realizing how much it hurts you.”

Lupe ran over and hugged her mother, as well. “Please don’t cry, Mama. I love you.”

Maggie sighed, feeling the love from her husband and her daughter. It helped – a little. She stopped weeping and snuggled against Ramon, even as her hand reached down to run her hand against her daughter’s cheek. “Thank you, the both of you,” she said softly, making no attempt to stop them from consoling her.

* * * * *

Teresa sat at the worktable with Arnie, folding newly dried laundry. “Be sure to keep track of the time, Dulcita,” she told her eldest daughter. “I do not want you to be late for work.”

“I have time, Mama.” Arnie glanced over at the small clock ticking away on a shelf near the door. “More than an hour.”

“Then why did Dolores go over so early? Did she not want to help you and me with what we are doing?” She pouted, but then she winked to show that she was joking.

“I think that she would rather help R.J. with whatever he is doing. They are --”

Teresa interrupted whatever Arnie was about to say. “Sí, they certainly are, but he seems to be a good man, and I trust them both.”

Arnie glanced down at the name written on the tag on the pillowcase she had just pulled from the basket. Was this a sign that she should ask? “Mama, how… how are the Spauldings?”

“Well enough, I suppose. The girl, Clara, does not cough very much. At least, I do not have any handkerchiefs in this load from them.”

“I am glad for that. I did not like it that I upset her so much.”

“She is over it, I think.”

“And the son… H-Hedley? How is he?”

Teresa smiled. She’d been wondering when her daughter would ask about the boy. “He is not over it. Every time I come there, he asks about you.”

“He asks?” Arnie felt a warm flush run through her.

“He does, but always when his mother and sister are not around to hear.” She waited a moment. “They never ask about you.”

“Never mind them; what does he ask? Does he say anything else about me or just ask questions?”

“He asks how you are, what you are doing, that sort of thing.” She watched Arnie’s face for a reaction. “Last time, he asked if he could see you.”

“He… He did? What did you say? What did you say?”

“I told him that it was up to you – do not frown, Dulcita, he only asked me on Tuesday. That is why I asked for your help this morning, so we could talk about it. I know that you want to see him, but it is not good for you and him to do this in shadows. His mother must know. Do you understand me?”

Arnie sighed and stared down at the tabletop. “Sí, Mama.”

“Bueno, I am glad that you agree. When I deliver their clothes on Sábado [Saturday], I will ask Mrs. Spaulding if you can come to her house, to see – to apologize to all of them – and because you are concerned about Clara. I will say nothing about you and Hedley. We will wait to see what she says.”

“Yes! She must say, ‘Yes!’ She must.” The girl hugged herself, as if trying to hold in the joy that she was feeling.

“Perhaps she will,” Teresa hoped that the Spaulding women, mother and daughter both, would agree, but she would be ready to comfort her own daughter if they didn’t.

* * * * *

As Lylah came down the steps, she was surprised to see Hammy Lincoln sitting at a table, eating. “What’re you doing in here, Hammy?” she asked, walking over to him.

“I come over t’have lunch with you,” he answered, “but they said you was upstairs dancing.” He took a bite of cornbread. “Mr. Rittter don’t give me a while lotta time, so I figured I’d better start without you.”

“You shoulda sent word that you was here. Molly woulda let me come down.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” he said in an unapologetic tone. “I didn’t think of it… and I was hungry.” He looked down at what was left on his plate: less than half a slice of cornbread and the remnants of a drumstick, plus about a third of a glass of beer. “You can still join me. This here food ain’t bad, but eating it with you’d make it that much better.”

It wasn’t much, but it was a compliment. “Okay, lemme get something.” She walked over to the table where the Free Lunch was laid out. She took a tray, selecting a half chicken breast, drizzling some chocolate sauce on it, and a slice of cornbread. On her way back to Hammy, she stopped at the bar and picked up a glass of the “near beer” that was all Shamus would let her and Flora drink.

“How come you wearing that robe?” he asked as she sat down.

“Shamus ‘n’ Molly don’t want people t’see our costumes. B’sides, them robes help keep the clothes clean. You can see ‘em when we does our show t’morrow night.”

“Much as I’d like to, I ain’t coming over here t’morrow. I can only manage one night, and on Saturday… Saturday, you ‘n me gets t’dance.”

‘Finally, he said something right,’ she thought, as she sat down, her body warming at the thought of being in a man’s arms. Any man… even Hammy.

“Mm-huhn.” Hammy shrugged and went back to his meal.

Lylah cut herself a piece of chicken. She chewed slowly, trying to think of something to say.

“Hammy.” A Mexican boy came through the swinging doors of the Saloon and rushed over to where Hammy and Lylah were sitting. “Mr. Ritter’s looking for you, and he ain’t happy.”

The black man wiped his mouth and stood up. “Then I’d better get moving, Pablo.” He took a last gulp of beer and leaned across the table to kiss Lylah on the forehead.

“Bye, gal,” he told her. “See you Saturday.” Without another word, he turned and headed for the door.

A dissatisfied Lylah watched him go. “Well, that was fun,” she muttered softly.

* * * * *

Liam leaned back in his office chair and took a last sip of lemonade. “I must say, Kaitlin, I’ve never enjoyed lunch more than I have this week.” She was sitting next to him at his desk, rather than sitting at Trisha’s desk, across from him.

“It must be the new recipe for the apple tarts I’ve been bringing with me;” Kaitlin replied coyly, “that or the fried chicken.”

“The food has been delicious, but not as delicious as the company.” He leaned over and kissed her cheek.

“Mmmm, thank you.” She giggled. “I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed being here as much as you have.” She kissed him in return. “I’ll be sorry when Trisha comes back, and I have to stop coming in.”

“You don’t have to stop. It’s your store, too.”

“Now that I'm unmarried, and Emma is growing up so quickly with a job of her own, there is less need for me to be at home all day. But is there room for all three of us here?”

He thought for a moment. “Probably not; shall I tell Trisha not to come in, or do you want to?” He winked to show that he was joking. Or was he?

She kissed him again on the cheek. “You do it.” She winked back. “You’re better at words than I am.”

“Maybe, but you’re pretty good at some things, too.”

She raised an eyebrow. “What sort of things?”

“Let me show you.” Liam pulled her close. He cupped her head in his hands, steadying her, as he moved in for a kiss. She gave a sort of sigh, as their hands slid along each other’s bodies, and they both luxuriated in the carnal glow of their mutual arousal.

The meal was over. Dessert would last until a cautious Mateo knocked on the office door.

* * * * *

‘All right, girl,’ Nancy told herself. ‘Take a breath, while you check for crumbs.’ She looked down to see if there was any remnant of her hastily eaten lunch on her clothes.

There wasn’t. The dress was an ordinary cotton one, the deep blue one that was her favorite, not her Cactus Blossom costume, and it was perfectly clean.

‘Good! Now get in there.’

She was standing on the wooden sidewalk in front of Pinter’s Book Emporium. She took another breath and walked in. “Hello,” she called out. “Kirby?”

“Nancy!” Kirby hurried over to her from behind the counter. “This is a very pleasant surprise.”

“Thank you. I was wondering – you hadn’t been over to the Saloon in a while. I was… I was worried about you… your hand.”

He held up his right hand. “The bandage came off Monday, and, as you can see, it’s fine.”

“So I see. But why didn’t you come over to show me? I – Well, to tell the truth, I missed you.”

He took her hand in his own. “You did?”

She suddenly felt embarrassed about what she had just admitted and looked away. “Yes,” she said in a soft voice, almost a whisper. “I-I did.”

“I’m certainly glad to hear that because I’ve missed you, as well. I’ve been very busy working over at Roscoe Unger’s print shop. He’s still in Doctor Upshaw’s infirmary, and somebody had to get out this week’s newspaper for him.”

“I saw the paper. That was you?”

“Trisha O’Hanlan and me. She’s a very good friend of Roscoe’s,” he added the last quickly. “She wanted to help him, too. In fact, she’s over at his shop now, running the business for him.”

“Couldn’t you do that?”

“Not with my own business to run.” He smiled slyly.

“Doesn't Miss O'Hanlan have a business to run, too?”

“Yes, but her wi – I mean Mrs. O'Hanlan is helping out at the Feed and Grain while she's away. Of course, if I had someone working here with me here, I could have left her in charge and took care of the print shop myself.”

“Kirby, we’ve… we’ve talked about that. I have my reasons for what I’m doing.”

“So you’ve told me.”

Now she smiled. “Why don’t you come over and buy me supper on Saturday, so I can tell them to you again?”

“Saturday?”

“Yes, the Cactus Blossoms are premiering our new act on Friday, and I’m too nervous to concentrate on anything else right now.” She frowned, wondering if she had ruined things by needlessly bringing up the fact that she was working as a dancing girl.

He sighed. “I can understand that. I’m not happy about your dancing – as you well know – but I’ sure that you’ll do fine. And I’ll be most pleased to have dinner with you on Saturday.”

“Thank you, and, remember, the regular dance is on Saturday. We can talk and dance together.”

They both smiled at that, anticipating the pleasure of being in each other’s arms. Suddenly, Nancy got a sad look on her face. “I-I have to get back. Molly wants to have us practice most of this afternoon with the band.” She gave him a quick peck on the cheek. “Goodbye, Kirby.” She started for the door.

“I hope that you’ll do better than that on Saturday,” Kirby said, grinning.

She stopped at the door and turned to look at him. What man would have ventured to be so forward with her even a couple months before, when she was a schoolteacher? It was like a fresh new breeze was wafting through her life, blowing away all the dead, brown leaves. “I’ll certainly try.” She winked and hurried out the door.

* * * * *

Laura leaned back, bracing herself on the bed with both arms, while Doc Upshaw used his stethoscope to listen to her heart. He cocked his head, as if he had just heard something, and then moved the instrument down to her stomach, so he could listen for her baby’s heartbeat, as well.

“You can sit up now,” he told her after a minute or so. He took the device away. “Your heart sounds good and strong. So does the baby’s.”

Arsenio was next to her on the bed. “That’s good to hear, Doc, and she does seem stronger. But she still gets dizzy and needs help walking.”

“It is so damned frustrating!” Laura added.

The doctor considered how to proceed. “Do you know how that pumper truck the town has works?” He asked, after a moment’s thought. When they both looked confused, he continued. “There’s handles on both sides that folks move up and down to build up pressure. That pressure pushes the water through the hose, so it shoots out at the fire.”

“What does that have to do with me?” Laura asked.

“If people didn’t pump so hard, there wouldn’t be enough pressure. The water would just dribble out of the hose. It wouldn’t reach the fire.” Upshaw paused half a beat. “Your heart’s a pump, too, Laura, and I don’t think that there’s enough pressure – blood pressure – for your brain to get all the blood it needs, especially when you’re standing up, and the blood has to fight gravity to get all the way up there.”

“Why?” Arsenio asked nervously. “What’s wrong with her?”

“The baby – and, no, there’s nothing wrong with the baby, not as far as I can tell, anyway. It just needs her blood, too. It’s like… like if we added a second hose to the pumper, but we didn’t pump the side handles any harder than before.”

Laura finished for him. “The water wouldn’t shoot as far out of either hose.” She took a breath. “So what do we do, Doc?”

“If I’m right – and I think I am – there’s some medicines I can give you to strengthen your heart and to enrich your blood. That should do it.”

Arsenio stood and vigorously shook the physician’s hand. “That’d be great; thanks.”

“I’m not promising. The theory is new, but it fits her symptoms, so it should work. Laura, you might still want to stay bedridden for the rest of your pregnancy anyway, just to be sure.”

He didn’t add that low blood pressure might be a problem for both the mother and the baby, especially during delivery. ‘No sense to worry them, now,’ he thought. ‘It’s enough right now that I’m worried.’

* * * * *

“Hey, Molly,” Jane said, walking over to where Molly was sitting on a barstool. “Can you come into the kitchen for a minute?”

Molly nodded. She handed R.J. the magazine she’d been reading. “Would ye be putting that under the bar for now?” She stood and started towards Jane. “What’s going on,” she asked as they walked through the door and into the kitchen.

“That!” Jane pointed to Maggie, who was sitting at her worktable, staring down at the table and muttering softly to herself. “I can’t get her t’stop.”

Molly hurried over. She pulled a chair up next to Maggie and sat down, her arm going around the woman at the same time. “Sure, now, whatever’s the problem, Maggie, for ye t’be carrying on like that?”

“Er-Ernesto, after two weeks he… he still hates me.” Maggie shifted in her chair. She raised an arm up and around Molly’s neck and rested her head, her eyes moist, on the barmaid’s bosom. “H-Hates me.”

Molly pulled Maggie close. “Thuir…thuir, now.” She began a gentle rocking motion, as if comforting a small child. “I’m sure he does nothing of the sort.”

“Sí, sí, he does. He ran off to school this morning without letting me hug him. He barely said goodbye to anyone. He never talks to me anymore.”

“Thuir must be something truly awful bothering him, for him t’be acting like that.”

Jane came over to where they were sitting. “He found out ‘bout Maggie; why she came t’Eerie with the Hanks gang and how they all got changed into gals.”

“Och! When Ernesto and Lupe first arrived, Ramon ‘n’ Maggie told them that she turned into a gal so she could be taking care o’the pair of ‘em like a real mother would.”

Maggie raised her head. “Sí, and now… now he knows that I lied to them.” She sniffed, wiping her eye. “He think that I-I do not… do not love him, and, sí, he does hate me – for lying.” A tear ran down her cheek.

“Hogwash!” Molly said angrily. “If thuir’s a child in this territory that’s loved more ‘n ye love them two darlings of yuirs, I’d like t’be meeting him.” She took a handkerchief from her apron pocket and handed it to the tearful cook.

Maggie dabbed at her eyes. “I-I tried to tell him that – tried and tried. So did Ramon, but he… he would not listen. I do not know what else I can do.”

“Neither do I – exactly,” Molly told her. “But I’ll be knowing by tomorrow. Ye tell him t’be coming in here t’see me after school. Tell Ramon that I want t’see the boy, too. That way, Ernesto can’t be hiding out over at Silverman’s.” She sighed. “I’m his gran – so ye say – and we’ll be seeing if I can’t be knocking some sense into the lad.”

“Th-Thank you, Molly.” She hugged the older woman. “Thank you so, so much.”

“Ye don’t need t’be thanking me.” Molly patted the young mother’s head. “I had t’do it,” she answered with a chuckle in her voice. “I seen on the menu that ye’re making beef stew tonight, and if ye started blubbering, ye’d have watered it down to beef soup.”

* * * * *

Martha Yingling knocked on the closed door of her husband’s study. “Thad?”

“What!” He yelled, but a moment later, he added in a much softer voice, “I’m sorry, Martha. Please, come in.”

She opened the door and walked in. She was carrying a tray with two glasses. “I thought we might share some lemonade.” She set the tray down on a bookcase and handed him a glass. “How’s this week’s sermon coming?”

“Horrible.” He pointed to the blank sheet of paper in front of him on his desk. And to the crumbled sheets in the nearby wastebasket. “I’m too upset to write anything – anything meaningful, at least.” He sipped at his lemonade.

She took the other glass from the tray and sat down across the desk from him. “Yes, I could see that last night when you told me how the Judge managed to get the motion of support tabled.”

“I had not realized until yesterday the depths that man has descended to. Saying that we could resolve – could compromise, perhaps – on my concerns by holding a meeting of that unholy committee. As if I could ever compromise with evil in any form.”

“Surely you can’t be calling Parnassus Humphreys evil. We’ve known the man for years, and he always struck me as a good man, a strong supporter of the church, and… of you.”

“He is not supporting me – or the church – now. He is opposing them both.” He sighed. “I don’t know whom I am more angry at, Judge Humphreys or Liam O’Hanlan.”

“Liam O’Hanlan, what did he do to distress you?” She took a quick drink.

“He showed up with those absurd challenges from the Mexicans.”

“Whatever is the matter with them? I never cared much for baseball games, but I am planning my basket for the auction.” She chuckled. “And you’d better bid high for it.”

“I shall, and I’m sure that it will be worth whatever it costs me, but that is my very point.”

“I don’t understand. How can my basket be a problem?”

“It’s not your basket, my dear. It’s everything, both of the challenges. After the meeting, I tried to talk to Horace Styron about what we would do at the Judge’s meeting on Monday.” He snorted. “All the man could talk about was the church’s baseball team, the…Eagles: what the team uniforms should be and who he hoped would try out for the team.”

She tried to act upset. “Oh, dear.”

“And Cecelia Ritter and her friends were just as bad. They twittered on and on about their own picnic baskets until I finally gave up and came home.” He shook his head in disgust. “You can see why I am so disturbed.”

“I can, indeed.”

* * * * *

Friday, June 07, 1872

Arnie and Dolores walked towards the Saloon. Arnie had to walk briskly to keep up with her taller cousin’s stride. “Dolores,” Arnie said suddenly, “I have decided.”

“Decided what?” Dolores asked, even though she expected that she already knew the answer.

“I-I want to learn to dance, so I can work for Shamus as a waiter girl on Saturday nights.”

“Are you sure you want to do that?”

“I-I am.” She sighed. “I am tired of cleaning tables, while everybody else dances. And it seems like… fun.”

“It is fun, especially if you like the person that you are dancing with.”

“That is not possible for me. Even if I do want to learn how to dance – and I do, I am really a man, and I would be dancing with… other men.”

Dolores gave her a skeptical look. “Well, your body will like it, I think, whether you do or not.”

“My body…” Arnie considered her cousin’s words. “Sí, my body may like it.” She frowned at the way her body warmed at the thought of dancing with men.

“Especially if the man you are dancing with is Hedley Spaulding.”

“H-Hedley?” She stopped in her tracks. “Why do you mention him?”

“Because he was the one you talked about when you first asked me about dancing.”

“That was only because he was the one who taught me the waltz.”

“Ah, I see. One always remembers her first teacher.”

“Yes, that-that must be it.”

“I will be happy to teach you, but the lessons cannot be very long. We both have a lot of work to do.”

“Maybe in the morning… before we leave to go over to the Saloon?”

“That might do it. In a week, two at the worst, you will be ready to dance with anyone who gives you a ticket – even Hedley.”

“Thank you, Dolores.” Arnie gave her cousin a hug. She hoped that the talk of dancing was over, but, in her mind, a voice was saying, ‘Especially Hedley.’

* * * * *

“Hola, Liam,” Luis Ortega called out as he walked over to the counter at the Feed and Grain. “I see that the two challenges were accepted.”

Liam grinned. “They surely were, but how’d you know?”

“There must have been a dozen women from your church in my store yesterday asking about ribbons and dried flowers and this or that special ingredient that they had to have before the Fourth of July Picnic.”

“Have the women from your church heard about the challenges yet?”

“Sí, the Padre announced them at the evening Mass last night and at this morning’s Mass, as well. I expect the Mejicanas to be in the store today, asking the selfsame questions.”

Liam chuckled. “These challenges are certainly going to help your business.”

"Sí, but for a good cause. I will do well by doing good, as somebody must have said.”

Kaitlin joined the men. “You two can gloat all you want, but, Luis, you just better make sure to have that vanilla extract I asked you about.”

“Of course, Señora O’Hanlan.” He bowed low. “I did not know that you were working here.”

“I’m only here for a few days,” she told him. “Trisha is helping out at Roscoe Unger’s while he’s in Doctor Upshaw’s infirmary.”

The man nodded. “It is always good to help a friend, just as I was glad to help you, Liam.”

Kaitlin gave them a suspicious look. “Help him with what?”

“Don’t tell anybody,” Liam replied. His finger raised in front of his mouth as if silencing a conspirator. “Those challenges were my idea as much as they were Luis’.”

“Sí, I am one of the captains of the church team, and he asked me to issue the challenge.”

“And I remembered the block association back east doing one of those picnic basket auctions. I think you can figure out why Luis was so happy to go along with it.”

Kaitlin gave them an appreciative nod. “I can, but it’s still a good idea. I’m just worried that the game may increase the rivalry between the two teams, not decrease them.”

“It might,” Liam said, “except that I’ve been talking to Whit Whitney about the town sponsoring a team made up of players from both teams.”

“I didn’t know that Whit was interested in baseball.”

“Who do you think will be umpiring the game at the picnic? Whit’s a Yankee born and bred, but his wife’s a Mejicana. He’ll be fair.”

“Sí, and if there is to be a joint team – an Eerie team that will be playing other towns, then the game on the Fourth is a practice game, a try-out for those who want to be on the town team.”

Liam finished the thought. “And the whole town will pull together for that.”

“You’re a clever man, Liam O’Hanlan.” Kaitlin leaned in and kissed his cheek.

He smiled. “I must be, if I can get a pretty girl like you to kiss me.”

“I also think that you are a clever man, Liam,” Luis said, “but you will forgive me, I trust, if we only shake hands.”

* * * * *

Molly was in the sitting room of the small apartment on the second floor of the Saloon. She was working on a blanket she was making for Laura’s baby, when she heard a knock on the door. “Abuela?” came a child’s voice from the hall. Molly had encouraged Maggie’s children to use, “Abuela”, the Spanish word for "Grandmother”, with her.

“The door’s open, Ernesto,” she said, putting her knitting back in the basket. “C’mon in.”

He did. “Mama said that you wanted to see me. Uncle Ra… Señor de Aguilar knew it, and he wouldn’t let me stay at Zayde’s store until I came over to see you.”

“Well, now, I’m glad t’be hearing ye was so eager t’be seeing me.” She smiled wryly and pointed to a chair. “Close the door and sit there. Me ‘n’ ye need t’be talking.” She waited until he had obeyed. “Now, what’s all this I hear about ye being mad at yuir mama?”

He looked away, his fingers tensing into fists.

“Ernesto!” Molly said firmly.

He looked her in the eye. “She lied to me.” He spat out the words. “To me and Lupe both. She told us that she changed into a lady because she loved us. But she really got changed because she came to town with the other men to rob and to kill. It was a punishment.”

“And who told ye this tale?”

“Abe… Abe Scudder. I beat him in a race, but he said that I had cheated. Then he said that I didn’t follow the rules just like my – he called her a potion freak – my… Mama.”

“And ye believed him – instead of yuir mama, I mean.”

The boy shook his head. “No, I hit him, and we fought. Señora Stone sent home a note, and when I asked Mama about what Abe said, she… she admitted it.” His eyes narrowed in anger. “To lie like that, she must not have loved me.”

“Growing up means a lot of things. One thing you find out is that people – even good people – sometimes do things they feel sorry for later. Maybe your mama loved ye too much t’be hurting ye by telling ye the truth. Or maybe she was ashamed o’what happened, and she didn’t want ye t’be thinking less o’her. Did ye ever think o’that?”

“N-No.”

“Ye say that yuir mama don’t love ye. Does she love Ramon?”

“Sí, she loves him very much.”

“And he loves her, don’t he?”

Ernesto looked confused. “V-Very much.”

“Then I want ye t’be thinking ’bout this; if the two o’them loved each other so much, why’d they take all them long months t’be getting married? I’ll be telling ye why. Maggie – yuir mama – promised yuir… yuir real mama --”

“Mama Lupe, she promised Mama Lupe not to get married?”

“Sort of; she promised yuir… Mama Lupe not t’be getting married till she found somebody that’d love ye ‘n’ yuir sister enough t’be wanting to help her take care o’ye.” She saw his surprised expression and pounced. “Aye, that’s right, Ernesto. The mama that ye say hates ye waited until she was sure that Ramon’d love the two o’ye that much before she married him, the man she loved.”

Ernesto shook his head. “I… I do not know…”

“Here’s one last thing for ye t’be thinking about. What makes ye madder, the fact that yuir mama didn’t tell ye everything, or the fact that the Scudder boy teased ye? If the one ye’re really mad at is that other boy, then ye shouldn’t be taking it out on yuir poor mama.”

The boy’s brows were knit with puzzlement. “I-I do not know.”

“Ye need some time, I’m thinking, t’be figuring all this out.” When the boy nodded in agreement, Molly added, “Well, don’t ye be taking too long, it ain’t fair to yuir mama.” She tossed him a toffee from a candy dish on the table. “Thuir’s something t’help ye get started.”

He caught it one-handed. “Thanks, Abuela.”

“Now, scoot. Yuir Uncle Ramon and yuir Zayde Silverman are waiting for ye back at thuir store.”

* * * * *

“Thad!” Judge Humphreys shouted, waving his arm. “Reverend Yingling, over here.” Once he saw that he had caught the other man’s attention, he hurried over. “I’m glad I ran into you.”

The Reverend cocked a suspicious eyebrow. “Yes, amazing accident, isn’t it?”

“It certainly is. I was just in Lyman’s getting some cigars.” Humphreys held up the box of El Plantadors. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you about the meeting on Monday.”

“Haven't you done enough, just forcing me to attend?”

“Forcing you? Thad, you're the chairman of the committee. What is the matter with you?”

“You...and the benighted committee are the matter.”

The two men were standing alone on the wooden sidewalk. “Let’s just sit down here and talk for a few minutes.” The Judge pointed to a long bench positioned against a storefront.

“I have nothing to say to you.”

“Sure you do. You can explain to me why my usually reasonable minister is suddenly so obsessed about Shamus O’Toole’s potion. In the years I’ve known you, you never carried on this way about anything else.”

Yingling stiffened. He glared at the other man. “I have always been opposed to evil, and this potion is truly a thing of the foulest evil.”

“Foulest evil?” Humphreys snorted. “Don’t you think that you’re exaggerating… maybe just a little?”

“No, that potion is evil. It must be kept out of the hands of… of anyone, any innocent who might be transformed by accident or… wrongful intent.”

“Anyone?” The Judge studied his friend’s – surely not his former friend’s, he hoped – face. “Are you thinking of someone in particular, Arnie Diaz… Trisha O’Hanlan… or is there someone else?”

The minister scowled. “I have said enough. I will make my thoughts fully known at that meeting on Monday.” He stormed off without another word.

“I wonder if you really will.” Humphreys said thoughtfully. “There’s something very wrong, and I doubt if you’re anywhere near ready to talk about it.” He sighed. “In the meantime, it’s tearing you – and this whole -- town apart.”

* * * * *

Clyde Ritter leaned back in his chair at “Maggie’s Place”, the Eerie Saloon restaurant. He smiled, as he watched Flora working the bow on the small package he had just given her.

“I wonder what…” Flora opened the small wooden box that had been inside. “Oh, Clyde,” she cooed, “It’s… it’s lovely.” She held up the present he’d promised her. It was a broach, dark brass-colored filigree surrounding a round piece of polished jade.

His smile broadened. “I’m glad you like it. I think the stone comes close to matching those pretty eyes of yours.”

“Really?” She studied the broach. She was no expert on jewelry, but it looked expensive – at least, by the standards of Eerie, Arizona. Rosalyn had been right; it wasn’t that hard to get a man to give her things, but some sort of payoff was necessary. She decided to set the rate before Clyde asked for more than she was willing to give.

She slid her chair next to his. “And here’s something from me in return.” She cupped his head in her hands and moved in close, taking the initiative. She ran her tongue across his lips. He took the hint, but before he could slip his tongue into her mouth, she invaded his.

‘Oh, Lord,’ he thought. ‘I wonder what else she can do with that tongue of hers.’ His manhood stiffened, eager to find the answer.

Flora felt her body reacting to the torrid kiss. His tongue – and, now, his hands, as they kneaded her breasts, spread sexual energy through her like wildfire. Her growing carnal hunger made her press her body against his.

‘Slow down, Flora,’ she told herself. ‘All you want right now is to thank him for the broach and to prime the pump for future gifts – and favors.’ Her mind agreed. That was all it wanted, but her body had much different notions. Damn! No wonder the Hanks Gang acted the way they did.

She forced herself to pull away. “See what happens when I get things I like.” Her tone was breathless, but not with stress. It was low, seductive.

“I certainly do, and I’d love to keep talking about it, preferably in a more private place.” His eyes glanced up at the second floor of the Saloon.

She had him – but she didn't want him to have her! “That would be… nice, but I-I couldn’t; not tonight. I’m so nervous about our new dance that I… well, I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.”

“I’ll be right in front when you girls go on. And I’ll be here to rave afterwards about how good you were. Maybe we could… get together between shows for that private talk.”

“There really won’t be time; not to do it right, anyway. Besides. Molly will be watching me – watching all three of us, actually.” He was eager; too eager. How could she hold him at bay until she got some more loot and that special favor out of him? Flora had an idea. “I’m not ready to go… upstairs.” She said the last word in a sultry whisper, looking away shyly. “But next week – especially if you bring me another nice present – we can go out back. It’s nice and private there, and we can talk… or whatever.”

He frowned. “That’s certainly worth thinking about. I won’t be able to stay around after your second show tonight, unfortunately. I can’t be in here on Saturday or Sunday, either, but we can do… something, when I come in one night next week.”

“Maybe.” She smiled and gave him a peck on the cheek. “You come in next week -- with another present, of course – and there won’t be any maybe about it.”

It was risky, she knew, but she wasn’t promising what she’d do in return for another present. The way she had him wrapped around her little finger, getting him to hire some men to beat up Shamus and the Judge seemed like it should be easy.

* * * * *

Flora joined Nancy and Lylah, who were standing just “offstage”, under the stairs. “Are you two ready?” she asked, her face slightly flushed.

“I-I guess,” Lylah replied nervously.

Nancy frowned. ‘Am I ready? Shamus’ll be introducing us in a minute. If I go out there with these two, there’ll be no turning back. My old life will be lost to me forever.’

She saw herself in front of a firing squad, blindfolded and dressed in her most demure dress. Another Nancy Osbourne, this one wearing her Cactus Blossom costume, held a sword in one hand. A squad of “Nancys”, all in identical cancan outfits, were pointing rifles at her.

All of a sudden, Cecelia Ritter stood behind the blindfolded Nancy, working on the knot on the kerchief covering her eyes. “You need not do this. You can come with me.”

“With you?”

Cecelia started on the rope holding Nancy’s hands tied behind her back. “Yes, we’ll put you in a special place where you’ll be free to do whatever we tell you.”

“N-No,” the Nancy protested.

“Oh, but you must come with me. You’re a lady. You don’t want people to say otherwise. Isn't being a lady the most important thing in the world? You showed us so many times that you would do anything, endure anything, so we would let you think you were welcome in our company.”

“Maybe… Maybe it isn’t enough anymore.” She pulled off the wrap over her eyes.

Cecelia looked disgusted. “In that case, there’s nothing I can do to help you.”

“Ready… aim… dance!” The Nancy with the sword commanded. The squad was suddenly playing music. The once blindfolded Nancy began doing the spins and high kicks that were part of the act. She did one kick right over Cecelia’s head, knocking off her hat. The woman crumpled to ground and vanished.

“So there, Cecelia,” Nancy said in a determined voice.

“What did you say?” asked Lylah.

Nancy blinked. She stood with the other two dancers, waiting. She remembered what Carl had once said about breaking horses. He was always more worried just before he got on a wild horse's back than when he was actually siting in the saddle. Nancy was feeling that way now. Maybe her mood came from the music, like a trumpet that began a horse race, but she was suddenly eager for Shamus’ introduction.

* * * * *

The Saloon was packed. As usual, it took something special to lure this many people in at one time.

“If ye would, please,” Shamus said. The Happy Days Town Band played a loud flourish. Shamus stood with them on the small stage. “Here they are, gents, the ladies ye came t’see, the Eerie Saloon’s lovely Cactus Blossoms! Tonight, joining them for the first time, will be a lady the whole town has known for quite a while, Miss Nancy Osbourne!”

The band began the E major final movement of the overture to l’opera Guillaume Tell. Lylah, Flora, and Nancy stood together at the far right of the space where Maggie’s tables normally were.

As the music began, they let out a resounding “Whoop!” that startled more than a few of the men in the audience. A moment later, they grasped the front of their dark green skirts with hands set a foot apart and lifted them very high, showing their layered petticoats, short, pink drawers, and shapely legs. They waved the skirts back and forth in time with the music, doing a series of lively jig steps. The three then lifted their left legs to bring their knees up to about waist high. They bent their knees until their lower legs were vertical and began to rotate their left feet in small circles to the beat of the music. The movement, a rond de jambe – or as Molly had called it, a “randy jam” – continued for a short time, while the men in the audience hooted and whistled.

Then the trio broke. Lylah danced clear across to the left side of the dance area. When she reached it, she let out a second “Whoop!” Flora did the same, stopping in the middle. All three danced the randy jam, as they moved, still flashing their bright pink undergarments. They continued for a few seconds. Flora whooped this time. At her signal, Lylah and Nancy switched positions, flashing their petticoats as they crossed.

The three rejoined at center stage to form a line, their arms stretched out, so that their fingertips rested on each other’s shoulders. They did a long series of high kicks, toes pointed and reaching up, so that, at the top of the kick, they were above the ladies’ heads.

It was Nancy’s turn to “Whoop!” When she did, the women stopped their high kicks and moved a few feet apart. Each raised her right leg, almost straight up, grabbing her ankle with her right hand. Holding their legs in that position, they turned in circles to the music, and, again, the crowd cheered. Pistols fired, and coins were tossed towards the three dancers. The women yelped, continuing the port d’armes move. They smiled and yelped, throwing their heads back and raising their left arms high in the air.

The dancing continued. The women moved across the stage alone or in groups of two or three, doing another spirited jig. As the music reached its peak, Flora and Lylah were at opposite ends of the area doing randy jams. Nancy was center, doing a port d’armes. She lowered her leg and did a cartwheel, ending up next to Flora. She did a double cartwheel over to Lylah, and then, a cartwheel back to center. When she reached center, she gave another whoop and fell at down into a split. At the same instant, Lylah and Flora whooped and dropped down into splits. A final yelp from the three women, and the music ended.

The applause exploded. The men in the audience rose to their feet clapping and howling. More shots were fired skyward, and more coins hit the floor near the three women.

Flora delighted the throng when she scooped up a golden eagle that landed on the edge of her skirt. She bit it once to see if it was real. It was. She smiled and held it up for all to see. Then she winked at the crowd and stuffed it down into her corset.

* * * * *

Bridget sat at the card table, watching the crowd, including the three men who’d been playing poker, with her as dealer, when the show began. “Un-be-lie-va-ble,” she muttered under her breath. “Stafford’s a rapist and would-be killer, and they cheer and throw money at her just because she prances around and shows them her unmentionables.”

She sat waiting, still angry at what she’d just seen, until the men finally remembered that they had been playing poker. They had cards in their hands, and there was money on the table. Almost as one, they shrugged and resumed the game.

* * * * *

Cecelia was already in bed when Clyde came home. When she heard him climbing the stairs, she quickly closed her copy of Ladies’ Repository magazine and set it on the night table. “Good evening, dear,” she greeted him. “Did everything go well at the livery?”

“The livery…” He looked confused for a moment, but recovered. “Oh, ah, yes; yes, it did.” His tie was already in his hand. He tossed it onto the dresser and began to unbutton his shirt.

His wife watched him, trying to judge his mood. He seemed calm enough, so she decided to change the subject and ask. “Clyde, have you seen that broach my Aunt Clotilda left me?”

“Broach… What broach?”

“That pretty one with the brass filigree and the green gemstone. I-I can’t seem to find it.”

“Have you looked in your jewelry box?”

“Yes, but it wasn’t there.” She sighed. “It’s such a charming…”

He looked daggers at her. “Why bring it up to me? Are you insinuating something, woman?” His voice was a low growl.

“N-No… nothing. I-I just thought you… you might have seen it.”

He slipped his suspenders down off his shoulders, letting his pants fall to the rug. “Well, I haven’t.” He sat down to take off his boots.

“I’ll just have to k-keep looking for it.”

His boots were off now. “Good riddance, I say; it’s a worthless piece of junk not worth wasting your time – or mine – looking for.” He stood, stepping out of his pants. His shirt joined the pants on the floor. Wearing only his union suit, what he usually slept in, he walked over to the bed.

“Yes, dear,” she replied, trying not to let the hurt she felt show in her voice.

Clyde slipped in, under the blankets. “Fine, then. Now turn down that light, so I can get some sleep.”

“Yes, dear.” She turned the wheel that lowered the wick in the oil lamp on her night table. As she did, the room grew dark. She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Good night, dear.”

He shifted away from her. “Good night.”

* * * * *

Saturday, June 08, 1872

“Mind that step coming up, Roscoe,” Trisha warned, as they reached the wooden sidewalk in front of his store.

Roscoe made a face. “I’m fine, Trisha. Doc Upshaw wouldn’t have let me out of his infirmary if I wasn’t.” He walked up onto the sidewalk. “See?”

“I know… I just… I worry.” She was on the sidewalk beside him.

He took her hand in his. “And I have to admit that I like having you worry about me.”

“You do?” She felt a warm flush run through her, and she looked away, suddenly unable to meet his eyes.

He took a key out of his pocket and used it to unlock the print shop door. “After you, fair lady.” He pushed the door open.

“Thank you, kind sir.” She did a quick curtsey and walked in.

He followed, closing the door behind him and flipping the lock shut. “I’m not quite ready to open for business,” he explained. “I want to see what damage there was, and how well you and Kirby cleaned things up.” He offered her his arm. “Care to give me the grand tour?”

“Where would you like to start?” She smiled and took his arm.

“Upstairs.”

“Roscoe!” She giggled and batted at his elbow.

“I just wanted to see if there was any smoke damage to the stock I keep upstairs.” He raised an eyebrow. “What did you think I wanted?”

“I…”

He grinned. “Just fooling. Let’s start with my office. I can check out the upstairs later.” He sighed dramatically and added, “After you leave.”

“Is that a hint?”

“Of course not; I’m grateful for your help -- and your company.” He smiled and touched her arm. “I just thought that you had to get back to your own business.”

“I do, eventually, but I thought that I’d stay -- for a while, at least – to make sure that you could manage. Your burns…” Her voice trailed off.

“…are pretty much healed. Just a bit of blistering on my arms, and I have a jar of the poultice he mixed up for that.” He waited a half-beat. “You’re welcome to stay, though. You can stay as long as you want.”

It sounded like a good idea. She gave him a shy smile, saying, “Perhaps I will.”

* * * *

Sam Duggan was setting up the bar, when Sophie Kalish came over. “O’Toole upped the ante again last night, from what I hear.”

“He surely did,” Sam replied unhappily. “I was in the back of the room, and I saw it all. It’s three Cactus Blossoms against your four ladies, now, and their act was a real crowd pleaser, too. Scanty new costumes, lots of jumping around, high kicks, and one of ‘em did a double cartwheel at the end.”

“Four queens still beat three of a kind, no matter how much they jump around. You’ll see.”

“Nancy Osbourne was a powerful new draw, just because she used to be our nice-as-pie schoolteacher. She even taught my daughter for a couple years.”

“That's only the power of novelty. In a week, people will be looking at her as just another cancan girl; you'll see. But those cartwheels are slick, I admit. We might be smart to add a few gymnastics of our own.”

He chuckled. “Well, anyway, it'll be four against four when Jessie Hanks comes back from wherever she and that deputy got off to.”

“Is she going to dance, too?”

“No, I suppose not. But combined with the Cactus Blossoms, she'll give us a real run for our money.”

“Maybe we'll get lucky; maybe that deputy and her just run off, and they aren’t coming back.”

“Wish I had your confidence, Soph.” He winked at her.

She leaned across the bar and kissed him on the cheek. “If I got it, it’s yours, Sam. Me and the girls’ll start working on our new routine this afternoon. We'll need one. I never thought that a school teacher and a couple of outlaws would be so good.”

* * * * *

“That will be $5.27 for the laundry, Señora Spaulding,” Teresa said.

The other woman shook her head. “Vida, please call me Vida. I do want us to be friends.”

“Then I am Teresa, Vida.” Teresa unpinned the itemized bill from one of the packages of laundry.

Mrs. Spaulding passed her a five dollar half eagle and two quarter-dollar coins. “Here you are, Teresa.”

“Thank you… Vida.” She handed her the change.

“Would you… do you have the time to stay for lunch? My children and I don’t know many people in town.”

Teresa glanced around. “Where are they, your children?”

“Hedley is doing chores out in the barn, and Clara is in her bedroom. I can get them, if you’d like.”

“No, I was hoping that I could talk to just you… if I may.”

“This is about Annie, isn’t it?”

“Sí, it is. I cannot tell you how sorry she is for what happened. Arnie… Annie worries about your Clara, how she is doing, if she is coughing still, and she hopes that her friend – and Annie calls Clara her friend – is doing well; she thinks of you all as her friends. And she hopes – just as much -- that Clara forgives her. She wants to come, to ask again for you all to forgive her.” Teresa took a breath. “And I ask you to give her that chance. Vida, it hurts me to see my daughter so upset.”

Mrs. Spaulding studied the laundress’ face, looking for any sign of deceit. She found none. “I will admit that I liked Annie. I miss her, and I know that Clara and Hedley do as well. Still, it was not right for her to deceive, no matter how good a reason she thought she had.”

“She knows that, and she is sorry that she lied to you all.”

“I can see that my stew isn’t the only thing I will have to chew over. Let me think about this -- and talk to Hedley and Clara. When you come back with that pile of dirty clothes on Tuesday…” She pointed to a large bag on the floor near the back door. “I’ll give you our answer.”

“Thank you, Vida. That… that is all Annie – and I – ask.”

* * * * *

“Mrs. Diaz!”

Teresa turned towards the direction of the speaker, who was running towards her. “Señor Hedley, what are you doing here?” They were about five houses down from his home.

“I… I wanted to talk to you without Mama or Clara around to listen.” Hedley glanced around as if to make sure. “Did you tell Annie that I wanted to talk to her? What did she say? Does… Does she want to?”

“I told her, but…” She hesitated. “I asked your mother if Annie could speak to her… and Clara. When I get her answer on Martes – Tuesday – I will see about you and Annie talking.”

“But…”

“That is my answer. I will not go behind your mother’s back, and neither should you.” She took a breath. “Do you understand?”

He shrugged. “I suppose.” He started walking towards his house, but after a step, he stopped and turned. “Thank you… I guess.”

* * * * *

It was the usual, busy Saturday night at “Maggie’s Place.” Shamus led Luke and Lylah to the only open table. “Here ye go, Mr. Freeman… Miz Saunders.”

“Thanks, Shamus.” Luke pulled out a chair for Lylah.

Thomas and Zenobia Carson and their three children were seated at the next table. When they saw Luke and Lylah, the two older girls shifted to seats farther away. Thomas leaned over and put his hand on Shamus’ arm. “Do they have to be seated here?”

“Mr. Freeman…” Shamus turned back to Luke. “…do ye mind --”

Luke shook his head and looked angrily over at Carson. “We ain’t leaving, Shamus, so don’t ask.”

“That ain’t what I was going t’be asking ye, sir. I wanted t’be knowing if ye minded sitting next to people like them?”

Zenobia scowled. “How dare you?”

“Thuir money’s as good as yuirs, Mrs. Carson,” Shamus said in a firm voice. “And, t’my mind, thuir manners is a whole lot better.”

Carson rose to his feet. “We don’t have to put up with that sort of rudeness, O’Toole. Come, Zenobia… children, we’re leaving.”

“And I’ll not be stopping ye. As soon as ye pay for yuir meals.” Shamus moved to block their way.

“I have no intention of paying,” Carson replied indignantly, and Zenobia quickly agreed.

“Is yuir intention t’be spending the rest o’the weekend in jail? ‘Tis against the law t’be skipping out on a bill.”

Carson looked shocked. “That’s ridiculous.”

“I’m afraid that he’s telling the truth.” Milt was having an early dinner with Jane, and they were both close enough to have heard the argument. “It is illegal to avoid paying a restaurant bill, and you’d have to stay in jail until the Judge convenes court on Monday. His usual sentence for that is a week in jail, but – sometimes – he’ll throw in a twenty-five dollar fine besides; plus your paying the bill, of course.” He winked at Shamus. “And since Mrs. Carson was so quick to agree, he might just find her guilty, as well.”

Zenobia snorted. “Pay the man, Thomas, so we can get out of this horrid place.”

“Very well, O’Toole.” Carson took out his wallet. “What do I owe you?”

Shamus gestured for Dolores, the waitress for that evening, to come over and hand him the bill. He examined it for a minute, before he spoke. “Twenty-five dollars’ll be covering everything, I’m thinking.”

“That’s outrageous!”

“No more outrageous than the twenty-five each the both o’ye’d be paying. ‘Tis what ye owe for yuir meal… a nice tip for yuir waitress, and…” Shamus paused for effect. “…the cost of dinner for these two…” He pointed with a nod of his head toward Luke and Lylah. “…by way of apology for being so rude to ‘em.”

Carson turned red. “I’ll be damned if I’ll buy dinner for a pair of niggers.’’

“That’s all right, Mr. Carson,” Luke answered with a chuckle. “It’s payment enough knowing that Lylah ‘n’ me done chased you ‘n’ yours outta here.”

Shamus smiled. “I told ye, he had better manners. Now the bill’s only twenty dollars.”

“Here, damn your eyes.” Carson threw a gold eagle down on the floor. “And it’ll be a cold day in Hell before we come back in here. And we'll see to it that our friends won't eat here either.”

The barman chuckled. “Promise? ‘Cause I’m always looking t’be getting a better class o’people into me place.”

“Damn niggers, causing all this trouble.” Zenobia muttered. “Come, children.” Tom, the youngest protested; he’d been enjoying the meal, but the others looked relieved as they followed their parents out of the Saloon.

Lylah was still standing next to the chair that Luke had pulled out. “Now that we’s rid o’that white trash, lemme help you,” Luke said, taking hold of the chair.

“Gotta do something first,” she said. She kissed Shamus on the cheek. “Thanks for your help, Shamus; ‘n’ you, too, Luke, for defending me.” She moved in and kissed his lips before she sat down.

Luke helped her move in close to the table. “My pleasure, Lylah; my pleasure.” He took the chair beside her. “I looked forwards t’having dinner with you too much t’let anything ruin it.” He gave her one of those grins that made her body tingle down to her toes.

* * * * *

“I’ll have the chicken with chocolate,” Kirby told Dolores. “And the lady will have…” He glanced over at Nancy.

She looked up from her own menu. “The fish.”

“The fish.” He repeated her order to Dolores, adding, “With carrots and peas on the side for us both, and a pot of coffee.” Dolores wrote the orders and hurried off.

He looked at her for a moment and began. “So how did it go last night? The dancing, I mean?”

“Very well, thank you,” she said, feeling a little proud. “I think we were a hit.”

“I’m glad for that, I suppose. I still find it unsettling, your being a dancing girl, rather than a school teacher.”

“I’m being myself, Kirby. I’m not saying that the old me was an act. I loved teaching children, but… there was so much that went with it that I didn’t like.” She shook her head. “I couldn’t take it anymore.”

“I’m afraid that I don’t understand.”

“Remember the way Cecelia Ritter and those others behaved at that party behind your store?”

“Yes, but we chased them off.”

“You chased them off. I-I couldn’t. I… worked for them, even if they were trying to get me fired.”

“But you quit right after that, even though the town council wanted to reinstate you.”

She frowned at the tabletop. “Taking my job back meant accepting that they'd try even harder to make trouble for me. Having those people tell me how to live, what to think, who to…” She put her hand on his. “…who to be with.” She took a breath. “I like you, Kirby, but, a schoolmarm is supposed to – isn’t allowed to -- have male friends. That’s why I couldn’t have dinner with you or even let you call on me at the Carson’s house. I would have been fired.”

“So you quit.”

“I spit in their collective eye. I showed them that they couldn’t own me.” Her expression soured. “And do you know what they did, the fine, upstanding folk of Eerie? They sent a letter to Hartford, to the people who trained me as a teacher, pretending to be the Town Council and saying that I was unfit. I can’t work anywhere as a teacher, I have no credentials, thanks to that lying letter.”

“That’s terrible! Why would they do something like that?”

“For spite, nothing more; they expected me to slink off quietly, my tail between my legs.” She tossed her head back. “I took this job to rub their noses in it; to show them that I was free of them, free to live my life the way I feel like living it and… and to Hell with the lot of them.”

“Free of me, too?”

Nancy pursed her lips. “I… I hope not.”

“So do I, because, as much as I liked that quiet little school teacher you used to be, I think I'd like to get to know the new you better.” He took her hand in his, raised it to his lips, and gave it a kiss, all the time, looking into her eyes.

She looked straight at him. “Does that mean you're going to sit in on my next show?”

He thought for a second and then asked a question of his own. “Would you like it if I did?”

Nancy glanced down. “It – It's one way to get to know the new me better, or so I'm thinking.”

* * * * *

“From what I hear,” Cap said, “that was quite a show Shamus put on here last night.” He and Bridget were waltzing around on the dance floor.

She gave him a wry smile. “You sorry that you missed it?”

“Not really; you weren’t in it, so I wasn’t that interested.”

“Are you saying that you’d like me to be a part of all that, kicking up my heels and showing off my unmentionables?”

“Yes, but not in public – just you and me alone.”

She sighed. “Cap, I-I’m still not ready. I still find it hard to be here dancing with you; to have you want to dance with me.”

“Bridget, there’s no one else I would ever want to dance with. I love you, and I’ll keep waiting until you are ready.”

“I know… and the knowing makes it easier for me to keep trying.”

* * * * *

Hammy took Lylah in his arms as the waltz began. “I guess I lost,” he said a few moments later. There was a note of sadness in his voice.

“Lost?” Lylah asked. “Lost what?”

“Lost you, Lylah.” He paused a half a beat. “I seen you ‘n’ Luke, two or three dances back. You was pressing yourself up against him, resting your head on his chest, and smiling t’beat the band.”

“But I –”

“B’fore you start arguing, you ask yourself, is you dancing as close t’me as you was t’Luke. I knows you ain’t got your head on my chest.”

Lylah glanced down. It was true; they weren’t dancing as close.”

“I got ‘nother question for you,”He went on. “If you had your choice – right now – who’d you be rather be dancing with, Luke or me?”

“Luke,” she answered in a soft voice. And from the warm feeling she suddenly felt, she knew that Hammy was right. “I-I guess you’re right.” Then she added. “I’m sorry.”

“So am I, and thank you for saying that last bit.”

“Do you wanna stop dancing then?”

“Hell, no. You is too pretty t’not wanna dance with. B’sides, friends can dance t’gether can’t they?”

“Yeah, I guess they can.” She gave him what she hoped was a comforting smile. “And I’m glad t’still be your friend.”

“Me, too, Lylah,” He said, trying to keep the hurt and disappointment out of his voice. “Me, too.”

* * * * *

Carl stepped up to where Flora was sitting. “My turn,” he told her cheerfully, holding out his ticket.

“Why, so it is.” Flora stood. She took the ticket, put it into her apron pocket, and let him lead her out onto the dance floor.

The music, a sprightly polka, began, and he took her in his arms. “I didn’t get a chance t’say how much I liked your dancing last night.”

“Why didn’t you come over?”

“And get trampled? There musta been a couple dozen men standing around, trying t’talk to you. B’sides, I, uh… I had t’talk to Nancy, her being my sister and all.”

She gave him a sly smile, as if to say, “Of course you did. It was a big night for her, too.” She waited for a moment before actually speaking. “There were probably as many men around her, too. That double cartwheel she did surprised everybody. Molly is already having her teach it to us.”

“I know. I’d forgotten how good she was at such things, and I taught her m’self when she was seven or so.” He chuckled. “She done me proud.”

“And you had to tell her that, didn’t you?”

“After all the fuss I made about her dancing, I surely did – but here I am, wasting time talking ‘bout my sister, when I’m dancing with the prettiest gal in town.”

Flora kissed him lightly on the lips. “That’s sweet; thank you.” She smiled and rested her head on his chest, as they continued their polka.

She could feel the warm glow of sexual arousal sweeping through her body, but there were other feelings, as well. ‘Carl dances with me because he likes dancing with me,’ she thought. ‘Clyde dances with me because he wants to get into my pants.’

It made all the difference in the world.

* * * * *



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Sir Lee's picture

Minor editing issue

A small thing: you missed the header for Monday.

Got It

I fixed that, adding in a "Monday" header. Now let's see some more substantive comments. -- Ellie

Fun

That was fun to read! Thank you.

The way Flora is acting is not going to end well I think. Clyde will take his 'reward' sooner or later.

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