Eerie Saloon: Seasons of Change -- Spring, part 8 of 13

Eerie Saloon: Seasons of Change – Spring, part 8 of 13
By Ellie Dauber and Chris Leeson © 2014

Sunday, May 19, 1872

Jonah Morrison put down his plate and took a seat at the long table next to his brother, Reuben. It was 7 AM, and the hands at the Triple A Ranch were having their breakfast. Jonah quickly poured himself a cup of coffee and downed it in a single, long gulp. “Damn, I needed that,” he said, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

“Sounds like you had too much of something else t’drink last night,” Reuben observed.

Jonah shrugged and downed a forkful of beans. “Too many men and not enough gals, that’s the problem at O’Toole’s. I had t’do something with them extra tickets I bought.”

“Ain’t that the truth. The way O’Toole switches the color of the tickets every week, you can’t use the old ones, when the next Saturday rolls around.”

“He’s a sneaky old cuss, ain’t he? I did get t’dance a couple o’times, though. It was real educational.” He laughed loudly.

“I know what you mean, Jonah,” Reuben said. “It’s a pure shame Miz Osbourne didn’t look so purty – or smell so good – when we was in school. I’d’ve paid a lot more attention t’what she was teaching.”

His brother laughed again. “The way she was cuddling up nice ‘n’ close when we was dancing, I bet there’s a whole lot she could still teach me. And I’m more’n ready t’start in with them lesson anytime she wants, anytime at all.”

“You ‘n’ me both, brother.”

Blackie Easton was sitting a couple of places away from the pair. He leaned over and spoke in a low voice. “You boys might want to change the subject. Carl Osbourne’s looking your way, and he don’t look happy.” He pointed to the line of men standing at the chow table filling their plates from the trays of beans, biscuits, and bacon that Tuck, the cook, had put out for them.

“He is?” Reuben asked, trying not to sound nervous. Both of the boys turned. Carl was glaring at them, his plate in his hand.

Blackie nodded when they shrunk away from Osbourne's stare. “You two remember a fellah named Cooper… Dell Cooper?”

“Ain’t he the one Carl shot?” Jonah asked nervously.

Eastman grinned. “That’s right. Carl shot him – shot him dead – and he did it ‘cause Cooper was saying bad things about his sister.” He waited a beat for effect. “And Carl got off scot-free for doing it. You boys should think about that some.”

“So…” Reuben considered what Blackie had said and the expression on Carl’s face. “You, uhh… You think it’s gonna rain anytime soon, Jonah?”

Jonah glanced over at Carl one more time. The man looked daggers back at him. “Yeah, it-it might rain.” Neither man spoke again for the remainder of the meal.

* * * * *

Reverend Yingling looked over his flock, their eyes bright, their faces beaming, all eager for his guidance. “Before our concluding hymn,” he began, “Horace Styron, the chairman of our church board, has asked if he might make what he assures me will be a couple of very short announcements.” He stepped back and glanced over to where the board was sitting. “Horace, if you would…” He made a broad gesture.

“Thank you, Reverend,” Styron said, rising to his feet. “And thank you for leading us in this excellent – as always – service today.” He walked over, taking the minister’s place at the altar. He stood there for a moment, looking smug and confident. “I’m sure that you’ve all noticed that Liam O’Hanlan is sitting up here with the rest of the board instead of his sister, Trisha. As many of you already know, Trisha O’Hanlan has finally gone along with the will of the congregation and taken a leave of absence from the church board.”

He paused and looked directly at Trisha, as she jumped to her feet. “Please don’t interrupt, Trisha. It’s been such a pleasant morning, don’t spoil it with one of your silly rants.”

“You dirty…” Trisha muttered. She felt Kaitlin’s hand on her shoulder, trying to force her to sit down, even as the other woman whispered, “Hush” in a firm voice. She looked fiercely at Horace, then shifted to stare at Kaitlin, but she did sit down.

Horace went on. “As I was saying, Miss O’Hanlan took a leave of absence. Her brother, Liam, will be sitting in for her until the election in September. Since we can’t have two board members on a committee; that leaves an opening on the new building fund committee. I talked things over with Dwight Albertson, the committee chairman, and we -- I -- decided to give the spot to Joel Keenan.”

He waited, perhaps hoping for some explosion from Trisha. She glowered at him but didn’t speak. Finally, he continued. “My second announcement is a reminder. The town council meets this Wednesday. Folks, they’re gonna be talking about the Reverend’s petition regarding Shamus O’Toole and that potion of his, again. Maybe, if enough of you show up, they’ll finally see the light and pass that resolution. So I urge you all to turn out to show your gratitude and your support for the man who’s been our town’s spiritual guide and leader for so long and has done so well. That’s all I’ve got to say. Thanks.”

“And thank you, Horace.” Yingling took his place again at the altar. “And if you will all turn to page 103 and stand up, we will sing our concluding hymn.”

* * * * *

Pablo Escobar followed Father de Castro into the priest’s office. “Here he is, Luis,” the older man said.

“Thank you, Padre,” Don Luis Ortega replied, “and good Sunday to you, Pablo. Do you have any news of Señor Ritter or Señor Styron?”

Pablo nodded. “Good day to you, Don Luis. I heard Señor Ritter and his son, Winthrop, talking yesterday. He will close the livery early on Miércoles [Wednesday], so he has time to get more people to the town council meeting. I-I think that they want to fill up the place, to keep you -- us … Mejicanos -- out.”

“They won’t,” Luis said with a laugh. “I can promise you that.”

De Castro nodded. “I will be there, as well. Perhaps, I can shame Thaddeus away from this notion of his. He is a good man. I do not understand what has stirred him up so very much.” He looked at Pablo. “Don Luis and I will be at the meeting, Pablo, but you should stay away.”

“Padre, why?” Pablo stammered. “I want to help.”

The priest shook his head. “Help yourself, Pablo. You are only seventeen, so you cannot vote. The council would not be swayed by you, and Señor Ritter is the sort of man who would fire you for going against him.”

“I-I will do as you say, Padre, but I will be with you in spirit.”

Ortega shrugged. “Of course, Pablo, and know that, whatever does happen, it will be, in part, because of your help.” He stepped over and took the boy’s hand in his. “Thank you.”

“I… you are most welcome.” Pablo shook his hand, grateful for the chance to have helped, and to be treated as the man he hoped to be.

* * * * *

“What did you two think of this morning’s church service?” Mrs. Spaulding asked, taking her seat at the dinner table.

Hedley frowned. “I’m not sure. The hymn singing was pleasant enough, I suppose, but that sermon! The way the reverend kept going on, ‘Deliver us from evil, oh, Lord.’ He sounded more like he was fighting some dark menace to the town than the evil inclination in our hearts.”

“Oh, Hedley,” Clara said with a chuckle, “‘the evil inclination in our hearts,’ indeed. You’re quite the poet today, aren’t you?”

“Perhaps it had something to do with that petition of his,” their mother suggested, “the one that Mr. Styron mentioned at the end of the service.”

Clara’s expression soured. “I don’t think I like Mr. Styron. He seemed to be gloating about Miss O’Hanlan having to leave the church board.” She paused a beat. “I wonder why she did that, anyway? I never really talked to her, but she always seemed like a nice person.”

“Why don’t you ask someone about it?” Mrs. Spaulding asked. “Those Carson sisters said that they might be over to visit you this afternoon.”

Clara giggled. “Not to see me. Oh, they may say that’s why they’re here, but the one they really want to see is Hedley.” She giggled again and gave her brother an odd look, “…though I can’t imagine why.”

“I can,” Hedley replied coolly. “But, frankly, I’m not interested. I’m just glad that someone’s trying to befriend, you, Clara, even if it’s just an excuse to see me.”

The giggle became a sigh. “That’s right, isn’t it? It’s a lie just like…” Her eyes glistened, and she looked down at the table. “There’s no reason for anyone to like me. They all act like they're afraid of catching something if they get too close.”

“That’s not true,” Hedley said quickly. “Annie…” He stopped. Even if it was for the best of reasons, Annie had lied to them.

Clara jerked her head up and glared at him. “Annie! Don’t you dare mention her -- his -- name to me. I-I trust… trusted him, and all the t-time he was laughing behind my – behind all our backs. I-I never want to see him or hear of him ever… ever again.” She gave a weak cough.

“What about the laundry?” Hedley asked softly. “She still has to bring back what we gave her to be cleaned.”

Clara coughed again, holding her napkin up in front of her mouth. She was crying now. “After that, I don’t want him in this house.”

“Am I to do the laundry, then?” Mrs. Spaulding asked indignantly. “No, we’ll continue to use the Diaz family laundry, I think, but we’ll ask that Mrs. Diaz be the one who comes for it. Her daughter is not welcome in this house, and, if we do continue those Spanish lessons, it will be with another teacher.” She looked sharply at her son. “Are we agreed on that, at least?”

Hedley sighed. “Yes, mother.”

* * * * *

“All right, Trisha,” Liam ordered, “out with it.”

Trisha looked across the dinner table at her brother. “Out with what?”

“You’ve been scowling at me since we left the church,” he complained. “Now we’re about to sit down for Kaitlin’s fine Sunday dinner --”

Kaitlin smiled. She took the roast ham from the oven and set it down on the counter by the sink. “Why, thank you, Liam.”

“You’re welcome, Kaitlin.” He smiled back at her before turning to speak to his sister again. “Now, as I was saying, Trisha, out with it. I want to know what’s bothering you… or is it just a late bout of morning sickness.” He gave her a sly smile. None of the adults noticed Emma’s uneasy reaction to the comment.

He was answered with a frown. “Styron… and you, I think,” Trisha snapped back at him. “Why didn’t he give me your place on the Building Fund Committee?”

“You’d have to ask him that,” Liam told her. “He never talked to me about it.”

“Why didn’t you talk to him about it?” she asked.

“Why didn’t you, Trisha? If you wanted the job, why didn’t you ask him for it yourself?” He studied her surprised expression for a moment before he went on. “I didn’t ask you for the job when the board first set up the committee. I went over and talked to Horace… and to Dwight. You could’ve done that, couldn’t you?”
“I didn’t think…” Her voice trailed off. It was stupid of her not to have asked, and now someone else had the job.

Liam gave her a sly smile. “You never do. That’s how you got into the mess you’re in, isn’t it?”

“Dinner’s ready,” Kaitlin interrupted. “Come and get it.”

Trisha, Liam, and Emma headed for the table. Liam reached it first and held the chair for Kaitlin. Then he sat down in the chair opposite her, the one Trisha normally took, the chair for the head of the house.

* * * * *

Monday, May 20, 1872

“Teresa told me that you had a big fight with the Spauldings,” Dolores said, sitting down at the table where Arnie was sorting clothes for the laundry.

Arnie nodded. “Sì, they… they found out the truth about me, that I am really a boy. They got mad that I had lied to them.”

“Did you mean to lie?”

“No. When I first met them, they called me Annie, and I let them because I wanted them for customers. It was a mistake. Like Papa used to say, ‘Breed crows and they will take out your eyes.’”

“What are you going to do now?”

“I don’t know. I tried to apologize, but it just made them madder. Clara… the daughter, she was crying and coughing – she is sick – and when she gets upset….” Arnie’s voice trailed off. She looked down at the table, feeling sorry for herself and the clumsy way she had handled things.

“Then it was not really your fault, Arnolda. You truly did nothing wrong. It is a very personal secret, and they should not expect a new friend to immediately tell them such things. Maybe in a year they would have had the right to complain, but not so soon.”

“That doesn’t make it any better. They still want to use Mama’s laundry – I hope they do, anyway – but my job teaching them Spanish is gone. I am sure of that, and I need to find a new one.”

“Or go back to an old one.”

“Señor Shamus?” Arnie shook her head. “I have been thinking about that. He was so mad when he fired me. He would never take me back.”

“Are you so sure? As they say, ‘to be silent is to give consent.’ How will you know if you do not ask?”

“He fired me twice. Why should he hire me again?”

“I will ask him why.” Dolores smiled. “If he doesn’t have a good answer, maybe you can get your job back.”

“And maybe I will wake up tomorrow with a long white beard.”

“If you do, will you shave it off before you talk to Señor Shamus?”

Arnie had to laugh at that. “If he comes, I will shave it off.”

* * * * *

“All right, Jessie” Molly said, “What’s this song Wilma thinks the Cactus Blossoms should be dancing to?”

Jessie picked up her guitar. “It’s from some opera that Lady Cerise likes, something about a fellah name of William Tell. This is from the end of what they call the overture; it’s real fast. Wilma thinks it sounds like a horse running, and she thought it’d work for the ladies dancing.” She began strumming in a rapid 2/4 time, humming as she played.

“Sounds a little like a polka,” Molly observed. “And it’ll do just fine for what I got in mind.”

Jessie nodded. “Cerise said this kinda music was called a ‘galop’, like what a horse does, but with just one ‘l’ in it.” She chuckled. “That surely fits. It does kinda remind me of a horse galloping.” She played on, finishing with the long flourish at the end.

“Aye, and it’ll work out real nice with some of the moves I got in mind.” She looked critically at the three Cactus Blossoms, Flora, Lylah, and Nancy. The latter had been the only woman of the community to apply for the job, but for now one would be enough. “The three of ye stand next t’each other – aye, in a line, and stand straight – I want t’be seeing which of ye is the tallest.”

The trio did as told. “Ye’re the tallest, Flora. Stand in the middle with… umm, Lylah on yuir left and Nancy on yuir right. Now, put yuir arms out on each other’s shoulders. Fine… just like that. Only, Lylah, ye’re in a bit too close. Move away – just a smidge – from Flora. Perfect.”

“Now,” Molly continued, “when Jessie starts her playing, I want ye should kick up yuir left leg on the first beat and bring it down on the second. On the third, ye move yuir right foot a half step to the right. Then ye kick again with yuir left foot and bring it down next to the right one. D’ye think ye understand what I’m telling ye?”

Lylah and Flora just nodded. “I think so,” Nancy answered.

Jessie slowly strummed the beats on her guitar, and the women went through the steps as directed. “That’s a start,” Molly told them afterwards. “But ye need t’be kicking higher. Try t’be getting the tip of yuir toe up even with yuir eyes.”

“That’s not easy to do in these dresses,” Flora complained.

“Take ‘em off, then,” Bridget replied. They turned to see her standing at the corner of the hallway, where it turned to go past the entrance to Shamus and Molly’s rooms. “You should be used to prancing around in your frillies for all the gents to see.”

“Maybe I ain’t as used to taking off my clothes for men as you are, Kelly,” Flora shot back.

Before Bridget could answer, Molly spoke up. “That’s more’n enough from the both of ye. This is a private practice, Bridget, so, unless ye want t’be joining the Cactus Blossoms, I’ll be asking ye t’leave.” She turned at the sound of Flora’s chuckle. “And, as for ye, Flora, from now on, unless I’m telling ye otherwise, ye’ll be calling her Miss Bridget, whether ye’re talking t’her or t’anybody else, just like I had ye do at Jane’s wedding.”

Both women nodded, even while they continued to glare at each other. Bridget turned the corner and started for the stairs.

“Good,” Molly said, glad to have escaped an explosion – for the moment. “Now, let’s them of us that are here get back t’work.” She had a sudden thought. “And ye’ll be curtseying t’Jessie Hanks, too, and calling her Miss Jessie.”

Anger flared in Flora's eyes, “But she started it.”

Molly chuckled. “Maybe she did, but it won’t hurt ye t’be learning a bit o’humility.”

“Humility… f… f…” Flora’s lips quivered as she struggled to find something that wasn't too obscene to utter. All that finally came out was, “Oh, fudge!”

* * * * *

“Trisha,” Emma asked, sounding a bit annoyed, “are you ever gonna finish with that dish?”

The woman started. “What? Oh, I’m sorry, Emma.” She dipped the dish quickly in the clear water side of the sink and handed it to her daughter. “My mind must’ve been someplace else.”

“It was, out on the back porch. I thought you were gonna wipe the design clear off.”

“I-I just don’t like Kaitlin being out there with Liam, that’s all.”

“I don’t think there’s much you can do about it.”

“I know, but I…” her voice trailed off into a sigh.

“Can… Can I ask you a question?”

“I suppose.”

“Did you really do what-what Mama says you did with those men?”

Trisha sighed again. “I did. And I’m so, so very sorry.”

“Sorry you did or sorry you got… pregnant from doing it.”

“Both, I guess. I really hurt your mother – hurt you, too.”

“Then why, Trisha, why’d you do it?” The hurt was clear in Emma’s voice.

“It’s… it’s hard to explain.”

“Mama told me back in January that it happens when a woman loves a man, loves him enough to let him…” Her voice trailed off, unwilling to say the words. “Do you love them men, Trisha?”

“No, it-it was the…” She was about to say that it was the potion that had made her act so wrongly, but she couldn’t. Emma had drunk it the same time as she had. She again remembered that horrible dream, the dream where Emma had grown up to be a whore- – the same as she was – because of the potion.

Trisha shivered. ‘If I tell her that the potion made me do it, would that – could that – make the dream come true, make my daughter a… fallen woman.’ She couldn’t take the chance. But what could she say? “You’re asking some very grown-up questions, Emma. You almost sound like your Ma.”

She decided to bring up the notion that had been rolling around in her mind for a while.

“I-I went with those men because…” She looked down, unable to meet her daughter’s eyes. “…because … because the woman I look like was… foolish, foolish about… men. Because I'm a copy of her, that makes me foolish in the same way.” She then looked squarely into Emma's eyes. “But you're a copy of your mother, and she's smart about everything. That's going to make you smart, too.”

“I sure hope so.” Emma wiped the dish and set it in the drying wrack. She didn’t speak to Trisha again while they worked. She barely looked at her former father, as she considered what Trisha had said, hoping that it was true.

“So do I.” What she’d told Emma felt like the right answer, and she devoutly prayed that it was. She was a woman like Norma Jeane, now, and she’d have to learn to live the consequences. But maybe -- maybe -- Emma was different.

* * * * *

Flora was in the middle of the Cactus Blossom’s dance, when she saw Clyde Ritter take a seat towards the back. ‘He always waits till the show starts,’ she thought to herself. ‘I guess he figures it makes him less easy to spot.’ She caught his eye with hers. Then, she nodded at him and smiled, running her tongue slowly across her upper lip.

Ritter smiled back – broadly – and nodded his head towards the empty chair next to his, an obvious invitation for later, after the performance was done.

Flora answered with a wink.

* * * * *

When the next break came, Flora strolled over to her admirer. “I’m so glad that you came back… Clyde,” she said, settling down into the chair next to Ritter with an extra wiggle of her hips.

He smiled at her mention of his name. “I liked the dance.” He picked up her hand and raised it to his lips for a quick kiss. “And I liked the dancer even more.”

“Mmm, you’re a very sweet man.”

He raised his arm, his hand in a fist, then, he lifted two fingers in a “V.” Dolores hurried over to the table and set down two beers. “I ordered while you were dancing. I thought that you might be thirsty.”

“And you know what I like,” Flora continued. She took a sip. It was the near-beer that Shamus served his employees, but it was cool and wet, and she was thirsty from the dancing. “Ah…” She set down the glass. “…and what I need.”

“Always glad to lend a hand to a pretty lady.”

She glanced down at the table. “I’ll bet.”

“After you finish your drink, perhaps we could go… someplace and discuss the matter further.”

Now Flora's mind raced, reviewing Roslyn's “Advice for Wicked Women.” She looked up at him through half-closed eyes and pouted prettily. “The only place I’m allowed to go is out back behind the saloon. And I-I don’t know you well enough to do that with you… yet.”

“I certainly want you to know me well enough for something like that,” he answered with a grin.

‘Damn, this is easy,’ she told herself. ‘Kind of fun, too.’ She smiled again and took another sip of beer.

* * * * *

“Do you have the key, Jane?” Milt asked as they walked up to the front door of their new house.

She reached down into her reticule and pulled out a brass key. “Right here. You want me t’do the honors?” Milt nodded and she put it in the lock, turning it slowly. “It’s opened.”

“Good, now, hold on.” He smiled and scooped her up in his arms.

“Milt!” She let out a shriek of surprise, then, giggled and put her arms around his neck. “What’re you doing?”

“I’m carrying my bride over the threshold.” He kicked the door open and walked inside. He managed to remove the key from the lock and close the door, while still holding Jane.

“You gonna set me down, now?”

He shook his head. “Not yet.” He shifted her in his arms. “Trust me?” he asked, smiling down at her.

“Always ‘n’ forever.” She shifted, leaning forward for a moment, and kissed his cheek.

He took a breath and slowly, carefully, walked across the parlor to the door to their bedroom. He kicked the half-opened door, and, when it swung wide, he stepped inside. “Now, I’ll put you down.” He lowered her legs, so that she was standing. But her arms were still draped around his neck. “You can let go now,” he told her.

“Don’t wanna. I like being in your arms.” Jane felt so alive. A delicious warm feeling flowed like melted butter through her body, especially in her breasts and down in the empty space between her legs. She moved in close and kissed him firmly on the lips.

Milt pulled her close, as the kiss deepened. His tongue slipped into her mouth to wrestle with her own. He felt himself harden, and he pushed his loins against her.

Then, he abruptly broke the kiss and stepped back.

“What?” She sounded confused. “Is something the matter?”

“I’m afraid so,” he replied. “Much as I’m enjoying what I’m doing, we can’t…” He glanced over at the bed, just a few feet away.

Jane giggled. “No… no we can’t.” She reached out and pushed his jacket off his shoulders. It slid down, and he shook his arms, so that it dropped down to the floor behind him. She smiled and began to unbutton his shirt.

At the same time, he was working on the buttons on her gown. His hands moved quickly, eagerly. In no time, the dark blue dress was open to her waist. “Lift your arms, please,” he told her.

She quickly obeyed, splaying the fingers of both hands. In one swift move, he pulled the dress up and off over her arms. He tossed it… someplace. He didn’t care where just then, and neither did she.

He was surprised and happy to see that she’d forgone a camisole. All she wore above her waist was a red-violet corset. He couldn't resist so much bare flesh and left a trail of kisses down her neck and onto her shoulder. She giggled and trembled at the sparks that each kiss seemed to generate.

Her hands reached down and found the buttons at the front of his trousers. Despite, or, maybe because of the distraction of his kisses, she managed to get them open. With one yank, she got his pants past his hips, and they settled down around his ankles.

He finished with the last hooks of her corset. It fell away, and the trail of his kisses continued on, down past her collarbone to her right breast. He stopped for a moment, sucking hard at the flesh, and when he moved on, he’d left a purple love bite in his wake.

Jane shivered at the feelings Milt was building in her, stoking her body like a furnace. She moaned and kissed him again, as her fingers gently caressed his manhood through the fabric of his drawers.

She pulled at the bow that held her petticoat to her waist, and the ribbons slid apart. Without waiting for the garment to fall away, she moved on to the bow for her drawers. Once they were loose, the weight of the petticoat dragged them both down below her knees. She stepped out of them and hurried to the bed. “Ready whenever you are,” she cooed at Milt.

“Likewise.” Milt yanked at his drawers until they were loose. He stepped towards the bed, only to fall in the tangle of pants, drawers, and shoes. “Damn,” he muttered, still on the floor, as he yanked at the knot of clothing. He managed to get the shoes off and sort of “slithered” out of the rest. That done, he lunged for the bed, landing on it next to Jane.

She giggled and looked down at his massive arousal. “I’d say you’re more’n ready.” She lay back on the bed sheet, her legs far apart. “And so am I. Let’s get to it.”

“Maybe I should make you beg for it first.”

He resumed his fondling, more aggressively than before. He already knew where some of her most sensitive spots were, where he could make her squeal with pleasure. His lips, sucking hard on a nipple, forced a gasp and a lurch out of his bride. Her navel was particularly tender, and his tongue showed her no mercy there. When his left hand reached the gold of her pubic hair, she cried out loud into his ear.

“For Heaven's sake! Now! Please, now!”

He rolled over on top of her, his arms braced on either side. Jane, trembling with need, took his manhood in her hand and guided him in. After all their times together, the sensations of sex were still like nothing else she had ever felt. She was wet and eager to begin.

He began to move, in and out, and her body responded, moving with him. Flames of intense pleasure ran through her – through them both. The flames grew higher, hotter, and the couple moaned and cooed, engulfed by what they were experiencing.

Jane felt lost, so wonderfully lost, all she knew was the motion of their bodies and the rapture it was causing in her. The sensations grew and Grew and GREW! Suddenly, Milt groaned, and Jane felt his spurt inside her. It was like the blasting cap that set off the dynamite when you were excavating for a mine. Jane screamed and her body writhed, lost in the delight of her own orgasm.

“Unbelievable,” she heard Milt whisper finally.

“Oohhh… yes,” Jane moaned, riding the afterglow like water through a sluice. “You know,” she finally said, a sated smile on her lips, “I think I’m gonna like being here even more than I liked living in Whit and Carmen’s guest house.”

Milt nodded. “I agree, especially if the nights are all like this one.”

“Mmm… they will be.” Jane leaned over and kissed him deeply. At the same time, her hand moved downward along his body. He wasn’t ready for a repeat, but, judging from the way his manhood twitched at her touch, it would be -- and very soon.

* * * * *

Tuesday, May 21, 1872

“Are you O.K., Emma?” Yully asked. They were starting back in to the school after recess. “You were playing… well, pretty bad today.”

Emma looked away, embarrassed. “I’m… sorry. I-I guess my mind wasn’t on the game.”

“That’s for sure. What’s bothering you, anyway?”

Hermione was close enough to hear their conversation. “Maybe her conscience is bothering her for what she did to me on Friday.”

“I’d say you got what you deserved,” Yully replied. He smiled, remembering how Hermione’s face had looked after Emma had smashed a cupcake into it.

Hermione snorted. “What I deserved? Why should I have to act civilly towards that… potion freak? I mean… look at her. She – if that’s the right word -- she doesn’t know what she is. She dresses like a girl, even if she has absolutely no real sense of style, and then she goes and gets her clothes filthy.” Hermione pointed at Emma’s dress.

“It’s not that bad,” Emma said, looking down. The dress was streaked with dirt and bore one grass stain from a particularly rough play. “Is it?”

The other girl just pointed. “It’s absolutely filthy. That stupid game you forced the boys to let you play has ruined it.”

“That isn’t fair, Hermione.” Penny Stone stepped in next to Emma.

Hermione gave them a snide laugh. “Isn’t fair? Go ahead, Elmer.” She took a special delight in using Emma’s original name. “Tell me anything I’ve said that isn’t true.”

“I…” Emma looked down, unable to meet the persecutor’s face. She kept remembering what Trisha had said the night before.

The woman she looked like had been foolish about men, and so she was, too, Trisha had explained. Trisha was pregnant Pregnant! The potion had done that to her. It changed her from the strong, confident father that Emma remembered, into a… pregnant fool.

She shook her head sadly. ‘I took it, too,’ she told herself. ‘Trisha says that I'm smart like Mama. But what… what if I’m… not?’ Aloud, she said, “Can’t talk; t-time for class.” She turned and walked up the stairs and into the building without another word.

* * * * *

An editorial in the Eerie, Arizona edition of The Tucson Citizen

` The End is Near

` This Wednesday, the town council will be most likely be voting
` on Reverend Yingling’s proposal to establish a committee to take
` control of the fabulous brew, of Shamus O’Toole’s creation.

` This vote has been a long time coming, and that’s a good thing.

` People have had time to think about the idea. They’ve asked
` Reverend Yingling questions about his reasons AND about what he
` intends to do if the resolution passes. This paper has asked some of
` those same questions.

` Why does he think this is necessary? A lot of people think Mr.
` O’Toole’s been doing a good job. Some of them, wearing “Trust
` Shamus” ribbons, will be at the meeting. We hope that they will
` get a chance to speak, rather than be shouted down by a few unruly
` and undemocratic souls.

` Who will be on this committee? As Don Luis Ortega pointed out,
` there are good Anglos AND good Mexicans in Eerie, and shouldn’t
` both sides be represented?

` What will the duties of the committee be? Is it a good idea to give
` the power that the potion represents to anyone, particularly to a
` government committee? Do we want a committee to decide when
` the potion will be made and how much of it will be made? For
` that matter, where would such a group keep the potion, and what
` sort of security would they use to insure that it is not stolen away
` for who knows what sort of nefarious purposes?

` Who will take care of those who are given the potion? Does
` anyone have a problem with the way Mr. O’Toole and his wife
` have dealt with those were placed in their care, including the two
` women currently under sentence? If the O’Tooles don’t continue
` as wardens, then who will take over those duties? Where will the
` the women be housed, how will they be fed and clothed, and what
` additional expenses will this create for the taxpayers of Eerie?

` We urge the members of the Eerie Town Council to consider all
` of these points in their deliberations tomorrow night. Perhaps
` the Reverend could form an advisory committee. Advising his
` parishioners is a task he has performed so very well for so very long.

* * * * *

Arnie could see Hedley and Mrs. Spaulding waiting for her on the back porch, as she walked towards their house. “Hello, Señora… Hedley,” she greeted them, trying not to sound nervous. “How are you both today, and how… how is Clara?”

“Never better,” Hedley answered. “Though Clara’s still a bit --”

Mrs. Spaulding cut in. “My daughter is somewhat recovered, Annie, but I fear that we will not be having lunch together today.”

“I am sorry to hear that,” Arnie replied. “I wanted to apologize to her myself over lunch.”

The older woman shook her head. “Perhaps I did not make myself clear. You will not be joining us for lunch, either, nor will you be giving us a Spanish lesson today – or for the foreseeable future.” She paused a beat. “And from now on, I would prefer it if your mother were the one to pick up and deliver our laundry.”

“Mother,” Hedley said in surprise at her words. “That’s rather harsh of you, isn’t it? I thought that you liked Annie.”

Before Mrs. Spaulding could reply, they heard the sound of a bell from inside the house. “I do, Hedley … somewhat, but before anything else, I am Clara’s mother, and I can hardly not be harsh to the person whose actions brought on her relapse. Please deal with Annie, and then come in for lunch.” She turned and, without another word, bustled into the house.

“That didn’t go very well, did it?” Hedley gave her a wan smile and sat down on the steps. He patted the spot next to him, encouraging her to sit.

Arnie ignored the invitation – and the smile -- and reached into the wagon for the two packages of the Spaulding’s laundry. “You owe me…” She glanced quickly at the top one. “$3.87.” She moved forward and put the clothes where he had motioned for her to sit.

“Here you go.” He handed her a gold half-eagle. “Keep the change by way of an apology.”

She needed to be all business. “Thank you. Is there anything to be cleaned?”

Hedley stood and walked up onto the porch. He came back down with a large sack. “This.” He set it on the wagon. “Mother would like it back on Saturday.”

“Spauldings… Saturday.” Arnie wrote the words on a tag and tied it to the sack.

She suddenly realized how close he was standing. “I’m so very sorry about all this, Annie. Mother is very… protective of Clara, and I think that she’s over-reacted.” He smiled and took her hand in his. “I’m sure that this will all blow over in no time at all.”

“Do you think so?” Her hand tingled. It was such a nice feeling that she didn’t want to pull it away.

The boy stepped in even closer and cupped her chin in his other hand. “I certainly hope so. I don't understand why they are having such a hard time seeing this from your point of view.” He raised her head gently so that their eyes met. After a moment's hesitation, he leaned in and kissed her.

Arnie gave a gasp of surprise that resolved into a soft moan. She almost toppled off her feet, and she clutched at his clothes so she wouldn't stumble and fall. Part of her was terrified, but her fingers kept their desperate hold on him, even when she no longer feared staggering backwards.

But Hedley suddenly broke the kiss. “I-I had best get into the house, or Mother will come out to see what’s taking me so long.”

“And I have to get these clothes home.” Arnie couldn’t help but smile as she looked away. She felt happy and shy… and, suddenly, very scared of what she was feeling. “I will see you again,” she called over her shoulder as she hurried off.

‘No, estúpido,’ the girl scolded herself as she continued to run, ‘do not encourage him!’

He smiled back. “Count on it.” He winked and headed for the house.

* * * * *

“Cards, gents?” Bridget inquired of the two players left in this hand of the game.

Mort Boyer cocked an eyebrow. “I’ll just stand with these.”

“Two for me, bitte,” Otto Euler said, trying to sound confident, as he took two cards from his hand and put them, face down, on the table.

Bridget dealt him the replacements. ‘Mort’s bluffing,’ she told herself. ‘That eyebrow of his only points skyward like that when he bluffs. And I don’t think Otto’s got much of a hand, either from the way he’s betting.’

“Raise a dime,” Mort said, sliding a coin from his pile of winnings onto the ante in the center of the table.

Otto matched it. “Call; vhat do you got?”

“Not as much as I’d like.” Mort laid his cards face up on the table. “A pair o’nines.”

Otto chuckled. “I got der odher two nines.” He showed his own hand. “I guess ve split der pot.” He reached for the money.

“Take it all, Otto,” Mort said. “You got the better hand.”

Otto looked confused. “Vhat d’you mean. Ve both goot two nines.”

“Yeah,” Mort replied, “but your next card was a five and his was an eight. That’s the better hand.”

“Is dat how it vorks?” Otto asked.

“You’re wrong, Mort,” Bridget said. “The other cards don’t count. You both had a pair of nines, so you both win, and you split the pot. Except, if it can’t be an even split, Mort, gets the extra penny ‘cause he’s to the left of Stu, the one with the dealer button.”

“You sure about that?” Mort asked.

Stu Gallagher had folded earlier, and he was in a hurry to get the next hand started. “It is if she says it is. The lady knows poker a lot better than any of us.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” Mort said with a shrug. “Well, I’ll get you next round.”

Otto chuckled. “Or may I vill get you again.”

Bridget gathered the cards into a deck and began to shuffle, while the two men divided up the pot. Stu passed the dealer button, which indicated the “nominal dealer” to Otto. ‘I guess ‘the lady’ does,’ she thought with satisfaction. ‘I guess the lady does,’

* * * * *

Shamus walked into the saloon kitchen. “It’s 7:30, Maggie. The girls need t’be getting ready for their dancing.”

“Thank G-d,” Flora muttered, setting the bowl she’d been washing back into the dishwater. Anything, even dancing, was better than the drudgery of washing dishes.

Lylah wiped her hands on her apron. “Can we sit down for a few minutes before we gotta change clothes? My feet ache like I been standing up for days.”

“Aye,” Shamus replied. “Just so ye’re ready when me Molly comes for ye.”

Both girls nodded. “We will be.” Lylah said.

“Let’s be going then,” Shamus answered. The pair headed for the door with him right behind them. Once they were back in the barroom, he told them, “Ye go on up, Lylah. I want t’be talking to Flora for a wee bit.” He waited a half-beat before adding, “In private.”

Lylah kept walking. “Okay, Shamus,” she called back to him as she continued to the stairs.

“What do you want to talk to me about?” Flora asked, not hiding her annoyance.

“I been watching ye, Flora, and… lately, ye seem t’be getting awful friendly-like with me customers.”

She frowned. She certainly wasn’t going to admit to anything. “Is that a problem? I’ll be stuck – be working here -- for two months yet. Why shouldn’t I act friendly with the men, especially the ones that come in to watch me dance?”

“Ahh, so ye’re getting t’be liking the men looking at ye?”

“No – yes – I-I don’t know.” She surprised herself at how quickly she’d answered.

Shamus smiled, remembering other potion girls ++who’d given the same confused answer. And how their minds had changed with time. “Don’t ye be worrying about it,” he told her. “It’ll all sort itself out soon enough.” He studied her expression. “If it’s the truth ye’re telling me.”

“I… I am.” Was this damned Irishman on to her ruse?

“I hope ye are – for yuir sake. Jessie tried something like that when she first came here. If ye’re faking them flirty ways o’yuirs it's for no good, and I’ll have t’be teaching ye a lesson, like I taught her, and, I promise ye, ye won’t be liking that one wee bit.”

“No, sir, I'm not faking anything.” She relaxed, certain now that she’d fooled him. ‘Still,’ she thought, ‘I’d better ask Rosalyn's advice the next time she comes in.’

Shamus studied her face for a moment. “I don’t know if ye are or ye aren’t, but I’ll be watching ye t’find out.” He took a breath. “Now skedaddle upstairs t’be getting ready.”

* * * * *

Thad Yingling moved his queen out to the middle of the chessboard. “So tell me, Aaron,” he asked, turning over the timer, “is the town council finally going to vote on my resolution at the meeting tomorrow?”

“Before I answer,” Aaron replied as he studied the board, “let me ask you something. Why?”

“Why am I asking about the vote? Because I’m tired of the matter being postponed again and again for so long.”

“No, why are you pushing so hard in the first place? It ain’t the sort of thing I ever saw you do before. As the Sages say, plums don’t grow on a date tree.”

Yingling considered for a moment. “You’ve heard my reason. I don’t believe that it’s morally right for something as powerful as that potion to be in the hands of a man like Shamus O’Toole.”

“Heard… Shmeard. There are reasons and there are… reasons.” Aaron moved his own queen forward two squares. “Just like there’s a reason for that move I just made.” He turned the timer over again.

The reverend studied the board and frowned. “My queen… and my rook threatened, that’s a very strong attack, Aaron.”

“So talk to me, while you try to escape – if you can. What’s your real reason for going after Shamus?”

“I’m not going after O’Toole; not really. It’s his potion that I am after. I must keep it out of the hands of… of any innocent who might take it to – take it by mistake like that Diaz boy or Trisha – Patrick O’Hanlan, or… or Laura Caulder’s sister.”

“That’s your reason, to protect people from it?”

“Yes – yes, to keep it away from people who… shouldn’t take it.”

Aaron looked closely at his friend. “There’s something you’re not telling me, Thad, but it’s your secret, and, as they say, the only way two people can keep a secret is if one of them is dead, which I am not, kayn ahora.”

“You are indeed alive, Aaron, but your trap, I’m happy to say, is not.” Yingling moved his knight, ending the threat to his two chess pieces. He winked and re-set the timer.

“And, now, since I answered your question,” he continued, “will you answer mine?” He looked at Aaron who nodded. “Are you and the other councilmen going to pass my resolution tomorrow evening?”

Aaron shrugged. “Probably, but I won’t say what’ll happen after that.”

“Whatever happens after that will be fine,” the reverend answered confidently.

“Maybe, but what is it folks say about counting chickens that ain’t hatched yet?”

* * * * *

Wednesday, May 22, 1872

“Flora… Lylah,” Molly called out, knocking on their door, “are ye awake in thuir?”

Flora sighed and sat up in bed. “We are,” she yelled. “The both of us.”

“Good!” Molly answered. “Then get yuirselves dressed and get downstairs t’be helping with the breakfast.” She turned and walked back to her own rooms.

Lylah threw back the blanket and climbed out of bed. “Dang, I was having me a real nice dream.”

“About men?” Flora asked sarcastically as she swung her legs to the floor.

“Yeah… about being one again,” the negress answered quickly. Too quickly? The problem was that, while she had been dreaming about being male, she’d still been working at the Saloon, and the only other persons in the dream were the men – the niggers -- who’d been paying attention to her female self.

She decided to press back against Flora’s teasing. “How ‘bout you? That way you been acting ‘round some of them men that come in here, I think you’re starting t’like being a girl.” She undid the ribbon that held the collar of her nightgown pulled up around her collarbone. Once it was loose, she grabbed the hem of the garment and lifted it up, over her head.

“You’re crazy. I’m as much of a man – inside – as I ever was.” Flora held the sleeve of her nightgown tight and pulled her arm out and next to her body. She repeated the process with her other arm, then pushed the garment up over her head. She stood for a moment, stretching, in just her drawers.

Lylah was no more clothed than Flora. “Oh, sure,” she said, taking fresh undergarments out of the dresser. “If you’re a man inside, then why’re you smiling and flirting with the ones that’re watching us dance? Why’re you sitting so close to ‘em and making doe eyes at ‘em after the dancing?” She put her arms through the bottom of a camisole, raised her arms over her head and let it slide down onto her body. “Hell, I think I even saw you kiss one of ‘em – that Ritter fellah – the other night.”

“What I do – and why I do it -- is none of your damned business,” Flora replied, as she stepped into a fresh pair of drawers. “I’ve got reasons, good reasons, for everything I do, and they have nothing to do with my thinking like a woman.”

“What sort of reasons, then?” Lylah was working on the hooks of her corset.

Flora didn’t answer. She just scowled at Lylah, while they both finished dressing. She didn’t trust the other woman not to betray her plan to Shamus or Molly. ‘Besides,’ she thought, ‘why should I tell that damned nosy nigger anything that important?’

* * * * *

Jessie walked over to the bar, where Molly and Shamus were setting things up for the day. “I’m glad you’re together here, so I can kill two birds with the one stone. I wanted t’remind you both that me and Paul’ll be heading out t’Hanna Tyler’s wedding next Monday.”

“The wedding,” Molly said, “I clean forgot about it.” Shamus nodded in agreement.

Jessie looked worried. “You… You are gonna let me go, ain’t you?”

“If we said ye could,” Shamus answered, “then ye still can. I’ll even be keeping me promise t’be giving ye a bottle of good whiskey t’be toasting the bride ‘n’ groom with.”

Jessie smiled in relief. “Thanks, Shamus… Molly. I know I’m kinda leaving you in the lurch about music for the Cactus Blossoms.”

“Aye, ye are,” he replied. “I’ll talk to the Happy Days Band during the dance on Saturday. I think they’ll be willing t’pick up the slack while ye’re gone.”

Molly thought for a moment. “Aye, they probably will. Ye’ll be gone – what – two weeks at most?”

“Less probably; the wedding’s on Sunday, June 2nd. If we leave first thing Monday morning, we should be back by Friday, the 7th.”

“That oughta work for ‘Captain Jinks,’” Molly told her. “But what about that new dance, the… the galop. Do ye have the music for that?”

Jessie smiled. “No, but I got a couple o’ideas on that. Wilma got Lady Cerise t’loan me her kalliope music box. She’s got a disk with the tune on it, so the girls can practice. And I asked Kirby Pinter t’telegraph an order for a copy o’the music to the same place he got me the music to ‘The Wedding March.’ He figures it should be here in a few days, ‘cause now he knows where t’get it from.”

“That should take care o' it, Jessie,” Shamus said. “And thanks for doing all that work ye done. Ye can go off t’that wedding with a clean conscience and have a good time.”

Molly smiled. “Aye, and I know that ye and Paul’ll be having a good time on the trail, too.” She gave Jessie a broad wink.

“Damn straight,” Jessie said with a bawdy laugh.

* * * * *

Bridget looked at the pocket watch whose chain was pinned to her blouse. “Almost 10,” she whispered. “They’ll be out soon to clear away breakfast.”

“But not quite yet,” she added. She took a last bite of toast and glanced quickly around. The barroom was empty except for her.

She walked over to the table where the food for breakfast: toast, butter and jam, sausage, and coffee were set. She gingerly touched the coffeepot. “Cool enough.” She lifted it. “And about half full.”

She took the lid off the pot and carefully pulled out the brew basket. After a quick check – and yes, she was still alone – she emptied the sodden grounds into a brass spittoon set on the floor near the table. For good measure, she dumped most of the coffee left in the pot into the spittoon as well.

Bridget reassembled the coffeepot and replaced it on the wooden trivet it had been sitting on. Then, she knelt down and picked up the spittoon. It smelled horribly of beer and rancid tobacco chaw, and the coffee and grounds didn’t help. Being very careful not to spill anything, she swirled the spittoon several times, thoroughly mixing the contents before she set it back down.

“Clean that mess, Flora,” she said with a chuckle. She rose to her feet and walked over to the table where she usually dealt poker. She was still chuckling as she opened a deck of cards and began a game of Maverick solitaire.

* * * * *

Kirby Pinter walked through the swinging doors and into the Saloon. He stood, just a few feet inside, surveying the room for Nancy. When he couldn’t find her, he walked over to the bar. “Excuse me,” he said to the barman.

“Hi,” R.J. greeted him. “What can I get for you?”

“Nothing at the moment; I’m… uh, looking for Nancy Osbourne.”

“She’s upstairs rehearsing.” R.J. glanced at the clock on the wall. “But they should be down for lunch any time now. You’re welcome t’wait.”

“Rehearsing?” I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“Nancy’s one of the Cactus Blossoms, our troupe of dancing girls. They’re upstairs learning a new number. I hear Nancy’s got a big part in it.” R.J. took a breath. “Can I get you something while you’re waiting?”

“A… A sarsaparilla , I suppose.” Kirby looked around, not sure what to do.

R.J. handed him the beverage. “If you like, you can sit over there with… her.” He pointed to Rosalyn, who was sitting demurely at a nearby table. “She’s waiting for Flora, one of the other dancers.”

“No… ah, thank you. I-I’ll just wait here, if you don’t mind.” Kirby recognized the woman. She was a customer of his, buying an occasional book. Still, he knew who – and what else – she was. And he didn’t want Nancy to jumping to any conclusions about why they were sitting together.

“Suit yourself.” R.J. went back to stocking the glasses under the bar, while Kirby studiously nursed his drink and tried, very hard, to consider what he was going to say. He hoped that R.J. had only been joking with him, about Nancy joining the Cactus Blossoms.

* * * * *

Flora set her plate from the Free Lunch down on the table and took a seat across from Rosalyn. “How are you today?” Rosalyn asked.

“Don't get me started,” Flora answered, taking a bite of Maggie’s spicy stew. “Molly’s had us upstairs all morning. She’s got these new dance steps we have to learn. Kicking as fast as a horse gallops. My leg muscles will burn for a week.”

“And I’m sure that you looked lovely practicing.” Rosalyn cut a piece from one of the herring on her plate and took a bite.

“Damned if I know. I hate the whole thing. I’m tired as all get out, and my feet hurt.”

“That doesn’t sound very good.” She took another bite and decided to change the subject. “How are you doing with the flirting? Has Mr. O’Toole said anything, yet?”

Flora frowned. “Yes, he asked me if I was faking it.”

“Whatever did you say to him?”

“I denied it, of course, but he didn’t seem to believe me. He warned that he’d be watching me, and, if I was faking, I’d regret it. I guess that b-bi… that Miss Jessie pulled something last year, and so he's blasted suspicious.”

“Good, if he’s making threats like that, then he doesn’t know for sure. He’s trying to scare you into behaving.”

“He can forget about that. I’ll be darned if I’m going to give in to him.”

Rosalyn clapped her hands. “Good for you.”

“Any suggestions on what else I can do to convince him?”

The blonde demimonde thought for a moment. “I’ve told you a fair bit about how to flirt with men. I think that you have to start acting feminine in other ways.”

“What do you mean?”

“I think he’s suspicious because you flirt like a girl, but you act like a man the rest of the time. You need to adopt more girlish behavior all day long. But it's really more about style -- movement, apparent attitude -- than anything you actually say or do. But there are things that will help with the effect; just don't overdo them. Try to giggle, rather than laugh, when you hear a joke. Talk about clothes – you might even ask to him to buy you some more things, and, if he agrees, get frilly, girlish things; earrings, perhaps.”

“That sounds like giving up.”

“A soldier… friend, I once had, sometimes talked about ‘tactical retreats for redeployment.’ I guess you'd know more about that than I would. The thing is, if you stopped flirting the way you have been, wouldn’t that be admitting that you were faking… and that you were stopping because you were afraid of Mr. O’Toole?”

“Those are my only choices?”

“I’m afraid that they are.”

“All right,” Flora said with a sigh. “What do I have to do?”

“I’ve told you already; act like a girl. Mostly, you can pull that off by acting cheerful, gracious. Do the sort of things that shows everybody that you’re a girl, a sweet, flirtatious girl, and you like being that way. I’m sure that you’ve seen woman who act like that.”

“I have,” Flora replied in a sour voice. “I have. I saw too much of one a while back.”

“Were you… attracted to her?”

“I must have been.” Flora looked down at her plate. “I'm wearing her face.”

“Hmm, I bet that there’s a story in that.”

“There is, but I’m not about to tell it now.” She sighed. “I have to start thinking about how to act like Vi… like the girl I’m supposed to be.”

* * * * *

“Kirby!” Nancy greeted him, as he came over to meet her at the foot of the steps. “What a pleasant surprise to see you today.”

He gave her a wry smile and a quick tilt of his head by way of a greeting. “You aren’t the only one to be surprised today, Nancy. I got a big surprise of my own.”

“Oh, really, what was it?” She smiled, a little taken aback at how pleased she was that he’d come over to share whatever his news was with her.

“The barman told me about your new job. I must say, I’m disappointed.”

“Disappointed?”

“Yes, I thought you said that you planned on quitting this… place; going back to teaching, perhaps, or, even better, coming to work with me.”

“I never said that – not in so many words, anyway. Besides that, I… I can n-never go back to teaching.”

“Why not? I should think that the town council would be most happy to rehire you.”

She shook her head. “If they could. Those… women made it very clear that they had no use for me – or for anyone who might rehire me.” She blinked away the beginnings of a tear and clenched her fists as if angry. “One… one – or more – of them wr-wrote my seminary back in… Hartford pretending to be the town council and s-saying that I… that I w-was… unfit! The school took away my credentials.”

“Nancy.” Kirby stared at her, saw that she was profoundly hurt but was too stubborn to admit it. She sniffed; the tears she was holding back were making her nose runny.

He pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her. “So you’re going to prove that they were right by parading around to music in a saloon?”

“No!” She jerked back and put her hands on her hips. “I’m going to prove that I don’t give… give a damn what those narrow-minded harridans think of me.” She studied his face, looking for any hint of support.

There was none to be found. He shook his head. “But to do something so extreme, so irrevocable; I don’t understand.”

She wiped her nose and then threw the kerchief back in his face. “That’s obvious. And I so wish that you did.” She hesitated, tempted to argue, to try and make him see her point of view. But it galled her so much that he couldn't see it on his own, so she only said, “Good day, Mister Pinter.” Then she turned and walked away.

He called after her, “Very well, Miss Osbourne; good day to you, as well. I regret that I seem to have misjudged your intentions.” He stuffed the cloth back in his pocket and stalked out of the Saloon.

She looked back and watched him leave, wishing she knew whether to be mad at Kirby for the way he had reacted or at herself for upsetting him.

* * * * *

Clyde Ritter walked briskly up the path to the schoolhouse. “With any luck,” he whispered to himself, “this’ll be over early, and we can get started tonight planning how we want to run this town.”

“What the hell?” His smile of anticipation faded as he rounded a turn. Men were carrying chairs out of the building and setting them up in rows near the picnic tables. A couple of other men were setting up a pole with a lantern attached.

He sprinted to the school, stopping in front of a tall, swarthy man who was carrying a chair under each arm. “What is going on here?” he demanded of the man.

“No hablo inglés,” the fellow answered, stepping around Clyde.

Luis Ortega walked out onto the schoolhouse steps. “Clyde, I thought I heard your voice. How are you?”

“Fine, Luis,” Clyde replied, feeling a bit uncertain. “Are these your men?”

Ortega smiled. “They are… from the ranch, mostly. The padre has spoken at every Mass this week of the meeting tonight and how important it is. In the store, I heard people talking about going, and I wondered if there would be room for us all. Would it not be such a shame if everyone who wanted to be at the meeting could not get in?”

“Uhh, yes, I-I guess it would.” Ritter frowned. ‘Damn it,’ he thought, ‘he knows we wanted to keep the Mex away.’

“Sì, I talked to Whit Whitmore, and he loaned me the key to the building. My men are setting up chairs, so the meeting can be held out here. That way, anyone who wants can listen and even speak.” He looked Clyde straight in the eyes. “Is that not a good idea?”

“C-Couldn’t be better,” Clyde replied, trying to keep the sourness he felt out of his voice.

* * * * *

Whit banged his gavel on the picnic table where the councilmen were seated, facing the crowd. “All right, folks. We all know why we’re all here tonight. The first item of Old Business is Reverend Yingling’s petition that control of Shamus O’Toole’s potion be given over to a committee that he wants to set up. Before the town council votes, we’re going to give everybody who wants to say something about that a chance to talk. All we’re asking – and I’m going to be firm in this – is that you all respect whoever’s speaking; no interruptions and no insults.”

“Is that understood?” He looked directly at Cecilia Ritter who was sitting at a nearby picnic table with her husband, Horace Styron, and a number of the women who’d been working with her.

Cecilia glowered back at him, a determined look on her face.

“Roscoe,” Whit continued. “You’ve had a lot to say about this in your paper. Would you like to start us off?”

The newsman stood up. “Thanks, Mr. Whitney, but no thanks. I’m here to cover this meeting for a story in the paper, not to be a part of that story.” He fidgeted for a moment before he took something out of his jacket pocket. “But if I did want to speak, well, I think this says everything I’d want to say.”

He held up a “Trust Shamus” ribbon, raising it over his head for all to see. After a minute or so, he lowered his hand, pinned the ribbon to his lapel, and sat down.

“Very nice,” Horace Styron rose to his feet, slowly clapping his hands as he spoke. “As nice a piece of politicking as I’ve seen in quite a while.”

“So is what you’re saying right now,” Arsenio said. “And I don’t remember Whit recognizing you to speak.”

Styron looked surprised. “Yes, but --”

“Arsenio’s right,” Whit said. “Please sit down, Horace.”

The blacksmith chuckled. “Oh, let him speak. We might as well get it over with.”

“Thank you, Arsenio,” Horace said wryly, “for that verbal vote of support.” He waited a half-beat for effect. “Some people are wearing ribbons that say, ‘Trust Shamus.’ To tell the truth, I do. I trust that I won’t get poisoned or go blind drinking his booze – or get sick from the food he serves. I’ll trust him that far, easy. But trust him with something as powerful as that potion of his? No, thank you. I’d rather trust it to the man I already trust with my immortal soul, Reverend Thaddeus Yingling.”

As he sat down, Cecilia and her ladies yelled, “Halleluiah!”

* * * * *

“As much as I respect Thad Yingling, as a man and as a minister,” Judge Humphreys said in a clear voice as he got to his feet, “I’m not sure what the point of this committee is. The town council doesn’t decide if Shamus’ brew is administered to someone. I do that – or, rather, I offer a convicted criminal the choice of the potion as part of a judicial process. There’s no resorting to a committee – except for the jury – as part of a trial, and the jury doesn’t decide the punishment. They just decide if a defendant is innocent or guilty.”

He took a breath. “Having said that, I will also say that I’d be willing to talk to an advisory committee that made suggestions about general procedures regarding the potion.”

* * * * *

“Oh, yes,” Cecelia Ritter began, “Mr. O’Toole’s foul concoction has saved some lives, but look at all the people who’ve been hurt by the careless way he deals with it.” She found Trisha in the crowd and pointed to her. “Those poor O’Hanlans, their happy marriage was destroyed because he foolishly allowed Patrick O’Hanlan to drink it. Kaitlin O’Hanlan lost her husband, and Emma O’Hanlan, her father. And our church has lost Patrick’s voice, his wisdom, as a member of the board.”

Kaitlin shook her head. “That pious hypocrite,” she whispered angrily to Trisha and Liam who both nodded in agreement. “She couldn’t wait to get Trisha off the board.”

“And that, I’m sorry to say, isn’t the only case,” Cecelia continued. “The Diaz boy – his mother does laundry – what became of his future because he trusted Shamus and drank that same foul mixture. You’ve all seen him -- her -- around town. She had to take over her mother’s business because the poor woman was so distressed about his change that she was almost killed by a runaway horse. Almost killed. Do we wait until someone is killed before we take that potion away from a man who clearly is unfit to be in charge of it?”

* * * * *

Whit looked out at the crowd. “The chair recognizes Luis Ortega.” He pointed his gavel, even as the man rose to his feet.

“I ask Reverend Yingling now what I asked before. If the town council created this committee of yours, who will be on it?”

Yingling stood up, a gracious smile curling his lips. “A fair question, Mr. Ortega. I assure you that I will appoint men to my committee who represent every important point of view in this community.”

“Every important point of view.” Luis nodded to the people – almost all Mexicans – who were clustered around him. “Thank you, Señor. That is what I thought you would say.”

* * * * *

“I’d like t’be asking a couple o’questions,” Shamus said, after Whit had recognized him. “First of all, what’re ye gonna be paying me for me potion?”

Whit looked surprised. “Pay? Shamus, you’ve never asked us for any money before. Why are you asking for some now?”

“The first time I brewed it up was t’be saving lives – including me Molly’s life and me own. After that, it was under the law, t’punish the man that took Laura, and then it was t’be saving a wee, injured lad. All fine and good, and no charge for it. But now… now ye’re talking about tying me t’some committee, and that’s a whole other matter. Well, if ye’re gonna be taking me potion like that, then I’ll be asking ye t’be paying me just like folks pay the Euler boys for what they brew.”

* * * * *

“Anybody else got anything to say?” Whit finally asked.

When a number of people raised their hands, Aaron added. “Anybody else got anything new to say?” The hands went down. “In that case,” Aaron went on. “I got something new to say. The Sages say fit the suit to the man, not the man to the suit, and I think that’s true here. I move to amend the motion to make the committee one that advises the council and the Judge – is that alright with you, Your Honor?”

“Sounds fine to me,” Humphrey shot back.

Aaron smiled and gave a small tip of his head towards the Judge. “Good, then that’s what I had to say.”

“Second!” Arsenio said almost at once.

“I agree,” Whit said. “The motion is changed. All in favor of the new motion?” He raised his hand.

Yingling jumped to his feet. “Wait a minute here. That isn’t what I asked for.”

“You don’t always get what you want, Thad,” Aaron said. “Aye.”

Arsenio nodded and raised his own hand. “Unanimous.”

“Before we move on, I have one other thing to do,” Whit said solemnly. “Reverend Yingling, I’m sorry, if you misunderstood, but you don’t appoint the committee. The town council created it, and we get to say who’s on it. You’ll be the chairman, of course, and to keep you company… Father de Castro, will you serve as vice-chairman?”

The priest smiled. “Sì, I am always happy for any opportunity to work with my good friend, the Reverend.”

“And to round things out,” Whit continued, “two men who worked so hard on this issue, Horace Styron and Luis Ortega – if you want the job.” Both men nodded, then turned each other. Horace glared at Ortega, while the other man gave him a most satisfied smile.

“That’s only four,” Yingling pointed out. “It should be an odd number to break ties.” He needed another man whom he could control.

Whit smiled slyly. “You’re right, of course. The fifth member of the committee will be the man who knows the potion best, Shamus O’Toole.”

* * * * *

Thursday, May 23, 1872

Molly opened the back door of the kitchen. “How’re ye coming with them spittoons, Lylah?”

“T-Terrible.” Lylah looked up from where she was sitting, a brass spittoon on her aproned lap. Tears ran down her cheeks.

Molly hurried out. “You’re crying up a blue streak, me girl. The work can't be as bad as all that. What’s the matter?”

“I-I don’t know. I feel like… hell. I’m bone tired. My feet hurt, and my corset… pinches, like it’s too tight all of a sudden.” She sighed. “It’s just too… damned much.” She shook her head, and sobbed.

The older woman sat down next to her on the step. As she did, she did some mental arithmetic. ‘Four weeks, it is on Monday,’ she thought. She gently patted Lylah on the shoulder. “Don’t ye be worrying. You’ll be feeling, well, different in a day or three.”

“Better?”

“Let’s just be saying different. I’ll be telling Flora and ye about it t’night. ‘Tis something ye both need t’hear.”

“What is it? Is it something serious?”

“I’ll tell ye tonight. ‘Tis easier t’be saying once it t’the both of ye, that’s all. Understand?”

“I suppose.”

“Feeling better?”

“No, I still feel lousy, and I still got these spittoons t’clean.”

“I can’t be doing nothing ‘bout that. Somebody’s got t’be cleaning ‘em.”

“Somebody’s making a mess of ‘em, too. All of a sudden there’s all kinds o’crazy stuff inside, food, dirt, all kinds o’things.” She showed Molly the spittoon she was working on.

“By all the Saints,” Molly exclaimed. “Is that coffee grounds in there?”

“It is. I think Bridget’s putting stuff in them spittoons on purpose.” Lylah made a sniffling noise. “You know how she hates Flora. I-I’m just getting caught in the crossfire b’tween ‘em. It… It ain’t fair.”

“No, no, it ain’t, and I’ll have t’be talking t’her about that.”

“Th-Thanks, Molly.” Lylah unexpected hugged Molly. She pulled free a moment later, her face flushed. “I-I’m sorry. I don’t know why I done that.”

Molly gave her a gentle smile. “I do. ‘Tis one o’the things I’ll be telling ye about t’night.”

* * * * *

Ernesto raced back and forth at the edge of the field where the older boys were playing ball.

“What’re you doing?” Abe Scudder taunted. “You ain’t in the game.”

Ernesto nodded but kept running. “No, but I should be.”

“A runt like you?” Scutter sneered. “They won’t even let me play, and I’m two grades ahead of you.” Only boys in grades five and up – and Emma – were allowed in the ball game.

“Runt! I am almost as tall as you, and I’m a better player than you will ever be.”

“You are not!”

“I am so. Look at me; I can run fast enough to keep up with the ones out on the field.”

“The heck you can. You can’t even run as fast as me.”

By now, a crowd had gathered around the two boys. “There’s no way a Mex mouse like you can beat Abe,” Basil Mackechnie scoffed.

“I can beat him easy. I can beat the both of you.”

Paula Frick pointed a finger. “You know that ain’t true, Ernesto. Both of them is faster ‘n you.”

“I can beat them – and you!” Ernesto was losing his temper. The boys’ taunts were bad enough, but Paula was a girl, even if she was the tomboy of the second grade.

“You willing t’back up them words?” Basil asked.

“I am!”

Abe smiled. “Fine. Recess is almost over, so tomorrow, soon as recess starts, we race from… from the foot o’the schoolhouse steps round the big oak…” He pointed to a tall oak tree at the far end of the field. The older boys used the tree to mark one of their game’s goal lines. “…round the oak and back to the steps. You in, runt, or are you chicken?”

“I am in, and when I win, I get a ride, once across the field, on the shoulders of each of you.”

Scudder gave a deep, nasty laugh. “And when we win, each of us gets two of them sweet fruit empanadas your mama makes.”

* * * * *

Shamus looked up at the sound of the knock on his office door. “Dolores,” he greeted his waitress. “What can I be doing for ye?”

“My cousin… Arnolda,” she answered, stepping through the half-opened door into the room.

“How is Arnie? Is she still working for her mother?”

“She is helping… some, but Teresa can’t pay her or anything. She-she needs a-another job.” Dolores said the last almost as a question.

Shamus studied her face. “Ye ain’t asking me t’be giving her one, are ye?”

“I – She is a good worker, you know that.”

“Aye, and I know what else she is -- a thief. She stole drinks and money both from me. She -- he -- even let a couple of dodgers get him involved in a robbery during working hours.”

“Sì, he did, but… I do not think that she will. Please, Señor Shamus, give her a chance.”

“I-I don’t know. She's had two chances already.”

“Please… at least, come and talk to her.”

Shamus sighed. “All right, Dolores, that much I’ll be giving her. If she hasn't learned a lesson by now, she never will. Tell her I’ll be coming over t’be seeing her sometime in the next couple days.”

“Thank you, Shamus.” She leaned in and kissed his cheek. “I will tell her.”

Shamus chuckled. “Tell her whatever ye want. Just don’t be telling me Molly that ye kissed me.”

* * * * *

Ysabel Diaz and Penny Stone were waiting for Emma at lunchtime. “C’mon,” Penny said, taking her arm. “We’re gonna eat lunch over here today.” Ysabel took her other arm, and they began to lead her away from the table where Yully, Stephan, and Tomas were already waiting for them.

“Just us girls, today” Ysabel told Stephan when he started to follow. Stephan nodded and headed back to the other boys, while Constanza Diaz hurried to join the three older females.

Emma looked confused, as they sat down at the empty table. “What’s going on?”

“That is what we want to know, Emma,” Ysabel replied.

Penny nodded. “Yes, what is it with you and ‘whiney Hermione’? Why are you letting her say all those nasty things about you?”

“Sì,” Ysabel asked, “why are you not fighting back? You never let her talk to you like that before.”

Emma looked down at the table, unable to look the others in the face. “Maybe I-I don’t wanna… fight with her anymore.”

“Why?” they asked with one voice.

Emma fought the tears filling her eyes. “I… ‘Cause – m-maybe – she’s-she’s… right.” Emma lost, and the tears ran down her face.

“Never!” Ysabel threw her arms around her friend.

Penny and Costanza joined in the hug. “Hermione wouldn’t be right if she said the sun was coming up in the east,” Penny added.

“M-Maybe not,” Emma said softly, “but maybe she’s right about me. I… I am a p-potion freak.” Like Trisha, though she didn’t mention her former father’s name. “I know you’re trying t’help me, but I-I ain’t worth it.”

“The heck you aren’t,” Penny shot back. “You’re worth a dozen Hermiones… easy. And-and me and Ysabel and Constanza are gonna keep hugging you till you get the idea, that you ain’t, clear outta your head.”

Emma gave them a sad smile. “It ain’t gonna work, but…” She stretched her arms out and around the others. “…but you’re welcome to try.”

* * * * *

“So what’s the verdict?” Laura asked, as Edith Lonnigan carefully helped her reposition her bedclothes to a much more modest arrangement.

Doc Upshaw pulled off his rubberized gloves. “There doesn’t seem to be any real change, Laura.” He stowed the gloves and his speculum into a small canvas bag marked “Used” before he went on. “You seem to be progressing as you should. Your weight gain is a bit high, but it’s still in the normal range for this stage of the pregnancy, and the baby appears healthy.”

“Can I go back to work, then?”

“I’d just as soon --” the physician began.

Laura slid around on the bed. “Doc, I’m fine. You just said so.” She sat up and shifted, putting her feet down on the rug.

Edith studied her patient’s determined expression. “Show us, then. Stand up and walk. Walk from… from the bed out to your sofa in the parlor.” The midwife pushed the door open. Arsenio was sitting, waiting, on the sofa, and he turned at the sound of the door.

“N-No problem.” Laura stood and began walking. She was unsteady and extended her arms on either side to help her balance. She began to smile as she took slow step after slow step.

She did get through the doorway, but her smile faded almost as she did. “Ooh,” she moaned and stumbled back against the wall.

“I’ve got you, Laura!” Arsenio yelled, running over to her. He scooped her up in his arms and carried her back into their bedroom. “Are you all right?” he asked, as he set her down on the bed.

“No, dammit!” she spat. “I-I thought I could make it to the settee.”

Upshaw shook his head. “It was a truly valiant effort, Laura, but I’m sorry – almost as sorry as you are – that you didn’t make it. I think another week of bed rest is called for.”

“Shit!” she replied, and the others all nodded in agreement.

* * * * *

Molly knocked on the door to Lylah and Flora’s room. “Can I be coming in for a wee bit, ladies?”

“Can we stop you?” Flora answered sourly.

Molly walked into the room, closing the door behind her. “No, but ye can be civil about it. I come up t’be talking to the both of ye about --”

“Can’t we get ten minutes to ourselves, to just rest up before we have to change into those da… darned dance costumes?” Flora demanded.

Lylah stepped in. “She’s here ‘cause I asked her to be here, Flora. Now shut up and listen.”

“You damned nigger, who’re you to tell me what to do?”

“I don’t want t’be hearing ye talking to her like that,” Molly said firmly. “Now, sit down and be quiet.”

Flora tried to argue, but no sound came. She sat down on her bed, looking daggers at both Molly and Lylah.

“I’d chalk what ye just said up t’what ye’re feeling right now, Flora, but ye’re always acting that way, and I’m more ‘n a little tired of it. If what I come up here t’say wasn’t so important, I’d be leaving ye here alone t’stew in yuir own juices.”

Lylah looked closely at Molly. “No, please… What-What is happening to us?”

“Ye’re women now, and every month, women… have… monthlies.”

The negress’ eyes grew wide. “Is that what’s happening t’me?

“Not just yet. What ye’re both feeling now is yuir bodies getting ready for yuir monthlies. It makes ye tired all the time. Yuir feet – and other things -- swell up and get real tender to t’the touch. The worst of it is that yuir mind goes acting funny. Ye want t’laugh or cry or argue at the drop of a hat.”

Flora grunted, still unable to speak. “All right,” Molly told her. “Ye can speak again, but only if ye’re gonna be polite, understood?”

“I understand,” Flora replied, looking contrite. “These… monthlies, are-are they messy?”

“Aye, why d’ye ask.”

“I used to tease my little sister, Priscilla, when she’d complain about something messy that happened to females. She called it her monthly visitor. When I asked her about it, she said it was something that no woman would ever talk to a man about.” She took a breath. “Priscilla did say -- once or twice -- that there was… blood.”

“Thuir is, and I’ll be showing ye how t’take care o’that closer to the start of it. In the meantime…” She looked at the watch pinned by a ribbon to her pocket. “…’tis 7:45, so ye’d best be changing clothes. I’ll talk to ye more when we get the chance.”

* * * * *

Friday, May 24, 1872

Abe Scudder was waiting at the foot of the steps when Ernesto walked out the schoolhouse door. Paula Frick and Basil Mackechnie were standing next to him. “You ready, runt?” Abe challenged.

“I am,” Ernesto answered as he started down the steps.

Basil laughed. “Then… ready, set, go!” The trio started running.

“That is not fair!” Ernesto yelled. He jumped down the rest of the steps and began chasing after them.

The other children stood watching the race, shouting encouragement. Even the older boys, waiting for the race to end before they started their own game, were shouting.

Ernesto pumped hard. He was about halfway across the field when he passed Basil Mackechnie. The older boy stumbled in surprise, when he was passed. He kept running, but he was going slower than he had before.

“Ex… cuse me… seño… rita,” Ernesto shouted breathlessly as he passed Paula Frick shortly after that.

She scowled and shifted, trying to bump into him, to knock him down. He dodged. She lost her balance and fell. “Dang you, Mex!” she yelled, as she picked herself up. She began running again, but Ernesto had a strong lead on her, now. He rounded the oak tree and headed back, giving her a wide berth as he passed her again, still on her way to the tree.

‘I got it,’ Abe Scudder told himself as he closed on the steps. ‘I got it. He’s nowhere near me.’ The older boy smiled confidently and kept running. But when he was only about twenty feet away from the steps, he broke stride for a moment and looked back over his left shoulder.

As he did, Ernesto passed him.

Abe growled and put on a final burst of speed. It wasn’t quite enough. He saw Ernesto’s hand touch the handrail a few seconds before his did.

A crowd gathered around the pair of runners, congratulating them both. Paula and then Basil reached the steps and began to push their way through the crowd.

“You ran me a good race,” Ernesto said, extending his hand to the Scudder boy.

Abe looked fiercely at his opponent. “You cheated, you damned runt.”

“He tripped me,” Paula added, stepping up next to him. “You all saw him do it.”

Basil sneered. “He doesn't care about the rules, just like his outlaw mama!”

“Who are you calling an outlaw?” Ernesto snarled.

“Your mama's an outlaw,” Abe taunted. “That's why she got turned into a girl with the rest o’the Hanks gang when they come t’town t’kill the sheriff.”

“Look at his face!” Paula called out. “He didn’t even know! Potion freak! Potion freak! Your mama's a outlaw potion freak!”

“That… that is not true. My mama is none of those things.” Ernesto raised a fist. “You two take it back.”

“Make me.” The Scudder boy moved in close, towering over Ernesto. “You Mexican flea.” Ernesto was forced to take a step backwards.

The younger boy looked up at his tormenter. “I will.” He pushed Abe hard, causing the boy to lurch backwards. He waved his arms for a moment, just managing to keep his balance.

“You lousy...” Abe charged the Ernesto. They grappled, throwing wild punches. The crowd gathered in closer, watching the fight, cheering for one boy or the other.

“What is going on?”

The crowd parted as Phillipia Stone bustled over to the two combatants. “Yully, Stephan, help me,” she ordered.

“Yes, Ma,” Yully answered. “I’ll take Ernesto. Stephan, you grab Abe.” The older boys waded in, pulling the pair apart. They squirmed, trying to break free and continue the fighting.

Phillipia stepped between them. “What is going on here?” she demanded.

“We was racing,” Abe answered, “And he cheated. He tripped Paula, too. When I called him on it, he started hitting me.”

“That’s what happened,” Paula added. “Look at my pretty dress.” As she did, Basil Meckechnie slipped away, trying to look like just another student.

Ernesto glared. “Mentirosos! [Liars!] I won the race fair, Mrs. Stone, and they called my mama an outlaw and a potion freak.” He pointed at Abe. “I said that she was not, and he hit me.”

“I think that recess is over for the three of you,” the teacher told them. “You can go inside now. I think you’ll be having lunch inside today, and for next week, as well.” She thought for a moment. “Paula, I think that your mother will have her own ideas about what to do when she sees your dress.”

The girl looked down at her clothes and tried to brush off the dirt from where she had hit the ground. “Oh, no,” she whined, remembering her mother’s warnings about what would happen if she came home from school again in a dress as dirty as her dress was now.

“As for you boys,” Phillipia went on. “I’ll be sending notes home for your parents. Notes that I will expect to get back tomorrow with parental signatures.”

The trio started for the schoolhouse. Paula worried about her mother’s reaction. Abe began to plot revenge. Ernesto was thinking of what had been said about his mama.

* * * * *

“Well now,” Molly said, looking over at Shamus. “What’s got ye looking out into thin air like that?”

Shamus blinked, as if surprised to be spoken to. “T’be telling the truth, Molly Love, I’ve been thinking about something Dolores said t’me.”

“And what would that be?”

“Arnie… now that Teresa’s healed up, there really ain’t no job for him – her – at the laundry. Dolores has been asking me if I’d be willing t’take her back.”

“Give her another chance, ye mean? And what do ye think about it?”

“I’ve given her more chances already than a lot o’folks’d say she deserves. She lied… and she stole from me.” He sighed. “On the other hand, we are needing more help. Laura’ll be out for who knows how long. Flora and Lylah’re busy dancing at night – and Nancy will be, too, soon enough. That'll bring back the customers, which means we need waitresses.”

“Then, too, it was Arnie, the boy, who did them things. We don’t know about Arnie, the girl. Thuir ain’t a one o’them others that drank yuir potion that wasn’t the better for it. Maybe ‘tis the same for her.”

“And maybe, ye’re saying, I should be giving her a chance t’prove it.”

Molly gave him a sweet smile. “Well, Love, ye did say that ye did tell Arnie that ye wouldn’t be hiring him back until he changed his ways. Can ye be thinking of a bigger change than what happened t’him?”

“No, Molly, ye’ve got me on that one. I think I’ll just be heading over t’talk her tomorrow about working for me again.”

“It’d be nice t’be having a busboy – girl – again, Love, but what we’re truly needing is a waitress. Which o’them are ye going t’be hiring?”

“I ain’t sure that I’m hiring Arnie at all. If I do, we’ll just see what she wants t’be hired as.”

* * * * *

Martha Yingling walked quietly into her husband’s study. “Would you like some iced tea, Thad?” She was carrying a tray that held a pitcher and two glasses.

“What – oh, Martha,” he said, looking up from the papers on his desk. “Did you want something?”

She smiled indulgently. He was lost in his work again. “I thought you might be thirsty,” she answered. “You’ve been working furiously in here all day.” She set the tray down on an oak sideboard and poured him a glass of iced tea.

“Thank you, my dear.” He took the glass from her and drank. “Ahh… very nice.”

“You’re welcome.” She poured some for herself and sat down. “Whatever are you working on?”

“My sermon for Sunday needs to be completely rewritten. I had planned a short piece, thanking the congregation for their help and support with my petition. After what happened at the council meeting…” His expression soured. “…that hardly seems appropriate.”

“Why not? The town council passed your resolution. You have your committee.”

“I have a committee,” he spat, “but not only does it not have charge of O’Toole’s wretched potion – which is what I wanted – most of the members are people I do not control, people who are likely to oppose me.”

“The majority; surely you’re not including Diego de Castro?”

“I am. He’s a good man, I’ll admit, but I’ve spoken to him about the potion. He doesn’t see the implicit danger in it, and he most certainly doesn’t have my zeal for wresting control of it from O’Toole.”

“Thad… to tell the truth, I’m not sure that I understand why you are so concerned about Mr. O’Toole’s potion in the first place.”

He frowned. “Do you doubt me, Martha?” There was anger, not hurt, in his voice.

“No, I…” She reached across his desk and gently took his hand in her own. “It’s just that I’ve never seen you so… so driven before -- about anything -- the way you are about this.”

“I’m sorry that you – that so many in this town – do not fully grasp the reasons for my concern. That’s why I’ve been working so hard on this sermon. The people have to know – they have to fear -- the potion as I do. I must lead you – and them – to see what I see. I… We cannot let the council’s action to stand. I mean to lead my congregation to force the council to reverse their actions, to make them give me the power needed to deal with that foul concoction.”

A look of surprise and concern flashed across Martha’s face, only to fade away as quickly as it had appeared. “I’ll leave you to it, then.” She let go of his hand and rose to her feet. “I’ll leave the iced tea, as well.”

“Thank you, my dear,” he replied, not noticing her expression. “I’ll see you and the children at supper.” He went back to his work, scribbling away, before she closed the door behind her.

* * * * *

“Hola, Mama… Lupe… Tia Jane,” Ernesto said flatly as he walked into the Saloon’s kitchen.

Maggie smiled at him, but then she saw his angry expression. “Ernesto, what is the matter?”

“I… This.” He pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to her.

Maggie glanced at the words, then looked over at Jane with an urgent “I need to be alone with him”

“C’mon, Lupe,” Jane said, taking the girl’s hand. “I think your mama wants t’ talk to your brother without you ‘n’ me here listening.”

“But I want to stay and see what is in the note and what is gonna happen to Ernesto,” Lupe protested.

Jane shook her head. “No, you don’t.” She grasped the girl’s hand more firmly and led her from the room.

“Thank you,” Maggie whispered, as she opened the paper and began to read more carefully.

` “My Dear Mrs. de Aguilar,”

` “I am sorry to inform you that your son, Ernesto, was in a fist
` fight with another boy, Abraham Scudder. The boys, and
` several other students, had some sort of race. Ernesto won,
` and Abraham said something that started the fight. I have
` punished both boys by taking away their recess and outside
` lunch privileges for the next week, but you, of course, are free
` to give any additional punishment you deem appropriate. If
` you wish, I shall be happy to discuss this matter with you.”

` “Please sign this note and give back it to Ernesto. He is to
` bring it to school tomorrow, so I will know that you’ve seen it.”

` “Yours truly,
` Phillipa Stone”

“Ernesto!” Maggie said. “Why were you fighting with this boy?”

“He started it, Mama. He said…” He voice trailed off.

“What, Ernesto, what did he say that was so bad that you had to get into a fight with him?”

“He… He called you an outlaw. Then Paula called you a ‘potion freak’, Mama. I wanted to punch her, too, but she is a girl.”

Maggie shook her head resignedly and started to explain very carefully. “Ernesto, you know that I took the potion. That is how I got to be your Mama.”

“Did… Did you take it because you wanted to be my Mama, or was it a… punishment?”

“What did that boy tell you?”

“He said that you came to Eerie to kill the sheriff, but they caught you and the other outlaws, and they made you all drink the potion.” He studied her face. “Is that what really happened?”

Maggie sighed, trying to think of what she could say. “Ernesto… I --”

“It is true!” Ernesto shouted, hoping that she'd deny it.

Maggie began slowly. “There are things that are hard to tell to children…”

“You… You lied to me – to Lupe and me. You were an outlaw! You did not drink that potion because you wanted us to live with you.”

“I wanted you. I swear by the Madonna that I wanted you.”

She knelt down to hug him, but he wriggled free. “No!” he screamed, tears flowing down his cheeks. “Liar! I-I hate you! Everybody at school knew you were an outlaw except me!” He bolted for the back door and ran off.

“Ernesto!” Maggie rushed after him, but, by the time she reached the open door, there was no clue to where he had gone. She sank back against the door post, misery writ large on her face.

Jane peeked in from the barroom. “Everything all right?” She saw Maggie, still leaning against the back doorway and hurried over to her. Lupe followed in her wake. “What happened?” Jane asked, putting her arm around Maggie. “Where’s Ernesto?”

“He… r-ran away,” Maggie replied. “The children at school told him I was… He-He hates m-me.” She choked on a sob.

Lupe took her mother’s hand. “Mama?” she said softly.

“Lupe!” Maggie squatted down and pulled her daughter into her arms. “If - If I did something bad a long time ago, you would not hate me now, would you?”

Lupe shook her head. “Oh, no, Mama. I could never hate you.”

Maggie hugged the girl fiercely. “I… Oh, Lupe… Lupe, thank you. Thank you.” She kissed her forehead. The child looked confused – and just a little scared.

“Did you do something bad, Mama? Did it make Ernesto mad?”

“I think this here’s just some kinda little mix-up between you ‘n’ Ernesto,” Jane said gently. “You’ll see; it’ll blow over in no time at all.”

Maggie looked up at her friend. “I knew this day would come, but I thought it would be years from now. He is still so young.”

“I ain’t sure what day has come. For now, why don’t you go upstairs and lie down in your old room for a bit? Later on, you can tell me all about it.”

“But… the restaurant. Who will cook for the customers?”

“I think I can manage for a while,” Jane told her. “Me ‘n’ my helper.” She put her hand on Lupe’s shoulder. “Ain’t that right… helper?”

The girl’s expression changed from concern to a wide grin. “Oh, yes, Tia Jane. We will do just fine.”

* * * * *

Bridget glanced up at the clock. ‘It’s almost five,’ she thought. ‘How long’ve I been…’ She thought for a moment. ‘Since just after four; I’ve been playing this one hand of solitaire for close to an hour. What the hell am I doing, taking so –‘

“What?” She lost track of what she’d been thinking when, out of the corner of her eye, she saw someone come in. She began to smile until she recognized the man as only Matt Royce.

Only? Matt was one of her regular players, a friend who sometimes even gave her a tip when he’d had a good night. ‘Why’d I say only?’ she chided herself.

“‘Cause he’s not Cap.” She smiled at her answer. “That’s why I’m taking so long. I keep looking up to see if Cap’s come in.”

Her smile grew broader. “I-I’m not afraid of seeing him anymore.” She felt her body tingle. “In fact…” She giggled softly. “I-I think I’m looking forward to… seeing him.” She nodded happily and began to gather in the cards. If Matt was here, other players would be along shortly. Yes, she saw Sam Braddock walk in, carrying his carpenter’s toolbox.

“Best get ready to deal some cards,” she whispered to herself. She was just about ready to start playing poker again. Maybe even better, she felt like she was almost ready for some other things, as well.

* * * * *

Lupe came back into the kitchen. “You were right, Tia Jane. Ernesto is over at Zayde Silverman’s store. Uncle Ramon said that he will bring him back when he comes over for supper.”

“Thanks, Lupe,” Jane said. “Now put your apron on and start peeling those carrots.”

“Should I go upstairs and tell Mama, first?”

“Nah, let her rest a while. We’ll tell her when she comes down.”

* * * * *

Ramon watched Maggie slip on her nightgown. He shook his head, seeing her forlorn expression reflected in the dressing table mirror. “Margarita,” he said, stepping up behind her. “You have been so quiet all evening.” He put his arms around her waist and gently kissed her bared shoulder.

“Please… please, Ramon; I… I… not tonight.” He heard her voice break, as she moved away from him.

He closed the distance between them again. “So, you would deny me, your husband.”

“Ramon!” She spun around to face him, her eyes moist and reflective in the lamplight. “How can you say something like that?”

“Because I meant every word of it. I am your husband, and it is my right – and my duty – to comfort you when you are feeling so hurt.” He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close, and kissed her tenderly on her forehead. “The way you feel tonight.”

“Oh… Ramon.” She sobbed, tears running down her face. Her head rested on his chest. “Ernesto… you saw the way he acted at supper. He… he hates me.”

He gently stroked her hair. “He is being foolish. We both know how much you love him.” He chuckled. “If you had not loved him and Lupe as much as you do, you and I, we would have been together so much sooner.”

“Do you hate me for that, for how long I took to realize that I-I love you?”

“No, you are more than worth the wait.” He kissed her forehead again. “I just wish I knew what it is that has him so angry with you.”

“Someone -- a child at the school, I think – told him the truth about me, that I became a woman as… as a punishment for my crimes and not because I loved him and Lupe.”

“I was the one who told them that… lie; long ago when I was first bringing them to Eerie. He should be mad at me, not you.”

“No, the lie that you told was about me, and I accepted it -- I lived it until he found out the truth.” Her eyes began to glisten with more tears.

“Until he was told the truth,” Ramon replied. “And whoever told him did so out of anger. It may be that he is madder about how he found out than about the lie itself.”

“Poor Ernesto, that someone should be so cruel to him.”

“He is proud, and that pride has been hurt. I will talk to him tomorrow. I would have done so at the store, except he would not tell anyone what was bothering him.”

She sighed, feeling a weight slide off her shoulders. “Thank you, Ramon. Thank you so much.” She reached up and put her hand on his arm.

“My pleasure,” Ramon replied. “And speaking of pleasure…” He kissed her neck.

Maggie trembled. She enjoyed the attention, but, somehow, she… couldn’t. “Ramon, I-I still…” her voice trailed off, as she started to cry, this time in relief.

“The pleasure of lying next to the woman I love is enough.” Ramon spoke softly, reassuring her. “My arm around her waist, her hand in mine, and her head resting on my chest.” He led her to their bed and helped her settle in before he turned down the lamp.

He lay in the dark, enjoying the feel of her body against his. She cried for just a little longer, before she finally drifted off to sleep.

* * * * *

Emma blinked and looked around. She was standing in the classroom – no, in the church. It was rigged up for the church. ‘Must be Sunday,’ she thought, ‘but what am I…’

“Are you okay, Emma?”

She turned. Yully was standing next to her. He looked… older, all grown up, and wearing a fancy suit – so handsome! She looked down at herself. She was in a flowing white dress – a gown – and she… she was older, too. Her body was rounder, more mature, with breasts that were almost as big as Trisha’s.

“Dearly beloved,” Reverend Yingling began.

Emma’s eyes went wide. ‘It-It’s my wedding.’ She didn’t understand what was happening, but she realized it wasn't a bad thing. She was marrying Yully. That was good, wasn't it? Her breasts tingled, and she sighed softly, enjoying the sensation. ‘My wedding!’

Then she felt something else, a sharp pain in her stomach. She looked down. Her abdomen was expanding, even as she watched. The bulge grew and grew until it looked like she had a watermelon stuffed under her now much looser dress.

She glanced around in desperation. Yully was staring down at her belly now, and he looked angry. “Let’s just get this over with,” he muttered.

She knew, somehow she knew. He’d gotten her pregnant somehow, and now he was marrying her, not out of love, but because he had to.

The pain came back, sharper this time. She gasped and stumbled back. She felt a wetness flow down between her legs, as Yully carefully lowered to the floor.

“Somebody get the Doc,” Yully yelled. “The damned slut’s having her baby!”

Emma sat up with a gasp. She was alone and in her bed. Her figure was that of the young girl she still was. She wasn’t pregnant… like Trisha.

‘Is that what’s gonna happen to me?’ she asked herself. ‘Like it happened to Trisha?’ She wanted to be like her mother, not like Trisha. Her eyes filled with tears. She sank back onto the pillow, hugging herself, and far too scared to let herself fall asleep.

* * * * *

Saturday, May 25, 1872

Flora sat on the back steps of the Saloon, scrubbing a spittoon. “Dammit, these things are a pain in the ass to do, even without Bridget making them worse.” She dumped some liquid out of the spittoon and over the side of the steps.

“Rowrrr!” came a squeal from below. Flora leaned over and looked down in time to see a dark shape scramble under the porch. A second, smaller, gray shape lay there, dazed and soaked with the foul mixture.

She set the spittoon down and jumped down next to the animal. “A kitten,” she said, picking it up, “maybe a month old.” It stared up at her, too confused to try to escape.

“You are a real mess,” she observed. “I wonder if your momma’ll even take you back.” She was about to drop the animal, when a thought occurred to her.

She remembered Rosalyn’s advice. ‘You need to adapt more girlish behavior,’ the woman had said. “And what could be more ‘girlish’ than people seeing me cuddle up to you… Sweetums?”

She didn't quite have this girl stuff down pat yet, but she'd try her best. “Look what I found,” she called out, running up the stairs and into the kitchen.

Lylah was at the sink, scrubbing the frying pan Maggie had used to cook breakfast. “A rat?”

“No,” Maggie answered for Flora. “A gato… a cat, a wet, smelly kitten.”

Flora smiled sweetly. “I… uh, dumped some stuff from a spittoon on the poor, little thing.” She looked at Lylah. “Work the pump for a minute… please.”

“Uh, okay.” Lylah pumped the handle a few times, and water poured out.

Flora held the kitten under the flow, turning it this way and that to rise off the grime. It didn't like the cold water at all! Once it was clean, though, Flora quickly wrapped the terrified animal in a dishcloth and dried it. “Her name is Sweetums,” she cooed, “I think I'm going to keep it.”

Lylah blinked, uncertain what to say. “Are you crazy?”

“Why? Have you got something against cats?” the blonde asked.

Lylah shrugged. “I can take them or leave them.”

Flora shook her head. “You just don't have a heart, that's all.”

“Now what’re ye gonna do with a kitten?” a bemused Molly asked.

Flora clutched Sweetums to her. “She’s so cute. I-I’m gonna keep her up in my room and… and she'll catch mice when she's bigger. This place is full of mice! I can't stand those creepy, crawling things!” She shivered. “You never said we couldn’t have pets, Molly. Can I keep it… please?”

“I suppose,” the older woman said. “We ain't had no cat around here since old Tiger ran off last spring. But ‘tis yuir responsibility t’be taking care of it and cleaning up after it. Are you willing t’be doing that?”

Flora nodded enthusiastically, maybe too enthusiastically, but she wasn’t going to stop the charade now. “Cats can be trained to use a sandbox indoors.” She glanced at the kitten. “It will be purrrrrfect.”

“Then ye’ve got yuirself a kitten.”

* * * * *

Teresa Diaz opened her front door to see, “Señor Shamus… what can I do for you today?”

“For starters, ye can be letting me in,” he told her, a smile on his face.

She stepped back, and he walked in. “Thanks,” he said. “Seeing as I was coming over here anyway, me Molly asked me t’be bringing ye this.” He held up a pillowcase, tied with string and stuffed full. “She said ye can be returning it with the rest o’the laundry on Wednesday.”

“Wednesday, O’Toole.” She pulled a label from her apron pocket, wrote the information on it, and pinned it to the bundle. “Now, why else did you come here?”

He glanced around the room. He and Teresa were the only ones in it. “I wanted t’be talking to Arnie. Is she anywhere about?”

“She is out back, helping to set up for the washing. I will get her.” Teresa set the pillowcase down on a table covered with other bundles and hurried out the back door.

Arnie came in almost at once, wiping her hands on her brown work pants. “Mama said you wanted to see me, Señor Shamus.”

“That I did,” Shamus replied. He noticed that Teresa hadn’t come back with her daughter. “Ye’re looking well, Arnie. How’s it been with ye?”

Arnie shrugged. “Well enough, I suppose. And you?”

“Tolerable… tolerable. I hear ye’ve been working hard, helping yuir mama.”

“I – She was hurt because of me. I had to be there, to take over for her.”

“Ye’re a good lass, Arnie, and I know what a good worker ye can be… when ye want to.”

Arnie winced to have her old boss call her a “good lass,” but she said only, “Yes… yes, you do know what a hard worker I am!”

“I said that I did, didn’t I? Are ye still working for her? She looks more’n up and about now.”

“I… help out. Mama does most of the work – just like before. We all help some, though.”

“Would ye be interested in coming back t’be working for me again?”

She challenged him eye to eye. “Are you sure that you can trust me?”

“No, but I’m willing t’be giving ye a chance – a last chance – t’prove that I can trust ye.”

“Are you, or is this some sort of trick?”

He shook his head. “It ain’t no trick. If I’m saying that I want t’be giving ye a chance, then I do.” He chuckled. “In fact, I’m thinking that ye already made a good start at proving yuirself.”

“Oh, and how did I do that?”

“When ye had that – ah, that last drink at me place, the one ye thought would be putting ye t’sleep, ye left money t’pay for it. It was the middle o’the night, and ye was the only one in the place. Ye could’ve hidden that glass easy, but ye paid.” Shamus nodded and gave him a quick wink. “I call that honest, and an honest lass deserves another chance.”

Though she still didn't like being called a lass, Arnie had to smile. After being called a liar and chased away by Clara and Mrs. Spaulding, it felt good to be praised for honesty. Her father had sometimes said, 'When the devil slams the door to an honest man, el Señor [the Lord] will open a window.' “Okay, Shamus, you’ve got yourself a busboy – busgirl – cualquiera… whatever.”

“If that’s what ye want t’be hired as…” Shamus teased.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m more than willing t’be hiring ye for your old job as busboy at six dollars a week. Or ye can be me waitress at nine a week. Thuir’s just one wee catch, though.”

“A catch… what?”

“I don’t care what a busboy’s wearing on the job, but a waitress… she wears a dress – or a blouse ‘n’ a skirt.”

The girl's nose wrinkled. “E-Every day?”

“Every day.” He studied her expression. “I’ll tell ye what. I’ll be hiring ye, starting at noon on Monday. If ye’re showing up in pants, then ‘tis a busboy I’ve hired. If ye’re in a dress, then ‘tis a waitress. It’ll be yuir choice.” He held out his hand. “Agreed?”

Arnie took it. “Fair enough, Shamus. And thank you for the second chance.”

“Third chance, if ye’re really counting – maybe even fourth chance.” He winked. “And I’ll be seeing ye Monday.”

* * * * *

“Aaron,” Ramon said, “do you mind if I go see Ernesto for a bit?”

Aaron shrugged. “Right now, Ramon, we got more time than we got customers. Just don’t take too long; ‘cause we do get customers sometimes, you know.”

“Only too well.” Ramon went through the curtains into the back of the store. He headed through the maze of shelves to the small area set up for Ernesto.

The boy was looking at a leather goods catalog, but he put it down as he heard the sound of Ramon’s footsteps. “Hola, Uncle Ramon.”

“How are you doing back here?” Ramon asked.

Ernesto held up the catalog. “I am looking at this book, like Zayde asked. Can I go out front for a while to help? I want to do that.”

“Later, perhaps.” Ramon sat down across the table from the boy. “Right now I want to talk to you.” He waited a beat. “You know, you hurt your mama very much.”

“So? She hurt me, too. She lied to me, Uncle Ramon. Everybody knew about her, and they were all laughing at me.”

I lied to you, Ernesto. I was the one who told you and Lupe that she drank the potion because she wanted to be your mother. Margarita just went along with my lie.”

Ernesto frowned, remembering that day last summer. What he said was true. “But why? Why did she not tell us the truth?” He looked ready to cry.

“Maybe… Maybe she was ashamed of the truth, and she was afraid of what you would think if you knew how wrong she had acted.”

“Wrong; wrong about what?”

“Your mama spent a year in jail for something that she did not do, and when they found out she was innocent, they almost didn’t let her out, anyway. She was mad, so, when Will Hanks offered her a chance for some easy money, she did not ask many questions. By the time she found out how bad Hanks was, it was too late. Sì, she got the potion along with the others, but she was not going to help them kill the sheriff.”


How do you know that?”

“I know because she told me, and I believe her.”

“Why should I believe her – or you?”

“You should believe her because she is your mama. As for me, I thought that we were… hermanos.”

“My Mama lied to me once. Why should I believe her now?” Ernesto took a breath. “And you, you are not my hermano... my brother. You are not my father, either, so stop acting like you are.” He stood up and started for the front of the store.

Ramon grabbed him around the waist and lifted him up. He carried the boy back to the chair and forcibly set him down in it. “No, I am not your father, but I am in charge of you right now. You will stay here and behave yourself or I will tie you to that chair. Understand?”

“Sì, I understand, Señor de Aguilar.”

Ramon started back to work. “No, you don’t, Ernesto,” he sighed, “and I am so very sorry about that.”

* * * * *

Matt Royce raked in his winnings from the last hand, while Bridget gathered the cards back into the deck. “How ‘bout we get us some beers before the next hand?” he asked.

“You buying?” Sam Braddock inquired

Royce looked at the money piled up before him. “I’m ordering, Sam, but thanks to your lousy poker skills, you, Cap, and Joe are paying for it.”

“Let me get a waitress,” Bridget told the men. She raised an arm and waved to get Flora’s attention.

“Yes, Miss Bridget,” Flora said, curtseying as she reached the table.

Joe Ortleib ordered, “A pitcher for the table, Flora, and… five glasses.”

“Yes, sir.” She curtseyed again and hurried off.

Cap laughed. “What was all that curtseying about?”

“That was for me,” Bridget explained. “She was rude to Jessie and me right after she changed, so Molly ordered her to curtsey to us both and to call us ‘Miss Bridget’ and ‘Miss Jessie’ for the day. Flora didn’t learn her lesson, and so, last week, Molly said that she had to do it from then on.”

Joe gave a hearty laugh. “I’ll bet she just hates that.”

“Who cares?” Bridget replied. “It’s what she deserves. I don’t know about Jessie, but I’ve decided to make her time here ‘hard time’ any – and every -- way I can. I think Jess agrees. I know Wilma does.”

Cap gave her an odd look. “That doesn’t sound like you, Bridget.”

“After what she did to me? She almost got me killed during the War, and then she comes here and rapes me. Anything I can do by way of payback is fair game, as far as I’m concerned.” Bridget looked out of the corners of her eyes to see how her companions were reacting. There seemed to be no reaction, except, perhaps sympathy. She didn't want that, and her cheeks warmed with shame.

Cap touched her arm. “If you humiliate a person, it can be worse than a punch to the breadbasket. What's happened between the two of you is ugly, and it sounds like it's all been Flora's fault. But this is only pouring salt on a raw wound. It can only build up more and worse trouble between the two of you for the future.”

“What? Do you expect me to forgive her? Has she ever asked to be forgiven for the least little thing?”

“Not as far as I know,” Cap admitted.

“Then let me handle my own business my own way,” Bridget told him sharply. “Anyway, I'm going to find a way to settle this once and for all. Sooner or later I'll find a way.”

She glanced over and saw Flora returning with the order. “Now, hush. I don’t want her to get any idea what we were talking about.”

“Whatever you say, Bridget,” Sam said.

Flora put the tray on the table and handed out the glasses. Matt paid, and she curtseyed again before she left. Cap noticed the rage smoldering in the waitress' eyes. What would happen in a few weeks, he wondered, when Flora was let loose to plot a revenge of her own?

Everyone, including Bridget, poured themselves a beer. Bridget took a small sip. She planned to nurse this glass for much of the evening. “Five card draw?” she asked her players. When the men nodded, she began to deal.

No one said a word, but everyone -- especially Cap – was wondering about this vengeful side of Bridget that they’d never really seen before.

* * * * *

“Bear!” Jubal Cates yelled, pointing over Emma’s shoulder.

She just stared at him. “What’d you say, Mr. Cates?”

“I said there was a bear behind you,” he said calmly. “Don’t worry, I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. You’ve been distracted all day.”

“I… I’m sorry. I-I just have something on my mind today.”

“It’s not your… time, is it?”

Emma felt a warm blush run across her face. “Oh, oh, no, sir.” She suddenly remembered that horrible dream. “It’s… I didn’t get a good night’s sleep last night, I guess.”

“I’d say that was a sign of a guilty conscience, but you’re too good a girl – and too young – to have anything to feel that guilty about.” He paused a half beat. “Still, if it’s anything I can help you with, you let me know. I need that sharp mind of yours.”

“Sir?” It was the first time he’d complimented her like that.

He smiled. “You have a sharp mind, Emma. That’s why I hired you. That, and you’re willing to do the hard work I need done. I’m gonna need both when we start on the Sanborn contract.”

“What’s that? I don’t know anybody named Sanborn hereabouts.”

“That’s ‘cause they’re not hereabouts. The Sanborn National Insurance Diagram Bureau is in New York City. They produce special town maps for insurance companies. I worked with Dan Sanborn when he surveyed Boston, and he gave me the contract to do one for Eerie.”

“Where is it?”

“I just told you, I haven’t started it yet. I was waiting till you were all trained up and done with school. You, little lady, are going to be assistant surveyor on the project.” He chuckled. “If you can keep your mind from wandering the way it did today, that is.”

Emma smiled broadly. Mr. Cates didn’t think she was a fool – or a slut. Maybe, if she heard it enough times, she wouldn’t think so, either. “It won’t, sir. I swear it won’t.” She impulsively hugged him. “And thank you, thank you so much for the chance.”

“You’re welcome, Emma.” He pulled free. “But I’ve already got a wife, and hugging me is her job.”

“No, sir; I-I didn’t mean nothing by it. I was just excited.”

“I can understand that, I suppose. The Sanborn map will be kind of an adventure. But right now, we’ve got another ‘adventure,’ measuring out Hiram King’s property line. So, let’s get started on that.”

* * * * *

“Well, now, Mr. Carl Osbourne,” Flora said, staring up at the ranch hand, “you come to bother me again?”

Carl shook his head. “No, I figure I’ve done enough of that.” He offered her his hand. “I was just hankering to dance with you.”

“A truce, then?” She took his hand and stood up. “Very well; we'll see if you're a man of your word.”

He handed her his ticket and led her onto Shamus’ dance floor. “Thank you.” The band struck up a waltz, and they began dancing.

‘Mmm,’ Flora thought. Her tits had been sensitive all day, and, somehow, it felt so good to have them pressed against Carl’s chest. A pleasant warmth flowed through her as their bodies moved to the music. It was like… it was a little like being in that bath again, touching herself, and as soon as that thought came to her, the warmth started moving down to between her legs.

She moaned softly.

“What?” Carl asked.

“Nothing. I had a miserable day and this is the first thing that actually feels good,” Flora replied. ‘Molly said this monthlies thing’d get me acting funny,' she thought. ‘I don’t like dancing with a man, but this time it does feel good!’

* * * * *

“I surely does like dancing with you, Lylah,” Hammy Lincoln said in the middle of their polka.

She looked up at his dark, smiling face. “You’re a nice man, Hammy.” She meant it. They’d become friends of a sort. But tonight… something seemed different about him. His smile was warmer. And, when he held her, her body kind of… tingled where he touched her.

And she… she kind of liked it.

* * * * *

“I love the way your body moves to the music,” Clyde Ritter told Flora as they waltzed.

She pressed in close. “Thank you, Clyde. You’re very sweet.” The feelings Carl had first aroused in her had never gone away completely, and Ritter’s roving hands were adding fuel to the fire.

“I mean it. The only thing I enjoy more than watching you dancing that ‘Captain Jinks’ thing is when I get to hold you like this.”

“Then maybe you'll like the new dance we're rehearsing. Molly says we'll soon have new outfits.
Scandalous dancehall rigs.” She tried to blush with modesty, while still teasing him with her eyes.

Her partner smiled broadly. “A little scandal in the right places doesn't bother me at all.” As Ritter spoke, his hand snaked down and began to knead her buttocks.

The kneading set off sparks of delight in her… pussy. She gave a deep sigh and pressed it against the bulge she felt in his pants. This had been impulsive and not part of her program. ‘Oh, Lord,’ she thought, ‘What the Hell am I doing?’ She had thought, letting him… touch her like this was a good move for the role she was playing. Even so, part of her was disgusted, but there was another part of her that was saying something that she didn't want to listen to.

“Thank you so very much for the dance,” she told Ritter when it was finished, remembering Rosalyn’s advice. Then, almost without realizing what she was doing, she leaned in and gave him a quick peck on the lips.

* * * * *

When Nancy had left her old life behind; she had been determined to be tough-minded about it. But wasn't Kirby part of that new life? No, he wasn't exactly part of the old life or the new one -- yet. That ‘yet’ left her feeling quite bemused.

Suddenly, a customer stepped in front of her, holding a ticket his in right hand. She squared her shoulders, put Kirby aside – for the moment -- and tried hard to smile, as she let him lead her out onto the dance floor.

* * * * *



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