Eerie Saloon: Seasons of Change -- Spring, part 12 of 13

Eerie Saloon: Seasons of Change – Spring, part 12 of 13
By Ellie Dauber and Chris Leeson © 2013

Reverend Yingling preaches about Clyde Ritter. Roscoe joins the O’Hanlans for lunch. Carl confuses Flora with a question. Things become known at Flora’s second hearing. Yingling can’t stop a wedding. Hedley gets a haircut. And lots more.

Eerie Saloon: Seasons of Change – Spring, part 12 of 13
By Ellie Dauber and Chris Leeson © 2013

Sunday, June 16, 1872

Nancy Osbourne and Opal Sayers walked slowly through the schoolyard towards the building. Both were dressed demurely, Opal in dark brown, and Nancy in her blue “church-going” dress.

“Maybe this wasn’t a good idea,” Opal whispered, looking around nervously.

Nancy shook her head. “Yes, it is. It’s always a good idea to go to church on Sunday. You and I belong here as much as anyone else, so we’ll just go inside and be a part of today’s services, okay?” She reached out with her right hand.

“O-Okay.” Opal took Nancy’s hand in her own, and they continued on towards the school house.

As they walked, Nancy felt any number of eyes on her and on Opal. ‘Pretty much everybody knows me,’ she thought, ‘but most of them don’t know Opal.’ She smiled. ‘They’re probably wondering, who’s this woman with the town’s painted lady?’

“Hey, there, Opal,” a man’s voice abruptly greeted the two women. “What’re you doing here? Are the other girls with yah?” He leered. “If they are, I hope they’s dressed better’n you are.”

Opal looked down, shyly. “They’re not... I’m the only one here, me ‘n’ Nancy.”

“And we are here to go to church, thank you.” Nancy said firmly in her best “teacher-in-charge” voice. “So if you’ll excuse us.” She tried to go around the man.

He stepped back in front of them. “I don’t know what sorta game you ‘n’ your friend here’re playing, Opal. Let’s you ‘n’ me go find someplace real private, ‘n’ you can explain it t’me.” He grabbed for Opal’s arm.

We came here to go to church,” Nancy told him, as she moved between the man and Opal.

His eyes roamed up and down Nancy’s body. “Maybe we, all three of us could go find us that special, private place ‘n’ have us a fine old time.”

“We know precisely where we intend to go,” Nancy replied, “and it’s a very public place.” She grabbed Opal’s wrist and walked briskly towards the building. “I'm sorry that we had to run into a fool like that.”

Opal shook her head. “I meet that kind every night. I'm only worried about what the high and mighty people will do when they find out who I really am.”

“They'll probably treat you like the treat me. Some biddy might test your nerve by telling you to go home, but if you just smile and say, ‘Yes, ma’am, that's what I intend to do right after the service.' She'll probably sneer and say, ‘Well, I never!’ and go back to her pew. We won't have a lot of friendly conversation after the service ends, either, I expect.”

“Except for the sort of conversation we just had with that man,” Opal replied with a sigh.

“Well, we came here for Sunday services,” Nancy said decisively. “And that is what we are going to do.”

The women turned and walked deliberately to the school house, while the man admired their sway as they strolled away. He was imagining that they were in their cancan rigs, the bare-shouldered, feathery outfits he had seen them wearing many times already.

* * * * *

“A moment of silence, please, my good friends.” Reverend Yingling raised his arms up into the air. “I ask for a moment of silence for our brother in Christ, Clyde Ritter, Senior.” He bowed his head, mouthing a silent prayer, while most of the congregation did the same. At the end, he lowered his arms and continued.

“Clyde was a good, decent man, a family man who dearly loved his wife, Cecelia, and their children, Winthrop, Hermione, and Clyde, Junior.” He stopped for a moment and looked directly at Cecelia and the others, who were seated in the center of the first row. They were all in mourning black, with Cecelia and Hermione veiled.

Cecelia knew that everyone was watching them. “Sit up straight,” she hissed at Clyde, Junior, “and try to look brave.” He did at once. Then she gave a loud sniffle and dabbed at her eyes with a white lace handkerchief. Hermione whimpered, right on cue.

“Clyde was a hard worker,” Yingling went on. “He worked hard at his livery stable to support his family. And he worked just as hard to support our church. There was seldom a meeting that Clyde missed, seldom a project that was not made better by his temperate presence. He was ever at the side of our board chairman, Horace Styron, the two of them in tandem, two stallions pulling together to move our church towards noble ends.”

“That team is broken. That firm hand is lost to us. A loving wife, herself a pillar of our church family, no longer has a husband to cleave to. Three children no longer have a wise father to guide them along the path to adulthood.”

“Death comes to us all, so it is ordained, but it need not have come so early for Clyde Ritter. I have spoken – I have warned -- so many times about the dangers posed by Shamus O’Toole’s potion. And now, my worst fears have been tragically realized. The potion has led to the death of a good, G-d fearing man.”

“Clyde was lured to his death – he was foully murdered -- by a she-demon created by that potion. O’Toole knew the sort of woman she was; he knew that she had been given her new form for attempting to kill yet another pillar of our community, Abner Slocum. Abner now is in a hospital back east, gravely injured and far, far away from us. We all pray to the Almighty, I am sure, for his speedy and complete recovery.”

“Yes, Shamus O’Toole knew what sort of woman Flora Stafford was, but did he keep her apart from others – did he make any attempt to protect us from her? No, he flaunted this potion girl, dressing her in scandalous costumes and having her dance lewdly for all to see.”

“And what is the result? A grieving widow and her forlorn, fatherless children, a broken family seeking our comfort and support.” He waited a half beat. “And seeking justice.”

“Flora Stafford has been tried by a jury, twelve good men and true, tried and found guilty in this very room, in our church, a place sanctified and filled with the presence of our Lord. One would hope, then, that justice would be served. But even this, it would seem, is to be twisted by the evil that is O’Toole’s potion. Friends of O’Toole, supporters of his evil machinations, have forced a reconsideration of that trial’s verdict.”

Reverend Yingling paused for a moment and glanced over at Judge Humphreys, a very satisfied look on his face. The Judge knew that there was no purpose to be served in interrupting the sermon, but he glowered back at Yingling.

“We can only hope,” the minister continued, “that fair, pious heads will prevail, and that the justice which Flora Stafford truly deserves will be served. And towards that end, let us pray.”

* * * * *

Molly put her elbows down on the bar and leaned forward, staring at the batwing doors of the Saloon. It almost seemed as if she were willing someone to come through those doors.

“What’s bothering ye, Love?” Shamus came over to stand beside his wife. His hand rested gently on her shoulder.”

She turned to face him, a sad smile just barely curling her lips. “I’m much worried, Shamus.”

“So am I, t’be telling the truth, Molly, but that lawyer fellah, Levy, seems like a sharp tack. He’ll be doing all he can for Flora.”

“Aye, but that ain’t too much, seeing as they’ve already found her guilty. Only, she ain’t the one I was worrying about just now; ‘tis Jessie and Paul. They was supposed t’be back a week ago, and we ain’t seen hide or hair of ‘em. With the telegram that come the day after they left, I’m… I’m scared for ‘em.”

“I won’t be telling ye not t’worry, Love.” Shamus bent closer to her and kissed her cheek. “That’d be like telling the sun not t’rise up in the morning. But they both know how t’live in the wild. Didn’t Jessie tell ye them tales about what she done when she ran off after Toby Hess… died?”

“She did.”

“And Paul’ll be thuir with her. Ye know that he’ll be looking out for her if anything does happen – which it won’t o’course.”

“Just like she’d be taking care o’him. I know that, Shamus, but I still can’t help worrying.”

“Did I ask ye t’stop?” He chuckled. “Ye know what I think happened?”


“Thuir’s a lot of pretty country between her and that farm they went to. I’m thinking that they’re holed up someplace, taking some time t’be doing what young folks that love each other like t’ do.”

She tried to smile. “Ye think so?”

“It’s what I’d be doing if I was out thuir with a pretty young barmaid o’my acquaintance.” He winked and kissed her again, this time on the side of her neck.

Molly couldn’t help but giggle in spite of her concern. “Ye’re a naughty, naughty man, Shamus O’Toole, t’be kissing me like that when I’m worrying so about Jessie and Paul.” She took his hand in hers. “Thank ye.”

* * * * *



“Ought to be ashamed!”

More than one voice, mostly female, hissed as Trisha left the church, and some of those “good women” who didn’t speak just glared at her. A few of the men leered.

Trisha walked across the schoolyard, holding Kaitlin’s hand, while Emma walked behind them with Liam. They were more than halfway across, when Arsenio Caulder guided Laura’s wheelchair up next to them.

“Can I talk to you for a bit, Trisha?” Laura asked.

Trisha shrugged. “I suppose, but can we keep walking? The sooner I’m away from some of these people, the better.”

“Arsenio?” Laura looked up at her husband, when he nodded and kept pushing her forward to keep up with the O’Hanlans, she said to their church friends, “Walking’s fine.”

“I heard about what happened at the Ritters’,” Laura continued. “Is it… are you…” Her eyes moved down to examine Trisha’s stomach. “Yes, you… you are pregnant, aren’t you?”

Trisha frowned and then nodded. “I am, about fifteen weeks along, Doc Upshaw tells me.”

“You don’t sound very happy about it.”

“Should I be?”

“It’s up to you. I know that you’ve made a lot of other people happy. You’ve lived up to their worst expectations about you.”

“Thank you so very much,” Trisha said coolly. She started to move away from the couple.

Laura reached out and grabbed her arm. “Wait -- please, I was only joking. I’m sorry, I’m really sorry.”

Trisha looked over her shoulder and said, “You should be.”

“I am. Sometimes my mouth just moves faster than my brain. I know how scary all this must be for you, and I was trying to lighten things up a little.”

“It-It is scary, and, to tell the truth, seeing you sitting in that chair doesn’t help any.”

“I’m sure it doesn’t, but just because I’m in a wheelchair doesn’t mean that you’ll have to be. Doc Upshaw says that every pregnancy is different. When I asked him, he said that it’s entirely possible that you won’t need one.”

“You asked him about me?”

“Actually… no. I asked him about pregnancy and potion girls back when Maggie Sanchez was getting ready to marry Ramon de Aguilar. And I asked again after Milt Quinlan proposed to my… sister, Jane. I got pregnant right off when Arsenio and I got married, and I wondered – you know – about them.” She smiled and looked down at her own gravid middle. “I just thought you should know.”

“Thanks, I suppose.”

Laura took Trisha’s hand. “If you have any questions – any at all – or, if you even just want to talk, you come and see me, okay?”

“I-I guess.”

“Don’t guess; I mean it. After all, we’re the only two of our kind, the only two pregnant potion girls ever, as far as I know. We have to stick together.”

* * * * *

“Penny for your thoughts, Honey,” Mae said. She leaned over and kissed Zach, several quick pecks on his cheek.

He sighed. “I’m sorry, Mae. I was thinking about that appeal hearing on Wednesday. It’s going to be close.”

“What’s the problem?”

“Clyde Ritter, some people’ve been talking him up as a real honest, forthright, moral pillar of the community. It’s like the whole town is going to collapse without Clyde there to show us all the way.”

She giggled. “That’s almost funny, considering how much time he spent here at La Parisienne.”

“He was here? A lot?”

“Honey, he was a regular. Matter of fact, yours truly…” She patted her hair. “…was his favorite.”

“Do you have proof – that he was a regular here, I mean? I can understand that you would be his favorite.”

She thought for a moment. “I don’t have nothing with his name on it, but he’s probably listed in the Lady’s account books.”

“Mae, I could kiss you – and I think I will.” He shifted and kissed her meaningfully. She moaned and her right arm slowly slid up and wrapped around his neck.

When they broke the kiss, he said, “I’ll have to take a look at those books. Later.”

“How much later?”

He raised an eyebrow, giving her a wicked leer. “Later later.” He waited a beat and then added, “Thy two breasts are like two fawns that are twins of a gazelle, which feed among the lilies.” It was a line from the biblical Song of Songs. Jewish tradition called for young couples to use the work as an onset to sexual relations. Milt shifted again and kissed her left “fawn.”

Mae knew the tradition from her own childhood, and she answered as he’d taught her. “His left hand should be under my head, and his right hand should embrace me.” She smiled, as his hands moved as she had just directed.

* * * * *

“I could ask Judge Humphreys to subpoena your account books,” Zach told Lady Cerise. They were both in her office. Wilma and Herve, Cerise’s “friend”, were there, as well. A red, leather-bound account book sat open on Cerise’s desk.

Cerise gave him a sly smile. “He may not be willing to do that, Monsieur Levy, not when his own name might be read in those same pages.’ She thought for a moment. “Still… I, too, have tired of hearing what a fine, saintly man Clyde Ritter was.”

“Seems t’me,” Wilma began, “we gave his wife ‘whore’s coins’ last autumn, when she was raising money for the victims of that fire in Chicago.” She smiled slyly and winked at Zach.

Zach look confused. “What’re ‘whore’s coins’, Wilma?”

“An old custom, a way to get back at people who condemn what we do here,” Cerise explained, “but who are so willing to take the money we earn doing it. For a time, a coin – a silver dollar, perhaps – is wrapped in each of the pessiaries that my ladies use to prevent becoming enceinte… with child. Afterwards, we collect the coins, and... spend them. In this case, we gave them to the high and mighty Madame Ritter.” She chuckled. “She said that she was so grateful for our efforts on behalf of those poor people.” She chuckled again. “I did not tell her that some of those ‘efforts’ involved her own husband.”

Zach shook his head, his body wracked with laughter. “You really did that?” When she nodded, he laughed and added. “From now on, though, I think I’ll be asking you to pay my legal fees by check, if you don’t mind.”

“Seriously,” he said, after gaining control again, “I don’t have to read the entire book, just a few marked entries that prove that he’s been in here on various occasions.”

“Eet would be a problem for my business is thees whole book were read out loud,” said Cerise. “Many of my customers have wives.”

Zach shook his head. “I don't think the court will want to have the entire book read publically.” Zach now grinned broadly. “Especially not the Judge, from what you said.”

“Zhat is a relief! As a rule, we just enter the income on a given night from food, drink, and… other services without listing the names of our gentlemen callers.”

The lawyer frowned. “I need Ritter’s name.”

“And you shall have it,” Cerise told him. “I said, ‘as a rule.’ After the fight, he took… here, let me show you.” She leafed through the book until she saw what she was looking for. She turned the book, so he could read it and pointed to an entry.

Zach read. “Clyde Ritter and Horace Styron… The Dining Room… $50. What’s the dining room?”

“A private room,” Wilma explained, “with its own entrance. Two or three gents can eat their fill ‘n’ drink up some good booze, b’fore they get down to… business. There’s some couches in the room for ‘em t’use, all set up for privacy.”

“And what did you mean ‘after the fight’, Cerise?”

* * * * *

Liam leaned forward, his hands flat on the dinner table. “All right, Roscoe, the first question – the one that I have to ask – is, are you the father of Trisha’s baby?”

“Umm, ah, Liam… Mr. O’Hanlan…” Roscoe squirmed in his chair. “In all honesty, no, I’m sorry, but I’m not the father.”

Kaitlin knew the truth; Trisha had confessed the names of the three possible fathers to her months before. “Then why did you say you were?”

“I-I thought that it would go easier for Trisha if I did, especially the way Mrs. Ritter was shouting insults at her.”

Liam raised a skeptical eyebrow. “My sister’s a very pretty woman, Roscoe; even I can see that. Were you just angling for a chance to… be with her?”

“No!” The man shook his head. “I like Trisha. I like her a lot. If I was wishing for anything, I-I’d wish that she was mine—her and her baby, both – mine to protect and take care of and…” His eyes grew wide as if he was just becoming aware of what he was about to say. “…and love.”

Liam seemed to come to a decision. “Stand up, Roscoe,” he ordered. “You too, Trisha.”

Roscoe slowly rose to his feet. He tried to keep his eyes on Liam, but he kept taking quick glances at Trisha, as she also stood. “Mr. O’Hanlan, if I said anything wrong, I’m sorry…”

“There’s no need for you to be sorry, not if you’ve been telling the truth. Just take my sister’s hand and get down on one knee. If you’re going to propose, you might as well do it right.”

Trisha’s jaw dropped. “Propose?”

“Propose. Roscoe’s the only chance you’ve got at being an honest woman, Trisha. The news that you’re pregnant is all over town by now. Isn’t that right?”

The newsman nodded. “Probably. Mr. Pratt used to say that half the people in town bought the paper to see which of that week’s rumors we’d decided to print.”

“So the whole town knows you’re pregnant,” Liam continued, “but nobody else has stepped up to admit that he’s the one who got you that way. If the two of you don’t get together, it won’t do Roscoe much harm, but you, Trisha, you’d be a foolish, fallen woman, betrayed and abandoned by the father of your child.”

Roscoe took her hand and dropped down. “He’s right, Trisha.” He smiled up at her. “Will you marry me and let me save you from such an awful fate?”

“You… You want to… marry… me?” She could hardly believe what was happening. Part of her was panicking, but part -- and not small part -- of her tingled with excitement.

He got back on both feet, still holding her hand. He took a firmer grip and pulled her to him. “Yes, I do; very much, now that I think of it.” He gently placed his hands on either side of her hands and, before she could say anything more, moved closer and kissed her with all the passion he could muster.

Trisha sighed, as a warm glow enveloped her. There were a thousand reasons, she knew, why she shouldn’t marry -- couldn’t marry -- Roscoe but, at that moment, she couldn’t think of a single one.

* * * * *

“Hello, Flora.” Zach Levy was smiling, almost grinning, as he and Tor came around the corner and back towards her cell.

Flora stood up next to her cot. “What’re you so happy about, and what took you so long to get here today?”

“Wait a minute.” He tilted his head, pointing towards Tor. The deputy opened the door, and Levy walked in. “Thanks, Tor.”

He waited until the other man had shut and locked the cell door and headed back to his desk. “Now, I’ll answer your questions. I was over at La Parisienne... ah, checking things out.”

“I’m sure,” she said coolly.

He chuckled. “All right, all right.” He held up his hands, as though he was defending himself. “That wasn’t all I was doing, but I did find out some things that I think will help your case.”

“What… What did you find out?”

“Let’s just say I think I can prove that Clyde Ritter may not have been the even-tempered family man that some people are claiming he was.”

“That’s what I kept saying at my trial.”

“Yes, but you were hardly the most objective of witnesses.”

“Do you have enough to get me freed?”

“First things first; my goal on Wednesday is just to get rid of that death sentence. That’s all the Judge was willing to consider. If I can prove your case – and I think I can -- and get your sentence dropped to twenty years, then I can go for a new trial.”

“But if you can’t.” The air seemed to go out of Flora, and she sank down onto her cot. “Shouldn’t we be talking about…” She sighed -- or was it a whimper? “…my will?”

He sat down next to her, cupping her chin in his hand. “Hey, now; I’m not so desperate for business that I’ll waste your time on something that you won’t need.”

“Are you that sure I won’t need one?”

“You’re the one who complained about my being an ‘honest lawyer.’ If I thought things were going to go bad, I’d be happy to help you write your will, wouldn’t I?”


“And if I thought things were okay, but I was greedy, I’d also take on the job. But I’m an honest lawyer, so if I won’t work up your will it must be because you won’t be needing one, understand?”

“I guess.” She gave him a weak smile.

“Good. Now you relax. You’ll see; you’ll be out of here in no time.”

* * * * *

“Hey, Bridget,” Sam Braddock set his carpenter’s toolbox down on the table. “You up for a game of poker… for nails, of course.”

Bridget had been playing a game of Maverick solitaire. “I suppose.” She gathered in the cards.

“Good.” He opened the toolbox and took out a box of nails and dumped them out onto the table. “Here you go.” He sat down and pushed a handful to Bridget and took roughly the same number for himself. Then he carefully picked up the remainder and returned them to the box.

Bridget shuffled the deck twice and offered it to Sam to cut. He tapped the cards with a finger and nodded for her to deal.

“Can anybody get in this game?”

Bridget looked up to see… “Carl, what brings you in here?”

“I rode in t’see Flora.” He ignored the frown that briefly clouded Bridget’s face. “Only she’s talking to her lawyer, right now. They said they was gonna be a while, so I came over here for a drink.” He looked down at the nails. “Only this looks more interesting.”

Sam took a handful of nails from the box and put them down near where Carl was standing. “Have a seat.”

“But…” Bridget cradled the cards nervously. So far, she’d only been playing poker with Sam. Still, Carl was a friend. He’d been sitting in at the poker table with her since she first started dealing cards for Shamus all those months ago. ‘I-I can trust him,’ she reassured herself, ‘even if he… is with Flora.’

The cowboy saw her expression. “If you’re afraid to play for something as important as nails…” He gave her a quick wink. “…we can always play for cash money.”

“No,” she answered. “Nails will be fine.” She took a breath to steady herself. “Five card stud, okay?” When both men nodded, she dealt the cards.

Sam tossed two nails to the center of the table. “Ante up.”

“Okay.” Bridget fanned out her hand; 10 of clubs; 2, 7, and 8 of diamonds, and 10 of hearts. ‘Not a bad hand,’ she thought. She leaned back in her chair and started watching the two men for tells.

It was like she’d never stopped playing

* * * * *

Monday, June 17, 1872

Flora used a biscuit to soak up the last of the grease from her bacon. “Well, you gonna tell me?”

“Tell you what?” Carl asked. He was sitting opposite her at a small table he’d brought into her cell along with the picnic basket that held their breakfast. He took a bite of his own biscuit.

“Why it was you that brought breakfast this morning… and why you stayed to eat with me?”

“I… Did you enjoy having breakfast with me?”

She shrugged. “I suppose.” She saw his expression cloud. “Yes… Yes, I did. It was…” She thought for a moment. “It was… nice. In fact, I enjoyed it more than I expected to.”

“I’m glad. Would you like to have breakfast with me again tomorrow?”

“Yes, but you haven’t answered my question.”

“How about the day after tomorrow… and the day after that and the day after that?”

She chuckled at his eagerness, putting up her hand to cover her mouth. “Yes, yes, but why…”

“How about every morning for the rest of your life?”

“Now how could I…” Her eyes widened in surprise, as she realized what he was asking.

Carl smiled and took her hand in his. “By marrying me, Flora. Will you be my wife?”

“Are you crazy?” She stood up quickly.

He rose and walked around to her side of the table, still holding her hand. “‘Course, I’m crazy; crazy in love with you. Do you love me?”

“Well, I...I don't know. I don't know if I feel the marrying kind of love. I need to think.” She felt confused… and surprised… and uncertain….

He stepped even closer. His other hand reached up to softly stroke her cheek. She stared into those warm green eyes of his, her lips parted. Then his lips touched hers in a kiss that made the world just… drift off for a while.

“That’ll give you something to think about,” he told her when they separated.

Her legs felt unsteady, and she sank down on the cot. It was like all the strength had gone out of her. What was he doing to her?

Without another word, but grinning as he worked, Carl loaded the leftover food and the dirty dishes into the basket. He folded the table, and then he called for the sheriff. “I have to put the table outside your cell,” he explained.

“Th-Thanks,” she said, blinking as if she’d stared into a bright light. “See you later.”

He leaned down and kissed her in the cheek, as the sheriff opened the cell door. “You surely will, Flora, honey; you surely will.”

* * * * *

Roscoe raised his hand, but then he paused a moment before he knocked on the half-opened door. “Reverend Yingling?”

“Yes, come in.” Yingling dog-eared the page of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. ‘I’ll finish this later,’ he promised himself as he set it down in a drawer of his desk.

Roscoe pushed the door open and walked in. Trisha was with him, holding his hand. “Good morning, Reverend,” they said, almost in unison.

“And a good morning to the both of you. What can I do for you?”

“We… ah, we want to get married,” Trisha answered, trying to hide the quiver in her voice.

Yingling nodded gravely. “After the events of last Friday, I am hardly surprised.”

“You heard about that, did you?” she asked.

“I was there, actually, over in a corner pouring myself a cup of tea. I witnessed the entire incident.”

“Whatever you may think, sir, I love Trisha, and I -- we -- want to do the right thing.”

“We want to get married,” she added. “Seeing as school’s out for the summer, I thought…” She smiled and squeezed Roscoe’s hand. “We thought, maybe, we could use it as the church. We’d like to get married on Thursday afternoon, if that’d be okay for you.”

The Reverend leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “It is most uncertainly not okay with me. I will not officiate at your wedding, not on Thursday nor on any other day. Nor will I allow the use of my church for such sacrilege.”

“Sa-Sacrilege?” Trisha’s eyes went wide. “If it’s because I’m… pregnant…” She let the thought hang.

The minister shook his head. “I do not, of course, approve of the sort of behavior that led to your… condition, but I know that it can happen. In your case, I would almost expect it to happen.”

Roscoe’s expression hardened. “What do you mean ‘expect it to happen’? What are you implying?”

“Patrick O’Hanlan was a good, church-going man before he was transformed by Shamus O’Toole’s infernal potion. That the woman he became would indulge in such indecent practice – to become… with child – is only to be expected, given that potion’s corruptive influence.”

She glared at the man. “Now just a minute, Reverend; you can’t say something like that about me.” To herself, she added, ‘or about Emma.’

“No?” Yingling shook his head again. “That potion is the foulest evil I have ever encountered. My feelings on the matter are well-known, and I will do nothing that can possibly be taken as condoning it in any way.”

“That’s absurd,” Roscoe argued.

The other man rose to his feet. “No, it is our Lord’s revealed truth. Since you both refuse to accept this, I fear that our conversation is at an end.” He took a breath. “And I will ask you to leave.”

“This conversation may be ended,” Roscoe replied, “but, rest assured, the matter is not.” He put his hand around Trisha’s waist and guided her out the door.

* * * * *

“That went well,” Trisha said sourly, giving Roscoe a wry smile. The pair had just left the Yingling home.

Roscoe smiled back. “No, it didn’t, but it’s his fault, not yours. And, just in case you’re wondering, I still want very much to marry you.” His arm snaked around her waist, pulling her close.

“Good, because I feel the same way.” They looked at each other for almost five whole seconds before they kissed.

* * * * *

“Is he in, Mr. Wynn?”

The clerk looked up. Roscoe and Trisha had walked into Judge Parnassus Humphrey’s outer office.

The Judge was standing a few feet away looking at a file. “I am, Trisha… Roscoe.” He handed the file to Obie Wynn, his clerk. “Can we talk about whatever the problem is in my office?”

“We want to get married,” Roscoe said, “and your office will be fine for now.”

The three of them went into the office, and the Judge shut the door behind them. “Are you all right, Trisha? Do you want some water or anything before we start?” He glanced down at her stomach.

“I’m fine, Your Honor.” She took a quick look down, and then shook her head. “Aside from just being there, ‘Junior’ isn’t a problem… yet.”

“Cecelia Ritter never was much for tact. She picked a terrible way to announce him… or her.”

Roscoe gave a harsh laugh. “That’s for sure. It’s not nice to say it, but I was hoping that her husband’s death would slow her down – for a while anyway.”

“It probably won’t,” Trisha added. “But that’s not why we’re here.” She took Roscoe’s hand. “We want – not need -- want to get married.”

“I’m flattered to be asked to officiate, but, frankly, I’m a bit surprised that you didn’t ask Thad Yingling.”

Roscoe frowned. “We did ask him, to tell the truth. He refused. He said that everything about Shamus O’Toole’s potion was evil – even Trisha.” He squeezed her hand. “He not only refused to marry us, he said that he wouldn’t allow us to get married in his church.”

“His church?” Humphreys scowled. “I think not. Strictly speaking, it’s mine, mine and the rest of the board, to administer in the name of the congregation.”

“I’m on the board.” Trisha brightened for a moment. “That is, I was till I took that leave of absence. Liam’s on it now.” She brightened again. “If Liam and you, Judge, and… and Rupe and Dwight Albertson said it was okay…” Her voice trailed off.

The Judge nodded. “Then, of course, you two could use the church. I have no problem with that. The good reverend’s getting a little too arrogant for my taste. You know, you two aren’t the first couple he’s refused. He said ‘No’ to Milt and Jane Quinlan when they asked.”

She frowned. “'I heard you married those two at the Saloon. But I didn't know that the choice had been forced on them.”

“Nobody called him on it. Milt and Jane were happy enough to have the wedding at Shamus’ saloon.”

“I think Trisha and I would prefer the church. Can you help us?”

The other man nodded. “I think so. When would you want the ceremony?”

“Thursday afternoon,” Roscoe answered. “It’s summer break, so the school house is available.”

“Hmm, and does Liam approve of this wedding?”

“He sure does.” She wouldn’t say that it was his idea originally.

“Good, ask him to talk to Rupe Warrick about the church board meeting tonight --- at your house, Trisha, if you don’t mind.”

“I don’t. Kaitlin approves, too, so she shouldn’t mind our meeting there, either.”

“Good; I’ll talk to Dwight. We’ll start at 7 or so.”

Trisha smiled. “I think that’ll be fine.” She thought for a moment. “And I think that I’ll go drop in on Jubal Cates. Emma’s working for him, and I want to see how she’s doing. Of course, if I just happen to tell him about tonight – he just might happen to show up.”

“The more the merrier,” the Judge said with a chuckle.

* * * * *

Flora sat on her cot, staring at the bars of her cell and at the brick wall beyond it. As she did, Carl’s words – his question – kept repeating over and over in her mind. “Will you be my wife?”

“How can I be his wife?” she asked herself. “How can I be any man’s wife when I’m a man; when I’m Forrest Wainwright Stafford?”

“Will you be my wife?”

“Well, I was a man, before I took that damned potion, anyway. O’Toole made me dress like a woman. And those damned baths -- I had to remember how the baths made me feel every time I got up and danced. What with brushing my hair and saying, ‘I’m a girl’ and lessons on how to walk and sit, I couldn’t help but start acting girly, but acting girly and being a girl, those are two very different things. Aren’t they?”

“Will you be my wife?”

“And why did I have to flirt with Carl? I flirted with Clyde to rile Shamus. I let Clyde think he could get into my drawers if he was nice to me, if he brought me presents. Carl, okay, I was practicing with Carl. But he… he was different… special.’ She smiled to herself. ‘And he made me feel special, too.”

“Will you be my wife?”

“Now he wants to be with me forever; except forever is only probably the few days till they can hang me. That… That’s not too long a time.” She sighed. “What would it be like, I wonder, to be with a man, to be his? To hold him and touch him and… to find out if this crazy feeling, that I’m feeling, is”

“Will you be my wife?”

“But what if isn't it love? What if it’s just an impulse to try out something -- anything that's new -- to take my mind off the hanging?”

“Will you be my wife?”

“And if I don’t hang… if we do have a life together, can I be the sort of a wife that he needs – that he deserves, or will I immediately want out of our marriage? That would hurt Carl so much, and he's the last person in the world I want to hurt.”

“Will you be my wife?”

“Even if I tried to do my best for him, what would my best be? Keep house, like Laura Caulder does for her husband? I hate doing that sort of work for Shamus. Help him relax after a day of roping cattle? Bring him a beer in our house, if we even have a house? Sleep with him? I never did that with a man. Does he want children? Could I ever be enough of a woman to do that? The whole idea scares me.”

“And what about my days? What will I be doing? Is my father going to disown me and leave me with nothing? Am we supposed to live on a cowboy's wages? Wouldn't I have to keep dancing so we'd have a little extra to spend? Even with a cowhand's and a dancehall girl's wages together, we'd still be poor. Could I live with being poor?”

“Will you be my wife?”

“Is it even possible for me to let somebody love me and not have the person end up hurt? It’s happened before – too many times. But I never felt serious about anyone before. Everything about this thing with Carl feels serious. Is it even possible? Should I run, or should I give it a chance and see what happens? Forry Stafford wasn’t the bravest of men, Lord knows. Does he – do I -- have the courage to actually love someone, and let him love me for however long – or short – the rest of my life is going to be?”

* * * * *

Kirby leaned back in his chair and glanced around the yard. “It’s really nice – nicer than I expected – having dinner with you here in Shamus’ backyard.”

“I thought that you’d like it,” Nancy replied. “That’s why I asked Shamus to put the table out here.”

He gave her a wry smile. “I admit to being a little surprised at first, but it’s just the thing for a demure, little school teacher who can’t be seen having dinner with a man.”

“Or for a brazen hussy of a dance hall girl,” she teased him back, “one who wants to be alone with her beau.”

“And am I that beau?”

“I would think so.” She smiled. “You’ve been working at it long enough.”

He shifted his chair, so he was sitting closer to her. “I think so, too.” He took her hand. “You’re a wonder, Nancy Osbourne. Somehow, you’ve managed to be that ‘demure, little school teacher’ and ‘the brazen hussy’, both at the same time.

“Which do you prefer?”

“The dancer; I couldn’t even talk to the schoolmarm, let alone be having dinner with her. But I can certainly talk to the dancer. She seems more natural, more free. I can watch her show, and then, afterwards, I can sit with her and tell her how much I enjoyed it. Even better, on Saturdays, I can buy a ticket and dance with her, hold her in my arms and feel her moving across the floor with me.” He took a breath. “Yes, I definitely prefer the dancer.”

“You sound like you have no use for the schoolmarm,” she teased.

He leaned in close. “I most certainly do. She’s every bit as pretty as the dancer, and she had the courage to spite Mrs. Ritter and the rest and to become the dancer. I’m proud of her and proud to know her.”

“You didn't talk that way when you first found out what I was going to do.”

He shrugged. “You'd been hurt, and I thought that you were going to make a mistake that would get you hurt even more. Also, I cared so much about the person you were, and I was afraid that my feelings would change if you stopped being the schoolmarm that first won my heart.”

“Speaking for the schoolmarm, I’d like to say that you’re a very sweet man, Kirby Pinter.” She touched his cheek, brought her face close, and kissed him softly on the lips.

Kirby smiled. “And another thing, she kisses just as well as the dancer.”

Nancy looked down and said through a smile, “You silly! That was the dancer kissing you!”

* * * * *

“Evening, Flora.”

Flora looked up from the last of her dinner to see Carl Osbourne and Sheriff Dan Talbot standing outside her cell. “C-Carl, what are you doing here?”

“I came for an answer to the question I asked you this afternoon.” Carl stepped back, as the Sheriff unlocked the cell door and swung it open. “Thanks, Sheriff,” he said, walking into the cell. “I’ll call if I need you.”

Talbot closed the cell door, making certain that the lock clicked shut. “You do that – and good luck.” Without another word, he turned and headed back to his desk.

“Are you sure you want my answer?” She took a last sip of her coffee and set the empty cup down on the tray. “For that matter, are you still sure that you want to marry me?”

“Yes; yes to both questions.”

“Why…Why for heaven’s sake do you want to do something that crazy? Don’t you know who I am – who I was? What I did?”

He nodded. “You used to be a fellah named Forry Stafford, and he done some pretty nasty stuff. But you ain’t him no more.”

“I don’t look like him anymore; I know that.” She took a fleeting look down at her body. “But inside --”

“You ain’t him inside neither,” he insisted. “You still got his spunk, some of it anyway, and I admire that ‘bout you, but you talk different – not so sure of yourself, not so angry – more friendly.”

“That was an act for the Saloon crowd. I was just playing up to people. It was good for business.”

“Is that so?” He took her hand in his own. “Flora, you just ain’t that good an actress; the real you keeps peeking through. You look like a gal. You walk and talk like a gal. And, best of all, you kiss like a gal.” He looked her straight in the eye. “What does that make you?”

“A monster!” She looked away from him. “Carl, I don't know anyone in the world who wouldn't rather have me dead, except, maybe, my sister Prissy; maybe my father, too, but only because he wouldn't want to lose a piece off his game board. And how many friends have I made in this town? Half of it is howling for my blood.”

“Flora, you've got to accept that you're a potion girl. I know most of the potion girls, and there’s no way in hell that any of them are still men under their pretty skin. It's magic, Flora. Every move you make, every breath you take, every word you say tells me you're a hundred percent gal.”

She spoke in a soft, uncertain voice. “You're wrong.” But, silently, she asked herself, ‘Is he? Am I really a girl? And if I am, does it make any difference?’ Her two conflicting natures seemed to be deadlocked. She had the deciding vote. What should she do? She could either be the monster, or be the girl...

Carl tugged gently on her arm. “No, I’m right,” he said, “You’re all gal, now -- my gal.”

He pulled her to her feet and into his arms. “Look, Flora, you heard me tease my sister about being so stubborn. Well, it runs in the family. I can be just as stubborn, when it’s important to me.” He took a breath. “And I can’t think of nothing more important than getting you t’marry me.”

“You need someone who'd be good for you, and good to you. Why do you think that person could be me?”

Carl shook his head. “My sister’s the one who’s good with words. Lemme give you my best argument for why you oughta marry me.” He took her in his arms. Her breasts were pressed against his chest. She could smell the citrusy aroma of his Pinaud aftershave. He was smiling, his green eyes sparkling.

Flora stopped her nervous squirming and accepted his embrace. She had felt so alone in the cell, but Carl was here for her now. What did the preachers say? “For better, for worse?” She had to admit that things were pretty bad. Her arms, of their own accord, reached out to encircle his neck.

Her body was responding. She was aroused, and she welcomed it. But this wasn’t just the beginning of a new adventure in sex. She felt cherished, protected. Her logical mind told her that it was a false feeling, this sense of being cherished. It had to be false because she was sure that she didn't deserve it. If only she knew how to deserve it.

But suddenly, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, she started to warm, first deep inside, and then spreading outward from her core.

An epiphany, an incredible sense of relief filled her. The hard, hard work of quarreling with herself was over. Only one voice was speaking now. It wanted her to give him the chance to love her, and she wanted, somehow, to love him, too. She wanted to make her decision before that second, nay-saying, voice came back. She shifted slightly and whispered one word in his ear. “Yes.”

He stopped kissing her and looked into her eyes, eyes that were hot and wet. “I love you, Flora, and I promise to make you happy.”

“If --” she said, “if that's what you're trying to do, a little voice tells me that you're on the right track.”

* * * * *

Five members of the Eerie Methodist Church Board of Elders – everyone but Horace Styron and Willie Gotefreund – sat around the O’Hanlan dinner table. Rupe Warrick, as board vice president, was at the head of the table, with Liam, and then Trisha at his right.

As they waited for the meeting to start, Trisha noted one or another of the others glancing nervously over at her, at her stomach, to tell the truth. She never met their eyes with her own, though. ‘Oh, Lord,’ she thought, and not for the first time that evening, ‘why couldn’t Roscoe be here?’

“Thank you all for coming.” Liam rose to his feet. “I’d like to start this meeting with an announcement.” He waited for a moment. “My sister, Trisha…” He gestured towards her with one arm. “…is getting married to Roscoe Unger.”

Dwight Albertson was first to speak. “Well, congratulations, Trisha. When’s the happy day?”

“That’s the problem, gentlemen,” Liam continued. “Trisha and Roscoe wanted to get married in our – in her church, and by her minister. Even if she is on leave, she’s still a member of this board, and Roscoe’s been a member for – what – three or four years?” His voice grew hard. “Only Reverend Yingling refused.”

Jubal Cates looked perplexed. “Why?”

“Because I’m… I’m a potion girl,” Trisha answered. “He said that the potion was evil. That I was evil. And he’d be condoning that evil if he married Roscoe and me.”

Dwight Albertson glanced – again – at her body. “I hate to be indelicate, Trisha, but was that the – ah, the only reason?”

“Yes, it was, Dwight,” she answered firmly, trying not to show her embarrassment. “What other reason could there possibly be?”

The banker held up his hands, as if warding off an attack. “I do apologize, but I-I had to ask.”

“It’s the only reason.” Liam told them all. “And there’s more to it. Reverend Yingling not only refused to perform the ceremony; he said that he wouldn’t allow the wedding to take place in the church -- his church --under any circumstances.”

Rupe scowled. “Since when is it his church? If anybody owns it, it’s us, the board. We hold it in the congregation’s name.”

“He said the very same thing when Milt Quinlan wanted to get married,” Judge Humphreys added. “That’s why he and Jane were married in Shamus O’Toole’s saloon.”

“Is that why? I always figured that it was because Jane worked there.”

Humphreys shook his head. “No, they asked, and he refused. We can’t very well force the man to perform the ceremony when he doesn’t want to.”

“It’d give a whole new meaning to ‘shotgun wedding,’ wouldn’t it?” Jubal said with a sly smile, but then he saw the expression on Trisha’s face and quickly added, “Sorry.”

She smiled back at him graciously. “Don’t worry, Rupe. As a matter of fact, Roscoe proposed to me.”

“To get back to my point,” the Judge interrupted, “Thad Yingling doesn’t have to marry them – though I think he should, anyway – but he has no authority to deny them the use of our building.”

“What can we do about it?” Rupe asked.

The Judge turned to face Trisha. “When did you say that you two want to get married?”

“Thursday… This Thursday afternoon.”

“Fine; I move that the board grant permission for Trisha O’Hanlan and Roscoe Unger to hold their wedding in our church this Thursday afternoon. I’ll perform the ceremony myself, unless Thad changes his mind. If I do it, it’ll be a civil wedding, of course, but it’ll still be binding.”

Liam quickly raised his hand. “Second.”

“All in favor?” Rupe asked. All five hands were raised. “Passed; congratulations, Trisha.”

She wiped a tear from her eye. “Thank you… friends. Thank you so very much.”

“What do we do if the Reverend objects?” Dwight said nervously.

The Judge frowned. “When he objects is more like it, and how we react will depend on what he says and does. Whatever that is, I think we can handle it.”

“From your mouth to G-d’s Ears,” Liam added, looking heavenward.

The Judge took a quick look at his watch. “If there’s no other business, gentlemen… and ladies, I’m afraid that I have to get to another engagement.” He rose and started for the door. “Good night to you all. And congratulations again, Trisha, to you and Roscoe.”

* * * * *

“It would be easier,” Judge Humphreys observed, “if I – we – do this in the hall, rather than in Flora’s cell.”

Sheriff Talbot shrugged. “Hall or cell, she’s still in jail.”

“Let’s do it that way, then.” The Judge walked over and stood in the hall outside the two jail cells. “Everyone get into place.”

Flora walked down towards the other end of the hall, where Shamus and Molly were standing. “I still don’t see why Levy and Quinlan have to be here,” she said.

“Because we’re appealing your sentence on Wednesday,” Zach Levy explained. “When a person in your… situation has any sort of a meeting with the judge hearing the case, her lawyer and the prosecution lawyer have to be there. Otherwise, it’s what they call illegal ex parte contact.”

“Well then,” Molly chimed in, “let’s be getting this here ‘parte’ started.”

Humphreys smiled at the deliberate pun. “All right, Carl, you stand here before me as groom, with Zach, your best man, to your left.” He waited while the men stepped into place before calling out in a clear voice, “Gentlemen, if you would.”

The Happy Days Town Band had been playing for the remaining Cactus Blossoms’ act, and Shamus and Molly had brought them along. They were just around the corner in the Sheriff’s office, and, at the Judge’s signal they began playing “The Wedding March.”

“Are ye ready, Flora?” Shamus asked. He offered her his arm as father of the bride,

Flora took his arm and tried to smile. “No...” she said softly, “but let’s do it anyway.”

They began walking towards Judge Humphreys. Her glance shifted from Shamus to Carl and back again. Both men, she discovered, were smiling back at her. When they reached Carl, Shamus gave her a quick kiss on the forehead. “For luck,” he told her. He stepped away and walked over to stand next to Molly, the matron of honor, signaling the band to stop playing.

Flora slipped in between Carl and Nancy, her maid of honor and future sister-in-law. Carl lifted the veil that Molly had loaned to Flora, and they both tuned to face the Judge.

Suddenly Flora burst into laughter. Silently the crowd regarded her.

“S-Sorry,” she said struggling to keep a straight face, as the absurdity of what she was doing struck home. “It’s just….never mind. Judge, please continue.”

“Dearly beloved,” Judge Humphreys began.

* * * * *

“Excuse me, folks,” Sheriff Talbot announced, “but it’s after 9:30, time I was making my rounds. I’m going to have to ask everybody but Flora and Carl to leave.”

The Judge and the two lawyers had left right after the ceremony. “I can’t very well fraternize with someone who’s appearing before me in two days,” he had explained. The band had headed back to the Saloon to play between shows, as they usually did.

“Just as well,” Shamus said now, looked at his pocket watch. “’Tis almost time for the second show. C’mon, Nancy, Lylah can’t be dancing alone, ye know.” He put his arm around Molly’s waist. “Ye come along, too, Love. We’ll be leaving these two for the night.” He guided her towards the door.

Nancy gave Flora a hug. “You take good care of my big brother, and… welcome to the family.”

“Thanks… sister.” Flora hugged her back. She wondered how her sister – her other sister, Priscilla, would react to the news of the wedding and to her new in-laws.

Her grin faded for a moment, as she wondered when – and if she’d ever see Priscilla again. If the trial didn’t go according to Zach’s plan, she wouldn’t have to worry about getting Priscilla’s approval for anything.

The Sheriff was looking through his keys. “Time to lock you two up for the night.”

“Not much privacy for a wedding night,” Carl said, staring at Flora’s cell. Flora felt her face flush at what he was implying.

Talbot glanced at the cell and chuckled. “No, it’s not, but, like I said before, ‘in the jailhouse’ is ‘in jail.’ Come with me.” He led them to a door at the other end of the hallway. The door had a latch bolted on it, with a lock in place. The word “Storeroom” was painted on the door in white letters.

“I’ll just lock you in here tonight.” He unlocked the door and opened it wide. “Go on in. It’s not as bad as you think it’ll be.”

Carl and Flora stood in the doorway and looked around the room. The room was much larger than Flora’s cell. A bed, covered by a blue blanket sat in the far right corner. A bed table with an oil lamp, already lit, was set next to it. A wooden rack with three wooden hangers projected out from the back wall, with a low dresser along the side wall. A tray with a bottle of wine and two glasses was placed atop the dresser.

“Wine?” Carl asked. “This is quite a storeroom you have, Sheriff.”

Talbot chuckled. “Shamus and Molly brought over the wine. Molly made up the bed, too.”

“We’ll have to thank them,” Flora said. She was surprised at the idea, but it seemed the right thing to do. She chuckled to herself, ‘This is a day full of surprises.’

A file cabinet stood to the left of the door, and there was a gun cabinet, locked and chained, with four Winchester 1866 model repeating rifles and ten boxes of ammunition stacked on a small worktable to the right of it. “This is one heck of a place,” Carl observed.

“It started out as just a storeroom,” the Sheriff told them, “but my wife, Amy, fixed it up some for nights when I had to be on duty. And then, this was where my other deputy, Paul Grant, lived before he found… ah, other accommodations. Now, if you don’t mind...” He gestured for them to go in.

They stepped through the doorway, and Talbot closed it behind them. “Goodnight,” he shouted through the door. They heard the click of the lock being set in place followed by the footsteps of Talbot walking away.

Flora stared at the locked door with a sense of foreboding. ‘Oh, G-d,’ she thought, ‘what have I done? I-I’m locked in a room with a man who has every right to expect me to have sex with him.’ Part of Flora was horrified by the idea, remembering the power a man felt having sex with a woman. That's what Carl would be feeling. Somehow, though, another part of her wondered what she would be feeling, what sex as a woman would be like. Clyde Ritter had given her a taste of what it felt like to be touched that way by a man.

She shivered, and for more than one reason. Her body was tingling in anticipation of what might happen. At the same time, she was worrying, ‘Will I be good enough in bed to please him?’

That she cared so much about not disappointing him scared her even more.

‘I better be a girl,’ she said to herself, ‘or else this is the last place in the world where I ought to be.’

“Are you all right, Flora?” Carl asked. “You got such a funny look.”

She looked down, unable to face him. “I-I’m sorry, Carl. I know what you’re planning on tonight, but I – oh, Lord – I don’t know if I’m ready, if I can do what you want me to do.”

He was silent for a moment, thinking, then he sighed. “Well, I can’t say that I’m not disappointed, but I ain’t about t’force you t’do something you don’t wanna do. How about we just settle for what you wanna do, what you do so good, kiss and cuddle?”

Feelings of relief and disappointment – disappointment? – warred within her. This night should be special; kissing and cuddling wouldn't be special. But beyond kissing and cuddling lay danger. “Okay, I guess.”

“Let’s have some of that wine for a start.” He poured them each a glass. He handed one to her, and then took the other, raising it upwards. “To my beautiful wife.” He winked and took a sip.

She nodded, nervously, accepting the compliment. “Thanks… I guess.” She grinned abashedly and said, “Wife is going to be a hard word to get used to.” Then she drank most of the wine in one gulp before she set the glass down on the tray.

“Lemme start then… wife.” He put down his own glass, moved in close, and took her head in her hands, steadying her. Their lips touched. Their passion grew, as one of his hands snaked behind her neck. Her lips parted in a moan, and she tasted the wine on his breath.

He broke the kiss after a time, but then he kissed her again, a quick peck on her lips before he shifted, kissing her cheek, her jaw line, and on down her neck, a trail of kisses that lit delicious sparks under her skin. She sighed and closed her eyes, even as her arms slipped ever so slowly around him. Their bodies pressed against each other. Their hands explored each other’s form. The sparks in her grew even more intense, filling her body with an inner light.

Carl had reached the base of her throat by now. The high collar of her dress kept him from going any further. Flora trembled, and the motions of her hands became less certain. He took a half-step back, and his hands reached up to the top button of her dress. “Can I?” he asked in a confident voice.

“Y-Yes.” Flora looked up at him with dazed eyes, an uncertain smile on her face. She wasn’t sure why, but it seemed like what she should say. As nervous as she was, she didn't want to cry uncle first.

He undid the button, waiting for her reaction. Her smile became more of a grin, as the absurdity of the situation once more began to loom. He grinned back. “All right, then.” With a bit of a flourish, he opened the next button. And the next button and the next. And the next, until the dress was opened wide.

Carl paused a moment, trying to make out his bride's reaction. She was looking up at him, uncertain and dewy-eyed. Her lips were bravely set.

Encouraged, he carefully parted the two halves of the dress, revealing her cobalt blue corset. The sight of it, contrasted with the milk-white skin of Flora's perfect neck, made him sigh with desire. With fingers slightly atremble, he slipped the dress off her shoulders, exposing the top of her white camisole, with its low, heart-shaped collar, which barely showed the top of her corset. The tops of Flora’s breasts were now visible. He kissed the cleft between them. “So damned beautiful.”

He lifted his head and pushed back the hair gathered around her neck. Then he leaned in and kissed her exposed flesh. She gave a small gasp. The kiss lasted for some time, and, when he moved away, there was a small, purplish bruise, a love bite, where his lips had been. As he drew back, he could feel her body trembling. “Sshh!” he whispered and gently stroked her hair for a moment, as he would an overexcited horse, trying to calm it.

Then he began inching his way down towards her breasts. The soft kisses alternated with tiny nips. He could hear her sighing, almost moaning, and unable to speak. When he had reached her camisole, without waiting, without asking for permission, he began to unhook her corset.

Flora shivered. Was it from fear or desire? She didn’t know, but she said and did nothing to stop him. She simply watched his nimble fingers do their work. And, when they were done, he took the garment in one hand and reached over to set it atop the dresser.

Her nipples poked out her camisole, and he could see their dark pink though its white fabric. They begged to be played with, and he obliged, cupping her breasts with his hands, tweaking her nipples with his fingers.

“Ooh!” Flora’s eyes went wide. A sort of liquid fire flowed into her breasts from his fondling. It was like a delicious itch, the more the fire entered her body, the more of it she wanted. Her nipples were tight as a drumhead. She arched her back, pushing her breasts into his hands.

Her head swam as the fire spread through her to every corner of her body, but, especially, to the cleft between her legs. She wanted – no, she needed to be touched, down there, just as fiercely as she needed him to keep kissing her lips and touching her breasts.

Her hands reached up to rest on his shoulders as she ground her groin against his, still uncertain but excited now by the hardness she found there. Her lips curled in a wry smile as she came to terms with what it meant, and she leaned in to kiss him again. As she did, her dress fell off her right shoulder and dangled about her elbow.

“Maybe you oughta take that thing off,” Carl told her. “You’re gonna have to eventually.”

Flora raised a curious eyebrow. “Oh, really?”

“Sure, that dress is too pretty t’sleep in.” He moved around behind her and took hold of the fabric. “Here, lemme help you.” He held it in place, while she pulled her arms out, and then he pulled it upwards and off her body.

Carl set the dress down gently on the dresser and stepped up behind her. His arms went around her waist, and he kissed the side of her throat. Flora trembled at the sensations of his lips on her skin, of his body against her.

“You can’t sleep in this, neither.” His left hand reached down to tug at the bow that held her petticoat tight at the waist. It slipped apart, and the garment fell to the ground.

He kissed her neck again and breathed in the scent of her. “Oh, Lordy, what the sight and the smell and the touch of you does to a man.” He pressed the massive tenting in his trousers against her rump, as his hands began to caress her breasts again.

“Aah,” she sighed. What Carl was doing seemed to awaken a whole new set of sensibilities. She reached behind her back, and her fumbling fingers searched for the buttons on his trousers. “Seems to me that I’m not the only one who has to take off some clothes.” She giggled, amazed at her sudden aggressiveness.

Carl kissed her neck again and stepped back. “Be faster if I take care of my own pants.” He began undoing the buttons.

Flora smiled to see how his fingers fumbled in his rush to remove his pants. She thought she should try to keep up with him and so started to step out of her petticoat, but a buttonhook on her shoe caught on the material. She turned and sat down on the bed to better deal with the tangle.

“That’s a good idea.” Carl finished with the buttons and let his now-loosened pants fall down around his ankles. He shifted and sat down next to her, lifting his right leg, so that he could remove his boot.

In spite of herself, Flora glanced over at his crotch. “Ooh, my,” she whispered, looking at the size of the tenting in his drawers. She glanced up to see him smiling at her. Her face flushed bright red, as she quickly went back to the problem of her petticoat. In a matter of moments, the undergarment was tossed atop her dress, and two pair of boots sat on the floor.

“Now what do we do?” She asked. Her body and her mind were giving her all kinds of answers, and the answer from the small part of her that was still Forry, “Run away!” was lost in a chorus of very erotic – and very contrary -- suggestions.

Rosalyn had talked about using the skills she was teaching Flora, the ones that went beyond just touching, talking, and teasing, on a man. And now, as if in a dream, she was about to find out how well she had learned those skills.

He grinned at her. “We just keep on doing what we was doing, kissing and cuddling.” He slid over, next to her. His arm went around her waist, and he kissed her behind her ear.

She shivered, her body tingling once again, and turned to face him. Their lips met, as she draped her arms around his neck. She moaned softly and her tongue darted out and ran across his lip before it retreated back into her mouth. His followed, and it began to tangle with hers. She moaned again from the exquisite sensations the kiss was creating in her.

Carl’s hands reached down and slowly, very carefully began to undo the buttons of her camisole. Once it was opened, his hands moved into it. He cupped her breasts, his thumbs rubbing against her extended nipples. Reacting, her breath came in tiny, rapid gasps.

Flora broke the kiss. She had to. She could barely breathe, so intense was the ache building within her. And coupled with that ache was a most delicious emptiness in her feminine slit. Without thought, she spread her legs apart, as if in welcome, and her hand came down to rub against the bulge in his drawers. She felt it twitch to her touch, and that only served to intensify the ache – and the void.

He smiled, and his hand was down at her crotch. He ran his fingers across her nether lips, tickling them through the fabric of her drawers. The feelings grew stronger yet. Too strong. Flora was swamped by them, and it both scared and delighted her. Could she give in? Could she give up the last bit of her that was still male, still Forry? Could she be a woman, Carl’s woman? Carl’s wife? She had to be! If this was to be the only night they would have to remember, it had damned well better be one that he could never forget.

“Yes!” she cried out abruptly in answer. “Oh… yes!”

He grinned and accepted her cry as a grant of permission to go further. His fingers went to the ribbon that held her drawers in place. A quick yank of the ribbon, and they were undone. He leaned over and kissed her again. As they kissed, he continued leaning forward, so that she gradually shifted, until she was lying down across the bed.

When she started to sit up again, he bent over her. He took her left nipple into his mouth and began to suck at it. His hand reached over and began to roll her right nipple between his thumb and forefinger. She gasped and fell back onto the bed. Her eyes were glazed and half closed, her jaw was set, and her breath was coming in pants.

Carl kissed her breast, and then he began to leave a trail of kisses and love bites from her breast, slowly, towards her stomach. He could hear her moaning, and he smelt the sweet odor of her arousal. He was down below her stomach, when he told her to, “Lift up for a second.”

Trembling, Flora obeyed. She brought her legs closer together and raised her hips off the bed. He took hold of her drawers with both hands and tugged. They slipped down to her thighs, and he pulled them down to her ankles. The next instant, they were off her, and he tossed them away over his shoulder without caring where they fell.

She pushed herself so that she was entirely on the bed, but with her legs spread wide apart. She held her pose expectantly while Carl undid his own drawers and stepped out of them. Then he climbed onto the bed. He was atop her, supporting himself by bent knees and elbows. “You sure?” he asked before kissing her forehead.

“No,” she answered nervously, “but do it… please.” She stared at him intently. ‘Change me,’ she thought, ‘make me the kind of lover -- the kind of woman -- you deserve.’

He took his maleness by the hand and, oh so gently, guided it to her. It slipped in easily – damn!

Her eyes widened as she felt him enter her. There was a quick, sharp pain, but it melted away in the thrilling heat he was causing her to know. The faces of every woman Forry Stafford had ever been with flashed before her eyes. Had he made any of them feel like this? Every part of her body was by now afire, and the sensations just got sharper and more intense.

Carl held in place, just savoring the moment. But then he began to move in deeper – so very deep. And come out slowly. In and out, he moved faster and faster and even faster still. So many times before today, he had wanted to be exactly where he was at this moment. There had been times that he had thought that it would never happen. But here he was, pumping the woman he loved, making her moan with heat and delight, with love and a carnal fervor she had never imagined.

Flora moved. How could she not? Uncertain at first, her movements started to match his. And their matching efforts made the sensations even stronger – even better. Her hands clutched at the blanket beneath her. Her body arched to take him in even deeper, as her legs wrapped around him.

Fireworks were going off within her in ever increasing bursts. It built and Built and BUILT until a great cannonade of every color exploded, and all she knew was washed away in the blast. There was no Flora... no Carl, just her cunny and the most incredible penis in the history of the world.

Then she felt him spurt, and it set her off again. She gasped, and they both collapsed down onto the bed, dazed.

After – who cared how long it was – they remembered to breathe. Carl smiled and pushed a long strand of hair, moist with her sweat, away from her face. “That… was so good!” He kissed her cheek.

“Yes, you were… husband.” She gave him a warm, very sated smile.

He felt himself grow limp. He slid off her and rolled over onto the bed. “Yeah, I guess, after that, we really are married, aren’t we.”

She realized it was true; she had consummated her marriage; she was now somebody’s wife. Incredible. “I guess we are,” she answered with a giggle, as she snuggled up against him. “If not, we’ll just have to do it again, until we get it right.”

His arm slid under her. “We’ll do it again, even if we are married. Especially if we are married.” He kissed her yet again.

They turned their heads, so they were looking at each other, smiling in blissful disbelief at what they had just done. They stayed like that, refusing to think about tomorrow, until they both fell asleep.

* * * * *

Tuesday, June 18, 1872

Something… woke Flora, a tickle on the side of her neck, the gentle caressing of her breasts. She stretched like a cat having its back scratched, as a way of prolonging the pleasure of the dream she was having. Then she realized what was happening, that she was in bed – naked! –and there was someone’s lips on her neck, someone’s hands on her breasts. And someone’s – some man’s -- erection pressed up against her ass. Fearful, and still half-asleep, she turned around to see…

“Good morning, wife,” Carl Osbourne, naked as she was, greeted her.

And she remembered. “Good morning, h-hus... band.” This was so strange, but something about it made her smile -- almost laugh.

“What are you so happy about?” Carl asked teasingly.

“It's just that I've woken up with worse things in my bed.”

Carl was still smiling. “You don't tell me about what you've done, and I won't tell you what I've done.”


Their lips met. Then Carl settled back, to study her adoringly, like a piece of art.

'What should I do next?' Flora wondered. 'If I were with a girl, what would I want her to do?' She shifted her hips, positioning herself to accept his maleness. She felt her courage coming back, very curious to know if last night had been a fluke, or if she could feel again what she had felt then.

“Hey, you two.” They heard a knocking, and the Sheriff’s voice came through the door. “Flora, your friend, Lylah, just came over with breakfast for the two of you. And she brought you a change of clothes, too. But you’ll both have to get dressed and go back to your cell; there’s no room for eating meals where you are.”

Carl sighed and broke the kiss. “Thanks, Sheriff. We’ll be out as soon as we can.”

“The door’s unlocked, and the clothes’re right outside,” Sheriff Talbot replied. “Come out when you’re ready.

“I feel so fine this morning that I'm even willing to consider going out and talking to Lylah for a while… almost,” Flora said. She smiled when she saw Carl’s disappointed expression and kissed his forehead. “I hope Lylah didn’t bring over any hot food.”

“And why is that?” her new husband asked slyly.

Her arms reached up and around his shoulders. “Because it’ll be very cold before we get around to eating it.” She kissed him again.

“The Sheriff could get riled,” warned Carl.

“Let him. What can he do? Throw us in jail?”

“Be right back.” Carl got out of bed. He hurried over to the door, opened it and grabbed for the pile of clothes. He pulled the door shut and latched it from the inside. Smiling broadly, he returned to the bedside.

Flora was right. The sausages and gravy that Lylah had brought were cold when they finally did get to breakfast. As was the coffee, but the newly married couple were both grinning at each other so much that they didn’t notice.

* * * * *

` From The Eerie Citizen, Tuesday, June 18, 1872:

` Wedding Announcement

` The management of The Eerie Citizen is pleased and proud to
` announce the marriage of its editor and co-publisher, Roscoe Unger, to
` Miss Trisha O’Hanlan. The ceremony will occur at 2 PM this Thursday,
` June 20, at the Eerie Methodist Church. All of the readers of this paper
` are invited to attend and to share in their joy. A small reception will be
` held in the yard outside the church following the wedding ceremony.

* * * * *

“My, oh, my, doesn’t this look cozy.”

Carl Osbourne was sitting on the jail cell cot, using the wall of the cell as a backrest. Flora was on the cot with him, nestled up close. His arm was around her waist, and he was reading the newspaper over her shoulder. “Beg pardon,” he said, looking to the cell door.

“Rosalyn…” Flora put down the paper. “He-Hello.”

The demimonde regarded the pair. “I was worried about you, Flora, but you seem to be doing just… fine.” She smiled uneasily. “I'm sorry I didn't get an invite to your wedding.”

Flora got up and went to the bars. “There weren't any invitations. Only lawyers, lawmen and jailors were asked in. Oh, and Carl brought his sister, Nancy, to be maid of honor. Not even the Judge would keep close family away.”

“How are you holding up?”

“I was worried, but…” Flora answered, “…but Carl… distracted me.”

“Mmm, I’m sure that he did.

Flora’s eyes darted from Carl’s face to Rosalyn’s. “Do you two… know each other?” Then she shook her head. “No, don't tell me, I don't want to know.”

Rosalyn offered Carl her hand. “Hello, I’m Rosalyn Owens – of the Somersville Owens. I’m a friend of Flora’s.”

“I’m Carl Osbourne…” He stood up and took her hand, a bemused look on his face. “Of the, ahh, Bigglersville Osbournes.”

“I think I’m going for a bit of a walk,” Carl told them. Carl knew that Rosalyn and Flora had been friends; she was there at Forry's trial. But he tried not to think about what kind of friends the two had been...before. “I’ll leave you ladies to talk for a while.” He leaned down to kiss Flora, who was still on the cot. He’d planned on just a quick buss on her lips, but her arm rose up around his neck, and the kiss became much more intense.

Flora smiled coyly, when they finally broke apart. “That was just to make sure you came back.”

“Oh, you can count on that.” He kissed her again, a light peck on the forehead this time. “Nice t’meet you, Miss Owens.” He nodded to the woman and headed out of the cell and down the hall.

Rosalyn sat down and waited for Carl to disappear around the corner before she spoke. “I was a little afraid that you might not want to see me, considering what I did.”

“What did you do?” Flora asked.

“I-I told you to play up to the men in that saloon, to pick one and flirt with him, get him to give you presents.” She looked away unable to meet Flora’s eyes. “If it wasn’t for me, Clyde Ritter wouldn’t be dead, and you… you wouldn’t be in here waiting…” Her voice broke. “…waiting to be hanged.”

“No, he wouldn’t, but that’s his fault as much as mine, I guess. I really don’t think that you need to blame yourself for what happened.” She frowned. “You taught me how to use the tools; but I put them to waste. You can't do good workmanship on rotten wood.”

“What did happen?”

“I’m not sure. I was teasing him, trying to get him to – well, never mind that, but he lost his temper. He started yelling at me and pulled a knife. I tried to get away. I kicked him, and he tripped, and then fell on his own knife. They saw him dead and jumped to the conclusion that I did it.”

Rosalyn gave a deep sigh. “You don’t have to tell me about people jumping to conclusions. That’s how I wound up as I am.”

Flora studied her friend’s face and saw the hurt in it. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“It’s not a pleasant story.”

“They’re planning to hang me; what can you tell me that’s worse?”

“Not much, I suppose.” Rosalyn sat back in her chair. She thought for a minute or so, staring up at the ceiling, before beginning own her story. “My family is FFV, First Family of Virginia, going back to Lord Colin and Lady Viola Wessex, who landed at Jamestown in 1609.”

“My father was a banker. He invested in the expansion west, railroads in Kansas, new farmland opening up, and like that. He lost his bank and a lot of money – ours and other people’s in the panic of 1857. People blamed him for it, even though we lost our own plantation. Mama got sick – heartsick, I think, and died. It was too much for Father. He just up and disappeared. A lot of people said that he took their money with him.”

“Perhaps he did. I know he didn’t leave me any, and I never heard from him again. I managed to scrape by for a couple years until, in 1862, I married Calvin Norvell. He was FFV, too, but his family hadn’t really been hurt by the panic, since they had only invested in expanding and improving their own plantation, Greenbrier. Many people said that I married Cal for his money, not for love.” She took a long breath before continuing. “And, no, Flora, before you ask, it was very much for love.”

“I-I wasn’t going to ask.”

“I was about six months pregnant when I got word that Cal had died at Chickamauga. The shock was…” She looked away, fighting back tears. “I lost the baby.”

“About a month after that, I got a visit from Cal’s family. They had never approved the marriage. Several close friends of theirs had lost money invested with my father. A cousin of Calvin’s mother had died shortly after hearing of the failure of my father’s bank, and they blamed Father for his death. They didn’t trust me, and they had no intention of losing Greenbrier to me. Cal’s young brother, Arthur, tried to move in and take over the place a few days later. I chased him away with the help of some of the servants, but then he took me to court.”

“And you lost?” Flora asked. She took hold of Rosalyn’s hand. Forry hadn’t been much on comforting others, but she thought that her friend needed a sympathetic listener just now.

“Eventually, yes; but there’s more to the story. During the early spring, the Yankees came down on us like a swarm of locusts, taking everything. A squad of blue bellies rode up to Greenbrier. I met them at the steps, holding Calvin’s old hunting rifle. They laughed, but then they got the rifle away from me, and one of them said that I was now part of the booty.”

“They threw me to the ground. Two men held me down while a third…” She turned away again. “They all had me, and they were not gentle about it. I was hurting in several places, and my clothes, what I still was wearing, were in rags. And once they had satisfied themselves, they tied my hands, so they could take me back to their camp.”

Flora looked shocked. “White slavery? I never heard any stories of soldiers of either side engaging in such a thing.”

She shook her head. “These soldiers did, at least that’s what they said they were going to do.”

“That was when Rufus – Major Rufus Cartwright -- rode up. He demanded to know what was going on. One of those men said that I was just a local who’d offered them sex in return for their protection. The others quickly agreed. I did not, and I said so loudly, using a few less than ladylike words, I’m afraid.”

“Rufus climbed off his horse, and helped me mount it. He told those men that they were free to conscript as much supplies as they could find, but that he would horsewhip any of them that tried such behavior with any of the local women. I watched the men storm into my house, as Rufus turned and took me back to camp.”

“So you wound up sleeping with a major instead of a bunch of enlisted men.”

Rosalyn shook her head emphatically. “I wound up as a helper to the other women who worked for Rufus and his senior officers, cooking, and cleaning, and such. He was most loyal to his wife, I’ll have you know. I stayed in that camp for almost two weeks, under his protection and untouched the whole time.”

“But I was worried about Greenbrier, and, with Rufus’ permission I returned. But it was too late; Arthur had moved into the place and taken over. He claimed that I had abandoned my home to be with my Yankee lover. The court – and just about everyone else in town – accepted his version of things.”

“He allowed me to stay. I was, after all, his brother’s widow. But I noticed that he stared at me oddly from time to time. On occasion, he was even… kind to me.”

“One night, he found a bottle of very old wine, and he insisted that we drink. The next thing I knew, I was in a bed, naked. I had no idea what was going on, but a man’s voice said that he was Calvin, come to make love to his beautiful wife. I was dizzy from the wine, and I imagined that I had awakened from a nightmare. It had been so very long, and I loved Calvin so much that I very happily cooperated.”

“I awoke the next morning to a knock on the door. A woman I had never seen before entered, carrying a breakfast tray for two. She was followed by a man I did know, John David Selden, Arthur’s lawyer. It was Arthur in the bed with me.”

“I screamed and covered myself with a sheet. Arthur just laughed. ‘You were very good last night, Roselyn’ he said. ‘If you’d like another go at it, I can ask these people to leave.’ When I refused, he laughed again and told the woman to set the tray down on the bed between him and me.

I was naked and trapped in the bed. Arthur then told Mr. Selden that I had agreed to become his mistress in return for permission to remain at Greenbrier and a small monthly allowance. ‘She likes the idea of getting paid for it,’ he told the man.”

“I tried to argue, but he answered that no one would accept my side of things. I had supposedly been the mistress of a Union officer and had been seen in bed, naked, with Arthur by two ‘reputable’ witnesses.”

“I told him that I had no intention to become his mistress. I leapt from the bed and fled to my room, only to discover that all of my clothing and belongings were gone. The woman who had brought the tray – and who, as I discovered later, was John Selden’s wife – brought in the clothes I had worn the day before. ‘Arthur says that, since you refuse to see things sensibly, you’re to leave as soon as possible,’ she informed me in an imperious tone. I had no choice, and I dressed in them as quickly as I could.”

“As soon as I was dressed, she signaled Arthur, and he and Selden walked me to the door. ‘You really were quite good,’ Arthur said as he pushed me out onto the front porch. ‘Are you absolutely sure you don’t want to stay on here as my… bed warmer? If you refuse my gallant gesture again, I shall consider myself at liberty to deal with you as you deserve.’”

“I slapped his face. ‘I would sooner die than prostitute myself like that,’ I said, trying to regain my dignity.”

“‘Those are your choices, as it happens. Here’s your first payment for services rendered.’ He tossed me a fifty dollar Confederate grayback banknote and slammed the door. ‘Just to help you decide.’ I sank down on my knees and cried for some time.”

“Mr. Selden came out a few minutes later. He stared at me for a moment, but then he offered me a ride to town in his carriage. I readily accepted. About half way to town, he pulled off the road. ‘Now that you’ve chosen your new way of life, would you like to earn a bit more working at it?’ When I asked what he meant, he took my hand and placed it on his crotch. ‘You use that pretty mouth of yours to make me happy, and there’s… two dollars in it for you.’ He began to unbutton his trousers.”

“I was shocked. ‘How dare you?’ I said and slapped his face.”

“He just laughed. ‘We’ll see how long you act that way,’ he sneered and drove on, taking a different road than we had been on.”

“Where are you going?” I asked. “This isn't the way to town.”

He scowled. “You're not fit to be among decent people right now. There's no telling what wild things you'll say. You’d just start a scandal in your excited state. You need a chance to rest and think things over. There's a lady along this road… She runs a... boarding house, and she's agreed to take you in.”

“Mr. Selden didn’t say another word the remainder of the trip. However, about five miles further on, he stopped the carriage in front of The Scarlet Vixen, a notorious local brothel that even I had heard of.

“‘Here’s your new home, Rosalyn,’ he called out in a loud, clear voice. ‘Arthur decided not to keep you as his personal whore, after all, but I’m sure that you’ll do well here.’ There were several people nearby, and they all heard him. They also saw him hand me a two dollar gold piece, saying that it was payment for an act of oral sex.”

“I had lost. Everyone in the county was against me. I took the money because I knew I'd need it and a lot more besides. Some last bit of pride made me answer. ‘Next time, it’ll cost you a whole lot more.’ I climbed down from the carriage, refusing any offer of help. I walked straight ahead into the Vixen. My anger was a blessed thing; it kept me from collapsing right there in front that pack of whores and criminals.”

“I became a different person that day. I had to, just to keep from going mad. I wasn't Rosalyn Owens Norvell anymore; I just had the same name as her. That Rosalyn couldn't be blamed for anything I would do from then on. Calvin had taught me very well to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh, and I was soon one of the ‘favorites’ of the place. I wouldn't have brought back the weak and foolish girl I had been even if I could.”

The memories had been too much, and Rosalyn started to tremble. Flora put her arms around her friend.

‘How odd,’ she thought. Rosalyn had come over to comfort her, and now she was comforting Rosalyn. ‘I guess that’s just how women act towards each other when they’re friends.’

Forry had seen a lot of women in his social circle hugging each other, giving solace to friends. He had always put it down to the silliness of the female mind; no sense of personal independence.

His male friends had been mere acquaintances, men to drink and gamble with. Boys made close friends, men didn't. But, come to think of it, Forry hadn't made many close friends even as a boy. It was nice to have at least a couple people in town who didn't want to string her up.

* * * * *

“These cookies are delicious, Vinnie” Cecelia Ritter said. “Thank you so much for bringing them.”

Lavinia Mackechnie nodded. “With all that’s going on in your life, Cecelia, you surely can’t be expected to bake for your visitors, can you?”

“You all have been so good to me. After poor Clyde…” Cecelia’s voice faded, and she sank back into her chair.

Grace MacLeod leaned over and patted Cecelia’s hand. “He was a good man.”

“He just doted on me and the children,” said the widow. “I-I don’t know what we’re going to do without him.”

“You aren’t thinking about leaving Eerie, are you?” Hilda Scudder asked.

Cecelia managed a brave – rehearsed – smile. “Oh, no; my home – Clyde’s business – is here. So many people depend on the livery stable.”

“And we depended on Clyde at the church, too,” Zenobia Carson chimed in. “He was a rock for the congregation, such a fine, pious man.”

Cecelia smiled again. “Thank you. He was always so proud of his work for the church.” She sighed. “There were nights when he came home so late from some meeting. He’d just fall into bed without a word to me.”

“That awful Stafford woman,” Zenobia said angrily, “she deserves to hang.”

Cecelia sighed again. “She probably won’t, though.”

“But…” Hilda looked confused. “I thought that the Judge sentenced her to hang.”

“The Judge,” Cecelia spat. “He’s so cozy with O’Toole and all those terrible people. He agreed to a second hearing quick enough, didn’t he? You just watch; he’ll find some flimsy excuse to… to let that brazen woman go free.”

“We can’t let that happen!” Lavinia glared at the other women.

Grace looked astounded. “But what can we do?”

Cecelia studied the faces of her friends. “We can go to that hearing, and we can insist that justice be done. When – and I mean when -- Judge Humphreys or that Jew lawyer try to twist things, we shout out and put a stop to it, just like we did at the church board meetings. We stand up for the right, and we put those people in their place.”

“Are we all in agreement on that?” Lavinia asked.

The other women quickly nodded. Cecelia’s smile broadened into a grin. “Thank you so much, ladies. I knew that I could count on you, my best friends, in my time of grief.” In her mind, she added, ‘to help make certain that Flora Stafford will die!

* * * * *

“Hey, R.J.,” Bridget walked over to the bar. “What’s Shamus so happy about? He’s been in his office whistling all morning.”

R.J. was setting up the glasses for the day. “You know what a romantic he can be sometimes. He’s still celebrating last night’s wedding.”

“Wedding; who got married?” She cocked a bemused eyebrow. “It wasn’t you and Dolores, was it?”

The barman laughed. “If Dolores and I had gotten married last night, do you really think I’d be in here working today?”

“No, I suppose not. Who was it then?”

“A couple of friends of yours – sort of – Carl Osbourne and…” He watched her face for her reaction. “…Flora Stafford.”

He wasn’t disappointed. Bridget’s eyes went wide as saucers, and her jaws dropped a foot. “Flora – that’s – that’s not possible. She’s… She’s in jail.”

“Sure it’s possible. The Judge married them in her cell, and they spent the night in Paul Grant’s old room.”

“But why would Carl ever want to --”

“You’ll have to ask him that yourself. If you’ve got any other questions about the wedding, you can ask Shamus. He was there as father of the bride. Besides, he wants to see you about something anyway.”

“Do you know what he wants?”

“No, why don’t you go and find out?”

“I think I will.” She turned and walked over to the door to Shamus’ office, listening to whistling growing louder. ‘How the hell can he be that happy for someone like her?’ she thought to herself.

The whistling stopped when she knocked. “Who is it?” he asked through the door.

“Bridget, can I come in?”

“Aye, and be shutting the door behind ye, if ye please.”

She did as he asked and took a seat.

“Before ye’re saying anything, Bridget,” he began, “ye should be knowing that Flora got married t’Carl Osbourne last night.”

“R.J. told me.” She shook her head in disgust. “I thought he had more good sense than to do something as stupid as that.”

“Thuir’s ‘good sense’… and then thuir’s love, me lass. Ye should be knowing that, considering the way ye’ve been blowing hot and cold with Cap Lewis.”

Her eyes narrowed in anger. “You know what happened, Shamus, what Flora did --”

“I know what Forry done t’ye, and what Flora didn’t do t’ye. More important, I know what they say she did t’Clyde Ritter and what may happen t’her because of it. And I’m saying enough about her.”

“But --”

“I said, ‘enough’ if ye please. She ain’t the reason I wanted t’be talking to ye.” He waited a beat for her to relax. “I seen ye playing poker with Sam Braddock and some of yuir other ‘regulars’ these last few days.”

“It-It was Sam’s idea. We weren’t playing for money, just nails from his tool box.”

“Playing poker is playing poker, and it seems t’me that ye was the one who wound up with most o’them nails.”

“I got lucky, I guess.”

“Aye, and the luck was that ye finally got your old game back.” He looked her in the eye. “D’ye think it’s back enough t’be playing for money again – t’be running yuir own game instead of working for me as dealer?”

“I-I don’t know. Can I think about it a little while?”

“Aye, take yuirself a few days if ye need ‘em. Ye can tell me yuir answer by this time next week, okay?”

“Why?” she teased, “Does someone else want set himself up to run the gambling here?”

“No. I just think it would be good for you. It'd help bring back the old Bridget, the one we know and love. You've been healing, m'gal even if you haven't noticed. So think about it and let me know.”

She frowned. It was one more thing to think about. “Thanks, Shamus.”

“Since it’s June 18th already, I’d only be charging ye for days left in the month, once ye start up again, just t’be fair.” He thought for a moment. “Do ye have any money t’be paying the rent with – and the money ye’ll need t’be betting with, too?”

She shrugged indifferently. “I do. It’s been sitting in the bank all this time.”

“Good, then I’ll be hoping t’see ye back running yuir game again, real soon.”

“We’ll see, but either way, thanks. You’ve given me a lot to think about.” She rose and left his office.

Shamus watched her close the door behind her. “Aye,” he said softly, “and ‘tis better for ye t’be thinking about playing poker again, than t’be wishing for Flora t’die.”

* * * * *

“Sacrilege!” Reverend Yingling crumbled the newspaper and threw it across his study. “Sac. Ri. Lege.”

Martha Yingling hurried into the room. “Good Heavens, Thad, whatever is the matter?”

“Trisha O’Hanlan – The paper says that she and Roscoe Unger are getting married on Thursday. The entire town is invited.”

Martha smiled. “How wonderful. After Cecelia Ritter blurted out about Trisha’s pregnancy last week, I’ve been so afraid for her. But when everyone sees her standing up before you with that Unger fellow --”

“Martha --” He cut her off. “They will most emphatically not be ‘standing up before me.’ I have no intention of consecrating such a blasphemous union, and I told them so when they asked me the other day. I also forbade them to use my church, but, according to that miserable, lying excuse for a newspaper of Unger’s, that is precisely where they intend to marry.”

“Would it be so bad for you to marry them in the church?”

“It most certainly would. Martha, can’t you – can’t anyone in this town see the potential for evil in O’Toole’s potion, potential to corrupt… to cause the breaking of sacred vows…”

The man stiffened his stance. “No, they obviously cannot. I-I will show them. I will disrupt this wedding and drive the miscreants out of the house of our Lord. Yes, yes, that will do it. That will protect… protect everyone.”

Martha walked slowly back to the kitchen. “Oh, Thaddeus, what’s become of you? Do you truly need to protect the town, or…” She wiped away a tear. “…or does the town now need protection from you?”

* * * * *

“Mademoiselle Bridget,” Herve said, a note of surprise in his voice, as he saw her in the brothel doorway. “What brings you here this time of day?”

Bridget glanced nervously into the building. “I-I know it’s late, Herve, and Wilma’s probably… busy. But I need to see her. Please. Tell her it’s an emergency.”

“I shall try.” He gestured for her to come inside. “Why do you not wait over there…” He pointed to a half-opened door. “…in the office, and I shall see if Wilma is… available to talk to you.”

She nodded and went into the office. An oil lamp on the desk was turned low, but it still gave enough light for her to find a chair. She sat down and stared at the lamp. ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ she asked herself. ‘What the hell am I doing anywhere?’

She was still sitting in the dim light, lost in thought, when Wilma came a few minutes later. As Bridget expected, her friend was in her “work clothes,” short, silky white drawers and lace camisole. Her corset was sea green, and she was just fastening the top hook, when she entered the room.

“This better be important, Bridget,” Wilma scolded. “Me and – well, you never mind who – was just getting down to it, when Herve knocked on my door and told me you had some kind of emergency you needed t’talk to me about.” As she spoke, Wilma closed the door behind her.

Bridget sighed. “I’m sorry, Wilma. I shouldn’t have bothered you. I’ll let you get back to who – what – you were doing.” She gave Wilma a sad, little smile and started to stand.

“Sit down!” Wilma ordered. “I don’t know what’s got you so riled up that you don’t know if you’re coming or going, but if it was important enough for you t’get me in here, you’re gonna stay and tell me about it.”

Bridget looked like she’d just sucked a lemon. “Flora really didn’t have anything to do with Clyde Ritter’s death. The damn fool tripped over his own feet and fell on his knife. I know because I saw the whole thing.”

Wilma put her fists on her hips and scowled. “And you kept you mouth shut.” The brunette's eyes seemed to drill straight through the gambler. “You're having a fit of guilt; ain’t you? You came to me because you think I'm the one person in town who doesn't have an ounce of decency; that I'll tell you to keep mum and let Flora hang, so you can feel good about yourself?”

“No, of course not. I came because I already know what everyone else would do. You're the only one who wouldn't go running to sheriff about what I just told you. We've eaten too much road dust together for either of us to do that kind of backstab. You know how I’m feeling; they can't. Don't you want to see Flora dead, too?”

“So, this is about Flora again. I think you've been thinking about her too much, and it’s got you all tied up in knots.”

“I want her to die for what she did to me. It's only justice.”

“Some people would think so. Only I didn't know you were that kind of person. I'm sorry t’find out that you are.”

Bridget blinked, surprised by the strength of her friend’s reaction. “She hurt me, Wilma. I'm only thinking that, maybe, if I hurt her even more than she hurt me, I can stop my own hurting.”

“Babykins, you're a sad case. In this crazy world, Flora didn't actually do anything to you. Oh, I guess she was rude once or twice, but Molly put an end to that.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Flora didn't hurt you; Forry did. Are me and you still Will and Brian? I hope that we ain’t. Do you want to go on being blamed for what they did on the owlhoot trail?”

“Hell, no, but what does that have to do with anything?”

“I've been watching and worrying about you. You’ve been hurt, hurt so bad you haven't been able to see straight for a couple months. Sometimes I think the only thing that's kept you going is your hate. Well, maybe hate has its use; it can keep a person fighting long after everything else says ‘Stop.’ But don't you see that, when Flora is gone, she won't be there for you to hate anymore? All that hate inside you ain’t just gonna go away. You’ll feel even guiltier than you do now, and you're going to start hating the woman you see in the mirror.”

“Some polecats could do what you're planning, and they’d get by; they're as cold as a rock inside. The trouble comes when the backshooter isn't a polecat down deep. I've seen guilt kill a man. Long before they laid the sod over him, he was good as dead. He'd stopped living months before the fever got him; there was nothing left behind the skin and the bones of his face, because the rest of him was in hell long before he died.”

Bridget wrung her hands. “It isn't fair. Why did I ever have to see her and Ritter? I could be enjoying this hanging otherwise. Why do I have to make myself dirty just to make sure that Forry pays for his rotten life?”

“Hell's played you a rotten trick, sweetheart. Somebody below sure must be laughing. If you let Flora go down the chute, you'll go down with her. Only, her death’ll be a quick one. You… you’re gonna be years in the dying.”

Bridget shook her head. “I want to destroy her, but why did Fate force me to have to do it this way? I'd have rather stood in the street and faced her off with six guns. To have to wait this out....”

Wilma chuckled. “That would be a gunfight that this country would never forget. But you won't have that chance, not if she swings. You're about to kill a person with a lie, or what amounts to a lie. That's not the Brian Kelly I know. It's no better than what some Kansas jayhawker would do, and you've never been a jayhawker. That's why I liked riding with you. I could always depend on you to be square, when, sometimes, I couldn't even be sure about Jesse.”

“You're saying....”

“I'm saying that I'd sacrifice Forry or Flora in a snap to save your life. I owe you everything, and I owe her shit. But you've managed to get tangled up in the same hangman's rope as her. You're right about me; I won't turn you in. But from where I stand, it's like watching my best friend put the gun to her head to shoot at a tick that's dug in there. You've got a devil of a choice to make, old friend, but maybe it's time that you decided what sort of woman Bridget Kelly really is.”

* * * * *

Wednesday, June 19, 1872

The hearing, like the trial, was held in the schoolhouse. A crowd was waiting outside when Judge Humphreys and his clerk, Obie Wynn, strode up to the door. Sheriff Talbot was with them to open the building. Most of the crowd was silent, but a few men – and women – shouted for Flora to be hung at once. The two men ignored their yelling, as they weaved through the crowd and up the steps. The Sheriff unlocked the doors, and the Judge and Wynn walked in. Talbot closed the door behind them and stood blocking the entrance.

After about ten minutes, Wynn poked his head out the door. “She’s ready,” he told the Sheriff in his thick Kentucky accent.

“All right, folks,” the Sheriff said, as he opened the door. “You can go in now. Just take your seats quietly… and behave yourself.” He had added the last, as one of the men who’d been yelling for Flora to hang walked past.

The room filled quickly. Wynn opened the windows, so those outside could hear the proceedings.

Roscoe sat near the back, taking notes for the paper. He’d deliberately asked Trisha not to sit near him. “You’re just too distracting,” he’d told her, kissing her afterwards.

She was sitting with Liam – Kaitlin was minding the Feed and Grain – and two other members of the church board: Horace Styron and Dwight Albertson.

Cecelia Ritter and her children sat just behind Milt Quinlan, the prosecutor. Even Winthrop was there, as the livery stable was closed for the day. Lavinia Mackechnie, Zenobia Carson, and the other women sat around her.

“What are they doing here?” Zenobia asked sharply, pointing to Lady Cerise, Herve, Wilma, and Rosalyn, who were taking seats at the far side of the room.

Cecelia gave a haughty sniff. “Come to see what happens to one of their own, I suspect. After all, that Stafford woman is just like them.”

“Allo, Cecelia,” Cerise said in a loud voice. She’d seen Mrs. Ritter and her friends staring at her, and she decided to embarrass them. She waved and blew the group a kiss from across the room.

Cecelia gasped in dismay. “Well, I never!”
Before Cecelia or her friends could react further, there was a commotion in the back of the room. All heads turned as Deputy Tor Johansson led Flora into the court. Carl walked beside her, holding her hand, while Zach Levy followed closely behind her.

“That hussy!” Cecelia was indignant. “My poor Clyde’s body isn’t even cold, and she’s already entrapped another man.” She jumped to her feet. “Slut! Murderess!” Her friends picked up the chant and several other women joined in.

Flora took a seat at a table in the front of the room. Zach took the chair down beside her, putting his briefcase up on the table. Carl sat just behind them. Molly came over and sat down next to him. “Shamus couldn’t take the day off,” she whispered to Flora, “but he told me t’be wishing ye good luck.” She placed her hand on Flora’s shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze.

Tor took a position against the wall. The Sheriff, as bailiff, was standing near the front of the room. Both men carefully watched the crowd.

* * * * *

“We’ll begin now.” Judge Humphreys pounded his gavel once on the desktop in the very front of the room, and the Sheriff called the court to order. “I will have silence – and I mean right now,” the Judge continued, “or the people involved will find themselves cooling their heels in jail. Am I understood?”

He glared at the crowd. Most of those who’d been talking, including the troublemakers from the schoolyard, grew quiet. Most. Cecelia was still whispering to her friends. The Judge waited a bit, then he ordered, “Winthrop Ritter, tell your mother -- and the others there -- to stop talking, or they will most assuredly spend the rest of the day in jail – regardless of who they are.”

“Yes, sir.” Winthrop looked frightened for a moment, but then he put his hand on his mother’s shoulder and spoke. “Mother… ladies, please… be quiet… for my father’s sake.”

“Your… Your father.” Cecelia looked startled. “Yes… Yes, for him.” She shifted in her seat, so that she was facing forward and sank down into her chair.

Humphreys picked up a sheet of paper and began to read. “This is an evidentiary hearing with regard to the case of the Territory of Arizona versus Flora Stafford. The defendant is not disputing the evidence or the jury’s verdict. She is disputing the original charge, claiming that the situation of the case does not justify the charge of first degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of death. Instead, the defense is asking that the charge be reduced to involuntary manslaughter, which would only carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years.”

“Ladies and gentlemen…” He put the paper down on the desk. “Clyde Ritter is dead. No one can diminish that unfortunate fact, nor should they try to do so. This hearing is not in any way intended to make light of his death. What we’re here to do is to determine the degree of fault for that fact, which can properly be laid upon Flora Stafford and what is the appropriate punishment for that guilt.”

He glanced at Milt and Zach, his eyes shifting between the two men. “Are both counsels in full agreement with this proceeding and with its intended results as I have described them?” Both of the lawyers nodded and stated that they were.

“Does the prosecution wish to call any witnesses?” the Judge asked.

Milt rose and shook his head. “No, Your Honor, but the prosecution does reserve the right of cross examination and the right to call rebuttal witnesses, if appropriate.”

“Granted of course,” Humphreys replied. He turned to Zach. “Is the defense ready?”

Levy stood. “I am, Your Honor. The defense calls Pablo Escobar.”

* * * * *

Zach waited until the Sheriff had sworn in Pablo before he stood and walked towards him. “Pablo, who do you work for?”

“Seňor Ritter’s livery stable – I hope.” He squirmed in his chair.

“Aren’t you sure who you work for?”

“I work for the livery… now, but after I’m done answering your questions…” His voice dropped away.

The Judge looked directly at a very angry Cecelia and Winthrop, both of whom were glaring at the witness. “I’m quite sure that you’ll keep your job after you testify here today,” he told Pablo in a stern voice. “The Ritters are smart enough to realize that firing you for what you say here would be witness-tampering after the fact, a serious offense, and one which is punishable by both jail time and a hefty fine.”

There was no such charge – though, perhaps, there should be – but Humphreys doubted that the Ritters were aware of that fact, or that either Milt Quinlan or Zach Levy would ever tell them.

“Sí,” Pablo said, looking more relaxed. “They are very smart people. Thank you, Judge.”

The Judge smiled, first at Pablo, then at the Ritters. “I just wanted to clarify that point. Please continue, with your questions, counselor.”

“Thank you, Your Honor,” Zach replied. “Pablo, how long have you worked for Ritter’s Livery?”

“About six months.”

“And, in all that time, did you ever see Mr. Ritter – Clyde Ritter; that is – lose his temper? I mean, really lose his temper?”

Milt stood quickly. “Objection, Your Honor; everyone loses his temper now and then. Meaning no disrespect, but I’ve even observed Your Honor become angry on occasion.”


Zach nodded, accepting the Judge’s ruling. “Let me rephrase the question,” said the Judge. “Pablo, did you ever see Mr. Ritter get so mad that his face changed color, he started cursing, and he threw things around or hit people?”

“Sí, but not often.”

“When was the last time he got that mad? Tell me what happened, please.”

“The day after the big fire, two men – they looked like prospectors – came in to see him about something. He took them into his office. The two men came out in a little while, smiling and laughing. They went away, but Mr. Ritter, he stayed in the office. I don’t know what his face looked like, but we could hear him screaming. He was – what is it – ‘cursing a blue streak’ and throwing stuff around. We could hear crashing noises, too.”

“After a while, he stormed out and went for a walk or something. Mr. Winthrop sent me in to clean up. Everything was pushed off his desk and onto the floor. Some things were thrown across the room, and his pen knife was sticking in the wall, right through a map of the country. I had to pull real hard to get it out.”

Zach took a knife from a small table near the Judge. A small tag was attached to it. “Is this the knife that was stuck in that wall?”

“I-I think so. It sure looks like his knife.”

The lawyer handed the knife to the Judge. “As Your Honor can see, this knife is Exhibit A, the knife that killed Clyde Ritter.” When Humphreys nodded, Zach looked over at Pablo. “No further questions, thank you, Pablo.”

“Did you ever see Mr. Ritter use this knife?” Milt asked as he rose and walked towards Pablo.

“Sí, a lot of times; he’d cut an apple for Sam, the roan stallion, or one of the other horses as a treat. And he used it to cut the string around boxes of supplies we get delivered, or cut a loose thread off those vests we have to wear when we change horses for the stagecoach, too. One time, he used it to pry loose a pebble that was stuck in Lulu’s hoof.”

“Did he ever use it to threaten you -- or anybody else?”

“No, sir.”

“Did he ever threaten or hurt anyone with that knife?”

“He didn’t have to. When he was mad like that, he was scary enough without the knife.”

Even Milt chuckled at Pedro’s answer. “I’ve no more questions, Pablo. Thank you; you can step down.” The prosecutor took his seat, while the boy scrambled out of the makeshift courtroom.

* * * * *

“Miss Duval --” Zach began.

Cerise held up her hand, interrupting him. “I prefer ‘Lady Cerise’ or ‘My Lady’, if you please.”

“Very well, then, Lady Cerise, for the record, would you please state your full name and occupation?”

“I am Lady Cerise Jeanne Marie Duval, proprietor of La Parisienne Social and Sporting Club.”

“A brothel.”

“Mais oui, if you wish to be coarse about it; yes, a brothel.”

“I don’t mean to be coarse, but I do wish to seek the truth regarding the death of Clyde Ritter. Would you please tell the Court what that book is on your lap?”

“My grand livre… my ledger.”

“And what is ‘The Dining Room’, if you please.”

“A special, confidential room at La Parisienne, a room for parties, with a table that can seat six people for a meal, as well as three comfortable lounge chairs placed to ensure… privacy for those making use of them, even when all three are in use.”

Zach peeked down at his notes. “Now, would you please open the ledger and turn to the page for April 29, 1872.” When she did as he had asked, he added, “Now read the entry regarding ‘the Dining Room’, please?”

“Very well.” She scanned down the page. “Here it is… Avril 29… The Dining Room… reserved for Clyde Ritter and Horace Styron, with Mae and Wilma, fifty dollars.”

Horace jumped to his feet. “That’s a lie!”

“All of it, or just the part about you, Mr. Styron?” Zach asked in mock innocence.

Before Horace could answer, the Judge interrupted. “Since this hearing pertains solely to the matter of Clyde Ritter and Flora Stafford, I will instruct the witness to refrain mentioning the name of any other patron of her… establishment besides those two individuals.”

“Very well, Par -- Your Honor,” Cerise said with a bit of a wicked smile, leaving a few people to wonder if she had actually started to say the Judge’s first name.

“Would you please show me the page?”

“Why?” Cerise asked in a mischievous tone. “Do you not trust my honor, Your Honor?”

Humphreys shook his head. “It’s just a formality. Since I’m the one making the final ruling, I have to actually see the evidence.”

“Very well.” The Lady handed him the book. His eyes glanced down the page, stopping a moment at an entry. He nodded and handed the ledger back to her.

Zach looked down at his notes again. “My Lady, would you please read the entries for ‘The Dining Room’ for April 8, April 15, and April 22, 1872; excluding any other names, of course?”

The other, older entries said the same thing. Clyde Ritter and someone else – probably Horace Styron, since he tensed as she read each entry – had used the room in the company of Mae Snyder and Wilma Hanks. Judge Humphreys briefly examined each page, after Cerise read the entry.

By the time Cerise had finished, the courtroom was full of voices half whispering things about Clyde – and Horace. A number of people were staring at a very embarrassed – and very mad – Cecelia Ritter. Some also were staring at Horace, who was slunk down as low as he could get in his seat.

“It seems to me,” Zach began, “Clyde Ritter was spending a lot of money – him and whoever that other person was – on that ‘Dining Room’ of yours, Lady Cerise. I’m sure that it’s a very nice place, but do you have any idea why Clyde kept using it?”

She nodded. “Oui, it was the only way that I would permit him to continue as a patron of my establishment after the fight he started.”

“Tell the Court about that fight. What happened, exactly?”

“It was late February – no, early March. Clyde came in very upset about something. He kept muttering something I could not understand under his breath. I thought nothing of it. My… House, it is there to help gentlemen to forget what troubles them, to relax and enjoy a bit of… pleasure in a hard… dull life.”

“And was Clyde Ritter a frequent… visitor?”

“Mais oui…” She chuckled at the memory of what she was about to tell. “…once he even told his wife that there had been a fire in his stable, so he could come back early from some tiresome family vacation.”

Cecelia gasped. “He… No!” She sank back in her chair, a look of utter despair on her face. Winthrop and Hermione moved in close to try comforting her.

“Getting back to the story of the fight,” Zach prompted.

The Lady nodded and resumed her story. “Clyde Ritter, he had his… heart set on being with Wilma that night. Alas, she was upstairs with another… gentleman friend. He said that he would wait for her, even though Mae and Roselyn were both available.” Cerise shrugged. “Sometimes a man can be stubborn. I offered him some wine while he waited, just to be sociable, of course.”

“And?” he asked.

“Alas, it did not work as I had hoped. Too much wine and a man becomes… He began to yell, demanding Wilma. I asked him to be patient, and he just yelled the louder. Two gentlemen told him to be quiet, and he shouted insults at them. One of the gentlemen took offense and rose to his feet. Clyde kicked him in the stomach, and the man went down. He jumped the other, and they began to grapple. The entire time, he bellowed for Wilma.”

“Finally, my friend, Herve, had to step in. He pulled the two men apart. Monsieur Ritter grabbed a chair and smashed it over his back.” Cerise gave a shy smile. “How fortunate that Herve has such a strong back, is it not? He staggered for a moment, but then he shook off the blow and knocked Clyde out with a single punch.”

She waited a moment, watching Zach’s face. “When Clyde woke up, he was gentleman enough to pay for the chair and the other damages. But I could not risk it happening again. From then on, he used the dining room, he and… someone else together more often than not, as it was so expensive, and they sent word in advance, which of my ladies they wished to sport with. It is all in my book.”

“I’m sure it is,” Zach told her. “I’m sure it is. No more question; thank you, Lady Cerise.” He walked back to his chair, letting the idea of Clyde Ritter’s sexual indulgences sink into the minds of everyone in the room.

Milt stood up and walked a few feet towards the Madame. “Did you ever see Clyde Ritter act in that extreme manner on any other night, either before or after the incident you described?”

“No, but men do not come to La Parisienne to get… angry. They come to enjoy themselves, if anything, to get over their anger.”

“So his violent behavior was just a one-time thing?”

“It is hard to say. A man can appear calm, happy even, but inside, the anger can fester like a boil. It grows bigger – darker -- and when it finally explodes, anything can happen.”

“No further questions.”

The Judge looked at his pocket watch. “It’s 11:42. I’m adjourning this Court until 1 P.M. Enjoy your lunches, everyone…” He looked at Cecelia. “…those of you who can.”

* * * * *

“You buy that shit they’re shoveling?” Jack Schwartz asked, taking a swig from the jug he’d brought. He was a thin, sandy-haired man, dressed in brown work pants and matching shirt.

Rog Hayden shook his head. “Nope; who gives a damn if Ritter had a temper, or if he liked getting laid on Mondays. He’s still dead.” He took up Jack Schwartz’s jug and drank some. Hayden was short, and both he and his clothes were in dire need of some cleaning.

“And it was that Stafford bitch that killed him,” Cyrus Moran added, taking a drink. “Killed him for no good reason.” He was heavyset man in a green and blue checkered shirt and overalls.

Schwartz nodded. “Seems t’me the only reason they’s going through all this crap today is ‘cause they’re looking for a way t’let her go.”

“The hell you say,” Hayden said angrily. “I mean, she’s pretty enough – damn pretty – but she’s still a murderer, and she’s gotta pay for what she done.”

Schwartz shook his head. “She’s a potion gal. O’Toole ain’t gonna let anything happen t’her – to any of ‘em. He prob’ly already told the Judge to fix it.”

“That ain’t right,” Moran said. “We gotta do something.” He took another drink.

Hayden nodded. “Yeah, but what?”

“Last week, the Judge said t’hang her,” Schwartz told them. “If he lets her walk today, I say we grab her ‘n’ string her up ourselves.”

Moran looked nervous. “How we gonna get her away from all them people?”

“We got our guns, don’t we?” Schwartz replied, with a nasty laugh. “How many o’them you think is packing?”

Hayden answered. “Enough – prob’ly more’n enough.”

“The hell with ‘em,” Schwartz said. “The Judge said she dies, then she dies. Let’s just shoot her, right there in the courtroom.”

Hayden shook his head. “Right, and then they shoot us.”

“Not likely,” Schwartz told him confidently. “We’re right, and they all know it. Most decent folks’ll back our play.” He handed the jug around for one last drink.

* * * * *

“It would have been nice if Cecelia and her children could have joined us,” Grace MacLeod said, handing out finger sandwiches from the basket Cecelia had persuaded her to bring. “Heavens knows, I brought enough,”

Lavinia Mackechnie poured herself a glass of the iced tea Grace had brought. “Yes, but there’s hardly room for four more at this picnic table. Besides, after this morning’s testimony, I think she’s more comfortable eating with her children inside. Alone.”

“I have to feel sorry for her,” Hilda Scudder said. Even at lunch, she was knitting, a green cap for the baby she was expecting in August. “To hear all those things about her husband.”

Zenobia Carson took a bite of sandwich before she spoke. “As if she didn’t already know all that about her ‘darling’ Clyde and his temper. That business about the cathouse makes me wonder, though.”

“About what?” Grace asked.

Zenobia frowned. “About Cecelia. She’d have to be pretty dumb if she didn’t know how he was taking his leisure. And if she did know, why didn’t she do something to stop it?”

“Perhaps she tried,” Lavinia suggested, “but she couldn’t get him to stop.”

“Or, maybe, she didn’t care,” Hilda said. “Maybe she thought all that good work she was doing for the church was more important and didn’t want to create a public scandal that might hurt it.”

Lavinia shook her head. “More important than her marriage, than her children? I don’t think so.” She waited a beat. “And it makes me wonder something, too.”

“What’s that?” Grace asked.

“It makes me wonder if we should all be following her lead so strongly. It was all right when she was just the head of the Women’s Social Committee – there was so little to do and so many hands to help if things went wrong. Perhaps letting her be our leader in all the commotion about the Reverend and that potion was a bit too much for her.”

Zenobia frowned. “I don’t think that she did that bad a job.”

“She did do some good,” Grace added. “Let’s think about things some more – see how the afternoon goes, at least, before we…try to persuade her to stop overtiring herself for a while.”

The others agreed, although Zenobia didn’t seem as strongly convinced as the others. For the rest of their lunch, the only sound at their table was Hilda’s knitting needles.

* * * * *

“For my next witness,” Zach said, as the afternoon session began, “I’d like to call Miss Nancy Osbourne.”

Nancy had been sitting quietly in the back of the room, with Kirby next to her for support. Everyone turned to watch the former teacher walk slowly and with great dignity towards the witness stand.

“The woman’s little better than a whore, herself” Zenobia snickered, rising and pointing at Nancy.

The Judge banged his gavel. “Perhaps, Mr. Carson, but she’s more of a lady than yourself in one respect.”

“What’s that?”

“She knows better than to disrupt my Courtroom. Do it again, and it’s a ten dollar fine or a night in jail for contempt. Now, sit down and be quiet.”

Zenobia quickly took her seat. Nancy reached the witness stand and sat down after being sworn in.

“Miss Osbourne,” Zach began, “you were formerly the teacher at the Eerie Day School, is that correct?”

Nancy nodded. “I was.” She glared at the women, and Cecelia and Zenobia glared back.

“As I understand it, part of your teacher’s agreement was that you be given free room and board in the home of one of your students. Is that also correct?”

“It was, though I tried to help out somewhat with the housekeeping.”

“I’m sure that you did. Now… where did you live during the 1870-1871 school year?”

“With the Ritters. I’d lived the previous year with the Scudder family, but when Hilda -- Mr. Scudder – had another baby, it became a bit too crowded. I moved into the Ritters’ home in late July of 1870. That gave me time to settle in before school started.”

In answer to more questioning, Nancy said that she got on well enough with the family. Mrs. Ritter was polite, if a bit formal and standoffish. Winthrop leered at her, but that was to be expected of a young man his age. The younger children, the ones she taught that year, seemed bright and eager to learn.

“And how did you get on with Mr. Ritter?” Zach asked.

Nancy’s expression soured. “Not as well as he’d have liked.”

“Could you explain that? Did you quarrel?”

“More the reverse, I would have to say. He began almost at once to make improper suggestions, especially when Mrs. Ritter was not present. He touched me in places where a gentleman – particularly a married gentlemen should not touch a lady. He would whisper in my ear, and, on occasion, he even tried to kiss me. I had to install a latch on my bedroom door, after he came in uninvited one night, while I was preparing for bed.”

“Did you do anything to encourage such behavior?”

“Quite the opposite. Even if I had found him attractive – which I most certainly did not -- he was a married man. Cecelia – Mrs. Ritter – and I may not have been friends, but I could never betray her by causing her husband to violate his wedding vows.” She looked down at her lap. “I just couldn’t.”

“And did your rebuffs force him to end his inappropriate behavior?”

Nancy shook her head. “I think it just made me more of a challenge. He began to proposition me. At Christmas, he gave me an expensive ivory pin. He told Mrs. Ritter that it was because I was being such a good teacher for his children, but later in the evening, he was waiting by my room, and he told me that it was in return for ‘services yet to be rendered.’ His tone – and his leer – made it quite clear exactly what services he expected in return.”

“That was enough.” She sighed. “I talked to Mr. Whitney, the head of the school board, and asked for him to find me new lodging for the next school year. He did, and I moved over to the Carsons’ house as soon as school ended for the summer.”

“Why didn’t you move at once?”

“There… I couldn’t think of a reason I could give, other than the truth, and that would be terribly embarrassing, both to me and to Mrs. Ritter.”

“What happened to the pin?”

“I made a point of never wearing it, and I left it behind me when I moved out. I suppose Mrs. Ritter has it.”

“Did you ever see one of Mr. Ritter’s emotional outbursts?”

“No, but I spent most evenings in my room, working on lesson plans, preparing or grading tests. A teacher does a great deal of her work outside of the classroom. I also enjoy reading for pleasure. These things kept me occupied and away from Mr. Ritter.” She thought for a moment. “I do remember hearing him shout on one or two occasions, but I never saw him, and I didn’t try to follow what he was yelling.”

“Thank you. Miss Osbourne. I, at least, am done with you.” Zach smiled and went back to the table where Flora was sitting.

It was Milt’s turn. “Miss Osbourne, are you still a teacher?”

“No… No I am not.” Nancy’s voice was low and a bit sad.

“No, you’re not,” Milt continued. “In fact, you work with the defendant in Shamus O’Toole’s saloon don’t you? Aren’t you both Cactus Blossoms, Mr. O’Toole’s dance…. group?”

“Yes, but we aren’t very close as friends.”

“Are you close enough to talk to Miss Stafford about Clyde Ritter?”

“Yes; when I saw her flirting with him, I told her about the problems I’d had with him when I lived in his house.”

“Did you go into detail? For example, did you mention that ivory pin?”

“I… I did.”

“And what did she say?”

“She said that I was wrong to turn it down and that she would be willing to do what she had to in order to get it.”

“Did she get it?”

“I never saw it, but I think that she would have offered something for that pin, and I know that Clyde Ritter would have taken her up on the offer if she had.”

Milt reached into his pocket. “Is this the pin?” He held something in his hand, allowing Nancy to study it.

“It is.”

“Then we do know that Clyde had it with him on the night of his death,” Milt said, holding up the pin, “since this was found near his body. I’d like to enter it as evidence.” He handed the pin to the judge, who nodded in agreement.

Nancy looked over towards Cecelia to see how she reacted, but the other woman turned away. “No more questions,” Milt said, and Nancy went back to her place next to Kirby. The bookseller took her hand and, as she sat down, gently kissed it.

* * * * *

Bridget sat quietly in the back of the court room.

Flora wasn’t going to go free, Bridget was sure of that, but she wasn’t going to die either. Not the way the testimony had gone.

‘Ten, maybe twenty, years in jail isn’t death by hanging,’ Bridget told herself, ‘but it’s hardly a picnic, either. Forry deserves to pay.’ She stopped in mid-thought. ‘Forry deserved to die. But Flora doesn’t. Wilma’s right; I don’t want to have Flora’s death on my conscience. But maybe… maybe I can live with a ten-year prison sentence. Could be I’ll keep my mouth shut after all.’ She sank back in her chair, deep in thought.

But Bridget wasn’t the only one who could see what was happening. Cecelia Ritter sat mute in her chair, trying to understand what had happened, what had been said – in public and under oath – about her husband. It was up to Lavinia, now, and Zenobia and the others.

“To hell with all this legal mumbo-jumbo,” somebody yelled. “She killed Clyde Ritter. Let’s just string her up and be done with it.” Others joined in the shouting.

The Judge hammered his gavel. “This is a court of law. I will not –”

“Let ‘em speak,” someone else yelled. “They’re absolutely right. She oughtta die for what she did.”

Three men started for Flora, who ducked down under the table. Zach Levy and Carl Osbourne both stepped in front of her. So did Milt Quinlan, who had hurried over from his own table. The men started to throw punches.

A chill ran through Bridget, remembering another lynch mob, the one she and Will had faced after the court martial. The one led by a sheriff whose brother had been killed by “blue bellies,” Union troops, somewhere in Alabama. ‘If the two of us hadn’t had each other’s backs…’ She shivered again, this time at what could have happened to her.

‘So am I supposed to watch Flora’s back today?’ Bridget thought sourly. ‘She isn’t worth --” She shook her head. ‘Maybe I don’t think she’s worth it, but Carl does. He thought she was worth… marrying.’ She shook her head again, surprised at her own thoughts. ‘And if Flora could agree to marry a man like Carl,’ Bridget realized, ‘maybe I don’t understand her -- the woman she is now -- at all.’

Tor Johansson, the deputy, had been standing near the wall in the middle of the room. He’d rushed forward as soon as the men had started for Flora, pushing people aside as he ran. So did the Sheriff, who had been standing at the front, next to Obie Wynn’s small desk, acting as bailiff. In a moment, both were beside Flora, standing with Carl, Zach, and Milt, defending her. Carl stood directly in front of her, blocking any sort of easy approach to the accused.

‘He surely must think she’s worth it.’ Bridget felt a tear run down her cheek.

One of the roughnecks grabbed for the Colt he'd brought into the courtroom. He was wild-eyed, looking for Flora through the confusion of bodies.

“Gun!” Hilda Scudder shouted, pointing at the man. “He’s got a gun!”

Bridget saw the weapon, and she was on her feet before she realized it. “Flora didn’t kill anybody,” she shouted, her voice cutting through the din. “I-I saw the whole thing.”

The man lowered his pistol. He –and everyone else in the room – turned to stare at Bridget, waiting for what she would say next.

Carl wasn’t the closest defender to the would-be killer, but somehow the cowboy managed to reach him first. He punched the man in the stomach. Hard. The rowdy fell to his knees, gasping for breath. Carl reached down and grabbed the pistol from his hand. A second punch, this time to the jaw, knocked the man senseless.

The two men who’d been pushing and shouting along with the unconscious one lifted their hands in surrender. The Sheriff had them pick up their unconscious friend, and Tor led the three of them off to the jail.

* * * * *

“Now that the excitement – that excitement, anyway – is over,” the Judge said, gaveling the room to silence, “would you please take the witness stand, Bridget, and explain the nature of your outburst?”

Bridget nodded and took the seat. Zach started questioning her as soon as she was sworn in. “Miss Kelly, if you saw what happened, why didn’t you come forward at the trial to testify?”

She looked down towards the floor unable to meet his eyes. “There’s a lot of bad blood between Flora and me. She… He… when she was a man, she --”

“The Court is aware of what happened,” Judge Humphreys interrupted. There was a sadness to his voice when he added. “You need not repeat it here.”

“Thank you, Your Honor,” she answered, a small smile on her lips. “Anyway, a lot of bad blood; I figured it’d even things out some if I kept quiet, and she got put away for a few years. I certainly didn’t expect her being sentenced to hang.”

“So you come forth now – freely – to testify?”

She nodded. “Forry Stafford did some really bad things in his life, things that Flora'll have to answer for someday, but killing Clyde Ritter wasn’t one of them. Much as a part of me would enjoy seeing her swing, the rest of me just can’t let that happen.”

“Whatever your original motives,” Zach said, “you’re doing the right thing now, and you can be proud of that.” He paused a beat. “Now, in your own words, would you describe what you saw of the events leading up to the death of Clyde Ritter?”

“I was dealing poker, and I… uh, I had to answer a call of nature.” A few people laughed, and Bridget felt her cheeks warm in a blush. She sighed softly and continued. “I was in the kitchen, right by the open door out to the yard, when I heard a man’s shout. I stopped and waited to see what was going on.”

“Flora came into view. She was walking backwards, trying to get away from some man – Ritter. He had a knife, and he was talking loudly about how he was tired of her teasing, and that he was going to have her whether she wanted to or not.”

“Why didn’t you shout something? He’d probably have stopped if he knew there was a witness.”

“I-I thought it’d be nice to see her get raped at knife point, like she – he…” Her voice trailed off.

“Was it?”

“No! It was almost like it was happening to me all over again. He got closer, and she kicked him in the leg. It must’ve thrown him off his stride because he stumbled and fell down. She stood there, waiting to see what happened, I guess, but he didn’t move.”

“She managed to roll him over, and I could see the knife sticking straight up out of his chest. Then Matt Royce came out of the outhouse. He saw Ritter lying there and started yelling.”

“And what did you do?”

“I figured that I’d let her stew for once. I ducked back into the pantry, hiding in the dark, when he -- Matt -- ran for the steps, and I stayed in there when everybody ran past and out to the yard. Nobody saw me.”

“And did you ever get to the necessary? You must have been waiting quite a long time, standing there, watching Clyde Ritter kill himself.”

“My eyeballs were beginning to float, but it happens sometimes. You can’t stop in the middle of a good poker hand to go… outside. I got to the necessary just as the Sheriff took Flora away.”

Zach smiled. “This, too, shall pass.” He waited for the laugh. “No more questions.”

“While you were watching all this happen…” Milt was on his feet now, walking over to Bridget. “…did you see Miss Stafford handle the murder weapon at any time?”

“Handle it? She was doing her best to keep away from it.”

“She didn’t grab for it… or grapple with Mr. Ritter?”

“She knew enough not to grab for a knife pointed right at her. Ritter was a lot bigger than she was, and he was shouting at her like a madman. She just wanted to get away from him.”

“But she didn’t run when he fell to the ground. Why do you suppose she didn’t? It would have been her best chance to escape.”

“I don’t know. Maybe she was surprised that he fell down. Maybe she was scared out of her head from what was happening. Maybe she was just trying to catch her breath. All I know is that she never got near that knife. The damned fool stabbed himself, and that’s the long and short of it.”

Milt turned to look at the Judge. “Your Honor, we have here a hostile witness, someone with a long-standing – and justified – hatred of the defendant. Yet her testimony clearly states that said defendant did not commit the crime of which she was accused and has already been found guilty. In light of this, the prosecution has no choice but to drop all charges against Flora Stafford and to move for her immediate release.”

“I concur.” Humphreys pounded the gavel. “Case dismissed.”

Cecelia Ritter jumped to her feet. “You – You can’t do that. She killed my Clyde!”

“No, Cecelia, she didn’t.” The Judge spoke as gently as he could. “Your husband killed himself accidentally during the last of what appears to have been a long line of marital indiscretions. And, rather than raise the useless commotion that we both know you are capable of, you would do well, I think, to consider your marriage and what was in – or was lacking in – that marriage that led him to commit such actions.”

Cecelia looked quickly to her friends on either side. “How dare the man. We can’t let him get away with saying things like that, can we ladies?”

“He’s right, Cecelia.” Lavinia spoke softly, not wanting her words to hurt, but wanting them to be heard. “Your Clyde did some very bad things, but he more than paid for what he did. Pray for him, darling; think about your children and their future. There's no righteous vengeance that is possible here.” She looked quickly over at Zenobia, Hilda, and Grace, who all nodded back.

“But…” Cecelia sank down into her chair, fighting back tears. “…we can’t let it end like this. We can’t let them win.”

Lavinia shook her head. “Who? Clyde… that Stafford woman? And win what, Cecelia?” She looked down at the stricken woman.”Dear, would you like some time – to yourself?”

Cecilia slowly gazed upward, her face a mask of misery. “Yes -- please.” Then she looked down and said not another word.

“We’ll come visit you tomorrow, if that’s all right,” offered Lavinia. When Cecilia made no reply, she turned and walked towards the door. The other women followed without a glance backward.

“Let’s go home, Mother.” Winthrop put his arm around her shoulder and helped her to stand. Hermione took her hand. With Clyde, Junior, leading the way, the Ritters walked very slowly home.

* * * * *

“I-I’m free.” Flora sat, stunned, uncertain what to do next.

Suddenly, Carl was at her side. “Yes, free – free to be with me… forever.”

She stared up into his face. Something about those words bothered her, but that worry – and everything else – went away when he took her in his arms, and their lips met.

After a minute or two – or three – they broke the kiss. Even lovers need to breathe at times.

“What happens now,” Carl asked. His arm was around her waist.

The Judge had walked over. “Flora still has about six weeks left to serve of her sentence. She has to go back to Shamus’ saloon to serve it.”

“That ain’t very fair,” Molly said, joining the group. “Them just getting married and all.”

The Judge shook his head. “It’s the law, Molly. She’ll be back at the saloon …” Then he smiled, and added. “…some time tomorrow morning… administrative delay, I’m sure you and Shamus understand.” He gave Molly a quick wink.

“Aye, I think I do.” She winked back, just as quickly. “Thanks, Yuir Honor.”

Flora and Carl would have thanked the Judge themselves, but they were busy.

* * * * *

Thursday, June 20, 1872

Carl and Flora stepped through the swinging doors and into the Saloon. “Oh, Lord,” she said, clutching his arm. “I never thought I’d be happy to see this place.”

“Scared?” Carl asked.

She nodded. “Most of the people hereabouts wanted to see me hang -- and they didn’t even like Clyde Ritter.”

“That's not true. You'll see.”

Before she could answer, Molly came bustling over. “Flora, me girl, welcome back.” She hugged the nervous woman, and then shifted and hugged her new husband. “And welcome t’ye, too, Carl.”

“Ye’re both looking good,” she said, stepping back. “Not that ye shouldn’t…” She winked. “…considering what the two o’ye have been up to.”

Flora flushed and turned her face into Carl's sleeve. The cowboy grinned. “Just doing what comes natural.”

“I’m sure,” Molly replied with a chuckle. “Maggie ‘n’ Jane’ll be bringing out the Free Lunch in just a bit, Carl. Can ye be staying t’have a meal with yuir new bride?”

He frowned. “I wish I could...” He looked at Flora for her reaction to what he was about to say. “…but I-I sorta promised Mr. Lewis that I’d head back t’the ranch as soon as I brought Flora back here.”

“What?” Flora grabbed for his arm.

Carl turned and cupped her chin in his hand. “I gotta go, Flora. I work for Mr. Lewis, and he’s cut me a lot more slack than he had to these last few days.” He kissed her forehead. “And we surely did put that time t’good use, didn’t we?”

“We… We did.” She smiled in spite of herself. Then her expression changed. “I figured Cap would hate me more than almost anybody else. He hasn’t been hard on you because of me?”

“He’s not that kind,” Carl continued. “Mr. Lewis told me that, if I got back pronto today, he’d let me come into town early for the dance come Saturday.”

Molly smiled knowingly. “Somehow, I don’t think it’s just the dance ye’ll be coming in for. Thuir’ll be a room reserved for ye upstairs just in case ye want t’be spending the night here in town.”

“And,” she went on, “if ye come in here early enough, Shamus ‘n’ me’ll be treating ye both to supper – call it a wedding present from us t’the two of ye.”

Carl smiled. “Thanks. Molly.” He wrapped his arm around Flora’s waist, pulling her close. “Not that I needed another reason t’get back to town as quick as I could.”

“I’ll be leaving the two o’ye to be saying goodbye, then,” Molly told them. “When ye’re done, Flora, come back t’the kitchen t’be getting an apron, so ye can be setting up the table for Free Lunch.” She turned and walked back to the bar.

Carl turned, so that he was facing Flora. “She’s right… damn it. I gotta go.”

“I… I know.” Damn it. Forry Stafford had never liked clingy woman. ‘And now I am one,’ she thought ruefully. Her mind didn't know what to do just then, but some other part of her did know. Her arms just seemed to float up and around his neck, as she pressed her ample breasts against his manly chest. Their loins were flush against each other. Their lips met in a kiss.

“Oooh,” she sighed, as he broke it off. She stood, still holding onto him for support, trying to get her shaky knees to work the way they should.

He was as unhappy about going as she was. “I will be back for you so damn early…”

“You better be.” She kissed his cheek, a chaste farewell kiss – damn it! – and tried to smile as he turned and walked out onto the street.

* * * * *

Reverend Yingling was sitting on the steps of the schoolhouse, when Liam, Trisha, Kaitlin, and Emma rode into the clearing for the building.

“What’s he doing here?” Trisha asked, climbing down from the Food and Grain delivery wagon. She was already in the proper state of mind for a bride, very nervous.

Liam jumped down and came around for Kaitlin. “I’d like to believe that he’s here to apologize and offer to perform your wedding ceremony, but I don’t think that’s the case, and, if it isn’t, we’ve got it taken care of.”

“You can talk to the good reverend,” Kaitlin said. “Trisha has to get ready.” She pulled a valise out of the back of the wagon, and they all started for the building.

Yingling rose slowly to his feet, as they approached. “I see that you are still planning to marry today, Trisha. Perhaps I cannot stop that from happening, but it will not happen here.” He spoke in his most dramatic fire-and-brimstone voice, glaring at them while he spoke. “Not in my church.”

“Actually, Reverend,” Liam replied in a smooth, conversational tone. “It’s not your church. The congregation as a whole owns the building and grounds in partnership with the school board, that is to say, the town council. The church board of elders – including me – is in charge of the church’s half.”

“Yes, but…”

“You, as our minister, can make a recommendation to the board about someone using the church, either by writing or at a board meeting -- I checked with the Bylaws. But you can’t just forbid the use of the church on your own say-so.”

“Very well, then,” Yingling said angrily, glowering, first at Liam and then at Trisha. “I strongly recommend that the church not be made available for this wedding.”

“I’m afraid you’re too late, sir. The majority of the board met and we voted, five to nothing, to allow it.”

The man shook his head. “I do not – I can not believe what I am hearing. This wedding must not take place. I will --”

As if on cue, Judge Humphreys walked over. “Good afternoon, Thad… O’Hanlans, and, again, congratulations to you Trisha. You look radiant today.”

“Thank you, Judge,” Trisha blushed at the compliment.

The Reverend scowled. “I might have known that you’d be involved in this, Humphreys.”

“Reverend,” the Judge said firmly, “you are entitled to your personal, private opinion, but five members of the church board will be here for Trisha’s wedding. Two of us already are here.”

Yingling glanced quickly at Liam, and then back at the Judge. “And…” He dared the Judge to continue.

“Some of your recent actions have raised questions in the minds of some board members about your fitness to continue as our minister. Speaking as someone who likes to think of himself as your friend, I ask you not to do anything here today that might add to those questions.”

The minister’s face went white. “You wouldn’t dare!”

“If you leave now, quietly,” Liam added in a calm voice, “there’d be no way any questions could be raised on this particular matter.”

Humphreys nodded. “If you leave now. It will also create some good will that the board shall take into consideration regarding certain other matters now under review.”

“I’ll go,” Yingling spat the words. “But know that you have not heard the end of this matter.”

The Judge looked very unhappy. “That, I’m afraid, is a given.”

“It is.” The Reverend looked daggers at the two men, but he turned and walked away without another word. He hardly looked defeated, and he was whistling “Battle Hymn of the Republic” by the time he was on the trail back to town.

* * * * *

“Are ye all right, Bridget?” Molly sat down at the table where the lady gambler was sitting, fiddling with a deck of cards.

Bridget blinked and shook her head, as if just waking up. “Molly… uh, what did you say?”

“I asked if ye was all right. Ye’ve been shuffling them cards for a good ten minutes.”

Bridget sighed. “I don’t know how I am. I’ve been trying to figure out why I did it.”

“Did what?” Molly asked cautiously. She was sure that she knew the answer. And she didn’t like it.

“I had her, Molly.” Bridget’s voice was filled with frustration. “I had her. Flora was finally going to pay for what she did to me. I didn’t want her to die… of course, but twenty years in jail sounded about right.”

“Then – Aaarrgh!” Her face contorted in anger, and her hands, twisted into claws in her rage, raked the air. “Then I go and open my big mouth and tell what I saw, what really happened. I got her freed. She’s upstairs with Lylah making beds and sweeping floors when she ought to be in prison. And it’s all my fault.”

“Aye, it is. And ye should be proud of it.”

“Proud? I… I got her set free. Milt dropped the damned charges as soon as I finished telling what happened.”

“Lemme ask ye a couple o’questions.”

“Umm… okay.”

“Did Flora kill Clyde Ritter?”

“No… I told you – hell, I told the whole town that she didn’t.”

“Aye, ye did. Now, did ye and Wilma – back in the War – did ye turn yellow during that Adobe Wells fight?”

“You’ve heard me tell that story. You know we didn’t.” She tried to guess where Molly was going with these questions. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“Plenty; Flora – Forry – knew the charges against ye wasn’t true, but he let ye get convicted t’be saving his own scurvy hide.” Molly cheered to see Bridget smile – for the first time in days – at the words “scurvy hide.”

Ye knew that Flora was innocent, and ye knew that people’d be asking why ye waited t’be saying anything. And ye still told the truth, didn’t ye?”

“I-I had to. Those men were going to shoot her – or take her outside and string her up. At the very least, people were going to get hurt in the fight. I just couldn’t let that happen.”

“Why not? Didn’t ye tell Shamus ‘n’ me that Forry didn’t do nothing when that lynch mob came after ye and Wilma?”

“Yes, but that was him, not me.”

Molly smiled. “Me point exactly. Ye’re a lot better person than Forry Stafford ever was, and ye can be damned proud of it.” She waited a half beat. “Ye can be proud o’yuirself.” She paused again, for effect, before she added. “Just like Shamus ‘n’ me are proud of ye.”

* * * * *

“Doesn’t look very crowded,” Laura observed, as Arsenio pulled their wagon up near the schoolhouse. It was true. Besides Liam O’Hanlan and Judge Humphreys; the only people present were Jubal Cates and his wife, Naomi; and, surprisingly, Hilda Scudder and her children. “I wonder where Trisha is.”

Arsenio shrugged. “Inside maybe; the door looks open. Besides, we’re pretty early.” After a moment, he added. “I saw Reverend Yingling as we turned onto the trail for the school, but he was walking the other way.”

“Just as well; the way he’s been carrying on about Shamus’ potion and us potion girls. I don’t think he’d be a very pleasant part of the festivities.”

“Does he bother you?”

“Yes, I don’t like my so-called spiritual adviser telling people what a bad influence I am.”

Arsenio leaned over and kissed her cheek. “Nobody believes him – at least, nobody who knows you. How could they?”

“Thank you for that.” She took his hand in hers and gave it a gentle squeeze.

Arsenio guided the horse to the hitching post where the Feed and Grain wagon was tied. He jumped down and secured his horse’s reins to the post. He walked back to the wagon, took out Laura’s wheelchair, and set it on the round. “Now you, Laura,” he said, stepping over to where she was sitting, his arms outstretched.

“I can get down by myself,” she complained, “and I really don’t need that thing.”

“I know, but… humor me.” He looked up at her, grinning broadly. “Please.”

She couldn’t help but smile back at him. “Oh, all right, but I don’t know why I’m humoring you on this.”

“Because you’ll use any excuse to be in my arms,” he said with a chuckle. “But that’s all right. I’ll use any excuse to get you in my arms.” He carefully lifted her from her seat in the front of the wagon.

She leaned into him, her arms encircling his neck, and their lips touched. ‘One nice thing about being married to a big, strong blacksmith,’ Laura told herself, when they eventually broke the kiss, ‘is how long he can hold me in his arms.’

* * * * *

“Aaargh!” Trisha glowered at the third button on her new, white blouse, a button that was stubbornly resisting her attempts to force it through the buttonhole.

Kaitlin smiled sympathetically and pushed Trisha’s hands away. “Let me do it. The way you’re going, you’ll tear that button right off.”

They were using the small supply room in the school for a changing room. Emma stood just outside with the valise they’d brought. The valise lay open across two desks. Emma had folded the outfit Trisha had worn and was now packing the clothes inside.

“Are all brides this nervous?” Trisha asked. Her hands were at her sides and she was all but standing at attention, while Kaitlin fastened the errant button.

Kaitlin did the other buttons, as well. “It does seem to go with the territory,” she answered, remembering. “I know that I was.” She paused. “Is it the same with grooms? You would know.”

“It is, but I think I’m more nervous today.” Trisha sighed, remembering. “You were such a beautiful bride.” She closed her eyes for a moment, picturing that day so many years ago. “I loved you so much.” She felt tears well in her eyes. “I still do.”

Kaitlin gave her a wistful smile. “And I love you – but we’re so… different now. We can’t – we don’t love each other the way we did.” She paused a moment. “But Roscoe loves you that way, and I think that you love him, too.”

“I-I guess, I do,” she said in a hesitant voice. “He’s a good man.

“Granted; he’s also the man that you skipped work to take care of. You didn’t have to do that anymore than he had to say that your baby was his, did you?”

“He was hurt. He needed --”

“Yes, he needed help, and you needed to help him.” She smiled. “You took off almost a week from the Feed and Grain to take care of him, and then you put in all that extra effort to publish his newspaper.”

“That was Kirby’s idea as much as mine, and he worked on it as hard as I did.”

“Yes, but I’ve talked Kirby. He told me that he was just planning to put out enough of a paper to print the ads, so Roscoe wouldn’t lose any money. You pushed him into putting out a complete paper, even if it meant a lot of extra work – most of which you did, not him.” She looked Trisha straight in the eye. “Why?”

“I wanted to put out an issue that he’d be proud of.”

“You wanted to put out an issue, because you were proud of him and because you wanted to be a part of his work, a part of his life. Isn’t that the real reason?”

“Uhh, I guess.” It was the first time she’d admitted that fact, even to herself, and it felt so good to admit it. “But getting married like this.” She gestured wide with both arms. “It’s all happened so fast, and marriage, it changes… everything.”

“You aren't setting any records, you know. Laura Caulder got married a bit more than two months after she... changed. And Flora Stafford just set a new record at less than two months.”

“But Miss Stafford had to hurry. She was facing the gallows.”

“Whatever the reason, she did get married on Monday.” Kaitlin looked at her pocket watch. “Just a minute.” She opened the door. “Emma, we’re ready for the skirt.”

“Here you go.” Emma handed in the skirt, which was also white. “You gonna be done soon? The place’s filling up pretty fast.”

“Give us five minutes.” Kaitlin closed the door.

Trisha raised her arms, and Kaitlin slid the garment over her head and down until it was covering her petticoat. “You were saying, about Roscoe, I mean,” Trisha asked as she adjusted the skirt.

“What it comes down to is that you spent all that time with Roscoe at Doc Upshaw’s, and you helped Kirby get the paper out because that’s just the sort of thing that a woman does… for the man she loves.”

Trisha’s jaw dropped, as she realized the truth in Kaitlin’s words. “Yes! Thanks, Kaitlin,” she answered, stepping over to hug Kaitlin fiercely. “I do love him; I do, I really, truly do.” Tears ran down her cheeks, tears of joy.

“I know.” Kaitlin dabbed first at Trisha’s eyes, and then at her own with a handkerchief. “But save some of those ‘I dos’ for when the Judge asks you.”

A few minutes later, Liam, acting as father of the bride, marched Trisha down the aisle. Roscoe was waiting, Kirby Pinter, the best man, at his side. Kaitlin and Emma, matron and maid of honor, stood beside Trisha. Even with her face covered by the veil Kaitlin had loaned her, everyone could tell how deliriously happy the bride was. For those who remembered Patrick O'Hanlon as he had been, it was an amazing thing to see.

Kaitlin was smiling, too. From the beginning, she had wanted with all her heart to help Trisha accept her transformation and to find happiness as a woman. It had seemed all but impossible, especially after Trisha became pregnant and faced public disgrace. Then Roscoe had appeared, as if by magic, to rescue her. And so her former husband was marching down that aisle, out of her old life, and into an entirely new one. It was like something out of a fairy tale, pure and simple, and that was all that anyone could say about it.

* * * * *

“Excuse me, Miss Bridget,” Flora said in a soft voice. She wanted to talk to the lady gambler, but she hated the way Shamus had ordered her to address the woman. “Can I talk to you?”

Bridget was just finishing her dinner. She took a sip of coffee and glanced up at her. No one was waiting to play poker. She turned to face Flora, gesturing for her to sit down. “What about?”

“I-I just wanted to thank you for testifying for me,” Flora said, taking the chair opposite the redhead.

Bridget frowned. “Let’s get things straight, Stafford.”

Osbourne; I’m Flora Osbourne, now,” she said, surprising herself slightly. She liked being Flora Osbourne, being Carl’s wife. She almost laughed. Her father had intended to make the Stafford name a great one in Texas; now it was fated to die with him. Unless he managed to get Violet to give him a son, unlikely as that might be.

“Osbourne, then. A rattler by any other name is still a rattler. I don’t know why Carl wanted to marry someone like you.”

She glanced uneasily over her shoulders, at the batwing doors. “Neither do I -- and I don’t care. I’m just very very pleased that he did.”

“Whatever; like I’ve been trying to say, I didn’t testify for you. I testified for myself.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I did it because I knew that you didn’t kill Ritter, and I couldn’t live with myself if I let an innocent person – even you – go to jail for something that she didn’t do. If you’d really done it, I’d have been in the front row to watch you hang. I don’t suppose you can comprehend somebody acting like that.”

Flora considered Bridget’s words. “No, I can’t. I don’t think I ever met anybody who wasn’t so busy watching out for himself he couldn’t give a damn about anybody else.”

Bridget snorted. “You mean like at Adobe Wells, when Will and I risked our lives to save the platoon – even you -- from those blue bellies?”

“Will Hanks? He’s been trying to show that he was as good as me since we were kids. And you weren’t any better. The two of you may’ve saved the platoon, but I sure as hell put you in your place.”

“Yeah, you got us kicked out of the army. We almost got killed by a lynch mob that day, thanks to you.”

“I had to make sure you two took the blame for losing that battle. Otherwise, it would’ve all fallen on me.”

“Poor baby; we both know that your father would’ve bought your way out of any real trouble.”

“Yeah, but then I’d’ve had to answer to him. He loved to make me pay anytime I made him look bad.”

Bridget gave the other woman a wicked smile. “It was Will – Wilma – who you knew wasn’t as good as you were – who told me last night that I should do what I did yesterday.”

Flora frowned. “Why would she do anything to help me that? She must hate me even more than you do.”

“No, you’re wrong there. I thought you were a coyote from the first time I met you, but even since that day in April, I’ve hated you more. Wilma’s my true friend, though. When she saw my rig out of control on the downgrade into hell, she got up into the box and pulled in on the reins.”

Flora regarded the gambler, her lips held in an O. ‘Damn!’ she thought. ‘The only thing worse than owing Kelly was owing Kelly and Hanks.’ Flora almost – almost – would have preferred to her been hanged rather than be put under that kind of an obligation.

The dancer shook her head. “I don't know why either one of you would do me any favor, but I'd rather be alive than dead. The trouble is, I don't like owing anybody. This is the kind of debt that I have to pay off before the bank closes. What would you want to call us square?”

Bridget scowled. “I don't suppose you'd hang yourself if I asked you to?”

“Not likely, Miss Bridget.”

“Then just keep out of my way. I can’t stand the sight or sound of you.”

Flora sighed. “Gladly. But this place is too small for that kind of disappearing act.” Flora rose and curtseyed, as Shamus had ordered her to do, before she headed back to the bar.

“Try anyway.” Bridget watched her, a cynical smile on her face, as she dealt herself another hand.

* * * * *

The sound of trumpets blared out from Second Street, the street that led to the Eerie Public School. As people stopped to see what was happening, two wagons turned left from Second onto Main Street. The wagons were surrounded by a number of men on horseback.

Liam O’Hanlan drove the wagon from the Feed and Grain. Trisha sat in the back, her arms crossed and glaring at her brother. George Sturges rode alongside, tooting an old, much-battered bugle. Kirby Pinter drove the second wagon, with Roscoe as his unhappy passenger. Zach Mitchem, sitting next to Kirby, was trying to coax music from a three-foot long English hunting horn.

Roscoe jumped from the wagon even before it had stopped. He ran over to the second wagon as soon as it had reined in. “Are you all right, Trisha?”

“I-I think so.” She stood up carefully, holding on to the side of the wagon. “I’m a bit shaken up from that wild ride I just had.”

Matt Royce rode over. “Hey, it was in good fun, y’know.”

“I’m sure that it was,” Roscoe said, “but I think that my new wife and I have been separated more than long enough.” He reached up to put his hands around Trisha’s waist. She braced herself on his shoulders and nodded that she was set. That done, he carefully lifted her from the wagon and lowered her to the ground.

Even after Trisha’s feet were firmly planted, she and Roscoe kept their arms around each other. Their lips met in a kiss that was far too brief.

“I agree with my… husband,” Trisha said, feeling a little shy. “But I do thank you for the shivaree. “ She reached into the back of the wagon and retrieved what looked like a large cloth doll wearing a bonnet. There were several more besides it and still more in the wagon that Roscoe had ridden in. Some were in bonnets; others wore cowboy hats – girl and boy “babies.”

“Ain’t no one not gonna know that you two are married,” Royce said. “Not after all that noise.”

Roscoe smiled. “No one at all. It was particularly nice of you all to circle Reverend Yingling’s house twice on the way here.”

“Just wanted to make sure he knew that you two were married,” Kirby added. “Now, why don’t the pair of you go someplace and do something about that?” He pointed at the door of the print shop, which now bore a sign saying, “Just married! Go away!”

The newlyweds both chuckled, although Trisha blushed as well. “Thanks, Kirby. I do believe we will.” Roscoe took Trisha inside. And locked the door behind them.

* * * * *

Friday, June 21, 1872

Lylah put her arms in the sleeves of her nightgown. She raised her arms over her head and let the garment slide down onto her body. She smiled, enjoying the coolness of the soft muslin as it moved against her bare skin. “Flora,” she started, as she began to close the buttons at the collar. “Can I ask you a question?”

“I guess. Flora was already in her nightgown. She was putting the dress that she’d worn onto a hanger.

“What’s it like being… married?”

“It’s hard to say. I’ve only been married a few days, and I was kind of distracted by the prospect of all that jail time I was facing.”

“Yeah, but you was married for three whole days – and nights. You had t’have done… something.” Lylah’s voice trailed off, and she looked away from Flora, embarrassed at her words.

Flora smiled. “Are you asking what it’s like to be married or just what it’s like to be with a man?”

“B-Both, I guess.”

“Being married is… I know that Carl loves me. He wants to spend his life with me, taking care of me, and I…” She stopped, as if considering her words for the first time. “I feel...all strange about him.”

She didn't understand everything she felt, and she wasn’t sure that she could put it into words. She could see Carl’s face in her mind, and it was like the warm sun rising after a cold, windy night. She was still scared, still unsure that she could be the wife he deserved. But she wanted – part of her, at least, wanted -- to try.

“I thought I was in love a dozen times before,” Flora slowly began. “But those times were nothing like what just hit me between the eyes. I didn’t know what love was before Carl. It was only a word, a lark, a game; something easy to have a good time with. But I’ve suddenly gotten tangled up in something that I just can’t believe a person like me can ever have – let alone hold onto. My stomach’s jumping and every damned nerve in this body is twanging a tune.”

Lylah sighed, hugging herself. “That sounds so good.”

“Good? You haven’t been laid on the Devil’s grill until you’ve fallen in love!” She studied the other woman’s face. “Who’s the man you want to be with?”

“What makes you think --” Lylah stopped, knowing that Flora probably knew the answer already. “Luke Freeman,” she answered in a whisper.

“That’s what I thought. He doesn’t seem too bad – for a nigger buck.”

Lylah scowled. “In case you ain’t noticed, I’m a… nigger, too, and I think he’s a real good man.” She suddenly laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

“We sure do sound different than we was talking that day we changed, don’t we?”

“I guess the changes only started that day. The magic kept working on us, until we’re seeing everything backwards and upside down, like most women do.”

“Ain’t that the truth? And, you know, I kinda like things this way. It sure beats not having nothing to look forward to except getting paid Fridays and drinking up that pay come Saturday night.”

Flora climbed under the covers. She missed Carl. She wanted to be with him every minute of the day. How had get gotten such a grip on her? The whole idea of marriage daunted her. She’d never seen two people as able to hate one another as her father and her first stepmother were. It was bad even before Violet came on the scene. Growing up in their home was the worst possible training for how to have a happy marriage.

Forry, she knew, would never have made a good husband, no more than his father had. So why did she think she could be a good wife? She didn’t know, but Carl had taken the chance of loving her, and she wanted to try, if only for his sake. But how does one be a good wife; who was there to teach her about such a thing? Rosalyn had been happily married, but only briefly. No, the only really successful marriage she knew was – she chuckled at the irony of it – Shamus and Molly O’Toole.

To be a good wife, she realized, she had to sign on to living and thinking as a woman. But there was no rule book for doing that, either. And thinking like a woman didn't necessary make one a good wife. Far from it. A lot of women had razor tongues, and had shown jealous and acquisitive spirits that always driven Forry crazy. Flora knew that even if she could become all-woman, she might still chase Carl away. How could a person avoid doing that?

Finally Flora replied to her roommate's statement. “The way things are now, certainly is interesting.” She reached over and turned down the lamp by her bed to a minimal glow.” “There's a lot to be said for a life lived upside down and backwards.”

* * * * *

“Be careful with that straightedge, Emma,” Jubal Cates warned. “You want to show the wall exactly.”

Emma nodded and pressed the tool down firmly on the paper. “I didn’t realize how much of an artist a surveyor has to be.” She ran the drafting pencil along the edge, completing the fourth side of the building that housed Whit Whitney’s barbershop and his wife Carmen’s bathhouse.

“Now you know. And I want us to be especially precise with these, seeing as they’re going to Dan Sanborn. I don’t want him to think I’m slipping.”

“No, Sir.”

“That’s why I’m going to check your work – and you’re going to check mine – every building – to make sure we put in all the information that Dan’s draftsmen’ll need to make a full-sized fire insurance map of Eerie.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good, I just want you to understand that I’m not doing it because I don’t trust you. I do.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

The man smiled. “Let’s talk about something more pleasant. That was a nice wedding yesterday.”

“Thank you, Sir, and thanks t’you and the rest of the church board for making it possible.”

“We were glad to do it. Trisha is -- and Patrick was -- a friend, and she did a lot of good during her time on the church board, even if we didn’t always agree on how to do it. I can’t understand why Reverend Yingling was so opposed to the marriage.” Cates thought for a moment. “How about you; how does it feel to have your father become somebody’s wife?

Emma shrugged. “I’m not sure. I guess I’ve been thinking of Trisha more like a big sister or a cousin than as my pa. She loves Roscoe – I think, so I suppose that I’m happy for her.”

But Emma didn’t look happy. She’d been feeling like a fatherless child for months. Trisha still loved her, but she could never again offer what a father could offer. Emma realized that a large part of the blame for her loss had been her own fault. If she -- Elmer -- had only been more careful playing at that loading dock. If only she hadn’t been so stubborn when her pa told her that the only way to stay alive was by drinking Shamus’ potion. After months as a girl, she was no longer sorry that she had taken the potion, but she remained very sorry for what she had caused. It hadn’t been just Pa who’d been badly hurt, but Ma and herself, too.

Cates patted her on the back. “And you should be happy. I am, too. Now, let’s get back to work. Those building drafts won’t get done if we stand around talking about weddings.”

* * * * *

“All right, Flora,” Molly ordered, “Try again.”

“Flora’s whole body seemed to frown. “Do I have to? I’ve been trying all afternoon.”

“The afternoon ain’t over yet, and ye still can’t do a proper cartwheel. So ye’ll keep trying till ye can.”

“Can’t we do the old act? Folks like that.”

“Aye, they did, but they liked seeing Nancy ‘n’ Lylah both doing cartwheels, and they’ll like it more if the three of you are doing ‘em.”

“If a dumb nigger like me can learn how t’do a cartwheel,” Lylah teased, “a smart white gal like you should be able t’pick it up in no time.”

Flora gave her a sour look. “That’s a lousy thing to say about yourself, Lylah.”

“That never stopped you from saying it to me.”

Molly clapped her hands. “Back t’your practicing, me gal. Ye’ll be dancing here tonight, whichever dance ye do, so ye might as well get back t’be learning the new one.”

* * * * *

Kirby Pinter was shelving books when he heard the bell over the door jingle. “Just a minute…” he yelled as he headed for the front of the store. Then he saw who his customer was. “Jane, hello; what can I do for you today?”

“You can sell me a cookbook – if you got any. There’s gonna be a party tomorrow for Carl and Flora, and I wanna bake ‘em a wedding cake.”

He mentally went over his stock. “There’s not much call for cookbooks, but I think I’ve got a couple. Follow me, please.”

He led her back to a shelf labeled “Domestic Arts”, which held about a half dozen books. “Let’s see…’Soaps, Dyes, and Other Useful Home Formulas’, no, that won’t do; ‘A Manual of Home Remedies’, I don’t think so. Ah, here we go, ‘The Housekeeper’s Assistant’ and 'Hand-Book of Practical Cookery.’ Here, take a look.” He handed her the first volume.

“This one, ‘Assistant’ is kinda old,” Jane said, examining the book, “but it says right in the title that it’s got recipes for ‘fancy cakes and puddings.’ That’s what I want. And it’s got game recipes. Now that Davy’s bringing down venison and quail from our claim, we can use some recipes for them, too.”

“Take a look at this other one,” Kirby told her. “It’s a lot newer, and it’s got a bunch of cake recipes, too. And I’ve heard of this Pierre Blot fellow. He’s some kind of famous cook back East.”

“How much are they, the two of ‘em?”

“Seventy-five cents each, but I’ll give you a deal on the pair, a dollar twenty-five.”

“That still ain’t cheap.”

“I’ll tell you what. I’m planning on inviting Nancy to dinner with me next week. If you promise to bake an apple pie that night – just for her, you can have them both for seventy-five cents.”

“Okay, I like to bake, but what’s so special ‘bout apple pie?”

“Nancy’s parents had a grove of apple trees on their farm, and I think she misses fresh apple pie.”

Jane smile. “Not anymore she won’t.” She shook Kirby’s hand. “We got us a deal.”

“Great, just don’t tell her about it. I want to surprise her.”

* * * * *

“What’s bothering ye, Love?” Molly asked, draping her arm over her husband’s shoulders.

Shamus turned to face her. “And what makes ye think anything’s bothering me?”

“I’ve been yuir wife for too many years not t’be knowing the signs.” She kissed his cheek. “Now, fess up . Ye know I’ll just keep asking ye if ye don’t tell me.”

He reached up and gently squeezed the hand that was resting on his left shoulder. “The Saloon’s what’s bothering me. It ain’t big enough no more.”

“What d’ye mean? We’ve got all the space that we ever did.”

“Aye, but we’re using it more’n we used to. We got Maggie’s restaurant using the same space where the Cactus Blossoms dance, not t’be mentioning the space where the band plays. They all take up room. And upstairs, half the rooms we used t’be renting out are getting used by folks that we pay: the Blossoms and Jessie and Bridget.”

“Well, Bridget’s gonna be back running her own game any day now, I’ll wager, and then she’ll be the one paying for her room.”

“So she is, and it’ll be good t’be having money coming in for that room instead of going out.”

“It’ll be good t’be having her back t’her old self, too.”

“That it will; that it will, but that’s only one small piece o’me problem.”

Our problem, Love. And we’ll be finding a way out. We always have.” She considered the problem. “Ye could always build out into the yard. Move yuir office back t’that space and make more room inside.”

“What, and lose one o’them benches out back? Thuir’d be way too many couples after me for taking away their private place for spooning.” He chuckled. “Besides, it’d take money, more’n we’ve got just now.” He sighed. “Maybe we can start saving for next year.”

“Maybe… I got faith in ye, Shamus O’Toole. Ye’ll figure out a way.”

He squeezed her hand again. “That’s the one good part o’the problem, Molly. Having ye here t’be sharing it with me.”

* * * * *

“Do you want to go over to the Saloon tomorrow?” Arsenio asked Laura.

Laura shrugged. “Maybe… for a while in the afternoon.”

“Don’t you want to go over for the dance?”

“Not if I have to sit in this damned wheelchair.” She made a sour face. “It’s not fun being stuck in this thing and watching other people dancing.”

“How about if we go over for supper? I heard that Davy Kitchner brought down some quail for Maggie to cook.”

“Sounds good. I think there’s going to be some sort of wedding party for Carl… and Flora Osbourne whenever he gets in from Slocum’s ranch.”

“That’s right; they got married, too, just before her hearing.” He chuckled. “The Judge’s had a busy week.”

“It wasn’t his fault,” she said, beginning to sound angry. “Reverend Yingling wouldn’t marry either couple: Carl and Flora or Trisha and Roscoe.”

“I don’t know what’s gotten into the man. He was always so levelheaded.”

“When he first found out I was expecting, he told me how much he looked forward to baptizing our little one. Now, I don’t know if he’ll even be willing to do it – or if I want him to do it.”

Arsenio put an arm around her. “Don’t fret. Things’ll get better; you’ll see.”

“They better. Marriage is one thing. The Judge can do the ceremony as well as the Reverend, but only… only a minister can do a… a baptism.” There was a catch in her voice. “I want our baby to get baptized.”

Arsenio hugged Laura as tightly as he dared. “Don’t worry, Laura. It’ll be all right.” He kissed her cheek and began to gently stroke her hair. ‘I’ll make damned sure that it is,’ he promised himself – and Laura.

* * * * *

Opal Sayers stood near the swinging doors of the Saloon. Her eyes flitted around the room. Finally, she saw Nancy Osbourne come through a door in the back, carrying a tray of food.

“Nancy… Nancy!” she called, hurrying towards the other woman.

Nancy stopped at the sound of her name. “Just a minute, Opal” she said when the woman was within easy earshot. “I’m waitressing tonight, and I’ve got to get this food over to the folks who ordered it.”

“Okay, I’ll wait right here.”

Nancy shook her head. “Go wait over there.” She pointed to a table some feet away. “You stand or sit here, and Shamus’ll think you want to order dinner.”

“Sam Dugan’d have a fit if I did that.” She giggled and walked over to the far table and sat down.

Nancy joined her a few minutes later. “Now, what did you want to talk about? I’ve got three tables filled with hungry people that I have to take care of, so please be brief.”

“First off, I wanted to thank you again for going to church with me last Sunday. I’d never have had the nerve to go by myself. And the stares I -- we -- got from some of those people would’ve scared me off if I did go alone.”

Nancy nodded grimly. “Some of those folks can be pretty rough.”

“That’s why I came, t’ask if I could go with you again this Sunday.”

“I suppose. I don’t think that it’ll be that much easier for either of us this week, though.”

“Maybe, or maybe not, but going to a church – especially with a friend – is always worth it.”

“A friend?” Nancy studied Opal’s open, eager face. “Yes, I guess it is.”

* * * * *

“Can I have everybody’s attention for a minute?” Horace Styron stepped up onto one of the picnic tables outside of the schoolhouse. The men of the Eerie Eagles baseball team were there for a few hours practice after work, and they all gathered around him.

Fred Nolan pushed back his catcher’s mask. “What’s up, Horace?”

“I guess you all heard about what came out at that hearing on Wednesday, the one for Flora Stafford.”

Someone else yelled, “Yeah, she didn’t kill Clyde after all. He died ‘cause he couldn’t keep his pecker in his pocket.” The men laughed raucously.

“I heard they said at the trial that Horace here had the same problem.” This was met by more laughter.

Horace raised his hand. “It’s true,” he said with a shrug. “I was with Clyde in Lady Cerise’s place all those nights, and we both had female… companions.”

“Styron’s hardware…’ Our tools work.’”

Even Horace had to laugh at that. “Yes, I’m very happy to say that mine does. The thing is – well, this team is sponsored by the Methodist Church. I figured that some of you may not want a forni… a fellow like me as your captain, and I wanted to get things out in the open before it went any further and, maybe, hurt the team.”

“Hellfire, Horace, it’s natural for a man to wanna get his rocks off every once in a while. You ain’t married, so you either do yourself or you go to somewhere like the Lady’s place and pay some pretty gal t’do you. At least, you had the good sense to go whoring.”

“All in favor of Horace staying on as Team Captain, say aye.”

The men shouted, “Aye!” in a single, very loud voice.

“Thanks, men,” Horace said, his voice cracking slightly. “Now get those asses moving. We ain’t gonna beat the Coyotes standing around beating our gums.”

“Or anything else,” another man yelled. Still laughing, the players took the field for their practice.

* * * * *

Saturday, June 22, 1872

Vida and Clara Spaulding were in the yard behind their house. Mrs. Spaulding was beating a rug, while her daughter shelled peas for supper.

“Good afternoon, Mother… Clara,” Hedley said, coming around from the street.

Vida turned to her son. “You said that you were just running a couple errands, Hedley. Where were you for so very long?”

“You missed the Carson sisters,” Clara teased. “They said that they came to visit me, but they left quickly enough when you didn’t come back from wherever it was that you went.” She sounded more amused than sad.

Hedley smiled. “As they say, ‘fortune favors the prepared,’ but, truth to tell, I didn’t miss the Carson girls.”

“You most certainly did,” his mother replied.

The young man shook his head. “I’ll admit that I didn’t see them, Mother, but I hardly missed them. Prudence and Temperance Carson are two of the most vapid, empty-headed, and self-centered females it has ever been my misfortune to encounter.”

“Don’t hold back, Brother,” Clara chuckled, “tell us what you really think of them.”

“Frankly,” he said, “I’d rather not think of them.” He casually slid his palm along the side of his head. “I’ve other… matters to consider.”

Clara noticed. “You got a haircut, didn’t you?” She leaned towards him and sniffed. “Hair tonic, too, I think.”

“You look very nice, dear,” his mother told him. “Is there some special reason for it?”

Her daughter grinned. “He may find the Carson sisters ‘vapid’ and all that, but I think that there’s some...” Her voice trailed off, as she realized. “It’s Saturday! You’re going to that saloon to see Annie, aren’t you?”

“A saloon… Hedley,” Vida said nervously, “are you certain that you want to do that?”

He frowned. “I’m eighteen, Mother. I’m quite capable of handling myself.”

“I thought Annie was the one that you wanted to handle,” Clara joked.

“I admit that I’m looking forward to seeing her again – she is a friend, after all, but I’m going because I’ve heard that it’s quite a lively place, and I’m curious to see that for myself.”

Mr. Spaulding frowned, still uncertain. “Please be careful. Those places can be so very dangerous.”

“I’ll be fine, Mother,” he insisted. “If things get out of hand, I’ll leave immediately. If not – well, I’ve heard that there’s a very good restaurant in that saloon. If it’s as safe as I’ve heard, I’ll take you both there for dinner one night next week, so you can see it for yourselves.”

“Would Clara be admitted into a Saloon at her age?”

“I’ve that heard even children can eat there – with their parents – parents who are some of the town’s most upstanding people.”

Vida considered what he had said. “That would be nice. Annie did say that she worked there as a waitress. Perhaps we could visit with her for a bit, while we’re dining.”

“Indeed, it would,” he cheerfully agreed.

* * * * *

Bridget was playing Maverick Solitaire, waiting for players. She was so intent on her game that she didn’t realize that Cap had come into the Saloon until he was standing next to her.

“Hello, Bridget.” He had a massive grin on his face.

She stood up quickly, nervously. “Cap, wh-what brings you to town?” With Abner stuck in a hospital in Philadelphia for who knew how long, Cap was working harder than he ever had before. He was his own boss now, and he had turned out to be a hard taskmaster for himself. She missed him, and it had added to her moodiness of late.

“I had to talk to Dwight Albertson about some business matters, and we need some supplies. Then, too, there’s the dance tonight.” He stepped in closer. “But the most important thing I have to do today is this.” His arm was suddenly around her waist, pulling her closer still. He leaned in, and their lips touched.

She felt all her worry flow out of her, replaced by the delicious warmth that she had missed for so long. She sighed, and her arms moved slowly up and around his shoulders. Her body pressed against his. Her nipples were taut against her camisole, as the sensations centered in her breast and down there at her innermost core.

“Not that I’m complaining,” she said in a husky voice when the kiss ended, “but what was that all about?”

“I wanted to tell you – to show you how proud I am of you.”

“Proud? I don’t --”

“Damned proud, as a matter of fact. I know what it meant for you to testify at that hearing.”

“Who told you?”

“Carl; besides telling everyone he could how great it was to be married to Flora, all he could talk about the last few days, was how amazing it was that you saved her.”

He cupped her chin in his hand. “That must’ve been so hard for you. I know what Forry did to you, and how much you hated Flora because of it. A lot of women would’ve sat back, smiling like a cat in a milking shed, and watched Flora heading off for twenty years in the territorial prison.”

“But not my Bridget.” He smiled. It was a wonderful smile that warmed even more. “No, not her; she steps in, stops a lynching, and then tells everybody what really happened. I am so damned proud of you. I couldn’t wait to come into town and tell you.”

“You-You’re thanking me? I got Flora out of being hanged. After what she did to your uncle, I’d have thought you’d want her dead.”

“I suppose I'll never like her, but what you did makes me love you even more than before.” He squeezed her more tightly. “It’s not about the kind of person that Flora is; it’s about the kind of person that you’ve shown yourself to be.”

She luxuriated in the feel of his arms. But even more important were the words he was saying. He was proud of her. She was his Bridget, and, at the first chance, he had come in to see her, to tell her how he felt, and to give her – in front of everybody -- a kiss that made her knees weak.

Her doubts about him – and about herself -- melted like ice on a hot griddle. She wasn’t unworthy, she wasn’t a no-account whore. Hell, no! She was Bridget Kelly, a woman that Cap was PROUD of. She was a woman he wanted, a woman he loved.

“You said that you were staying for the dance tonight,” she asked, an impish grin curling her lips when he nodded. “Are you staying the night, too?”

He nodded again. “I am.”

“That’s nice.” She looked up into his twinkling hazel eyes. “But don’t bother to rent a room. You won’t be needing one.”

* * * * *

The Saloon doors swung open wide. “Anybody home?” a familiar voice rang out.

“Jessie!” Molly ran out from behind the bar and hurried over to where the young woman stood, dressed for a hard ride in a man’s blue shirt and green work jeans. “What happened to ye. I’ve – Shamus ‘n’ I -- have been worried sick.”

At that moment, Paul came through the batwing doors and walked over to Jessie. “Sorry, Molly,” he said, putting his arm around the singer's waist. He pulled her close and kissed her cheek. “We were kinda busy.”

“We surely was that,” Jessie said with a giggle, “and it wasn’t all fun ‘n’ games, neither.” She grew serious for a moment. “Some of was more like… life ‘n’ death.”

Molly could see the pain on the other woman’s face. “Well, ye’re back here, safe ‘n’sound, and ye’ve plenty o’time t’be telling us all about what happened to ye.”

“Right now,” Jessie tried to stifle a yawn, as a crowd formed around her. “Right now, all I want t’do is t’crawl into a real bed and sleep for about twenty years.”

Shamus came over to join them. “Don’t ye want something t’be eaten first? Maggie ‘n’ Jane’re just about ready to open the restaurant, and I’m sure they can be getting something ready for ye quck enough.”

“Shamus,” Paul said, shaking his head, “we’ve been riding for days and days – even with a stop at the Tylers -- and we are bone tired. All we want now is bed – and sleep.” He yawned. “We’ll eat and tell everybody what happened later. Okay?”

Molly looked the pair over. She could almost see how worn out they were. “Ye’d better.” She sighed. “Yuir room’s waiting, all clean and ready. Here’s yuir key.” She held out a large brass key.

“Thanks, Molly.” Jessie took the key and put it – temporarily -- into the pocket of her jeans. She draped her arm around his shoulders. “Let’s go, Paul.”

He nodded, and the two of them moved towards the steps. “See you all later,” he called out to no one in particular, as they started up to the second floor.

“Oh. Lordy,” Molly said, as she watched them climb the steps. They seemed to be leaning on each other as they went, going one step at a time. “I been worried sick about them two, imagining all sorts o’terrible things happening, and now I’m think that whatever did happen may’ve been even worse than what I was imagining.”

* * * * *

Carl Osbourne leaned back in his chair. “I gotta tell you, Shamus. This has got t’be the best meal I’ve eaten in donkey’s years.” He looked across at Flora, who smiled back at him. “‘Course it was the company more’n the food that made it so special.”

“‘Tis the least we can be doing,” Molly replied. “Thuir wasn’t get much of a chance t’be throwing a wedding party for ye in jail.” She was on his left, with Shamus beside her. On his right, sat his sister, Nancy, and her friend, Kirby Pinter. Best of all, Flora sat opposite him, so he could look at her while they ate. “And the food part ain’t over yet,” Molly added.

She raised her hand as a signal. Lylah opened the door to the kitchen, and Jane came through, pushing a cart. She maneuvered it over to the table. “Here you go,” she said cheerfully. On the cart was a large pound cake covered with a yellow frosting. The words “Happy Wedding Flora and Carl” were written on it in a frothy blue icing. A stack of dessert plates and a cake knife were set on the tray next to the cake.

“That’s quite a cake,” Carl said.

Shamus handed him the knife. “Aye, Jane baked it and done all the icing herself, but ‘tis up to the happy couple t’be cutting it.”

“Can’t argue with that,” Carl said. He stood up and motioned for Flora to join him. She did, kissing him on the cheek. They both took hold of the knife handle and cut the cake into four long strips. Another few turns with the knife, and twenty-four squares of cake sat on the tray.

Carl kissed Flora again, this time on the lips. “Who gets the first slice?” he asked when they separated.

“You feed it t’yuir wife,” Molly told him. “She takes a bite and feeds the rest t’ye.”

Carl picked up a corner slice with a serving fork. “Here y’go, Flora.” She leaned in and took a bite.

“My turn.” She took the cake from him and held it out for him to taste.

He did. “You know,” he said with a laugh. “This cake tastes as sweet – almost – as one of Flora’s kisses.”

“Then have some more.” She pushed the cake at him, smearing icing on his face.

He picked up another piece and seemed ready to do the same to her. “Hold on,” Molly ordered. “Ye’ll not be making a mess of this restaurant. Flora, why don’t ye take this man t’where he can clean up?”

“Aye.” Shamus handed Flora a key. “Him ‘n’ his wife’ll be staying in Room 3 t’night. You take ‘em up, and while ye’re upstairs, ye can be changing into the clothes for tonight’s dance.”

Flora glanced up at the clock on the wall. “Shamus, the dance isn’t for a couple of hours yet.”

“So it is,” Molly replied, “but I’m thinking that the two of ye can find something t’be doing in the meantime.”

Carl took his wife’s hand. “I think we can. Thanks, Molly… Shamus.” He kissed her cheek, deliberately smearing some of the icing onto her face. They joined hands and hurried towards the stairs.

* * * * *

“Hello, Annie,” Hedley said, walking up to her.

Arnie gasped in surprise. “Hedley, what – what are you doing here?”

“I’ve heard about how lively this place gets on Saturdays, and I came to see what was going on.” He looked at her outfit: white blouse, black dress, and white apron. “Are you one of the dancing girls?”

She chuckled. “The dancing girls are the Cactus Blossoms, who do a show on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights, and, no, I am not one of them. I’m a waiter girl. At the dance tonight, men will give us tickets, and then we dance with them.” She felt embarrassed and not a little nervous at what he would think.

“I bought a couple of those tickets. Do I give you one now?”

“No, the band is just setting up. Shamus, that man over there…” She pointed at the barman. “…he will say when the dance starts. You must stand in line with the other men and wait your turn to give me a ticket.”

He took her hand. “A long wait, but a worthwhile one, I’m sure.” He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it gently. “I look forward to dancing with you tonight.”

“Th-Thank you.” Arnie’s hand tingled where he had kissed her, and the tingling was spreading through her in a most enjoyable way. She giggled and, not knowing what else to do, she nodded and walked slowly over to her seat with the other waiter girls. She’d have walked faster if her legs had been working better.

* * * * *

“That’s two tickets, Luke,” Lylah said. She started to hand one back to him.

Luke curled her fingers around the second ticket. “We ain’t gonna dance.” He took her hand and led her through the kitchen and out into the yard. “You don’t mind if we come out here instead, do you?”

“Not really. I like t’be in your arms, standing up or sitting down.” She giggled, as they walked down the steps and around to one of the two benches. “And we can do a lot more‘n dance out here.” There was a hint of mischief – and desire -- in her voice.

She sat down, and he took the place beside her. They turned to face each other, and their lips met. She moaned softly, as her body seemed to light from within like a paper lantern. Her hands glided upwards, as her arms slowly encircled his neck.

He broke the kiss – ‘Way too quick,’ she thought – and moved to peck her cheek, her chin, and on down her throat. His progress was slow, and each kiss inflamed her more. Her body trembled from the intensity of what he was stirring in her, and she wanted only for him to continue.

His lips reached her collarbone, the lowest point exposed by the neckline of her dress. “You want I should keep going,” he asked in a teasing voice.

“Y-Yes,” she answered in a husky whisper.

He unbuttoned her blouse, kissing each newly exposed bit of her dark, rounded breasts, until he reached the top of her camisole and corset. He moved back up, kissing and gently nipping at her neck. His hands kept going, and, very shortly, her starched white blouse was open to the bottom. He pulled the two halves apart, and the top of it fell off her shoulders.

She leaned back, letting the garment drop further from her body. Her back arched, pushing her breasts forward, so that her undergarments strained to contain them. “Please…” she gasped, “…hurry!”

Nimble fingers ran down the front of her corset, popping the hooks. The garment slid off her and to the ground of its own account, as he began to work the more delicate buttons of her camisole. When the top three were open, he pushed it away, revealing her chocolaty breasts, the darker nipples extended. He leaned in and suckled at one like a newborn calf, while he rolled the other between two fingers.

The exquisite energy flowed in from his lips and his fingers through her breasts and to every part of her; to every part, but, especially, to that secret place between her legs, stoking the great need she felt there. It built and built, a torrent against a dam, until the dam broke. She was lost, tossed like a leaf in a hurricane. She bit her lip, almost drawing blood, to keep from screaming, and forcing herself not to pass out from the sheer pleasure that she felt.

Luke watched her body quake with delight. When she had stopped, when she looked up at him with dazed eyes, he asked, “You want I should go on?”

“Yes! Oh. G-d, yes!” she answered. Lylah was on a cloud. Leland had never cared about the woman he was with; she was just the way to scratch his “itch.” Luke wanted her for herself.

He moved in to suck the other nipple. At the same time, his hand moved down her body. His fingers were arched, barely touching her. The sensation was of swarms of sparks, sexual fireflies, flitting about under her skin. She moaned and, by newly found feminine instincts, spread her legs.

He helped her to lie back on the wide bench, one foot on either side. “What… What’re you doing?” she asked as if half asleep.

“Just helping you t’feel real good.” He pushed up her skirt and petticoat up onto her stomach. Her drawers were moist where he touched them, and he could smell the heady scent of her arousal. He was rock hard, and – he had to admit – his hands trembled just a little as he undid the bow at her waist.

She looked up. “Are you gonna screw me now?” There was hope – and desire – in her voice.

“That’s m’plan.”

She smiled; her eyes half-closed. She had been imagining THIS happening for days. “Well, okaaaaay..” She lifted her rump slightly off the bench. “That’s t’help you get my drawers off. You better be careful with them.”

“Careful as I can be.” He managed to slide the garment down a few inches before the bench got in the way. Still it was enough.

He stood and unbuttoned his trousers and undid the knot on his own drawers. They dropped to his ankles. He lifted one leg over the bench and moved down and between her legs. He grinned as he felt her fingers around his manhood, even more so, as she guided him into her.

She gasped as she felt something tear, but the pain passed, and what came after was more of that incredible pleasure. Her arms reached up to pull him closer. He was still inside her for a moment, letting her get used to him. Then he began to pump and pump and pump! Her hips moved to match him, and that just made it even better. The rapture he was pumping into her, like water rising through new pipes from deep within the earth – within her -- until it all came GUSHING out. And she screamed, unable to keep the explosion of ecstasy she felt inside her, until he smothered her scream with a kiss.

And then he resumed; Luke was as powerful as the mustang he rode. Her body writhed, as another powerful blast of carnal delight whipped through her. “More… more…” she begged.

He suddenly froze. Then she felt him spurt what seemed like a gallon of his essence into her. It set her off in one last frenzy -- out of control, her mind barely functioning.

When it was over, when they both lay, exhausted, sated, on the bench, she looked up into his dark, welcoming eyes, and repeated a phrase that Shamus had given her weeks before. “Thanks for the dance, Mister. I really enjoyed it, and I hope we can do it again some time.” She giggled then and kissed his cheek.

“We will, Sugarplum,” he answered solemnly. “I swears that we will.”

* * * * *

Hedley stepped up to where Arnie was sitting. He was holding a ticket. “May I have the next dance?”

“Again?” she asked. “You have danced with me twice already tonight.”

“I like dancing. That’s why I came here tonight.”

“But you aren’t dancing with any of the other waiter girls. I’ve been…” Her voice trailed off and she blushed, as she realized what her words implied.

He smiled. “Been watching me, have you?” He offered her the ticket and his hand. “If you dance with me, you can watch me up close.”

“Very well.” She took his hand and let him carefully help her to her feet. His ticket joined the others in her apron pocket, and they walked out onto the floor.

The music – a waltz -- began, and she sighed, as his arms closed around her. Her body tingled where he was touching her, and the tingling raced through her body. She felt warm… happy, and she relished the feelings.

“I lied to you before,” he told her. “I said that I came here to dance. Actually, I came here in the hope that I could dance with you. And since I can, I intend to do so as often as possible.”

The tingling in her body grew into a warm glow. She sighed again and leaned her head on his chest. ‘Sí,’ she thought, ‘as often as you can.’

* * * * *

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