Wrong place at the right time?

If I weren’t so frightened, it would, or could be, comical. I felt plunked into the pages of a lecherous novel.

Greta and Lillie wore corsets that barely covered their nipples. Their legs shimmered inside shiny silk stockings attached with garters. Trying to be nonchalant, I squinted in the dim light and read Greta’s novelty garter atop her thick thigh. “Good things come high,” it read.

Sassy Sarah and Sadie both wore dresses pitched long in the back but rose above their knees in the front.

Another thought amused me. Except for Miss Fannie, I felt overdressed. A farm girl is rarely overdressed.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello by C. Dennis-Willingham

Shimmer– daily word prompt

Not Invited

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Madam Fannie Porter

There he stood, the man whose cleft chin always reminded me of a bare ass. “Well, well, well, Mayor Marshall Hicks. What can I do for you?”

“May I come in?”

I hesitated, my eyes scouring him from head to toe. “What do you need Mayor? I’ve paid my dues.”

“It’s about Sadie.”

“What about her? She’s upstairs sleeping.”

A thunderbolt cracked. The puffed rooster Cringed. “Can I come in?”

“For a minute. I have things to do.”

I opened the door wide enough for him to squeeze through. Too wide would seem like an invitation and asking him to sit a spell was out of the question.

He removed his hat and hung his rain jacket on the hook by the door. Now inside, he took an uninvited seat in the parlor—the same chair William Pinkerton sat on when asking about the Wild Bunch. Not a good omen.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

Daily word prompt: Cringe

Fear

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photo credit

I blamed my restless sleep on the killer who remained a mere Illusion lurking in the dark.

Never in my life had I been so scared. Last night the waves of maelstrom pulled me under and made it hard to breathe. Seeing Sadie bloodied on Mrs. Carver’s porch was bad enough. Thinking of Aunt Amelia in danger ripped ribbons of terror throughout my limbs. When I knew she was unharmed, and nausea had passed, I had asked my waiting driver to summon Sheriff Tobin. He arrived fifteen minutes later at the crime scene but after that, he never came to the bordello. I wondered why.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

Daily photo prompt: Illusion

 

Straightjacket to Hell

I peeked out the front window of our house then bolted out the back door. The second man in white grabbed me. I screamed and struggled as he secured the straight jacket around me. Resigned there was no way to escape, I watched Lucinda hand the signed papers to the driver.

“Let’s see here,” he said, reading. “Promiscuous, belligerent, violent tendencies. Anything else?”

Surely, there were other sections on the paper Lucinda wanted to circle to drive me deeper into a hole. My mother only shook her head. “Isn’t that enough?” she asked, her face smug and determined.

Just before being dumped in the back of the wagon, I caught my mother’s Triumphant grin. She spat the words, “For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but, in the end, she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death. Proverbs 5:3.”

I hated her.

The driver snapped the reins toward San Antonio.

“I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not crazy.”

Pleading did no good.

“Not for us to decide,” they laughed.

“You’re a pretty thing, though,” the driver said.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

Daily word prompt: Triumph

The Newsie

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It occurred to me Giovanni might have attended the Wild Bunch’s horses. I wouldn’t ask him to break Miss Fannie’s Code of Silence. I had a few secrets of my own. “I’ve come to you because I believe I can trust you. You enjoy the company at the bordello—”

“Hey now,” he said through a lop-sided grin, “only as a bystander.”

“Giovanni, you always search for missing pieces. You know everyone in San Antonio. Can you think of another blonde woman in town who might be involved? Can you help?”

He stifled a belch then leaned toward me, his eyes more adult than juvenile. “Meta, you know what I do when I lay in bed next to my wiggly sister? I stare at a bowed ceiling and wait for it to fall on me. I squeak back at the mice, tell them if they want more food, they should move along some place else. And then? If it’s not raining and I don’t have to mop up the puddle by my bed, I think about what I’d read in the newspaper that day. If I have a question about something on those pages, I keep it in my mind until I can ask at the office. When the lantern’s down, I picture myself typing like those folks at work. I picture getting a real salary. I’ll help if I can. I don’t sleep much anyways.”

Stupefied by his Revelation, I said the only thing that came to mind. “Anyway. No ess at the end.”

Excerpt from The Last Bordello (published)

Daily word prompt: Revelation

Defending Prostitution (or attempting to)

 

Aunt Amelia winked. “And Meta? Will you still be joining me for the meeting on Friday night?”

“Of course, Aunt Amelia. I’m looking forward to it.” How could I forget one of the main reasons I came to San Antonio?

“What meeting?” Giovanni asked.

I turned toward Giovanni. “Aunt Amelia is a member of the Women’s Club of San Antonio. There’s a public forum—”

Sadie clamped a hand over my wrist. “Wait. What? I thought …”

“I hear it’s going to be a humdinger,” Giovanni interrupted. “A few of those gals arrived by train last night.”

I patted Sadie’s hand to reassure her. “It’s okay. I’ve already asked for the day off. Miss Fannie gave me permission.”

“No, I mean,” Sadie’s breath hitched. “Her club invited the Women’s Temperance Union. They want to force any place that sells liquor to close down.”

Aunt Amelia leaned forward. “I sincerely doubt they have that power, my dear. Remember, Texas voted a majority against prohibition in ‘87.”

“But they also think alcohol adds to social problems like …” Sadie hesitated and dropped her chin, “prostitution.”

“My organization only wants women to have better opportunities, Sadie, including the right to vote.” Aunt Amelia’s voice remained calm, self-assured.

Sadie shifted her upper torso and shook her head. “But that’s not what the Temperance women want. Why did you invite them?”

“Board decision. Perhaps the Temperance Union can be instrumental in helping us get the right to vote.”

Sadie cleared her throat. “Excuse me, Amelia. But I seem to recall Miss Fannie telling us of a woman named Susan Anthony is pushing for our right to vote yet also attacks prostitution as a social evil.”

“I’m not saying I want to be a part of the Temperance Union,” Aunt Amelia continued, her head tipped back in confidence. “But I would like to hear what they have to say. I can’t minimize their efforts without first listening.”

My heart sank as the seams of new acquaintances unraveled.

“In my case, Amelia, I chose to work at Miss Fannie’s. I chose my profession.”

Mrs. Carver returned and brought in a tray of coffee and scurried back outside to Mr. Davis. I longed to join them for a breath of fresh air.

Aunt Amelia sipped her coffee then returned the cup gently to its saucer. “You were saying?”

“I told you I chose my profession.” Sadie’s tone came out biting and abrasive.

Aunt Amelia caught my eye then turned a Polished focus to Sadie. “Some benighted women don’t have a choice. Many young women are taken unwillingly and sold into white slavery. Their rights have been taken and, in my opinion, that is a horrific injustice.”

Sadie’s face flushed. She closed her eyes and puffed out her bosoms. “But you don’t mind Meta staying at the bordello? Sleeping in my bed?”

“And I will keep Meta safe,” Sadie said.

Sadie’s overprotective and presumptuous emphasis set me on edge. The gathering no longer seemed a good idea.

 

The room settled into an irksome silence. The only thing audible came from Mr. Davis’ cursing in the backyard. “… And you ain’t no goddamn Florence Nightingale neither.”

I kissed Aunt Amelia goodbye and was first out the door.

Standing at the curb, I thought of Miss Reba. I reached into my purse and pulled out the cleanly scrubbed cloth, remembering to return it. Sadie grabbed it from my hands, blew her nose, and flung it onto the dusty street.

 

Daily Word Prompt: Polish

A cranky prostitute

Sadie threw her arms around me and buried her face in my shoulder. “I’m so grateful you’re here. Maybe it’s time for me to go out. I think Miss Fannie won’t mind as long as I’m with you. I could take you to Brackenridge Park. It’s supposed to be beautiful. It’s named after one of our citizens, George Brackenridge. You know, the waterworks magnate?”

George Brackenridge, Mary Eleanor’s brother.

“I can’t today, Sadie. I’m going to visit Aunt Amelia. Another time, perhaps?”

Sadie withdrew her hug and narrowed her eyes. “I thought you just saw her. Truly, Meta? A visit every day?”

Her sarcastic wrath unwarranted, I clenched my hands into fists. “She is the reason I came here, Sadie. Did you forget?”

Sadie took a step back and glared at me. “I’ve changed my mind about going downstairs. You don’t like me because I’m a prostitute. I know that now. You’re only here so you can play your precious piano.”

“Sadie—”

“Please, do go down without me.”

Veins pulsed in my neck. “And you are only using me to ameliorate your guilt. Your insouciance for others is heartless.”

“You realize, don’t you, that you rely on your big words to puff yourself up. It’s unbecoming.”

Thoughts of Uncle Dirk reappeared. Why? Because Sadie had spoken to me with arrogance and superiority? Because she questioned my intelligence? My stomach churned.

“Let me know if I should move into Etta’s room.” Bitterness dripped from my tongue. I felt happy to descend the stairs alone.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

Cranky

Miss Reba’s Elixir won’t stop a bullet

“So what was in that concoction Miss Reba made for Mr. Davis?” I asked.

“She said it was honey, pepper, licorice, ginger, a couple of other ingredients I don’t remember. She made me hang an onion over his bed, too.”

The thought made me laugh. “And he allowed that?”

“Well, let’s just say it took a bit of doing. He told me he wadn’t scared of no goddamn vampire. I guess he was thinking about garlic.”

The scream pierced the evening like shattered glass.

We didn’t speak. We ran.

Sadie fell, but I couldn’t stop. Couldn’t wait. I recognized the voice behind the scream.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

Elixir

Poor Ol’ Possum

Poor ol’ Possum O’Connell. He didn’t expect the law to show up at his door this early in the morning.

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“This ’bout the Beauty Saloon, ain’t it? Didn’t mean to cause a ruckus, but that no-account had it comin’. I fess up. I wasted a good brew when I throwed it on his shirt. I got swole up, is all.”

Mr. O’Connell trained his bloodshot eyes on Sheriff Tobin and then on Giovanni. He ignored Captain Van Riper.

“Not here about that, Possum,” Sheriff Tobin said. “We’re here about the murder of the temperance woman, Marcy Sanders.”

Possum bolted out of his chair, knocking it down. “I swannin’, I never kilt nobody an’ I don’t plan to. I ain’t an eye-fer-an-eye kinda feller,” he said, looking at me.

Giovanni picked up the chair. “Hell, we know that, Possum. Calm down.”

Sheriff Tobin removed his hat and patted the table. “Just sit for a spell and hear us out.”

O’Connell did as told, rubbing his beer gut.

Sheriff Tobin stuffed his hands casually in his back pockets. “Miss Duecker, here, says you remember seeing Miss Sanders, the lady with the yellow scarf, at Menger’s.”

Mr. O’Connell let out a shiver. “Gotta show…show…show y’all somethin’.” He Retreated to his bedroom and returned with a cat under one arm and a yellow bonnet under the other. “This here,” he said, lifting the cat up to his shoulder, “is mine.” He placed Dawg on the floor and held out the bonnet. “This here belonged to Edna. She loved this head wrap. Had it fer many years. Thought about burying her in it, but I jest couldn’t do’er…couldn’t do’er. Wanted to have it to remember her by.”

Van Riper shifted his weight from one leg to the other and heaved a deep sigh.

“Anyhow,” Possum continued, sitting again, “that’s how I come to remember that yeller scarf. Bright as this here bonnet. I’d been drinking Menger corn juice thinkin’ ’bout Edna when I saw that scarf round that woman’s neck. Almost like Edna done sent me a wink, wink, wink from heaven.”

Excerpt from The Last Bordello.