Rule breakers

kgrhquokpe54boqlbbojkssnk_3

The scream from upstairs booted us from our chairs. Reba ran to her bedroom yelling, “Don’t you go up there ‘fore me.”

In no time, Reba followed me up to the first door on the left, Ratchet steady in her arms.

The cowboy turned when the door opened, his wicked grin melting. Naked and trembling, Sadie stood an arm’s length from the cowboy.

Blood pounded in my ears. “If you did anything to hurt her…”

The two-syllable ratchet of Reba’s shotgun finished the sentence. She aimed at the target. “I say time’s up.”

“Why, you old pickaninny,” he growled.

Reba’s face Radiated brown flames of fury. The cowboy backed away.

Sadie wiped her eyes and unclenched her teeth. “I told him my rule. He tried to break it.”

I knew the one she referred to—animal and specialty acts. Reba and I knew the reason, knew what had happened to her back then. Never would I allow a client to fracture the boundaries that made my girls feel safe.

“Tried to? Did he?” I draped a dressing robe around Sadie’s bare body and steered her to the bed.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello (1901)

 

Daily Word Prompt: Radiate

Inching toward the red doors

 

 

With one glance at the oversized house, I knew it wasn’t the right address. I flashed him a cold smile. “That remains to be seen.”

“Everybody knows it’s The Boarding House. Just what you asked for. Owner’s a nice lady, too.” He smirked. “Well, I’ll be off then.” He set the luggage down, shuffled his feet, and glared at me. When I stared back, he turned with a mischievous grin. Then, the loose soles of his shoes flapped as he cull-umped away.

I neared the front door and stopped to read the sign. Madam Fannie Porter’s Boarding House. The term “madam” did not escape me. Nor did the sparsely dressed and licentious female “boarders” I spotted through the slightly parted curtains.

I sat on the curb, too tired to cry.

A thick raindrop thumped my hat; the second thudded my skirt. A lightning bolt forced me to stand.

I glanced back at the grand house of ill fame, swallowed the Bitter taste of doubt, and inched toward the red doors.

Excerpt from:

51rszIW1buL._AC_US218_.jpg

When your insides go kablooey

il_570xN.383190895_dibn

Reba stood over the cookstove and wiped a forearm across her brow. “Least the weather’s turning warmer. Time to start planting. Think it might freeze again?”

“How the hell would I know that?”

Reba shifted her stance and glared at me. “Lawd, I just asked a question. Ain’t no need to hatchet my words right when they come out.”

Hatchet. An ironic word choice. From what I’d gathered, the hatcheting Carry Nation currently sat in jail. “And when are you going to stop saying ‘ain’t’?”

Reba slapped a hot pad on the counter. “When I’s too old to fart, is when. Needs some Pape’s Diapepsin?”

“Sorry, Rebie. Things aren’t settling well right now.”

“You knows what your problem is, Fannie Porter? You worries enough to make your insides go kablooey. Now hang them worries on the hat hook and hand me that mason jar.”

“You think I shouldn’t worry? Sadie’s not herself, John knows about the Wild Bunch, the temperance women are coming, and if word gets out that Etta left with Sundance—”

“Who’s gonna tell?”

Good point. Would any of them cave in, spill our beans of Fortune?

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

 

 

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

A Crowd of Resistance

Mrs. Helen Stoddard of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union speaks to an unruly crowd.

helen-stoddard-175x251

Mrs. Stoddard scanned the crowd. Some listened while others talked among themselves, paying no attention to her whatsoever.

“I grieve with you, citizens of San Antonio. One woman from your San Antonio Women’s Club continues to grieve for her husband, who fell to his death while drunk. Another woman is dead by the hands of her husband, the owner of a saloon. His only defense? ‘I was drunk. I didn’t know what I was doing.’”

Someone yelled, “Drink or not, Carl’s a louse. Never takes me on credit.” The woman next to him punched his arm.

“Who will be next?” Mrs. Stoddard continued. “Will it be your daughter, still in her youth, whose face will feel the wrath of a hand that has held too many whiskeys? Will it be your mother, your sister, or your aunt who will have the misfortune to be associated with a drunkard? Will the man stumble down the stairs of his home and find an innocent target? Point the edge of his knife to her throat? Will she be pummeled by a fist, discarded like a mere piece of garbage?”

“Maybe she weren’t so innocent.” The man, close to the front, laughed. A few others joined his guffaw.

“In the words of the great Elizabeth Cady Stanton, ‘Reformers from all sides claim for themselves a higher position than the church. Our God is a God of justice, mercy, and truth. Their God sanctions violence, oppression, and wine-bibbing, and winks at gross moral delinquencies. Our Bible commands us to love our enemies, to  Resist evil, to break every yoke, and let the oppressed go free…In our creed, it is a sin to hold a slave, to hang a man on the gallows, to make war on defenseless nations, or to sell rum to a weak brother and rob the widow and the orphan of a protector and a home.’”

I turned my back to the bandstand. It was dark now, but the gas lampposts provided enough light to see a shadowy figure behind a cluster of trees twenty feet behind me.

“I’ll be right back, Aunt Amelia. I want to check on something.”

If Sadie was still there, I didn’t want to scare her away. Trying to be inconspicuous, I inched to the left of the tree and then slipped behind it. “Sadie?”

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

 

Interior of a Class A Bordello

Photo is of the real Madam Fannie Porter who was made famous by harboring Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch.

Screenshot 2014-11-23 12.11.09 copy

The portal to the unknown inched open and revealed a handsome woman, her head held high like a proud Thoroughbred. Her eyes looked stitched with a dark-brown thread of authority and were the same color as her perfectly coiffed hair. Perhaps in her thirties, she wore a lavishly brocaded burgundy gown that cinched her waist and revealed her curves. And her shoes! I had read that Mrs. McKinley had worn such shoes at the president’s inauguration—white satin slippers beaded with color.

“Miss? How can I help you?”

“I…I’m Meta Duecker.” I hated my fear, my uncertainty and lack of confidence. “It seems I have been misled to this address. I was hoping for a glass of water and directions, perhaps?”

“Meta, I’m Madam Fannie Porter. Please come in.”

She grabbed the heavy hatbox and steered me away from the inappropriately dressed women in the parlor.

“Have fun, boys,” she said to the salivating men.

Frozen, I averted my eyes from the coquettish prostitutes and their clients and focused on the opulent décor.

To my left, an ornately carved baluster led to upstairs. Through the upstairs banister, I counted six closed doors. A grand chandelier hung from the high ceiling, and a large gilded mirror above the hearth doubled the brilliance of the room and cast a sensual glow on the two red-velvet settees and the wingback armchairs upholstered in Oriental fabric. Next to the chairs sat tea tables covered in tatted lace. A slightly faded Persian carpet lay beneath the furniture. Never had I seen such grandeur.

“Meta? Shall we?”

I followed the madam through the parlor to the right. An old upright piano stood in the corner just before the swinging doors. The wood, soft to my touch, yearned for attention.

 

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

 Interior

She Mopes Loud!

 

I tried to ignore the crash from upstairs—the third one now. Reba shook her head, her smile fading. “She still up there caterwauling and hurling things ’cross her room. Poor chil’ don’t never seem to get a leg back up ’fore it drops back down again.”

But Sadie Dubois was damn good at spreading them. Employed at the bordello longer than any of my other girls, Sadie brought in the most money. But last night, she had morphed into a puddle of anguish when her best friend left with Harry Longabaugh. Better known from the wanted posters as “the Sundance Kid,” he had hefted giggling Etta on the back of his mare and trotted away. “Other girls still sleeping?”

“Don’t know ’bout now, but when I went upstairs to check on things, three of them bedrooms was quiet. But that first one on the left? Phew! What a racket.”

“She’ll be fine, Reba.”

“And a hen’s gonna grow teeth. Her waters run deep. ’Sides, you knows well as me that after Sadie’s done with her conniption fit, she gonna keep spewing a pout.”

“She’ll buck up when she needs to.” Even with a sordid past, Sadie could pull a charade better than most.

Three years ago, when Sadie was seventeen, she arrived dressed as a boy during a ferocious storm, her aquamarine eyes pleading for entry. I knew then that Sadie could wear a flour sack and still be a looker—curves in all the right places, blond hair that Reba called “thick as good gravy.”

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

Mope

What will the neighbors think?!!

f89af7e17f01a2fd6b96f943c0ba869b

The virtuous Meta, misled to the wrong “boarding house,” has been offered a job. A the bordello!

Smiles, genuine and kind, surrounded me. Never in my life had I met others who so easily accepted a bookworm like myself and appreciated my talent as a pianist. I was a grown woman capable of making independent decisions. Besides, I came here to Discover a world full of new possibilities.

I swallowed my apprehension, hoping I wasn’t about to make a grave mistake. The brothel madam continued smiling, her expression framed with hope.

I unhinged the teeth biting my tongue. “Do you think we could have the piano tuned?”

From The Last Bordello.

 

 

 

“Fanatics” Against Prostitution!

Greta, one of Sadie’s fellow prostitutes at the bordello, tries to comfort her after they learn members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union are coming to town to Protest against vice. (From The Last Bordello)

th

 

 

Greta put an arm around Sadie. “I love you truly, truly, dear,” she sang.

“Stop it!” Sadie unclenched her fists long enough to wallop her palms on the table. “Your piping doesn’t help.”

Greta puffed her cheeks and blew out a huff. She placed her hands around her throat. “Geez, kill me now. You’re actin’ like you been slurpin’ asshole soup again.”

“Hypocrites, all of them.” Sadie’s face reddened. “Those protesters make me sick. Religious fanatics who can’t mind their own damn business, preach like they’re better than us.”

Her last comment, barely a whisper, I knew Sadie was thinking about her religious nut of a mother. She rarely spoke of her, but when she did, she referred to her as Lucinda the Lucifer. The woman had forced Sadie to recite Bible passages before allowing her to eat and preached the sin of men’s unbridled passion until her ears burned. Who wouldn’t run away after that kind of upbringing?

Unknown

 

 

Stuck in a “Shining Closet”

From The Last Bordello: In Madam Fannie’s voice, she and her “girls,”and Meta – who was misled to the bordello – must wait out a storm in the crawl space under the stairs.

wetnightcolumbus-circle-1900

I shifted my knees, trying to get comfortable. “Girls, if this is the worst that’s ever happened to you, I’d say you’ve lived a fine and easy life.” I knew better, of course.

“Etta’s leaving is much worse,” Sadie said, her hands shaking.

“Horsefeathers.” Lillie tucked her head between her knees and mumbled, “Worse is saying good-bye to your betrothed.”

“Carver will be back,” Sadie retorted. “Etta won’t.”

True. I couldn’t see Etta returning, which made it worse for Sadie. She and Etta had been as close as silk on a corncob.

I made note to speak privately to Sadie and the others. Under no circumstances were any of my fallen angels allowed to mention the names of the Wild Bunch or Etta’s connection with the gang.

Meta had Faded into the wall, her owl stare flickering in the lantern’s light. No doubt, she didn’t expect to spend her first night in San Antonio stuck in a bordello’s crawl space.