The Madam

Never, ever, will I regret saving that woman from the hangman’s noose eleven years ago. That good-for-nothing she killed deserved being plugged. Even so, a Negro woman who murdered a white man might as well start braiding her own rope.

“’Nough mess … ” Parts of her newest grumble bounced from the parlor into the kitchen. I muzzled my laughter then I heard the thwack, thwack of a dishtowel slapping the velvet settees–Reba’s version of dusting.

Without Reba Mae Tyler, I wouldn’t be grinning at the cash stacked on my desk and organized by denominations. Who better than me, and my five-foot-three-of-nothing-but-glory best friend, to earn this kind of money?

Madam Volvino down the road would have scammed the Wild Bunch. I pictured that dollymop charging a lesser fee for her bawdyhouse services then afterward, jiggling her fat rump straight to the law to collect the one grand in bounty—one grand for Butch alone.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello by C. Dennis-Willingham

 

Organize– daily word prompt

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

A Quick Poke

John drummed his fingers on the table. “Least we caught him.”

God, not Butch and Sundance. “Who?” I tried to keep my voice flat and not give away the flutter in my chest.

“The man who killed his wife last night. Owner of a bit house on the west side. Said he was too drunk to know what he was doing. Said he thought it was an intruder.”

Reba shook her head. “Fool.”

A loud knock struck the front door. Happy for the diversion, I excused myself and hurried to answer. If Mayor Hicks stood behind it, I’d slam it in his smug face.

A far cry from my regulars, the scruffy young man peeled off his cowboy hat and used it to dust off his britches.

“May I help you?”

“Passin’ through, ma’am. Jus’ looking for a quick poke.”

“It’s early, son.” Although he appeared only a few years younger than me, calling him son reminded him who sat on top of the totem pole.

“Yes, ma’am. Won’t take too long.” If a man could salivate with his eyes, this cowboy was doing it.

Maybe he could get Sadie’s mind off Etta and put it back on what she was good at. Besides, a quick poke meant quick pay. He’d be out the door, a grin on his face and a skimpier pocket in our favor. I ran upstairs and received Sadie’s okay.

I held out my palm. “Five dollars for a chit, young man.”

“A chit?”

“A token, darlin’. Our legal Tender ” I reached into my pocket and retrieved the metal coin that read Madam Fannie Porter’s Sporting House. Most often, clients bought more than one chit to exchange for booze. Each morning, the girls returned the tokens to me and received half their value in hard cash. “Hand it to Sadie. First door on the left.”

I traded him the chit for his five dollars and returned to the kitchen.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

Daily post prompt: Tender

Miss Reba’s Elixir won’t stop a bullet

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photo credit

“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

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.

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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

Her Loaded Broom

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Madam Volvino down the road would have scammed the Wild Bunch. I pictured that dolly-mop charging a lower fee for her bawdy house services and then afterward, jiggling her fat rump straight to the law to collect the one grand in Bounty—one grand for Butch alone.

Only hours ago, Butch, Sundance, Kid Curry, Deaf Charlie, and William “News” Carver trotted off in three different directions. Carver said he’d soon return for Lillie and ride her off into a sunset dream. Like Sundance did with Etta last night. More girls to replace.

I counted again. Expenses, already deducted, included the vast amount of food Reba had cooked up for the entire house, the twenty bottles of French Gosset champagne—one of which I kept for myself—and the Cuban cigars—one of which Reba kept for herself. And, of course, the girls’ wages.

The familiar wide-hipped, narrow-waisted woman sidled through the swinging doors and into the kitchen, balancing a silver platter piled with dirty dishes. “Lawd have mercy,” Reba muttered.

“Too much on your plate?” I asked, laughing at my pun.

“Them wily bunch might be good at train robbing, but they ain’t worth nothing when it comes to sprucing up behind themselves.” Reba set the tray on the counter and then plunked into the chair closest to my desk in the kitchen’s corner. She stared at my grin. “What? It ain’t funny, Fannie Porter.”

“Isn’t funny,” I corrected. “Besides, this is the last for the Wild Bunch. The whole country’s chomping at the bit to catch them, especially the Pinkerton Agency. Gang’s splitting up.”

“So they says.” Reba grinned and shook her head. “I tells you what is funny. You chasin’ a known killer round the house with a loaded broom.”

“Wasn’t funny at the time.” Last night, Kid Curry, too liquor-seasoned to keep his chin above his neck, broke two of my rules. First, he entered my bedroom without permission, and then he tore my silk sheets with his spurs before I managed to shoo him out. “He promised to send new ones.”

“Mmm. And I’s growing catfish in my garden.”

Excerpt from The Last Bordello.

 

How Research Creates Historical Novels…

… And helps with historical treatment.

I hated history in my youth. But now? I love research. It takes my mind to places that existed long before and can exist again in a historical novel.

The Library of Congress – Historical Newspapers – can take you back to the late 1800’s. I needed 1901 so I found myself in good shape (except I spent hours upon hours finding interesting articles that had nothing to do with my MS, The Last Bordello.) Once I focused, ALL these articles played a pivotal role in my plot line. (I had many more, these are just a few.)

Let’s start with the secondary, still-important, characters and work our way down to Madam Fannie Porter.

 

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union:

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Now, for a sense of place:

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The politicians, Mayor Hicks, former Mayor Bryan Callaghan, Captain James Van Riper:

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The “then” never solved murder of Helen Madarasz.

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The outlaws:

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Now, Madam Fannie Porter:

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After reading this article, I found a writer’s connection to the man Madam Fannie may have married, and the location that was plausible for meeting Butch Cassidy for the first time.

 

If you are writing historical fiction, The Library of Congress is a great place to start!

Keep writing,

Carolyn