Rule breakers

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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

Madam Fannie defends her bordello

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The real Madam Fannie Porter made famous by harboring Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch

John opened the paper and tapped a small ad on page three. A glance down at the headlines, my smile faded.

The mayor already hated me. Now, he had new artillery.

Mayor Marshall Hicks, the blue-skin Presbyterian, and member of the Knights of Pythias who had taken an oath to abstain from vices. My bordello sat a mere block outside the district; a fact Dick-Hicks pointed out on a regular basis in his crock of shit. The mandate had been established only a year ago, six years after I opened the bordello.

“What is it, Sheriff?” Reba fiddled with the ties of her apron and remained a vigilant guard by the sink.

“San Antonio Women’s Club have asked the Women’s Christian Temperance Union to speak at a public forum,” he said.

“I believe in Lawd Jesus too, but them Thumpers from their Christ Union are full’a horse pucky and needs to mind their own business.”

The WCTU pledged to protect women by banning alcohol, as well as prostitution. Obviously, they’d never known a woman who could have Survived without my profession, me included.

At Madam Fannie’s Boarding House, my girls earned a good living and treated fairly. A client who forgot that rule or broke any others got a hard stare down the barrel of Reba’s Ratchet. Over the years, that shotgun proved well worth every cent we coughed up to buy it. When trouble knocked at our door, Ratchet made its point with one threatening crack.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

Daily word prompt: Survive

 

 

Miss Proper meets Crude

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At some point during the evening, Sadie had removed every stitch of her nightclothes. I turned away while she threw on a blue peignoir.

As we Descended the stairs together, I secretly wondered what it would be like to sway my hips down a staircase, to have men ogle at me with carnal designs. To have a body like Sadie’s. Only curiosity, of course. I often pictured myself in alternative scenarios—a famous writer, a composer, a student of nature and all living things. And, of recent, I pondered working as an advocate for women’s rights.

The kitchen abuzz with chatter, I took a seat next to Sadie.

“So you worked up an appetite did you, Sassy Sarah?” Miss Fannie grinned.

“Yep, sure did.”

Miss Reba refilled Sassy Sarah’s coffee cup. “Sounds like Lawrence P. came last night.”

Sassy flipped her red hair to the side. “He came alright. And came and came.”

While everyone laughed, I felt the heat of my cheeks and turned my head.

 

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

 

Daily Prompt: Descend

“No Jail!”

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Madam Fannie Porter

Sadie threw her hands over her ears and rocked back and forth. “Just no jail, no jail, no jail …”

When  tears tumbled down Sadie’s cheeks, I caught Louis’s look of compassion—the same as Meta’s, the same as Reba’s. The same as mine.

“I won’t let you go to jail, Sadie. That’s what this is all about,” John said, his voice softer. “But you need to do what we suggest. I have a plan. But we have to find you a hide-away, some place safe other than here.”

Silence slithered around the frank, yet well-meaning posse while the irony struck me as funny. Over the years, the surrounding walls had safely protected politicians, successful businessmen, and Notorious train robbers. Now, they weren’t strong enough to protect my hard working and best girl who felt more like kin.

Reba thumped the settee’s armrest gathering our attention. “Fannie, what  we ain’t gonna do is snap a fine branch off this family tree and throw it to the fire. If she gotta leave, it better be a damn good place so’s she can come home when time’s right.”

A moment passed and I felt the soft squeeze of Meta’s hand.

“I might know a place,” she said.

 

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

Daily Word Prompt: Notorious

Fighting for rights

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A man, close to the front, pumped his fist. “My wife don’t have time for more learning. We got six kids needing supper on the table.”

A melee of querulous male voices erupted from the crowd.

“Why do women prostitute themselves to the abnormal passion of man?” Miss Fisher continued. “Because they are poverty-stricken, destitute above temptation and driven by necessity. They sell themselves, in marriage or out, for bread and shelter, for the necessities of life. How can we blame them? They have no other recourse but to live in a society that dictates what they, we, can and cannot do. To solve this problem, we demand that women be allowed to exercise their inherent, personal, citizen’s right to be a voice in the government, municipal, state, and national. Then, women will have the power to protect themselves.”

“We men protect our women just fine,” a voice shouted. Other men shouted their agreement.

Mayor Hicks stepped to the podium, his lips pursed. “Enough of your heckling. Save your disagreements for editorials in the newspapers. She has a right to free speech.”

“So do we,” someone boomed back.

The mayor banged a fist on the podium. “These women are invited guests. By God, we will show them our southern Hospitality.”

The raw egg came from nowhere. It narrowly missed the Mayor’s head before landing on the bandstand floor. He squinted, searching the crowd.

Poor Mrs. Fenwick held a shaky hand over her mouth.

Miss Fisher reached below the dais and pulled out a speaking trumpet. “The true relation of the sexes can never be attained until women are free and equal with man,” she continued, her determination thundering above the chaos.

The second egg hit the podium dead center.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

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Trying to keep a straight spine

In the glow of the kitchen lantern, I spotted the lone tear in Reba’s eye. “So, what’s now?” she asked.

“It’s only Temporary, Rebie. She’ll be back before we know it. I just hope the plan works. We’ll find out in the morning.”

“Fannie, notice how this catawampus started when the Wild Bunch come here?”

“How do you see that?”

Reba folded her hand. “Etta leaving with Sundance. That’s when Sadie’s trigger got pulled. Pushed her over that ledge.”

I shook my head. “It was before that.”

She glanced up at the ceiling. “Yes’m, suppose so. Plopped out in a cabbage patch with nobody around to comfort her ’cept for devil mother.”

“Rebie, we’ve all had our sorrows. Some just can’t seem to recover from them.”

“You dids, though. Came outta that orphanage with a straight spine.”

“It didn’t feel so straight at the time.”

“Mmm. Never does.”

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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.

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