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

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

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

Meeting Madam Fannie Porter

 

unspecifiedI 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 lightening 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.

 The iron horse head lifted, I calmed my breath then struck the knocker’s plate, plunk, plunk, plunking it loud enough to be heard over bedlam behind the red door.

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 authority and were the same color as the hair perfectly coiffed on her head. Perhaps in her thirties, she wore a Natty 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.”

Daily Word prompt: Natty

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