The Prostitute takes a position (not on the bed)

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photo credit

“What is it, Meta? You seem quiet today,” Sadie <the prostitute> said.

“I’m thinking of Emil. He would love this place.”

“You want to marry this Emil fellow?”

“When the time is right. But I also want to go to college.”

Sadie turned away. “Well, marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It cements a woman’s future and her feet to a kitchen floor.”

I wanted to tell her that some men look at prostitutes as mere fodder for their tumescent phalluses. I held my tongue. “Did you not hear what Miss Fisher said at the meeting? How women need—”

“I do know one thing.” Sadie inhaled a deep, scrappy breath. “I don’t think men care for their wives after they’ve poked them a couple of times. That goal’s already been Conquered. Girls like me? We sleep with money the same way wives do, but we get paid without the bossing.”

Excerpt from The Last Bordello, historical novel set in 1901

 

 

Murmuration Agitation (with a little Bible recitation)

3ef024404abdee652d9a1635c923c75aOn my damn lawn, at least twenty people stood behind Mrs. Stoddard. Some chanted, some murmured. I took in a breath and let it out, trying to appear unruffled and bored. “And I won’t rest until Marcy’s true killer is found. Sadie didn’t do it, Mrs. Stoddard. But I assure you, Sheriff Tobin is doing everything he can to find the killer.”

“Tobin, huh!” Stoddard spat the words. “From what I’ve heard, the big sheriff is only protecting you for personal reasons. How’s he going to help if he’s playing nice with you under the covers?” She looked down as if shamed by her words.

Even so, I clenched the fabric of my dress to keep from smacking her clear across the street.

“We want justice,” the crowd chanted, louder each time.

“Now listen here,” I shouted, my patience waning. “We want justice too. We are all upset. Let’s work together and find the real killer. Now, as I said. Get. Off. My. Property.”

“Tells them to kiss your hiney and go to grass,” Reba whispered beside me, still hidden from view.

Reba’s version of “go to hell” gave me the idea. “Good Christian folk…” I forgot the passage, turned to Reba, and whispered out the side of my mouth. “What’s something good to quote from the Bible? Something about judgment.”

Reba put a hand on her chin and peered down at her feet. “You wants Saint John or Deuteronomy?”

“Whichever’s better.”

“Well, Saint John says—”

“Reba! Give me something.”

“Tell ’em, ‘Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment.’”

Reba tugged at my elbow. “You gotta say it’s from John 7:24.”

“Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment,” I repeated loudly. “John 7:24. Isn’t that what Jesus taught?” I knew I was pushing it. Over the years, only once or twice had I glanced at the Good Book. The Bible never spoke to me like it did for Reba. “You are judging an innocent woman because of her chosen profession. Shame on you. Shame on you all. Now leave before I have you arrested for trespassing.” I lifted Ratchet slower than necessary and heard the gasps of fear. I perched the shotgun over my shoulder like a marching soldier and closed the front door.

Reba and I waited and listened, our backs against the front door. The thrum of mumblings and chanting didn’t stop. “Now what?” I asked my best friend.

“Whiskey slam?”

Excerpt from The Last Bordello, a historical novel

Murmuration

Caught red (yellow)-handed

 

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“Prostitute the Sphinx” by Toulouse Lautrec Henri

 

“My God, it’s Marcy’s!” The temperance union president stared rage into Sadie’s eyes.

The restaurant became silent. No clinking of cutlery, no chattering of women.

Sadie frowned and glanced up at Mrs. Stoddard. “Excuse me?”

“I said that’s my Marcy’s scarf. I gave it to her.” With one swift move, Mrs. Stoddard pulled the scarf from Sadie’s neck and examined the fabric. “See, right here.” She pointed to a tiny section of the material where, in faded ink, “M.S.” was printed.

Sadie squinted and folded her arms. “I found it, ma’am.”

“Where! Where did you find it? Where is Marcy? Tell me this instant. Someone find an officer!”

Sadie froze. “An officer? I don’t understand. You can keep it, if you’d like.”

Patrons murmured and buzzed like a Swarm of bees in a hive with no queen.

Sadie turned her frightened gaze away from Mrs. Stoddard. “Meta, I think we should head back.”

“You are going nowhere, young lady. Not until you answer some questions.” The woman’s lip quivered as she held the silk scarf against her cheek.

I searched the restaurant for support. Anyone. If only Sheriff Tobin were here. But the faces around the tables were unfriendly, their eyes condemning.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

 

 

Step Aside, Mr. Mayor

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Mayor Marshal Hicks

Mayor Hicks slammed a fist on the table. “This is a damn murder investigation. That woman had her throat slit. The whore sitting here is known to pull out a knife. Plus, she had possession of the deceased’s scarf. Sheriff or not, you can’t just take them out of here. Miss Dubois has a cell waiting with her name on it.”

Sadie shuddered. Van Riper sat motionless, the emotion behind his squinting eyes, unreadable. Anger? Curiosity?

John shot a dogged grin at Hicks. “What murderer would flaunt a scarf belonging to the person they’d killed? What murderer could slit a throat and have no blood on their clothes when they returned home? Now, step aside. We’re leaving.”

Hicks’s face flushed with rage. “So you can go back to your whore madam? Make a sandwich between the sheets? Talk about a conflict of interest!”

In a  Blur of motion, John pinned Hicks to the wall, his hands around the mayor’s throat.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

 

 

The Madam’s Worry

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Another one-two-three whiskey slam, and Reba retired to her room. The house quiet, I poured another shot, placed the poker chips back in their slots, and settled my weary bones in the parlor.

I flicked off the chandelier and closed the curtains, indications the bordello was closed for business. Now, only a small flame flickered from the lantern beside my settee. A beautiful house, a beautiful room. The thought of being forced out terrified me and left me queasy. Perhaps the whiskey was talking, making me somber and heavy-hearted. What if city officials dropped my grand establishment from the city’s Blue Book, and Madam Volvino’s House of Disgust remained open?

The room, empty of anyone with predetermined Expectations of me, I slouched on the red velvet settee and took another sip. I remembered that one perfect night with John and then dismissed the memory. Years ago, others saved me. This time, I’d do it on my own.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

 

 

If the Bordello’s table could talk!

Madame Fannie Porter’s “soiled doves” give Meta, the bordello’s piano player, a gift.

“Meta,” Lillie said, her voice soft, as usual. “We have something for you, too.” She nudged Sassy Sarah.

“Sorry it’s not wrapped.” Sassy pulled the item from her lap and presented Meta with a comb carved with ivory roses.

“Kinda my idea,” Greta said, and ignored Sassy’s frown.

My girls. Their thoughtfulness overwhelmed me. They remained dry-eyed. Maybe too leather-skinned from hard lives to soften now. Some day, perhaps.

Meta shook her head as she placed the hair ornament inside the box. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“Well, missy.” Reba shook her head. “You sure picked a fine time to come to the big city.”

Meta chuckled. “A doozy.”

“I seen doozies of trouble in my day. Most is harder to pull off than ticks. Best thing? Meeting Fannie Porter. Worst? All them days before.” Reba draped a handmade amulet necklace around Meta’s neck. “For good luck.”

Meta didn’t ask what concoction Reba had put inside the amulet. Instead, she curled her fingers around the necklace then stood to hug Reba.

Reba and I had been worried about Meta after the shooting. Unlike my girls, Meta came from a simple, pleasant life. When she came to San Antone, she had seen the hardscrabble side and had proven herself a survivor.

Meta sat quietly, skimming her fingertips across the tabletop.

“What you thinking, girlie?” Reba said.

Meta let loose a wide grin and glanced at each of us. “So many secrets engrained in this wood. If only it could talk.”

“H’yaw, now.” Greta thumped Meta on the wrist. “Cain’t tell everything.”

We all cackled like a bunch of old women at a quilting bee and that image made me shiver.

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excerpt from The Last Bordello

 

 

Overwhelming

Opium, Anyone?

Ten minutes later, Sadie pulled me in front of a shabby, metal warehouse. The sign painted above the door read “Ben’s Den.”

“What is this place?”

“I’ll only be a moment, Meta. Will you wait for me out here? I’ll be right back.”

Before I had time to respond, Sadie entered through the shoddy door, allowing me a quick peek before she closed it behind her. The musky smoke Filtering out didn’t come from cigars or cigarettes.

An opium den? I had read about them, but never knew any existed in San Antonio.

Two minutes had passed. Sadie exited the building, her pace had slowed, her glazed eyes and serene.

“Are you okay, Sadie?”

“Perfect. You should go in with me sometime. The owner is a nice young man. Although,” she said, giggling, “Ben has crooked teeth. Makes me cross-eyed if I stare at them too long. Oh, and his face pocks. Big enough for fairies to bed in.” She threw her hands toward the sky. “A beautiful day. Oh, and please don’t tell Miss Fannie. Some things I must keep to myself.”

I wondered what else Sadie kept to herself. Intuition told me she stored secrets the way Mama and I stored canned vegetables.

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photo credit

Excerpt from The Last Bordello