“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

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

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

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

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.

 

What will the neighbors think?!!

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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.

 

 

 

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.

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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.