16 July, Year 0001, New Covid Era … Maria

Part II, The Bisbee Chronicles

A little tale about Bisbee’s Quality Hill during the very early part of the twentieth century, read by the author, Willard Douglas.

This is a complete work of fiction. My descriptions of Brewery Gulch are totally from my own imagination and may or may not coincide with anything that may have happened a hundred-plus years ago. Today I publish the first two in what is currently a group of three, the third to be published in the near future, and possibly more to come later.

Listen, Read, or Listen and Read! Comments greatly appreciated.

Tap/Click to read/listen to Part I of The Broadway Chronicles: Elmo on the Broadway Steps

Part I … Elmo…

She was on Brewery almost down to Taylor when I first noticed her. She was holding her skirt up above her ankles just enough to reveal a tall pair of heavy laced boots that disappeared under the hem of her dress… She stepped gingerly, avoiding puddles, until she got to the boardwalk by the cemetery where she let the dress fall.

My name’s Elmo… You’ve met me before, or should I say you’ve had the opportunity to… I own a little bar on Brewery Gulch… opened it just a few years ago… at the moment I’m sitting outside the front door drinking in the stinky ambiance and watching a very intriguing dark, mysterious woman walking towards me… Coal-black hair tumbles down and puddles on her shoulders… sunlight splashes off her hair… Her gingham dress barely brushes the boardwalk so that it looks more like she’s gliding towards me rather than walking. The dress has a scoop neckline featuring her voluptuous endowment.

I kept watching her eyes but couldn’t tell if she ever actually looked back at me until she was only a few feet away. At the instant I knew I had caught her eye, my hand automatically went to the brim of my derby. I was looking directly into a pair of dark hazel eyes, glinting in the sunlight.

“Good afternoon, Ma’am.”

Her eyes smiled at me an instant before it spread across her face… She raised one hand to her hatbrim and tugged it ever so slightly as she averted her eyes and passed on by before disappearing onto Broadway.

That intrigued me. I had never seen her before, and I saw everyone who habituated the Gulch, either inside my bar or out here on the sidewalk. And I rarely saw anyone that I didn’t know ascend those steps…

I turned my head and shouted back into the bar, “Jonny!!! Come here quick!”

Jonny is a lad of sixteen who helps out around the bar… His pa sits on a stool back in the furthest recesses, nursing leftovers… Many a time I’ve watched Jonny place a fresh, unrequested beer in front of a half-in-the-bag customer who has brooded over the same half-drunk one longer than Jonny thinks it should take him to drink it. He will slip the fresh beer in front of the customer and say “Think yore ready for another there, Bub. This’n’s bound to taste like horse piss by now. I’ll just get it out of yore way.” and before Bub has a chance to react Jonny is halfway down the bar with the half-full one… I watch also as he takes a large swig himself before setting what’s left in front of Pop.

Jonny has no mama.

When the boy came running to my side I stopped him just long enough to say, “Woman in gingham dress and long black hair just started up Broadway. Follow her!” He sprang towards the steps even before the last two words were out of my mouth. Two minutes later he was back.

He stood in front of me for a moment to catch his breath, “Did’n see no woman, Boss.”

“None? She was very pretty.”

“I already tole ya’ I did’n see nobody. I run all the way up to the top behind the old school lookin’ all round in all directions and never seen nobody.”

At 2:00AM I locked up the bar and started back up to my room on Temby St. As I walked up Broadway, I pondered what could have happened to the mystery lady whom I could see in my mind’s eye… I also saw her in my dreams that night.

… … …

Part II – Maria

Maria started up the Broadway steps, hurrying as she went. Something told her that that bartender might be following her although he hadn’t moved from his stool when she looked back as she turned the corner onto the steps… She gathered her skirts up to her knees and ran across the vacant lot and through a livery lot and into the small backyard of the old church…

She opened the door to a small lean-to at the back of the building and stepped inside. Leaving the door open to let in as much light as possible, she quickly removed her hat and black wig. Her real hair sported a man’s haircut… She dropped her dress around her ankles, stepping out of it and hanging it on a nail in the wall. Her chemise soon followed. She stood in long underwear that belonged to her brother… From a small cabinet fastened to the back wall of the church, she removed a roll of muslin about eight inches wide and wrapped it round her chest, binding her breasts. She pulled on a pair of serge overalls. A miner’s cap made her disguise complete.

She stepped out into the side-yard of the church and emerged onto Howell and then quickly ducked across and down Shearer onto Subway…

Emerging onto Main she slowed her pace and started up the Canyon… She had walked only a short distance above the Grand Hotel when a horse cart stopped alongside her and she hopped inside, the stop being of but five seconds duration.

The cart was being driven by none other than F. Walter Cunningham, the superintendent of the Buzzard’s Roost Mine… A prominent member of the respected community up on Quality Hill, Walt, as he was known, often gave tired miners a ride home even if he had to go a significant distance out of his way to do so…

Maria, even disguised as she was, was no ordinary miner… J.Walter drove all the way to the top of Moon Canyon before he stopped… They were there for almost an hour… It took Maria some time to get out of her costume… and then back into it again later…

Both Maria and J. Walter were quiet on the way down Tombstone Canyon. A short ways before he came upon Quality Hill Rd., he stopped the buggy, pressed a twenty dollar bill into Maria’s hand and said simply ‘Goodnight’ as she stepped down to the sidewalk, barely relinquishing her hold on the small cart when it began to roll forward again. She walked quickly down to Quality Hill Rd. and followed the cart up. She had never done this before. Normally, she just kept walking down Main. Tonight she turned to follow the cart up the hill.

It was easy to follow without being seen. The electric streetlights were dim and widely spaced and easily avoided… The horse slowed to a crawl going up the steep hill so every time he moved into a dark area, she darted around the streetlight and into the shadows herself, continuing this all the way to the very top where his large, two story house stood. A small barn was located beside it.

The horse stopped just opposite the porch. A groomsman whom Maria had seen approaching from the barn just as she eased back into the deep shadows across the street stepped up and took the reins. J.Walter stepped out onto the porch as the groomsman led the horse towards the barn…

As horse and cart were being led into the barn, Maria saw a candle glow in the windows of a front room. It moved from place to place for a few minutes before ascending the stairs, disappearing momentarily before suddenly appearing in an upstairs bedroom. Was that Walt’s bedroom? She wondered. Two minutes later the light was extinguished, leaving the entire house in darkness. Maria waited almost fifteen minutes before starting back down the hill.

She strolled down Main and turned up the Gulch. She turned into Broadway. Nobody gave a tired miner a second look.

Ten minutes later that same miner, now sporting a bundle tied to a stick resting on his shoulder made his way out onto Opera Drive and proceeded up the street towards wherever he went when he got near the top.

… … …

Part III … Elmo

The next afternoon I’m sitting tilted back in my chair in the doorway of the bar when the now mysterious, disappearing woman comes along. Once again she glides along the boardwalk towards me except I can tell that I’ve already caught her eye as soon as she comes into range.

As she approaches I again ‘tip’ my derby and say, “Afternoon, Ma’am”, which gesture and general greeting she returned… without a smile. I watched as she turned up Broadway, knowing that Jonny was waiting at the top, watching for her.

An hour later he came trotting into the bar. At this late afternoon hour the bar was almost full so I put him immediately to work cleaning up after the slobs while I drew beer and poured whiskey…

It finally began to clear out around nine so I huddled with Jonny back by his old man and got his story…

He watched her turn onto Broadway and walk leisurely up the steps… There was no turn into the vacant lot as the boss guessed had happened the night before… as she came up close to him he stepped further back into the shadows… She wouldn’t know him, of course, but he didn’t want to take the chance that she would watch for him to follow her.

Once she started up the short flight of steps that opens directly onto Opera Drive at the back corner of the school, he quickly covered the short distance himself and mounted the steps only so far as it took for him to be able to peek out at the street. She was walking up Opera Drive, in no particular hurry. He continued to follow at a distance, getting to the split between Opera and Taylor just as she passed Timby and continued on up Opera…

He started up the narrow shoot that is Opera Drive just past Taylor when a horse and rider emerged from Temby and started towards him. He ducked back into a doorway and waited for the rider to pass before he started on up the street, running and walking up the hill to where Opera splits into an east fork, that is relatively level, and a west fork that continues upward towards the water tank… His quarry was nowhere to be seen… He had lost her…

For three days the same pattern was observed by Jonny and reported to Elmo. Elmo kept trying to process what he knew. For four days in a row, Monday through Thursday afternoon at approximately the same time, this dark, mysterious woman had passed the bar and for four days in a row she had turned up Broadway. The first day she had disappeared and then for three days she had made what seemed to be a pointless trip down the gulch, up the Broadway steps and up to the top of Opera Drive… But from there, where?

Jonny, for one reason and another, had traced her only as far as the branch of Opera going back to the east… The road ended a hundred yards or so from the intersection and continued along the ridge as a footpath…

On the fifth afternoon, Friday, she passed the bar at the usual time… Elmo sat on his stool and greeted her, as usual… Jonny waited at the top of the Broadway steps to follow her… Almost as usual…

Johnny had had a particularly lucrative afternoon scarfing beers from the slobs and while he passed a lot of it on to Pop, he retained more than his usual afternoon ration and as soon as he got to the top of the steps he had to piss.

He sought the cover of some bushes that were at the side of the alleyway towards the YMCA, took care of his business, and turned back to his vigil… He watched as the shadow on the mountain across the gulch kept creeping upwards as the sun was going down behind him… He watched a Turkey vulture soaring overhead in search of a mate… He dozed and awakened and dozed and awakened as the shadows crept towards dusk… Even though he dozed he would have known if she came past him… Wouldn’t he?… Should he go back and tell the boss?

As he pondered these questions, a shrill whistle suddenly came from the bottom of the steps… A figure was standing there swinging an arm motioning for him to come down… He was only too happy to comply.

He reported to Elmo everything that he had seen… Or rather hadn’t seen… Elmo listened only for a minute before he began to knock him around… Jonny raised his arms to try and protect himself. He knew his old man wouldn’t lift a finger to help him. The old man couldn’t afford to piss off Elmo since he occupied his stool from opening to closing and never bought anything… So Elmo bounced Jonny about in the back of the bar, not trying to hurt him, really, but just out of frustration that he was going to have to continue stalking this woman to find out who she was…

How could Jonny have been so fucking negligent?…

The next afternoon even before Elmo got the bar unlocked the news was traveling up and down the gulch… F. Walter Cunningham was murdered in his sleep shortly after returning home the evening before… Cunningham handed the horse and buggy to his groomsman before turning to go inside… He never looked back around… The last thing the groomsman had seen before leading the horse into the barn was a miner streaking past the nearest streetlight and into the shadows directly across the street from the Cunningham house.

The mysterious woman didn’t appear that afternoon or any afternoon after that.

Tap/Click to read/listen to Part I of The Broadway Chronicles: Elmo on the Broadway Steps

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