Part III, The Bisbee Chronicles
An episode about a young man who gets a mining job in Bisbee and then sends for a young woman from Arkansas whom he promises to marry, 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.
Listen, Read, or Listen and Read! Comments greatly appreciated.
Elmo watched as a small figure of a woman stepped down from the platform into the street, stepping gingerly to avoid the puddles. The train from Douglas has just arrived, he could see from his position outside the bar that she was rather plain, of medium height and build, perhaps carrying a few extra pounds. She wore a plain dress, likely made from flour sacks. Her hair, a mousy brown color, looked as if it had been whacked off with a knife, more likely just a bad scissor cut. She was quite young, not more than twenty by Elmo’s guess.
She proceeded across the street and stepped onto the sidewalk just down from where Elmo sat and without ever casting a glance in his direction proceeded up the Broadway steps.
A voice from inside the bar: “Hey Elmo. You gonna serve beer in here or sit out there and nap all afternoon?”
“Kiss my ass!” Elmo shouted back over his shoulder. “You’re not gonna starve in the next few minutes. Now shut your pie-hole. But by the time he finished saying this he was already several steps inside on his way around to the back of the bar, thinking no more of the young woman, continuing a verbal exchange with his three customers who sat huddled right at the very front inside the door. He drew their beers and slid them down the bar. He leaned back against the back bar and put his foot up on the icebox, continuing the verbal sparring with the old miner’s who were put out to pasture by the company … injuries, lung-disease, anything that prevented a man from putting in a full shift.
As Elmo stood there, the young woman he had so recently seen ascending the steps came walking into the bar, bravely stepping right up in front of where Elmo stood.
“Excuse me, but can you tell me how to get to Opera Drive?” She spoke very rapidly not pausing for breath before adding. “I’m lookin for Faulkner a feller I met a while back back there in Arkansas where I’m from, Lake City, and he sent for me to come out here to Bisbee cause he said in a letter he had a good job in the mine for for me to come and he’d put me up and pretty soon we could get married but some feller out yonder on the platform who I asked if he knowed where Opera Drive was told me to go up them steps just down thattaway … (she pointed) … and I did but they just led up to an old dark alleyway so I run back down here to find somebody to ask and you was the first one I could find.” … [She emitted a big sigh.] …
As Elmo slowly counted to ten to give her time to completely speak her peace, he wanted to answer her last question first. He wanted to tell her where she was going wrong was by leaving that place Lake City in the first place, but he composed himself and said, “Well, when you get to the top of the steps turn right in the alleyway. just a steps ahead will be a much shorter set of steps that go up to Opera Drive. What’s your name young woman?”
“Cora. Thank you.” and she turned and walked rapidly out of the bar and towards Broadway.
Things began to get busy and Elmo thought no more of young Cora until the next day shortly after noon when he was getting the bar ready to open. When Elmo arrived at the bar each day at noon he left the front door closed but unlocked because Jonny would always be along with his old man before too long. As soon as Jonny got the old man settled on his stool at the far end of the bar, he grabbed his broom and started sweeping up the debris from the night before, starting at the front around the door and working his way back. He’d barely gotten started when a young girl burst through the door.
She shouted as she ran in, “Please protect me, he’s goin to kill me!”
Elmo, hearing the cry from the back where he was retrieving liquor to restock the bar came running forward and instantly recognized the girl from the night before.
“Cora,” he said. “Who’s trying to kill you?”
“Faulkner. He’s right behind me. Can you hide me?”
“Jonny. Watch the door.” Elmo said as he pulled Cora back into the shadows. Giving her a gentle push towards the very back, he whispered, “Stay back here and hunker down. Nobody will get you back here. Hear me?”
She bobbed her head up-and-down.
Elmo turned and started toward the front just as the front door burst open. Jonny was leaning on his broom just inside the door watching, just as he had been told. A man started to step inside. Jonny’s broom shot out between his outstretched legs and he brought it upward, felling the man as neatly as a logger felling a tree.
Meanwhile Elmo grabbed a sawed off pool cue within easy reach behind the bar and continued to walk towards the front as the man slowly got to his feet, his face beet red with rage.
“Git outta my way, old man. I’m here to get my woman, and not you or anybody else is gonna git in my way.” He reached an arm out to brush Elmo aside just as the tip of the pool cue speared him right in the solar-plexus.
“Now you listen to me you little pipsqueak asshole, … (and that was a pretty good description of the man’s physical size) … I don’t know what you’re talkin about but the sheriff is just up the street and Jonny’s gone to get ‘im.”
With this, Elmo began prodding him backward with the cue until he was all the way out the door still bent double from the initial prod.
“Okay, here’s the scoop, asshole. You come back in my place and try to make trouble again you’ll be in a world-a-hurt. Got it! Now git!” Elmo shouted as he kicked the man firmly in the ass, propelling him forward and causing him to stumble off the edge of the boardwalk into the gutter beyond.
Elmo turned and walked back inside, leaving the door open behind him. He walked to the back of the bar and sat on the last barstool in the shadows. Before long, Jonny returned, followed a moment later by the sheriff.
“What’s goin on here, Elmo?” the sheriff said as he walked through the door.
“Aww, nothin really sheriff. Man comes bustin in yellin somethin about this woman bein in here and that’s plum ridiculous so I helped him back out the door usin this little sawed-off thing here. And I also helped him over into the gutter … (Elmo stood up and faked a kick to the sheriff’s ample rear-end.) … where I left him. I doubt if he’ll be back any time soon, sheriff. Mighty obliged to you for comin down to ask, though. Want your afternoon beer now, or is it too early?”
“Reckon I could stand a little somethin wet goin down the old gullet. Now! Reckon that’d be just okay.” the sheriff replied as Elmo began to draw his beer. The rule was only one free beer per afternoon. Of course the same rule applied in every bar in town. Else, if there was a brawl, the sheriff would conveniently be so far away the whole joint would be broken up before he could make it there. So it was prudent to keep on his good side.
Elmo began restocking the bar while the sheriff sat and drained his beer. As he walked out the door, Elmo said to Jonny, “Lock that door now boy and don’t open it again until I get back down here. Tell anybody who wants to come in to go away.”
Elmo turned and walked to the back where he found Cora huddled down in the corner, her skirt pulled up under her, her hands resting in her lap. She cried gently. She looked up at Elmo where he stood above her, looking down.
Extending his hand downward, Elmo said, “He’s gone, and won’t be back. Come, I have a place where you’ll be safe for as long as it’s necessary.” He reached down and took one of her hands which still rested in her lap. He pulled her gently upwards to her feet. “Follow me.” he said turning. He crossed to the other side of the bar, opened a door and reached out to grab the string to turn on the light. A dim glow came from high above barely illuminating Elmo’s face. “C’mon.” Elmo said as he began to step upward. “I know it’s a dark set of stairs but there’s nothing to hurt you. Just follow me.” The frightened girl still seemed hesitant. “There’s nothin up here but a small bed and a few necessaries… and junk, of course. I sometimes sleep here at night when things have been really busy and I don’t feel like walkin back up to Temby Street, which is even higher up than Opera. So come on.” he said, turning and proceeding to climb.
At the top, he looked back down and she was about halfway up, climbing slowly. When she reached the top, he said, “So this is it.” sweeping his hand around as if he was presenting the Taj Mahal. “Why don’t you have a seat on the bed here. There’s an old broken stool back here somewhere that I can sit on.” Elmo found the old stool and dragged it over beside the bed where Cora had already sat.
“Now, Cora. You saw what just happened down there. Faulkner wont’ be back today if he knows what’s good for him. You’ll be perfectly safe up here. Now tell me everything that has happened to you since you left here heading for Opera Drive yesterday afternoon and continuing to the instant you burst through that door down there just a few minutes ago.
Cora began to tell her story.
Well, as I said last night the man Faulkner came through Lake City, Arkansas and where he made me believe he loved me so I waited … till he wrote me a letter tellin me …”
“Yeah.” I know. “Tellin you to come to Bisbee. I know all that. What happened when you got up to Opera Drive yesterday afternoon?”
“Well, it took me awhile to find Faulkner. Well, to find where Faulkner stays actually, and that was just luck so I went there but he wasn’t there but somebody else come along and assured me that that was the room where Faulkner stayed and when I told him why I was there he said it would be okay if I just went on in and so I did and I was just goin to lie down on the bed for awhile and so I did and then I went to sleep.
Later, I don’t know what time it was Faulkner come in, stumblin around makin lotsa noise and wakin me up. He was so drunk he didn’t know who I was and I kept tellin him and he just sorta fell down on the bed and then sorta turned over and squinted at me …
“Wha … Waddid ya say ya name was?”
“Cora. From Arkansas. You wrote me and told me to come here to Bisbee. Said we could get married.”
He tried to focus his watery eyes on me for a minute and then just passed out across the bed. Even though he ain’t that big it was all I could do to turn him around and git ‘im laying along the bed like you’re s’posed to. And then strip him of his boots and dungarees. He lay there in his underwear. And then I took off my dress and lay it carefully on a chair before I lay down next to him just wearin a slip and nothin else. I snuggled up to him as much as I could and still avoid the toxic fumes comin outta his mouth and I went to sleep.
The next mornin when I woke up the sun was high in the sky, bright light came in through the winda. I eased out of bed and looked down at Faulkner. He snored peacefully now. I wondered how long he would sleep.
It wasn’t too long, fifteen minutes maybe before he suddenly sat straight up in bed and shouted, “Oh, shit! I’ve got to piss and I’ve got to piss now.” Fumbling with the buttons on the front of his drawers he rushed to the window gettin his johnson out just in time to piss out the winda instead of on the wall. As he tucked everything back in again he turned around and saw me and said, “Aww, shit. Now how … now who are you again?”
I told him. Again.
And he said, “Then I reckon since you come here just to be with me, I reckon I’ll be getting me lotsa poon-tang on a reg’lar basis and I think we should start right about now.”
He advanced towards me. I jumped up from the chair I was settin on and backed away to the door.
Elmo had heard enough. “Stop,” he shouted. “Just nod your head. Did he have his way with you?”
She nodded affirmatively and big tears began to run down her cheeks.
“Did you want him to?”
She shook her head from side-to-side.
“So he raped you then. Is that what you’re saying?”
Up and down motion.
“The bastard!” Elmo said. “He’s a dead man.”
When Elmo came back down it was just opening time. He unlocked the door and his three most regular regulars began to stream in one at a time as if they were all three queued up outside but felt they had to wait a respectable interval between each of them walking in. They sat on their usual three stools just inside the door and Elmo drew their usual three beers, sliding them down the bar one at a time.
Elmo was busy slinging beers and trying to keep an eye on the front door knowing just as surely that the man Faulkner would be back as he knew that Jonny’s old man would fall off his stool before the night was over.
But when the man Faulkner did come in, Elmo didn’t see him until he fired a pistol through the ceiling. Elmo’s heart skipped a beat. Cora was somewhere in the vicinity of where the shot went through the ceiling.
Everything became deathly quiet. The bar was packed with miners. Elmo looked into the midst of the crowd, trying to spot the little pipsqueak when he saw him striding toward the bar, the crowd parting like the Red Sea as he came on, lowering his pistol to point directly at Elmo.
“I want my woman and I want her now. I know you have her. She was seen comin in here and never seen comin out. So I know she’s in here somewhere. Now where is she?”
He thrust the gun out toward Elmo just as the butt end of a sawed-off pool cue came crashing down on his wrist with as much force as Jonny could muster, having shadowed Faulkner as he made his was through the parted crowd up to the bar.
The man Faulkner screamed in pain and dropped the gun onto the bar just as Jonny’s second blow caught him in the throat. A sword would have beheaded him. As it was his windpipe was crushed and he couldn’t breathe. He died a few minutes later.
The coroner and the sheriff were called. Elmo took the pool cue from Jonny and dropped it down into the cold, icy depths of the beer cooler.
No one ever stepped forward to say how the man Faulkner met with his fatal injuries.
No charges were ever filed.