The next morning Corky went down to the dining room a little after ten. Lil breezed in a few minutes later, still in her nightgown, hair flying wildly about her head. She didn’t notice Corky there until she came back out of the kitchen, steaming cup of coffee in hand, headed straight back to her room. As she passed through, Corky said, “I need to talk to you Lil?” and before she could add “Can I come in now.”, Lil waved her free hand in a ‘come-along’ motion and continued across the hall and into her room. Corky followed.
“What’s on your mind?” Lil asked as Corky closed the door behind himself.
“I wanted to run an idea by you that I pitched to Pops yesterday afternoon and I wanted to see what you thought about it.”
“Okay. I want Pops to turn the big room up over the bar into an apartment with a bedroom for him and one for me and a bathroom. What do you think?
“I don’t know. I’ve never been up there. I have heard Elmo say that on nights he’s too tired to hike back up to Temby he crashes up there on a cot. And I guess you slept up there a night or two after that fella… what was his name?
“… Faulkner tried to rape you. Didn’t you say you were up there the night he came in and fired his pistol through the ceiling before somebody killed him? Never found out who did it, neither, did they?”
“No’m.” Corky said and then continued apace: “I suggested to Pops that we put a couple of walls up and maybe put in a bathroom and him and me could live up there. That way I wouldn’t have to leave early to come back up here and could stay at the bar all the way to closin.”
Lil thought about this for a few minutes. She had expected that if Cora continued to be Corky much longer, the day would come when Corky, pet of all the ladies as he was, wouldn’t really be comfortable living in a house full of whores. And if Cora weren’t posing as Corky, she likely wouldn’t have stayed at Lil’s this long.
“What did Elmo say?”
“He said he’d have to think about it. That just puttin up a wall or two probably wouldn’t cost so much but he was worried about how much a bathroom would cost.
Lil was chuckling as she muttered. “The old skinflint. Money would be no object. That old man can buy and sell most anybody in this town except the big bosses at the mines. The question would be what people would think about a young girl and an old man living together like that. There might be people, even on the gulch, who think that would bring shame upon the whole town.”
“No’m. That ain’t no problem because in the first place, everybody thinks I’m Corky and don’t look at me twic’t. Pretty much nobody, cept for ya’ll in this house and Elmo, know Corky is trapped inside Cora’s body They’s only a few who ever saw Cora that could connect her to Elmo and them that did were told that I was his granddaughter.”
“Didn’t you say when you first got to my house that Elmo had taken you up to Gertrude’s and even arranged to have you sleep in the bed with her. You don’t think Elmo’s ever told her that the girl Cora he brought up there goes by Corky now and is working in the bar?”
“No’m. She don’t know.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Ever since the day Corky appeared in the bar lookin for a job, Elmo has pounded it into me that if I ever saw that stinky woman out in town somewhere I should make sure and not let her recognize me. But since I don’t hardly ever get away from the gulch and I ain’t never seen her down there, they’s not much to worry about. And besides, whether I’m known as Cora or Corky, how is me livin with my grampa worse than me livin in a whorehouse?”
She had Lil there. Besides, this young woman/man was going to do whatever she/he wanted anyway.
“Tell you what.” she said after her moment’s reflection. “Tell Elmo I told him to get his ass up here for lunch tomorrow at eleven. I think he’s had plenty of time to think about it.” She winked at Corky. “We’ll help him make up his mind. That is, Cora and I will help him. Now git!”
Corky delivered the order to Pops as soon as he got back to the bar and it was fine with him. Cooky’s lunches were special.
And the one next day was no exception. There was chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and plenty of black-peppery cream gravy along with a large bowl of buttery, sauteed calabacitas and fresh rolls finished off with coffee and blueberry buckle.
When Elmo came into the dining room and saw Miss Cora sitting there in her finest his chest swelled. It was impossible for him to believe that he had known this young woman for only a few months. While it had taken him some time to get used to the idea, he found that he liked his new grandson more every day. A granddaughter was prohibited by city ordinance from working in the bar. A grandson was not.
They finished lunch and were served coffee and desert before Lil broached the subject of an upstairs apartment and Elmo said he was still thinking about it. He said he wanted to make sure he could afford it.
Lil had just taken a swig of coffee when Elmo said this causing coffee to spew from her mouth. Fortunately, everyone was finished eating but she had to use her napkin to brush drops off Elmo’s arm, before finally managing to say. “That’s the funniest thing I ever heard Elmo. You have to make sure you can afford it? H’ardy h’ar h’ar You can afford to buy most of the gulch. Now build your granddaughter that apartment, you old fool.”
Elmo’s chest swelled again. He was thinking more about his grandson than granddaughter at the moment. He had an instant vision of Corky being there with him when he closed at night. The last thing he had to do each night after closing was to get down on his hands-and-knees behind the bar in order to get to the small safe, about the size of a large coffee-can, embedded in the floor. His old bones had more and more trouble getting down and back up after working in the bar for twelve hours. And it was a long climb back up to Temby in the middle of the night. It would be nice to have Cora… He thought of her as Cora again now… to care for him.
He grinned. “Guess I know when I’m licked.” He looked at Cora. “You really want this, don’t you.
Cora jumped up from the table and ran around to where Elmo sat. She leaned down behind him and wrapped her arms around his neck. “I do, Pops. I really do.”
Lil reached over and began to pat Elmo gently on the forearm. “You don’t know how licked you are, old man. I’ll send Juanita out to find Ron Bowen. I happen to know he’s looking for work because he came by to see Black Bonita the other night and couldn’t afford to go upstairs with her sayin he was between jobs but would be back as soon as something came along. I’ll have him come see you this afternoon.”
Ron Bowman was a local carpenter and a good one. They were lucky to get him on short notice, Lil said. He arrived at the bar at one o’clock and Corky took him upstairs to look at the big room mostly full of junk. He paced it off and jotted down figures in a little notebook. Back downstairs, he sat up at the front of the bar and began to use the figures to make calculations and lists of supplies he would need. By the time the bar opened at two, Elmo had Ron’s cost estimate to divide the space into two bedrooms and a bathroom. Elmo was more interested in how long it would take to finish it all. He had decided he liked the idea of not having to stay at Gertrude’s any more. And he wanted to see it finished as soon as possible.
“How long’s it gonna take ya to git er done, Ron?”
Ron immediately said, “Well, Elmo, lucky for you I got nothin else lined up right now so I can start as early as in the mornin if you want me to. I should be able to get the partitions up within a couple of weeks. And then I’ll have to get Abe in to do the plumbing for the bathroom but that shouldn’t take more’n a few days. Pretty sure I can be done in three weeks. Less if everything goes smoothly.
The subject then arose as to what time he could get started the next morning. He liked to start jobs as early as possible. How early could someone get to the bar to let him in?
Elmo said, “That’s gonna be a tough one. See, I don’t get away from this place til 2:30, sometimes even 3:00, in the mornin so I don’t normally get up til around 11:00. Doin good to get down here by noon.”
“It’s gonna take twice as long if I have to only work half-days and possibly even longer as a full-time project will have to take precedence.”
Corky, who didn’t want to wait longer than absolutely necessary to get it finished, had an idea. “I’ve got a solution, Pops. Since you make me leave the bar at ten, I can start gettin up early and come let Ron in so he can start work. Whatta ya think?”
Elmo liked the idea. So it was decided. Corky was to be at the bar at six-thirty the next morning to let Ron in to start work. He arrived at the bar just as Ron and a helper arrived.
They began immediately clearing out the junk, saving anything that was salvageable, and hauling everything else away. Then their trips were reversed as they brought in the materials they would need for construction.
Corky sat with his feet propped on the bar drinking coffee and watching Ron and his helper come and go. Ron Bowen was of medium height and build with sandy hair that cascaded down onto his shoulders. When he came through with his arms straining to carry his heavy loads, the muscles in his arms rippled beneath his shirt. Cora noticed.
It took them two days to get everything up the stairs and be ready to start building walls. It took Ron another week to finish them. Abe came and installed the bathroom plumbing and fixtures and two weeks later, it was complete and ready to move in… a week ahead of schedule!
The space had been divided in half, front and back, with doors opening off a small square entryway at the top of the stairs. The door to the bathroom opened off this entryway as well and was easily accessible from either room. Elmo slept in the back room and Cora had the one in front with a window overlooking the gulch.
Lil had a bed and dresser stored in her attic, well used but serviceable, that she sent down for Cora to use but, by arrangement, all of Cora’s girly things would be kept at Lil’s. If, for some reason like the lunch they had with Elmo, Cora was expected at Lil’s, Corky could make the transformation in #12 or any room that was available.
The old cot was moved back into Elmo’s room until they could get him another bed. Two small tables, that had been broken in a brawl long ago, were repaired, along with a few chairs in the same condition, and these were divvied up between the two bedrooms.
Pops and and his ersatz granddaughter then became room-mates. Their new arrangement was an instant success. At first, the only real difference in their routine was that Corky was there right up til closing. And when the door was locked at two, Corky was the one on hands and knees behind the bar stuffing the day’s receipts into the safe in the floor.
The first month passed quickly for Corky. He still ate his two meals a day at Lil’s but otherwise was at the bar. Elmo got used to having him around and spent more and more time sitting on his back barstool with his bottle of rye.
So now Corky was not only doing all the grunt work that had to be done before opening but also tending a mostly busy bar half the night. But Elmo was still paying him only $3 a day. Corky began to think he deserved more for all the extra work he was doing and then realized he lived above the bar free and ate his meals at Lil’s … Almost free. … But the workload just kept increasing because Elmo began doing less-and-less. What Corky was really beginning to miss was any time at all to be Cora. Even privately. He needed an assistant.
Corky, of course, became Cora every night when he finally got the bar closed and managed to get upstairs. It was Cora who snuggled down into the covers when she went to bed. It was Cora who was awakened when the sun came up over Chihuahua Hill and flooded her room with bright sunlight. It awakened her from a dream. A dream about Ron Bowen and she turned over and pulled her pillow over her head to shut out the sun, trying to bring the dream back. Then she would get up and have a morning bath. She relished in not having to share a bathroom with ten other women. Laying there in the warm water made her warm and tingly, as she thought about Ron. But then the water got cold and she had to get out.
And Corky got that pistol that he told Pops he would the day he propositioned him to build the apartment. The .38 caliber nickel-plated Derringer with over/under double barrels slipped easily into his pants pocket when he was behind the bar and it stayed under Cora’s pillow at night.
Cora’s thoughts of Ron Bowen were not completely without some encouragement as Ron had taken a liking to Corky while he was still working there every day. After he finished the job, he bagan to come in for a beer or two most afternoons after work.
On the afternoon after Elmo and Cora’s first night sleeping in the apartment, he came in about five. Elmo was working the bar and Corky was nowhere to be seen.
Ron perched himself on a stool at the front of the bar next to the wall. This would become his ‘regular’ stool. He held up a finger for Elmo to bring him a beer. When it arrived he asked, “Where’s Corky?”
“Oh.” Elmo said. “He’s up at Lil’s. You know he goes up there to eat. He should be back here any time now, though. Usually gets back around five and it’s that now.”
Ron saw Corky as soon as he come through the door and jumped up to shake his hand. When their hands touched, it was Cora who was blushing as he squeezed her small, feminine, hand in his large, calloused one. And it was Cora … who had a fleeting vision of him lying beside her in her bed upstairs. And it was Cora … who smiled broadly at him although he saw only Corky.
He asked how the first night in the new apartment had been and it was Corky who answered. “It was wonderful.”
Meanwhile, Elmo had drifted back down the bar where his three old regulars sat, joining the lie-fest and paying no more attention to Ron and Corky who continued to talk about mundane things as Corky cleared away the clutter that Elmo left all over the bar. More and more customers began to drift in, keeping Corky busy, so Ron finished his beer, waved goodbye, and slipped out the door.
He smiled as he walked along, recalling that moment when Corky first came walking in and he met him with a big handshake and looked into his eyes. Were they really those of a boy? There was something too delicate about the soft hand and those eyes that spoke woman. Was it possible? This might get interesting.
Ron continued his regular visits to the bar, depending on where he was working on any given day. He tried to get there around five, just as Corky was getting back from supper and before it started getting too busy. But even on busy nights, when Corky had no time for talk, Ron enjoyed sitting and watching him work. Every time their eyes met, Corky smiled at him. The more he sat and observed Corky, the more he was convinced that ‘he’ was not a ‘he’ at all. Ron soon became reasonably sure that Corky was actually a ‘she’. Now he would just have to find out why ‘she’ pretended to be ‘he’. But whatever the reason, he would certainly not blow Corky’s cover.
And somehow Corky began to sense that Ron knew ‘he’ was a ‘she’. Cora began to want to out herself to him. What would he think? What would be the best way to break the news to him?
The next morning she went to see Lil.
“You know, if you feel this way I think you should out youself to him. But you must make sure it’s to him only. Do you think you can arrange for him to take an hour off some afternoon and meet you here for lunch at one.. Surely Elmo can still handle the bar by himself for that last hour before opening. Just let me know when you get it arranged. Any day will do as there’s never anything going on in the dining room at one.
Cora smiled. “I like the idea. Thank you so much, Lil.”
Lil said, “Go get em, girl.” as Cora left the room.
Corky appeared to be walking on air as he sauntered back down to open the bar. He was happy. Cora was ecstatic but Corky did a fairly good job of keeping her under wraps. What was Ron going to think?
Corky’s final act of the day was to arrange for Ron to meet him at Lil’s the next afternoon at one.