Cora was bone tired when she finally climbed the stairs after closing the bar at two but she was still excited about her meeting with Ron the next afternoon. And she dreamed of him while she slept. And she was still dreaming about him when the sun rose over Chihuahua Hill about seven-thirty. And she was thinking of him when she lowered herself into a tub full of hot water, luxuriating in it’s warmth that once again made her tingle.
She fervently hoped when Ron met Cora he would like what he saw. Where was this revelation going to lead?
Corky started early getting the bar ready to open. He had just gotten last night’s clutter out to the street when a young boy came along who walked up boldly and said, “Want some help, boss?”
Corky replied, “Nope” and the boy walked away as Corky raked the last of the mess out into the street. Then he wondered why he had answered so quickly. He really could use some help. He wondered if he would be able to talk Elmo into it. He called after the boy to come back. When he was back in front of him, Corky asked, “What’s your name, boy?
“Billy.” the boy replied.
“How old are you, Billy?”
“Why’s it any business of yores.”
“Might have a job for you if you’re interested.”
“Course I’m interested.”
“Then come by about one tomorra and we’ll talk.”
Billy smiled and waved. “Righty-O!.” he turned to walk away calling back over his shoulder saying, “Oh. I’m sixteen.”
Corky continued getting ready to open and by the time Elmo came down at noon most of the work was done. He barely noticed as he crossed to the front door on his way to the Greek’s. Corky called out. “Pops!” and Elmo turned around. “I’m gonna have to leave in just a little while and go up to Lil’s. And I might not get back before openin so you’ll have to open by yourself but I’ll have everyting ready before I leave.
Pops said, gruffly, “Try not to be too late!” and stepped out the door.
Corky finished the last of the chores before trotting off to Lil’s. The bar was ship-shape and ready for Pops to open.
Lil was watching for Corky when he stepped inside the door to #41. She took him directly to her room. Esmy and Black Bonita were there.
There, also, was a beautiful, very tasteful gown, gloves, hat and shoes. Everything to make Cora look like a successful, interesting woman. And Esmy and Black Bonita made sure she had rosy cheeks and bright red lips. Ron wouldn’t know what hit him.
At one on the dot they all heard the little tinkle bell above the front door and knew Ron had arrived. Lil went immediately to greet him and escorted him into the dining room. When they stepped inside, Cora was standing on the other side of the table.
Before Ron had time to react, Cora spoke in Corky’s voice. “Afternoon, Ron. Surprised.”
His jaw dropped and his eyes smiled. He had suspected, was pretty sure, actually, that Corky was really a woman. He had not expected to see that woman standing in front of him at this meeting. He was looking at a beautiful smile that alone made the entire package beautiful in his eyes. His heart fluttered.
He looked around and realized that Lil had disappeared, leaving him alone with this woman whom he knew only as Corky and she was stepping around to where he stood, jaw still hanging slack from the shock.
Cora held out her hand. “Ron, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Cora Hicks. I hope you’re not disappointed that I’m not really Corky.”
Ron laughed. Lil heard it in her room and smiled. “Wow!” He finally said. “Disappointed? How could I be disappointed? I’m delighted. But is Corky going away?”
“No. Corky can’t go away. Sit down and I’ll explain.”
Ron pulled out the chair at the head of the table for Cora before sitting down around the corner from her. She reached over and took his right hand in hers.
Cora explained that while she couldn’t wait any longer to reveal her real self to Ron, Corky would still be the one at the bar every day because Cora wasn’t allowed to work there. Corky was.
“That’s the short version of how Corky came to be.” Cora said. Let’s eat lunch now and I’ll tell you the long version if you want to hear it.”
“Of course I want to hear it.” Ron said just as Cooky came through the kitchen door with a tray upon which there was a plate piled high with fried chicken, a bowl of mashed potatoes, one of peppery cream gravy, and another with fresh green beans.
After they had finished their apple pie and ice cream, Cooky brought in coffee and as they sipped it, Cora began her story. She explained about Corky still being the bartender and how Cora only ever appears here in this house and in her bedroom above the bar at night after the bar is closed. Cora can never be seen at the bar below stairs. The name Cora could never to be mentioned outside of Lil’s house, at least not so anybody can hear. “As you probably know there’s an ordinance barring women working, or even going into bars in Bisbee. Originally it was to keep ladies like those in this house from working in a saloon in any capacity, tempting the husbands of the good upstanding ladies of the town. Many of the husbands can be found up in the tenderloin at night anyway so the ordinance really don’t do much good.”
She continued by telling Ron how she had come to Bisbee less than a year ago and everything that had happened after that. She told how she had met Elmo within minutes after getting off the train and about Faulkner and how he tried to rape her and how he had been killed in the bar later that same night and how she had gotten pregnant and Jonny had disappeared and how her baby boy had been stillborn and the old company doc insisted she had to have her tubes tied so she couldn’t get herself in that shape again, and then how she became Corky again after that so she could work at Pops’ and that pretty much got them to where they were at that time.
The two of them sat at the table holding hands and making google eyes at one another until it was time for Cora to change back into Corky and get back to the bar. Both hoped they would be able to consummate their relationship soon.
Elmo was behind the bar when Corky got back.
It was very difficult for Corky to keep Cora bottled up inside himself as he took over the bartending. She wanted to come out and sing. But soon things got busy and Corky began to come down to earth and think like himself. By arrangement, Ron didn’t come in the bar that evening.
Corky was beat but happy as he helped Pops up the stairs that night. Cora was worn out when she crawled into bed. She began to think of how she was going to be able to arrange time for Ron when no-one would know. A plan formed in her mind as she drifted off to sleep.
And Corky was inexplicably happy on his way up to Lil’s for breakfast the next morning.
The next morning at quarter-to-twelve, Elmo was sitting on his back stool with his newspaper in front of his face, coffee in hand.
Corky had raked all the mess up to the front and was just raking it out into the street when Billy appeared. Corky pushed a broomful of garbage over the threshhold and and across the plank walk out into the street. As he turned to go back inside, he motioned for Billy to follow him.
In a low voice, he said, “So, you wanna work here?”
“Depends. What’s it pay?” Billy was tall and skinny with a mop of red-orange hair sticking out in oily spikes from under a beanie cap that looked like a bowl inverted onto his head. A piece of straw hung from one corner of his mouth. His face was freckled. He was digging under his fingernails with a pocketknife. He obviously wanted to look tough. Like he belonged here. He hadn’t even looked up from carving his nails when Corky answered his question.
“$1 a day and all the warm beer you can drink. You can start this afternoon.
Billy finally looked up. He was thinking that with $1 a day … every day… something he could actually count on… he would be able to eat and, for two-bits a night, rent a bed in a flophouse he knew out on Naco Road at the base of Sacramento Hill.
“I c’n start now, if you want.”
Cora smiled. She was beginning to like him. “I just gotta get it cleared with the big boss settin back there in the back. Come with me.” Corky said, starting back inside, leaning his broom beside the door. The curtains were still pulled to and the door-shade down.
“Okay, Boss.” Billy said, and followed Corky. Elmo set his coffeecup back on the bar and looked up to see Corky followed closely by a ratty looking teenage boy. Somehow he instantly knew what Corky was about to ask him. It made sense, of course! Corky had, for all intents and purposes, taken over the running of the bar. And had been complaining about being tired all the time.
It was true he had raised his pay from $2 a day… what he had paid Jonny… to $3 a day but he really did work his butt off. Perhaps, it was time to think about getting him a helper. He was now doing everything Jonny used to do and most of what Elmo had always done, including ordering and re-stocking liquor. … Fortunately, the brewery was just across the street and not only delivered fresh kegs, but installed them in the ice box as well. This was Brewery Gulch, after all!… And Corky was not only the one down on his hands and knees stuffing the day’s receipts into the safe in the floor, but the one down on his hands and knees again the next morning when those same receipts had to be retrieved and taken to the bank. Elmo was right there watching at both ends of this operation, of course, and he still had to be the one to make the deposit at the bank, but aside from this and a few afternoon bartending duties, Corky did everything else.
$3 a day was not a bad wage for a bartender, but perhaps it was time to get him a helper. Anticipating at least most of what Corky had cooked up, Elmo decided to make him squirm a bit before he agreed to hire this boy, if, indeed, that was Corky’s plan.
Corky had rehearsed the words he would say when he asked Pops if he could hire Billy as a helper. He had all of his reasons lined up like little ducks, ready to fire them one-by-one at Pops. But before he could open his mouth, Elmo said, “What’s yore name, son?
“Well, Billy, wanna job?”
“This fella said I already had one. Could start right after we got your OK.”
Elmo chuckled. “This fella here ain’t got hirin and firin rights. Only I got that. But in this case, he’s probly right. Did he say what he’us gonna pay ya?”
“$1 a day…” Billy said, his voice trailing off to just a whisper as he added “and all the warm beer I could drink.”
“Guess that’s reasonable, considerin you can likely do at least a third of what he normally does. I reckon he plans to pay you out of what he gets ever week so that means you’ll be workin for him. So you can go to work when he tells ya to. You and him can work out the details. Work hours and such.”
Corky wasn’t sure whether Pops was funnin or not, but didn’t say anything at the time. He just pointed to where the broom was propped against the door and told Billy he could finish raking all that stuff out to the street and then he could empty all the spittoons out there also and rinse them out in the big sink at the back by the toilet.
As soon as Billy had gone to work, Corky looked at Pops with a look of disbelief on his face. “I don’t think that’s fair, Pops, havin me pay Billy out of my pay. I oughten to have to do that. You know I do more than enough work here to justify payin me $3 a day and still payin that boy yonder $1 a day on top of it. And I know since I tally up each days receipts before you take them to the bank and also write out all the checks to pay the bills on this place so you can sign em,”… Cora, even though she had had only a few years of schoolin, had a head for numbers… “and I know yore makin heaps of money in this place.”
Elmo smiled. He was impressed with Corky’s arguments. They were sound. And he realized how much thought he’d given this. He reckoned Corky’d squirmed enough.
“Okay. You kinda deserved that. Should have come to me first, but you got your helper and you don’t have to pay him yourself.”
“Thanks, Pops. You might be okay after all.” Corky said with a grin as he turned to go to work.
Elmo called him back, “By the way, in addition to having a helper, starting today you’ll be paid $4 a day. Now git!” he said, already having raised his newspaper back up in front of his face.
Elmo, Cora, Corky, and Billy soon became accustomed to their new routine. Billy caught on to doing Jonny’s old job so quickly he needed no supervision after the first week.
Elmo had been coming down to the bar with just enough time to grab a mug of coffee over at the Greek’s before starting to prepare for openin.. Now, most days, Corky and Billy would both be busy doing the pre-opening tasks when Elmo came down from his room, barely saying good morning to them as he headed across to get his ‘breakfast’, a piece of buttered toast … which he ate as he meandered back across the gulch … to go with his coffee and newspaper. He sat on the back stool with them until opening time. Then he would drag his stool out to the plank walk and monitor the comings and goings on the gulch until late in the afternoon when he again resumed his position at the far end of the bar with his bottle of rye.
Billy’s new routine included the myriad little tasks that a bartender must do. Within a few weeks he was pretty much able to man the bar alone as long as it was slow and Cora or Pops was there to pitch in if necessary. Corky spent much of the afternoon outside with Pops, helping inside when needed and, most days, leaving about four-thirty to go up to Lil’s for supper before coming back down about five.
We digress now back to that afternoon when Billy first came to work. Corky was so busy showing Billy what he was expected to do that he had completely forgotten it was after five until Ron walked in and resumed his usual position on the front stool by the wall. Cora felt a little tingle before Corky composed himself and shouted up the bar, “Beer, Ron?” Ron nodded. Corky drew his beer and walked down to set it in front of him, extending his hand, “Missed you yesterday.” Corky winked and Ron smiled.
When time permitted, Cora continued to work on a plan to sneak Ron up to her room after closing but she could only talk to him in snatches when she was sure they wouldn’t be overheard. She thought about meeting him up at Lil’s but all the girls would know and she wasn’t ready for that. And for a very frustrating week she continued to agonize over just exactly how Cora and Ron could get together.