That afternoon things rocked along as usual and Cora was cooking up a plan. A rather intricate plan. It happened like this.
Corky began to complain to Billy afternoons before opening, before Pops got back from the Greek’s, about how hard it was to get Pops back upstairs to bed after he closed and Pops refused to go up before he got so shit-faced he couldn’t. At first, Corky thought nothing of what Billy might be thinking about this. He didn’t realize it might sound like him asking for help.
But Pops began coming down later and later, and Corky complained more and more.
One day Billy told Corky if he wanted him to stay all the way to two and help get Pops up the stairs he would.
Corky looked at him. “But you don’t want to have to leave here in the middle of the night. How far do you have to walk, anyway?”
“Out to Sacramento Hill but I got nowhere else to be when I leave earlier cept a nasty bed in a flophouse where I sleep.”
“You don’t have no ma or pa?”
“No’m. Remember when you asked me if I knowed Jonny and I said I did but I hadn’t seen him in a while before he disappeared. And when you found out I didn’t know nothin about him bein disappeared and how nobody else seemed to either you sorta ain’t never brought it up again?”
“Uh-huh. I remember.”
“Well, you know me and Jonny are about the same age… that is, if Jonny’s still with us… and a few years ago we was argyin over who could get a message up to the mine superintendent the quickest and the lawyer fella who needed the errand run picked Jonny instead of me on account he was a little bigger and I got pissed off and started whalin the tar out of him until the lawyer fella pulled us apart. So Jonny got a black eye and I got a busted tooth and then I found out Jonny was a almost orphan on account of his mama didn’t never want nobody to know she was his mama and I was a complete orphan and so after that we was friends. Blood brothers. And he took me up to Lil’s and told Cooky I didn’t have no ma or pa and was starvin and she give us sump’n to eat. He wouldn’t tell me who his mama was, only that she worked in that house. And I started going there with him and was still goin there every afternoon right up to the time you hired me.”
“How old were you when you and Jonny got together?”
“I think about eight or nine.”
“And all these years you’ve been eating at Lil’s back door? And still were until a few months ago?”
“Where did you sleep?”
“Jonny had a old man. At least he called him his old man. He was a drunk and him and Jonny slept in a old abandoned shack up Zacatecas a ways. Me’n Jonny were like brothers cept once he started workin for Pops he never let me come close to the bar, so Pops never knowed me.”
“Where have you been sleeping since Jonny and his pa disappeared?”
“Well, I woulda kept sleeping in the shack with the old man except he sort of went crazy after Jonny was not there no more and he would just wander around all over the place askin about Jonny but nobody’d seen him and one day he was down on the gulch layin there in his own filth and some men took him away and I never saw him after that. So I still snuck up to the shack to sleep at night until I come to work here for you and I could afford the two-bits a night it costs me to sleep in that old flophouse out by Sacramento Hill. Ain’t much, but it’s better’n the shack.”
“That’s not too bad, I reckon.” Corky said. Cora had just found out more about Jonny’s disappearance than she had ever known. But she had finally put Jonny in the past and was thinking only of how Billy might be useful in arranging for Ron to start sleeping in her room.
Cora was a very frustrated young woman and having to masquerade as Corky all the time was adding to her frustration, especially since she was still waiting for Pops to decide whether he was going to give the bar to her.
But her intricate plan was beginning to come together. Just a couple more ducks that she had to get lined up before she could execute it.
“Billy, I thank you for your offer but don’t want you to walk all the way back to Sacramento Hill after two in the morning. What if we arranged for you to stay here with Pops and me?”
“You mean sleep here in the bar like ya’ll do? Cain’t be worse than a flophouse.”
Corky saw Pops coming back across the street. “Just stay quiet for now, okay, and I’ll see what I can work out. It may be a few days and it may not work at all. We’ll see.”
Now Cora could proceed with the next part of her plan. The plan was that Ron could sneak into her room some night and they could finally consummate a relationship. She knew he wanted to. And she didn’t just want to consummate a relationship but she wanted Ron in her bed every night!
The solution to her problem was staring her right in the face but she hadn’t seen it yet.
As it turned out, Ron Bowen saw it and would reveal it to her that very night.
At a few minutes to two Corky began at the far end of the bar herding the dregs out the door. Billy followed the last two out and Corky was right behind him. As Billy turned down toward Naco Road, she called ‘Good-night, Billy. Thanks.’ and watched him wave before he turned and went back inside, locking the door behind him and pulling the shade.
He crossed around behind the bar and opened the cash register. He carefully stacked all the bills into a bank bag and stowed it into the floor-safe. He’d just barely gotten the safe locked and started to stand up when he heard a tapping at the door. His hair stood on end! Who could it be? Why did someone want to get in? A chill ran up his spine. Who could be tapping on the door at this time? Making sure the safe was locked, Corky remained crouched down behind the bar and waited, hoping whoever was there would go away.
But the tapping continued … Tap …Tap …Tap … … … … Tap…Tap…Tap … … … … Tap…Tap…Tap ….
Corky looked around at Elmo who had ostensibly been keeping an eye on Corky stashing the day’s receipts but instead was sound asleep, head cradled in his arms.
Keeping one hand on his Derringer Corky quietly turned to the door.
Tap…Tap…Tap … … … … Tap…Tap…Tap … … … Tap…Tap…Tap
The only light left on was a weak, shaded bulb hanging low above the bar that produced a narrow cone of light illuminating the cash register forming a small circle of light on the back bar around it. The rest of the room was in deep shadow.
Corky could see the silouette of a man on the other side of the door-shade. Continuing to keep one hand on the pistol in his pocket, he pulled the shade aside just enough to peek through and broke out laughing uncontrollably when he saw Ron. His face was pressed to the glass, forefingers hooked in the sides of his mouth, stretching it into a grotesque grin. Cora finally got control of herself and relaxed her grip on the Derringer. She fished the key out of her pocket and opened the door just a crack.
“What are you doin here at this time of night?”
“I was hopin I might get to see Cora. I ain’t been able to see her since that day she come out to me and they’s some things I really need to talk to her about.”
It was at that very minute the solution to Cora’s intricate problem finally dawned on her. Pops was already passed out on the bar. He’d never know when Corky helped him upstairs. He’d also never have to know that Ron came up right behind them and would sleep in her bed. They’d just have to make sure Ron was out before Elmo started stirring the next day, and that would be no difficulty at all as Elmo never came out of his room before noon.
She quickly unlocked the door and pulled Ron inside, placing a finger on her lips to silence him before leading him to his usual place, deep in the shadows by the wall now.
She whispered, “I’ll get Pops upstairs and resurrect myself as Cora. Would you rather I come back down here or would you rather just come up to my room?”
“Which do you think?”
“Once I get Elmo upstairs and Cora has been resurrected I’ll whistle for you to come up.”
“Go. Hurry.” he said, shooing Corky away with his hand.
It took Corky a good ten minutes to get Pops up the stairs and into bed. In another five minutes, Cora, frilly duster wrapped tightly around her, stood at the top of the stairs and whistled softly. A second later, Ron appeared and ascended the steps silently but still taking them two at a time.
Cora reached for his hand, her duster falling open in the process. She was wearing only panties and a short chemise. She led him into her room, closing the door behind them.
They didn’t speak. Cora removed his coveralls and led him to the bed. Silently and tenderly, they consummated their relationship before drifting off to sleep in each others arms. Just three hours later, Cora’s sunbeam awakened her. Ron snored softly beside her. She arose and pulled her duster, around herself before going out to the bathroom. Back in the room she sat and watched Ron sleep for almost an hour. When he awoke he was confused until he saw Cora sitting there. He smiled and mouthed ‘Good-morning’.
Cora answered in a soft voice, “We can talk as long as it’s not too loud. Elmo will sleep for several more hours. Doesn’t ever come down before one these days.”
Ron whispered, “Will you hand me my coveralls?” They were hanging over the back of the chair in which Cora sat, “So I can go to the bathroom.
Cora stood but instead of handing him his pants she shed her duster, saying as she handed it to him, ‘Wrap this around you.’ and she, now naked, slipped back under the covers. Ron joined her there a few minutes later and they made sweet, quiet, morning love and then lay there in the sunbeam basking in each others presence. Ron was the first to speak, “That was amazing. I’m so glad I came by this morning when you were closing.”
“Me too. I’ve known since the day we had lunch when I revealed myself to you, that this time would come. I felt sure at some point I would have you in this bed. And it’s everything I had dreamed it would be.”
Ron held her tight and said, “Can I come back tonight?”
“You can come every night if you want.”
His face broke out in a wide grin, “I do like coming with you.” Cora realized her statement could have double meaning.
Cora and Ron were laying on the bed basking in each other’s presence when Cora suddenly sat up, crossed her legs and said, “Sit up, I have some exciting news for you.” They sat, cross legged, naked, knee-to-knee, facing each other. Once in position, Cora said excitedly, “Elmo may be going to give me, well, technically, sell me, the bar! Can you believe it?” Her voice rose with each word of the last little sentence to the point that Ron put a hand over her mouth to shush her.
Little did either of them know that at just that instant Pops passed the door with a bursting bladder. Barely making it to the toilet in time, he emptied it and, as he started to step back into his own room he heard voices coming from Cora’s and knew that one of them was Ron’s. He was smiling broadly when he stepped back into his room and closed the door.
Meanwhile, Cora gave Ron all the details of Lil’s proposal, even remembering the name of Lorenzo Albright, the lawyer, and explaining to Ron that she hadn’t been able to get a read on Pops yet as to how he was thinkin but this was Saturday morning and nothing could be done til Monday anyway, so she didn’t really expect Pops to decide before then, and she was not going to pressure him about it and that was that. End of discussion.
“So do you think you will be able to stand up to the City Council like Lil says? If there is an ordinance saying that you, as a woman, can’t even enter a saloon, then wouldn’t that by itself preclude you from owning one?”
“What Lil says is that Lorenzo the lawyer said he has researched all the city ordinances and nowhere does it say a woman can’t own a saloon. And just think about it! Corky can cease to exist. I can always be me!”
Ron chuckled and Cora continued, “Now, about your staying here every night, are you interested?”
“Well, we pretty much stumbled into getting away with it last night and I’m pretty sure Pops don’t know, but I don’t really want you comin up and scratchin on the door and me havin to come and let you in. So, I was thinkin. I ring last call at 1:30 and then begin raking out the dregs of humanity about ten-to-two so’s I can get the door locked by two. Can you get here before about 1:45 and quietly come in and sit on your stool back in the shadows?”
“Sure. Easier than waitin somewhere out on the street until you lock up.”
“That’s what I thought. So after I’ve locked up, I won’t get interrupted while I stow the cash in the floor safe. … Pops insists on settin at the bar until I get the receipts in the safe and get it locked. That’s how he thinks he’s makin sure I’m not stealin from him although since he decided to give me the bar, … and I ain’t sure of that yet as he ain’t never said nothin about it yet since Lil pitched it to him … and most nights anymore he’s so shit-faced he don’t know what I’m doin, but he refuses to go up unless he knows I’ve got the money in the safe.”
Ron nodded his acceptance as he smoothed the hair back from her sundrenched face and gazed into her radiant smile. “Happy?” he asked. He leaned over and reached out for her but before he could catch her she had jumped up and had her watch in her hand. “Oh, shit! It’s almost eleven. Better to be safe than sorry.” she said as she hustled Ron out of bed, and watched as he pulled on his coveralls. He leaned over, gave her a quick peck on the cheek and said “Until tonight.”
“Until tonight” she whispered as he started for the stairs before turning back and asking, “Can I get out the front door? Don’t it take a key?”
“Oh crap!” Cora said, pulling her duster tight around herself. She got the key from Corky’s overalls and led Ron down the stairs, letting the duster billow out in her wake. When she stepped out of the stairwell into the barroom, she pulled the duster tight again and proceeded to the front to unlock the door. She had not previously thought about having to come down and let Ron out, but as he took her in his arms one last time, she realized it might be worth the effort.
But when she unlocked the door and Ron slipped through she heard the cacophany coming from the gulch at this time of the morning and wondered how many people saw Ron slipping out the front door of the bar. Oh, well. Who cared? Cora certainly didn’t if Ron didn’t and he went merrily skipping along whistling a tune.
Back upstairs, Cora was soon luxuriating in a warm bath soothing her aching lady parts that had never before been subjected to what they had been subjected to over the last several hours! But now she had to transform herself back into Corky and get up to #41 before she missed breakfast.
When she got there, Lizzie, Millie and Nellie were at the table. They greeted Corky but continued their conversation as he filled his plate with eggs, bacon and biscuits. He set his plate on the table and was about to pour coffee in a cup when Esmy came in, dressed in a peignoir similar to the duster Cora had worn just an hour before. Matter of fact, Corky remembered, Cora’s duster used to belong to Esmy. Esmy eased up behind Corky, rubbing her nakedness against his backside. “Ready for some real action, cowboy?” she said good naturedly.”
“Who says I’m not gettin any real action?” Corky replied, turning around to face her and pulling Esmy’s peignoir closed.
“Corky’s gettin action!” Esmy giggled delightedly as she sang, “Corky’s gettin action. Corky’s gettin action.” and of course this got the full attention of Lizzie, Millie and Nellie, even Lil, who came running in about that time.
Corky laughed. “Oh! Ya’ll thought Corky was gettin laid? Ever thought Cora might be the one gettin laid?”
Esmy enthused, “So, if I hear you right, that luncheon Lil and I arranged did the trick.”
At that point all the girls started jumping in with questions, trying to talk over one another. Cora filled them in about the planned arrangement They giggled, when she told them about hiding it from Elmo. They thought that was cute.
Corky whistled a tune as he stepped lightly back down to the gulch after breakfast on his way to the bar. Billy noticed he seemed to be in an extra good mood that afternoon as they got ready to open. Corky whistled as he went about restocking the bar and his mood continued right on through to opening time and on through the afternoon and evening.
Billy hoped this meant that Corky had worked out whatever he needed to get worked out so he could start sleeping there but, though Corky’s good mood continued right on through the rest of the day, he never said anything about it.
That afternoon Corky, who had been sitting outside watching the parade of people coming by, stepped back inside to fill his mug when Billy leaned across to Elmo and said, “Whadda ya think, Pops. Think Corky might be gettin him some? He sure was happy this mornin when he come back from the whorehouse.”
Elmo, who knew Cora was the one gettin some, laughed and said, “If you only knew, son, if you only knew.”
That afternoon at supper, every one of the girls in the house came by the dining-room to congratulate Cora as if she were getting married.
Corky, once again, floated back down to the bar to find Ron in residence in his usual place. When he walked in, Billy was chatting with him. When Corky stepped behind the bar he shouted back down the length of it, “Hey, Billy. Don’t you got a job to do?” Corky glanced at Pops as he passed. A wry smile slowly worked it’s way across his face. What could he be thinking?
Ron hoped Corky would at some point have time to re-assure him that his coming in before closing was a good idea but never got the opportunity. By nine he knew it was hopeless and left. But he eased back in at 1:30, sitting in his usual spot.
As soon as Corky saw him, he drew him a beer, and walked it down to him without saying anything. Then he turned and began clanging the triangle above the bar to signify last-call. He continued the clanging until no more hands shot up. He counted them and began drawing beers, sliding them down, sometimes through several sets of hands, toward their intended recipients whose names Corky would shout as each glass rolled off his fingers. ‘Felix’, ‘John’, ‘Pablo’, … .
And then he stood back by Pops at the back of the bar and waited. At five minutes to two he started his sweep forward, physically herding the group of a dozen or so toward the door. A few complained that they hadn’t had time to finish their beer and Corky just kept repeating ‘Then drink up. Don’t tell me you can’t swallow that little bit down. Here, let me help.” and he would place the man’s glass in his hand if it weren’t already there before tipping it up and draining it into the man’s mouth, oftimes getting as much on the outside of the man’s belly as inside it. No-one ever took notice.
Ron went completely unnoticed during the exodus. Corky pushed the last of the drunks out the door, locking it tight and pulling down the shade. The window curtains had already been pulled. He turned and looked at Ron, who smiled and winked at him.
Corky completed his task of shutting down the bar just as he had the night before except with a much lighter heart. He kept glancing up at Ron and smiling. Once the day’s cash was safely locked away, he reached under the bar and pulled out a pint bottle of whiskey. Setting it on the bar in front of Ron he mouthed. “Put it in your pocket and bring it up with you.” Then he turned and went to the end of the bar to collect Pops and get upstairs.
“Think I c’n. … … … Think I c’n.” Elmo said, stepping off his stool and almost falling down but Corky caught him and once he got his feet under him he began putting one unsteady foot in front of the other, managing to cross the floor to the stair-well. Corky followed closely, waving to Ron as he disappeared into the dimly lit stairwell.
He had to take one of Pops’ arms in order to get him up the steps but, once there, he made the few steps into his room, crossing shakily, leaving his derby and vest on a chair before removing his arm-garters and leaving them there also. Next, strictly by rote, he slipped his galluses off his shoulders and let his trouser’s fall to the floor around his ankles. Stepping out of them, he slid them under the chair with his foot before ambling back towards the bathroom.
Once Corky had gotten Pops in bed Cora said, “Night, old man.” … “Night, girl.” Pops replied and was snoring before she closed the door behind her. She stepped to the top of the stairs, issued a faint wolf-whistle and slipped quickly behind the curtain across the corner of her room to transform Corky to Cora.
As Ron waited for her to whistle, he pondered all the ways his life would change if this arrangement became permanent.
Cora’s whistle broke his reverie. Taking the steps two at a time, rapidly but quietly, he stepped into Cora’s room just as she stepped from behind the curtain across the corner of the room that served as her closet.
Ron gently closed the door behind him and gazed at her. She stepped over to him and kissed him on the cheek. “Pops is already asleep and I’m going to take a bath.” she announced. Make yourself at home. There’s a magazine there if you want something to read. And you got a pint of whiskey in your pocket that can keep you company for a little while. I won’t be a minute. Ten tops.
Fifteen actually, but Ron hardly noticed. When Cora stepped back into the room, he lay on his back, head propped up on pillows, whiskey in hand. Before her eyes found his he pulled the open-face-down magazine up over his face but not before he had watched her pad across the small entryway on bare feet, her body glistening in the dim light of the entryway. At the door to her room she stopped, crossed slowly to the bed, dropped the duster and slid in beside Ron who still feigned sleep.
She slid her hand down and unbuttoned the single button keeping his fly closed before reaching in and extracting his erect penis. Then she straddled him and lowered herself over it, easing down until he was fully ensheathed. Remaing motionless, she bent and kissed him passionately on the mouth before she began to slowly rotate her hips, bringing him to an intense orgasm within moments.
Unlike the day before, … Earlier that same morning to be exact. … when their heat had lasted almost to daybreak, once was all Cora could manage this morning before drifting off to sleep with Ron’s arms wrapped around her.
She was vaguely aware when the sun came streaming over Chihuahua Hill the next morning, pulling the pillow over both hers and Ron’s heads, snuggling more into his embrace, wanting to lay there forever. It was about nine when Cora escorted him down to the front door and let him out whispering, “Will I see you tonight?”
“What do you think.” he said, smilingly, as he went out and she closed the door behind him.
And as he sauntered away he was thinking again about how much his life was going to change. But he had no idea of just how much!
What he couldn’t know was just how much all their lives were going to change soon!