Ms. Cora’s Tale … Chapter 17

That afternoon at two, Corky opened the bar as usual, greeting his three regulars who were waiting outside when the door opened. They filed in and resumed their usual places as Corky passed around behind the bar and drew their beers, sliding each down to its intended recipient as the schooner was filled. The afternoon proceeded in its normal fashion, Billy staying behind the bar while Corky and Elmo sat out on the plank walk.

By four, things had picked up enough that Corky was back behind the bar when Ron came through with a brown package under his arm. He walked straight to the back, nodding at Corky and Billy, but otherwise not announcing his presence, before ascending the stairs. Aside from Billy, Corky didn’t think anyone else in the bar had seen him go up.

Corky motioned for Billy to come down to the end of the bar told him he had to go upstairs for a little while but would be back down with Elmo and Ron within ten or fifteen minutes. Billy would have to cover the bar until they came back down. Corky headed for the stairs for the very last time.

About four Elmo wandered in from the back. He was dressed in his customary uniform … white shirt, black slacks, black boots, black string tie, and black vest, topped off with his signature derby hat. Black, of course. About midway between his elbow and shoulder was a garter, garishly colored yellow and blue. Although he wore this same outfit every day, he looked different today for some reason.

He crossed behind the bar, said hello to Billy and began to say hello to the regulars when a young lady stepped out of the stairwell followed by Ron. All eyes immediately turned and stared at the young lady as she strolled leisurely across to the bar and stepped behind it to stand beside Elmo. They saw a resemblance to Corky, but was most decidedly a woman. She was wearing a modest, button front, blouse; an ankle length western gingham skirt; and and fancy western boots. Her cheeks had a rosy rouge glow. Her hair was a shiny reddish-brown cut in a short bob with bangs, a style that wouldn’t become popular for several years yet. The hair was the same style Corky had worn except it had been washed, trimmed up, and brushed neatly. It was the only vestige left of Corky except his voice.

Just as Cora had stepped behind the bar, while all eyes were glued to her, Ron had descended and waited at the end of the bar near Elmo’s usual place. He too was fancied up. His usual coveralls had been replaced by a pair of grey pinstripe trousers, a white shirt and small criss-cross cravat.

It had been less than two minutes since Elmo had first stepped behind the bar and no-one had spoken in that time when he looked at Cora and said, “Ring that there last-call bell, Darlin.”

Cora used a finger to wipe away a tear that was guttering down the side of her nose as she reached up and grabbed the clanger, revolving it around the inside of the big triangle. The murmurs in the crowd subsided as Elmo raised his glass, and all in attendance followed suit. Then Elmo spoke.

“I want to welcome ya’ll to what used to be my bar but now belongs to Ms. Cora Hicks’, my beautiful granddaughter who you see standing here. As of today, she is the sole owner and proprietor of this here establishment. And I am so very proud of her. Cheers!” He shouted and the chorus shouted back ‘Cheers’. And Elmo added, “And, Ms. Cora,”… He addressed her as Ms. Cora for the rest of his life… “Ms. Cora here’ll be buying the next round of drinks.”

“Hip, hip, hooray for Ms. Cora” the chorus sang, glasses still held high.

Cora turned and tried to look indignant because Pops had obligated her to a round of free drinks but it was hard to achieve an indignant look with a river of tears guttering down both cheeks and dripping off the tip of her nose. She used a bar-towel to wipe her face before turningback to the room and shouting. “Step right on up boys and get em before I decide not to be so generous.” Ron joined her at the beer taps and the two began drawing beers as fast as the taps would flow, sliding them down the bar as each schooner was filled.

But even before all the toasts elicited by the free round, amid much clinking of glasses, the news that Ms. Cora Hicks was now proprietor, owner and operator of the bar was already trickling up and down the gulch. And beyond.

And as Ms. Cora and Ron were filling glasses, a lady wearing a hooded rain-slicker slipped virtually unnoticed behind the crowd of men and out the door. Lil had been standing back just inside the storeroom and stairwell from the very start of the festivities.

About six o’clock four of the towns leading citizens … Dr. Albion Aquilar, physician for the Copper Queen Mining Co.; Jack Spivey, owner of the Lyric Theatre; Phineas C. Vargas, superintendent at Shattuck Mines; and The Rev. Icabod Hansen, Rector of First Presbyterian Church… stepped through the door and stood in a line in front of it, staring at Cora behind the bar. Several of the patrons turned to face them. The Rev Hansen, had a very loose, ill fitting and threadbare black suit hanging on his bony frame. A black frock coat and a small top hat completed his costume.

Across his vest stretched a gold watch chain which he used to draw a large gold watch from the pocket of his waistcoat. He held it high, pointing a bony finger directly at Cora.

“You, young woman, are in violation of City Ordinance No. ##, stating that no female may be present in a barroom after five o’clock and it is now after six p.m.”

His long bony finger continued to point at her accusingly, following her as she raced out from behind the bar, passing in front of Elmo, and pushing her way through the crowd, marching straight to the front, stopping only when the Rev. Icabod Hansen’s long bony finger was an inch from the tip of her nose. Ron was right on her heels.

Meanwhile, Elmo didn’t move as Cora and Ron passed in front him. He just smiled. He was enjoying the spectacle. And he knew from her performance at the bank that morning that Cora was more than capable of fighting her own battles. Besides, in consultation with Lil, he had silently pledged at the time he and Cora signed the papers that when the bar became Cora’s, she would have to fight her own battles, and this battle was of her own making… well, her’s and Lil’s… so let the two of them fight it.

Cora slapped Icabod’s finger and arm aside and stepped forward until her chin was almost touching his chest. She looked straight up into his face, undaunted.

“Listen, old man, I don’t know who the hell you are but you have no goddam right to come into my establishment and yell at me. It’s downright disrespectful.” She stepped back far enough to thrust a copy of her deed up in front of his face before continuing. “Do you see there where it says that the owner of this building at ## Brewery Gulch is Ms. Cora Hicks, who also happens to be sole proprietor of the bar operated out of said building? See it!” she demanded, shoving it right up against the spectacles perched on the tip of his nose.

“Step back, young woman. I don’t know who you are, and I don’t need to see any paper because it doesn’t change that by city ordinance you are not allowed in this barroom after five p.m. and it is now more than an hour past.

Anticipating just such a reaction, Ron stepped forward and shoved another paper up in Icabod’s face. “This, rev, is a copy of the ordinance you are citing. I picked it up earlier today from the lawyer. I had a feeling the exact wording might come in handy. Let’s see…” he perused the paper. Unlike Cora, Ron did know who Icabod was and that he was a sanctimonious bastard.

“It says right here, rev, that, and I quote, “It shall be unlawful for any woman within the limits of the Town of Bisbee, in any saloon or in any room or apartment adjacent to such saloon or connected therewith either for hire or otherwise, to sing, dance, recite, or play a musical instrument, give a theatrical performance or other exhibition, serve as waitress or bar maid, or engage or take part, either as employee, or otherwise, in any game of chance or amusement played in any saloon.

“Now, rev, do you see anywhere here” … He shoved the paper in front of the rev’s face … “where it says that the owner of an establishment, if that owner happens to be a female, can’t run her own established business? No you don’t, for it says nothing about a female owner. Miss Cora here has a fundamental right as the sole owner of this business to operate it as she sees fit. Do you know of any statute, local, county, or state, that prevents a woman from owning a property or a business? Can you point to a statute that says a woman can’t operate her own business? I do believe that there is a very nice hat shop up on main owned and operated by one Mrs. Victoria Gregovich who has owned and operated it for some years as sole proprietor.” The questions along with the final comment came rapid-fire.

The reverend was speechless. He looked to either side of him for the other members of his little committee but they had all taken a step back so they were now standing with their backs pressed against the door, having stepped back from The reverend as far as possible. This ad-hoc committee had, in fact, been hastily formed by the reverend himself because he didn’t want to have to get up in his pulpit the next morning amid rumors within his congregation, who would certainly know what the situation was down here on the gulch, with a woman in a saloon, and the three who had stood on either side of him and now behind him, were the first three he could find that were willing to come. But, now, none of them were willing to speak up and had retreated as far back as possible without going outside, leaving poor Icabod and his god to fight their battle themselves. And, frankly, they were overmatched!

The barroom was silent. The silence was deafening. Icabod and his god stood there all alone.

Neither Ron nor Cora had noticed as Elmo began to make way slowly toward the front. Icabod was so focused on Cora and Ron that he hadn’t noticed Elmo either. The other three members of his ad hoc committee did but none spoke to alert Ichabod.

Suddenly, Elmo’s booming voice came from back in the crowd not far behind Cora and Ron. “Cora. Ron. Step aside and give these pompous asses room to open the door and get out before I start pushing em through the glass one by one, starting with this sanctimonious old bastard standing here in front of me.” Elmo reached out to get hold of the sanctimonious old bastard as the others made a hasty exit, the sanctimonious old bastard just managing to elude Elmo’s grasp and escape behind them.

“Hip… Hip… Hooray.” the chorus shouted. “Ms. Cora… Ms. Cora… Ms. Cora.” rose to the rafters as Cora and Ron returned to their places behind the bar and Elmo to his stool. Cora reached up and gave the triangle a generous clanging to get everyone’s attention. “Okay, boy’s, free beer the rest of the night till it’s gone!” she said and the cacophanous, rowdy, raucus uproar began.

It was a festive evening, Cora’s first night as proprietor, but the saga wasn’t over. She wasn’t really in the clear yet. She would still have to face the city council and the mayor but the constable never came to arrest her and she was soon left to operate her bar on her own as she saw fit.

The approaching autumn was hotter than normal but began cooling off nicely in late October. As winter came on, a particularly cold one for the Mule mountains, Ron and Cora exulted in each other’s presence, snuggling together under a pile of quilts in the new, larger bed they had gotten for their room, which Ron had enlarged, taking almost half of Elmo’s room that Elmo now shared with Billy. They could sleep late without being awakened by the sunbeam as it didn’t appear over Chihuahua Hill until well after eight this time of year when the days down in the Bisbee bowl were short. And every day it got easier to snuggle down under the covers and make love in the warmth of the winter sun.

Elmo felt more useless every day. He knew he had to let Cora fight her own battles but he had hoped that there would be things, situations, where she would ask his advice. But now, she was more likely to seek Ron’s advice than his. And things seemed to be running more smoothly than they ever had when it was just Elmo alone doing it all.

Thus as the months passed, he came down to the bar later and later every day and drank more and more rye whiskey. Some nights he even pissed his pants sitting right there on his barstool. It became Billy’s job to to try to coax him up the stairs before he pissed himself rather than after but most of the time his were a useless use of words. There were nights it took Ron and Billy both to get him up the stairs.

Proceed to Chapter 18

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