Ms. Cora’s Tale … Chapter 2

Cora was dozing on the bed when the yelling began and the shot came through the floor just a few feet from her head. She jumped up and ran as quickly as she could into the shadows at the back of the room, back amongst all the junk, huddling there, afraid to move. The pressure on her bladder was at the bursting point when she heard Elmo’s voice coming from the bottom of the stairs. She ran as quickly as possible towards the chamber pot in the front corner, pee dribbling down her leg, barely getting her dress up enough to squat over the pot before the torrent started.

Elmo, coming up the stairs, reached the point where he could see into the room, eyes at the level of the floor. He spotted Cora in the corner just as the torrent began. He instantly receded down a couple of steps and waited until he could hear Cora’s footsteps on the planks of the floor before calling out again and stepping on up into the room.

“Cora, thank god you’re okay. You are okay, aren’t you?”

“I … I … guess so. Just scared, I … I reckon.”

“You’ve nothin to worry about now, Cora. He’s dead.”

“Who’s dead?”

“Faulkner. You did say he raped you, didn’t you?”

“Well, yeah. But it was only because you made me say it. But I’m not sure I it was really rape. I ain’t never done it before, and I was scared and it was happening so fast, but he did say he was going to marry me. And I thought …”

“Listen here, girl! I don’t know you and I sure as hell didn’t make you do nothin! You’re the one what come in here screamin that he was right behind you and was going to kill you. And when I questioned you earlier you nodded yes to my asking if he raped you! So don’t say I made you do nothin.”

Cora was sitting on the bed with her back to Elmo, who was sitting once again on the broken chair. Cora sobbed loudly. “I … I … didn’t mean to… to say he raped me, I mean. I mean, he was chasin me because I screamed when he started to do it but before he could actually touch me with his pecker I jumped up and run out of the house, and I never looked back until I was past them houses goin down to the street and when I looked back I seen him jumping off the porch and starting to run down the steps. I just kept runnin until I got here.”

“Wait!” Elmo shouted. “Wait! Yesterday afternoon right after I brought you up here you said he raped you. Now you say he didn’t even touch you with his ‘pecker’, as you call it.”

“I did.” she said, sheepishly. “I did say that but I guess it was just cause he had just come in lookin for me and I was so scared and then you roughed him up and threw him out and I was scared and I guess that’s why I nodded yes when you asked if he raped me. It sort of felt that way. And now, after I’ve had a chance to lay up here for hours and think about it, I’ve started thinking that he wouldn’t of really killed me and we could still get married but you killed him! You … killed … him! What am I going to do?” She lowered her head into her cradled hands and sobbed again, more loudly.

The way in which she spoke that last sentence caused Elmo to realize she was just a scared young woman … little girl, really … who, now that the man she came to Bisbee to marry was dead, was scared to death. She was completely alone. He sat there dumbfounded. This young girl might be the most gullible, impressionable person he’d ever met. After being brutally attacked and almost raped she still held out hope that the young man … no more than a boy really, just like Cora was no more than a girl … would marry her. Hope that he would do anything with her but make her his slave if she had let him complete the act he started.

Elmo began to pity her, to feel sorry for her. What could he do to help her? Should he do anything to help her? She was none of his responsibility. But she was really pitiful.

After an interval of several minutes during which neither spoke, she timidly asked, “What happened down there, anyway? Who fired that shot through the floor? There’s where it come through, right over there.” She pointed. The bullet-hole was about three feet from where her head would have been when she was laying on the bed.

“Faulkner fired the shot. He was about to shoot me but Jonny stepped in and … that’s enough … he’s dead … no-one actually saw what happened … at least that’s what they all told the sheriff … it’ll officially go in the books as ‘Killed in a bar brawl. Killer unknown.

“But, Mr. Elmo, I truly don’t know what I’m gonna do. I don’t have no money to get back to Arkansas and even if I did, I couldn’t because my daddy told me when I left not to never come back because he didn’t know me no more. I was dead to him. And I know’d then and I know now he meant it and still means it.” She began the loud sobbing again.

Elmo handed her his handkerchief and paused for a moment before saying, “You can sleep up here tonight and tomorrow morning we’ll see what we can figure out. I’ve gotta get back down to the bar right now. It’s really busy but I’ll be back up before I leave after I close up at two.”

He stood and started to go. “Mr. Elmo, wait!” Cora called out. “You cain’t leave me up here all by myself. It’s spooky up here. I’m scared.”

He just looked at her for a moment before saying, “Well. You’ll just have to get over being afraid unless you want to go back out there on the street and that’ll shore enough be scary.”

“Why can’t I come down to the bar?”

“Because by city ordinance no female can be in a saloon after five o’clock. So it’s either here by yourself, afraid or not afraid, or the street, you decide.”

And with that, he turned and went back down to the bar. Fortunately, after witnessing the murder there, the crowd began to thin out. No one had any idea what had really happened when the constable questioned them but after it was all over, they couldn’t wait to spread the word up and down the street about what Jonny had done with that little pool stick.

After he had closed the bar at two, stashed the day’s receipts in the safe in the floor behind the bar, and gotten the door locked, he went back up the stairs and found Cora sitting cross-legged on the bed with the quilt up around her shoulders.

“I just came up to let you know I’ll be going now. I’ll come back around nine in the mornin and we’ll go get some breakfast. See you then. Good night.” He said, and turned to go.

But Cora called out. “But Mr. Elmo. I made myself not be scared up here by myself because I knew you were down in the bar. Cain’t I go with you wherever you go?”

“No. You can’t. I rent a single room in a widder’s house up on Temby and they ain’t no place for yu to sleep. If the widder woman found you in my room, she’d kick me out and then I’d be havin to sleep here. Tomorrow mornin we can talk to her about whether she’s got an extra room where you can stay until you find someplace else.”

“Oh, Mr. Elmo.” she wailed, “But if I’m in this bar by myself I won’t be able to close my eyes all night, much less get any sleep. I’d be jumpin at ever little sound.”

“Shit.” Elmo thought. “What else do I have to do to please this little wench?”

What could he do? He supposed there was nothing to do but stay down in the bar all night.

“Alright. You won’t be by yourself. I’ll be at the bottom of the stairs. Ain’t no other way up here. You’ll be safe. I’ll go see if I can come up with a place to lay down.”

She still sat on the bed, but she nodded her head and he went on back downstairs.

The best sleeping arrangement he could come up with was to push the two chairs from the back table together at the bottom of the stairs and lay with his back and head on the chairs and his legs stretched out to rest on the stairs.

As he was dragging the chairs across to the storeroom, he heard Cora’s frightened voice from the top of the stairs. “Mr. Elmo, is that you?”

“Yes. Just trying to make myself a place to sleep”

As he said this he ascended the stairs and peered over at the bed. Cora had at least lain down and was staring at him with wide, trusting eyes.

“Go to sleep now.” he said, gently. “Nothin or nobody’s gonna git you. Okay?”

She nodded, sleepily. By the time Elmo had gotten settled, as much as was possible, on his chairs, a full pint of rye whiskey in his hand, all was quiet. He could hear Cora’s regular breathing and knew she was falling asleep. He upturned the pint of whiskey before he tried to find an even marginally comfortable position on the chairs. It was a miserable night.

He was awakened every little while by Cora’s restlessness and mumbling. At first he tried to shut it out but he wasn’t sleeping anyway. When it continued, he crept to the top of the stairs to see if he could understand what she was mumbling.

What he heard was: “Leave me alone, Daddy, or I’ll kill you. You cain’t touch me no more like you used to. Don’t touch me! Git away!” and she would flail her arms as if she were trying to hit someone or push them away.

It was almost daylight when she finally drifted into a more peaceful sleep. By that time, Elmo had just slumped down in the corner at the top of the stairs and found it no more uncomfortable than his chairs at the bottom so he dozed there until he heard Cora get up and watched her walk over to the chamberpot in the far corner. She was looking straight at him, surely seeing his clearly open eyes, when, without hesitation or seeming embarrassment, she lifted her skirts and squatted over the pot. He averted his eyes, and thought about the scene from the night before. This was not a good situation. He would have to figure something out.

Before she had finished her pee, Elmo quietly started down the stairs, squelching a groan with every step, as his creaky old bones and the muscles clinging to them didn’t want to move after spending part of the night laying across two chairs and the rest sitting on the floor propped in a corner. And he, who was used to sleeping til eleven, definitely hadn’t gotten his nap out. It wasn’t even nine o’clock yet.

Downstairs, he searched around under the bar for some coffee beans and a grinder. Finally finding them, he dropped a handful into the box and ground it, dumping the ground coffee into an old coffeepot and filling it with water. He placed it on the small gas stove and waited on it to boil.

Presently Cora came down the stairs and into the bar.

“I’m hungry.” she said.

“We’ll go across the street and get some breakfast in a bit, but I’ve got coffee boilin that should be about ready. Let’s have a cup and talk about a few things before we go.”

“Talk about what?”

“Well. For starters, I couldn’t help but notice how you pulled up your skirt and squatted on the pot a few minutes ago while you looked straight at me. If you expect me to help you, the first thing is to show me you have at least a modicum of modesty and a modicum of respect for me.”

“A … A what? Of modesty?”

“Even just a little. Like you could have at least turned your back to me to pee.”

“I’m sorry. Didn’t think nothin about it. Figured you’d like it as much as my pa done.”

Elmo remembered back to her mumblings during the night.

He had a revelation. Revelations are not enlightenments.

“Know how I just now mentioned I’m old enough to be your granddaddy?


“Well, as long as you’re in Bisbee, that’s what I’m gonna be. You can call me call me Pops.”

“But why? I ain’t yore grandgirl? Why can’t I just be yore friend?

“Because seventy year-old men don’t have … How old are you, anyway?


“Seventy year old men don’t have eighteen year old girls as friends… Them that know any eighteen year olds leave two dollars on the dresser when they leave their beds… So call me Pops, especially if they’s anybody around who might hear you. We’ll talk more after breakfast. You had a suitcase with you when you got here yesterday, didn’t you? Where is it?”

“In Faulkner’s room, I reckon. That’s where I left it, anyway.”

“Can you find your way back to Faulkner’s room once you’re up on Opera Drive?”

Cora sort of screwed up her face before saying, meekly, “I … I think so.”

Elmo never thought to ask her what was in her suitcase.

“Awright, we’ll go get some breakfast and then get yore suitcase and then see if we can find you someplace to sleep tonight. I cain’t do another night on them stairs. But right now, I’m hungry. C’mon.” They stepped across to the Greek’s, actually The Gulch Cafe, that was just across the street, where they were served a breakfast of runny eggs, sausage and burnt toast. But it was plentiful and Cora asked for seconds.

As soon as she had finished, Elmo stood and said, “Let’s go see if we can find yore suitcase.” He dropped a dollar on the table and started walking towards the door. Cora had to move quickly to catch up to him before he got back across the street. He was headed for the Broadway steps.

It was all Cora could do to keep up with him as he climbed. When he reached Opera Drive he paused and waited for her to catch up. “You know how to get to Faulkner’s room from here, right?”

“Yeah. I think so. I went several places the other mornin before somebody tole me where to go.”

“Then lead the way.” Elmo said, waiting for her to take the lead. They walked up Opera to the foot of Temby where she stopped and looked up a long flight of steps. Houses stacked seemingly one on top of the other could be seen on either side of the steps. After a few seconds she shook her head and turned to walk a little further up Opera. The previous scene was repeated but this time she said, “I think these are the right stairs. If they are, his room is in that house yonder, the third one up thattaway.” She motioned toward the right as she said this.

The two of them started up. When they got to the house, she pointed out the room she thought was Faulkner’s. Elmo knocked, waited a respectable interval and then tried the door. It opened onto a room with a bed, a chair and a small table. Nothing else except piles of rubbish strewn all over.

“Do you know where you left the suitcase?” Elmo said.

“I put it under the bed when I first got up here.”

Elmo took the few steps to the bed and knelt down to look under it. He pulled out the small suitcase, holding on to it as he turned to leave. It felt empty but he still didn’t ask her what was in it.

“Follow me.” he said as he stepped outside and down off the porch. Rather than turning to go down towards Opera, he turned the other way, going past two more houses stacked above the one they had just left to the top of the steps.

A narrow trail ran along the brow of the hill in both directions. Elmo followed it around to the left. Cora saw they were walking above houses on one side and that more lined the top of the hill further up.

They walked along the trail for a few hundred yards when they came to another set of steps that went both directions, up and down. Elmo turned downward, passing one house and then turning into the gate of the next one.

“Gertrude!” he shouted as he stepped up onto the porch and walked through the door.

A large woman came from the back of the house, wiping her hands on her apron. She was something past middle age but how much past was something of conjecture. Her late husband had been killed in the mine ten or twelve years before. Gertrude managed to survive by taking in boarders. Elmo was one of these boarders.

“Land o’ goshen! Elmo.” she fished a large pocket-watch from somewhere down between her bosoms that hung down loosely inside her dress clear to her waist. “It is only nine o’clock. What have you been doink out this mornink so early.”

“I’m just now getting back up here from last night. Spent the night in the bar. He turned to find Cora cowering behind him and urged her to step up as he continued, “This is Cora. My granddaughter. Her mama was my daughter. She died in El Paso a few weeks back and left Cora with no one and nowhere to go. So she come here. She’s got no other kin. You think she can stay here for awhile?”

“Not in your room. I don’t care if she is your gran-dotter That would not be proper.”

“I was actually hopin you had a spare room that’s not rented.”

“Nope. Don’t. I reckon she can sleep with me if she’s a mind to. Might be a room come available pretty soon. Come over here closer, darlink”

It took a little prod from Elmo to get Cora started over to where the large woman stood. Cora had not taken two steps when the odors emanating from the woman almost overwhelmed her. The smell of frying onions predominated but there were other pungent food odors that she couldn’t identify mixed with a strong smell of sweat and other bodily fluids.

The woman stretched out her arms and put both her hands on Cora’s shoulders. She looked from Cora’s face to Elmo’s.

“You never said nothink about havink no dotter much less a gran-dotter. But this-un does favor you some, I reckon.” she paused, resting her hands on Cora’s shoulders, and then continued. “It will be okay if you sleep with me, girl, but you will stay clean and come to bed when I do. Yah?”

Cora turned to look at Elmo as if asking him to rescue her from this foul smelling woman. Instead Elmo said, “Okay, Gertrude. That’ll work. At least for now. Take her up and show her my room. She can wash-up and stay there til dinner time. I’ll send Jonny up sometime after dinner to make sure everything’s okay.” and he turned to leave.

Cora stood frozen for the few seconds it took Elmo to step outside. He was about to step off the porch and down onto the steps that passed two more houses before getting to the street. She rushed after him. “Mr. Elmo, wait!” she called. Elmo turned and grabbed her by the arm. He said in a quiet, urgent voice, “I’m Pops. Got-it? Pops. People must think I’m your grandfather as long as you’re here.”

“Okay, Pops.” she said almost in a whisper. “But please take me with you. Don’t leave me here with that woman. She stinks! There’s no way I’m ever sleepin with her.”

Elmo thought for a minute and then called back inside. “Gertrude,” he said, “Cora’s decided she wants to come with me so we’ll do that. I’ll have Jonny show her how to get back up here sometime before six. I’m not inclined to let her stay long after openin but she absolutely must be out before five or I’ll be in violation of the ordinance prohibiting women in a barroom after.

“Make’s no never-mind to me.” Gertrude replied as Elmo turned back and strode towards the steps.

Proceed to Chapter 3

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