Ms. Cora’s Tale … Chapter 4

Cora turned back to look towards the bar just as she and Jonny turned to start up the Broadway Steps. ‘Pops’ was standing next to the door but gave no indication he saw her.

Jonny had taken her hand and was pulling her upward.

Cora pulled back and said, “You’re not takin me up to that smelly old woman’s, are you?”

“Shhhh. C’mon.” was Jonny’s reply, tightening his grip on her hand and pulling her upward. When they got to the alleyway behind the school, he let go her hand. “Now we can talk, and I ain’t gonna take you up to that stinky woman’s less you want to. But Elmo has to think I am. I figgered he’d watch us go up the steps. But he ain’t comin, so we’re safe now. If you’re not goin up to that smelly woman’s, as you call her, where are you goin to?”

“I reckon I’ll go to that place you was talkin about. That number whatsis place. … If you’ll show me how to get there, that is.”

“Number 41?”

“Yeah, I guess. If that’s what you said down yonder just a little while ago.”

As Cora and Jonny were having this short conversation, she was stepping towards him, nudging him backwards until he was largely surrounded by an oleander bush that protruded into the alleyway behind the school. Cora had an enticing smile on her face.

“I noticed you was lookin at me back yonder in the bar when I was dancin around. Have you ever felt of a woman’s body?” Jonny was dumbstruck. Cora took his hand and placed it on her breast. “Like this?”

As she said this, she pressed herself up against him, pulling her dress up with one hand and moving his hand from her breast down between her legs with the other. She held it there.

Jonny’s manhood stood to attention. Cora untied the knot in the rope holding up his pants and they fell around his ankles.

He thrust his stiff manhood between her legs, not quite knowing exactly where it should go but it felt good moving it back and forth where he had it. Suddenly he felt the spasm of an orgasm, depositing a huge wad on the inside of the back of her dress that began slowly oozing its way down.

He hung his head and reached down to pull his pants back up. “I’m sorry, Cora. I don’t think I did that right. Guess I didn’t know what I was a-doin.”

Cora, who had dropped her dress back down around her ankles, said. “You think I did, silly? Now where is this number whatsis.”

“Come-on” Jonny said.

He once again took her by the hand and pulled her upward toward Opera Drive. He led her down Taylor and around onto the gulch, keeping close to the left side and hoping Elmo was busy getting ready to open and not looking up the street.

They walked up a ways before Jonny suddenly turned up a steep path between two houses that faced the road. They passed one house at the street level and went up the steps to a large, three-story house one level up. A red light hung out front.

As they stepped up on the porch, Jonny turned to Cora and said, “Wait til I leave before you knock on the door. Ask to see Lil. Tell her your name and why you came to Bisbee and what happened yesterday and that you need a safe place to stay. She’ll take care of you, I promise. Bye, Cora.” He said as he turned and walked down the brick path.

Cora watched him until he got down to the road before turning and knocking on the door. A young, pretty, brown-skinned girl opened the door. She was younger than Cora. “Yees! Can I heelp you.” she said in a shrill voice.

“I’m Cora. I want to see Lil.”

The brown girl looked Cora up and down before stepping back and saying, “Follow meee.” She walked past a set of stairs on the left leading upwards. On the opposite wall was an opening into a largish room ornately furnished with sofas and settees. A heavy carpet was on the floor. As they continued down the hallway, Cora saw closed doors opposite each other. The brown girl knocked on the one on the left under the stairs.

A woman, old enough to be Cora’s mama, opened the door. “What is it, Juanita?” she asked.

“Thees girl say she’s Cora, mee’sees. She say she need to talk to you. You want me throw her out?”

“No,” Lil said. “I’ll talk to her. You may go, Juanita.” Juanita turned and walked through the kitchen door.

Lil stood looking Cora up and down. Somewhat below middle height and just a little plump, she was not really what Lil would call pretty but she could have potential.

“Juanita said your name was Cora. Cora what?”

“Cora Hicks, ma’am.

“Well Cora Hicks, sit down over there and tell me about yourself. Why are you in Bisbee? And why do you need my help.”

“Well I come to Bisbee because this feller Faulkner that I had met last year in Arkansas, Lake City, where I lived with my Pa, sent me a letter last month tellin me he had a good job in a copper mine and for me to come to Bisbee and we could get married except then yesterday when Faulkner woke up and found me in his room he attacked me and I got scared and run down to the bar where I had been in when I first got here the day before … “

When Cora stopped to take a breath, Lil chuckled and said, “Wait!” and began to laugh. “Slow down. I can’t keep up. When did you actually get to Bisbee?”

“I got here on the train from Douglas day-before-yesterday and … “

Lil held up her hand again, “And you obviously found Faulkner because you said he attacked you.”

“Yes’m, he … “

“So you came down to the bar where you had been the day before. What bar?”

“The one Pops runs.”

“Pops? Whose Pops?”

“My grandpa.”

“Wait! Your grandpa runs a bar in Bisbee?”

“Well. Not exactly. That is, he does run a bar but he ain’t exactly my grandpa. He just told me to say that when he was helpin me this mornin’ after somebody killed Faulkner last night.”

“Wait! Wait! Wait!” Lil said, again holding up her hand. “Was this man Faulkner killed in Elmo’s bar?”

“Yes’m.”

“So is Elmo the man who told you to call him Pops and say he was your grandpa?”

“Yes’m. But how did you know about Faulkner?”

“I didn’t know the man was named Faulkner, but early last night a man came running in here shouting that someone nobody knew had just been killed in Elmo’s bar. I just put two-and-two together. So it was Elmo’s bar where you were, then.” Lil stated, continuing immediately, “So this man Faulkner wrote you and told you if you came to Bisbee he would marry you. Is that right?”

“Yes’m.”

“So you arrived in Bisbee on Friday afternoon.”

“Yeah, if’n Friday was the day-before-yesterday.”

“It was. What was the very next thing that happened?”

“Well, I asked some feller if he knew how to get to Opera Drive and he pointed to some steps across the street goin up a hill between two buildings and said, ‘Go up thattaway.’ And I did but at the top they was just a alleyway goin both ways and it didn’t look like no Opera Drive so I come back down and it just happened that Pops’ bar was the first place I come to so I went in and asked a man there how to get to Opera Drive and he told me where to go. And …”

“Wait! Was the man Elmo?”

“Yeah, I know that now. I didn’ know who he was then.”

“When did you find out?”

“The next day when I was runnin from Faulkner after he tried to rape me. I didn’t know no other place to go but back there. “

This time, Lil had to prod her to continue. “So then you met Elmo?”

“Well. I went runnin in never thinkin about nothin but stayin a few steps ahead of Faulkner and I run in yellin ‘Help!’ and Elmo … but I didn’t know his name then … got me hid in the dark at the back just as Faulkner come bustin in and Jonny … I didn’t know his name then neither … tripped him with his broom and Elmo poked him in the stomach with a sawed off pool stick and kicked him out. And then Elmo took me up to a room above the bar where they’s a bed and told me to stay there until he could figure out what to do later.”

Lil was getting more interested in this story the further it went. Especially now that Elmo was involved. She and Elmo had been lovers at one time years ago. Elmo was more special than any of her other clients. “And then what?”

“Well. I stayed up there in that room until the shot came through the floor and …”

“What do you mean, ‘the shot came through the floor’?”

“The shot Faulkner fired through the ceiling when he come in threatening to kill Elmo come through the floor just a few feet from the bed I was on. I run to the back and hid behind all the junk. And I stayed back there til Elmo came up after the bar closed. That’s when I found out that Faulkner had been killed.”

“Do you know who killed him or anything about what happened?”

“Not really. Elmo wouldn’t tell me. He just said the sheriff come and couldn’t find who killed him and since nobody knew him anyway, he wasn’t goin to report it to the judge.”

“So you stayed in the bar all night?”

“Yes’m. I was real scared so Elmo stayed there with me.”

“Did he sleep on the bed with you?”

“No! Of course not! It was too little to begin with but he never mentioned nothin like that. He slept sittin in the corner at the top of the stairs.”

Lil smiled thinking about poor old Elmo sitting in a corner all night trying to sleep. Cora didn’t know to tell her that he spent most of the night stretched across two chairs at the bottom of the stairs with his boots resting on the third step up.

“So then what happened this morning?”

“Him and me went across the street to breakfast. That was when he told me to call him Pops, so people wouldn’t wonder about us bein together, and all. And then we went up to Opera Drive and got my suitcase from where Faulkner had been stayin and went on up to Gertrude’s where Pops has a room” … Cora continued to call him Pops … “only she didn’t have no empty rooms so she said I could sleep with her but there warn’t no way I was gonna sleep with that stinky old cow.”

Lil smiled broadly. Having come face-to-face with Gertrude a few times, she understood.

“And Jonny brought you here.” Lil didn’t phrase this as a question but a statement of fact. Cora nodded her head. “Yes’m”

“Do you have any money?”

“No’m”

“And you expect me to take you in for nothin?”

“I can work ma’am. It looks like you got a big place here and I’m thinkin it might be a boardin house or somethin. I can clean and wash clothes and iron and cook a little. I’ll do just about anythin you want me to to earn my keep and if I can save a little on the side I might be able to …”

“Okay, I get the point.” Lil said, opening the door and yelling down the hallway, “Juanita?”

“Yes mee’sees Lil?” Juanita answered as she ran out one of the doors into the hall. “What I can do for you, mee’sees?”

“Take Cora up to #12 and leave her there.” She turned to Cora. “The room’s small but it has a bed and other necessaries. Wait on me there. Take a nap if you wish. I’ll be up a little later. Right now I have somewhere I have to go.”

As Cora followed Juanita toward the door, Lil noticed a wet blotch extending all the way down to the hem on the back of her dress. She’d have to remember to ask her about it when she got back but at the moment she had more pressing business.

Room 12 was on the third floor. Juanita opened the door and stepped aside. Cora peered in. The ceiling sloped downward from left-to-right. The door was angled at the top to accommodate the lowering ceiling. A narrow bed was against the wall on the right, the side with the low ceiling. Further along the higher wall stood a wash stand with pitcher and bowl. At the far end was a window that angled down just as the door did. She could see a roof outside the window and beyond that a hillside.

In the very back corner behind a curtain under the lowest slope of the ceiling was a chamber pot.

Meanwhile, as soon as Juanita left to take Cora upstairs, Lil put on a bonnet that mostly hid her face and waltzed out the front door. There was spring in her step as she descended to the road and down the gulch toward Elmo’s, getting there just at opening time. Jonny saw her when she came in the door and knew he was in trouble because he knew why she was heading back to see Elmo.

Lil marched by the bar, turning so Elmo could see her face under her bonnet and continued to the table at the back. The same one Cora had been sitting at when Elmo ordered Jonny to take her up to Gertrude’s less than an hour ago. The only table in the barroom. She knew Elmo would follow her.

“What the hell are you doin here, Lil. Slummin?”

“Cool it, Elmo. I think you’ll want to hear what I’m going to tell you. Jonny brought Cora to my house.”

Elmo dropped heavily into the chair on the other side of the table. “That can’t be. He took her to Gertrude’s.”

He hesitated a moment before continuing. “Well. He didn’t exactly say that he took her up to Gertrude’s. He said when they got up to Clawson she inisisted she could go the rest of the way herself so he left her there.” Elmo heard these words coming out of his own mouth and instantly knew he had been duped.

He stood up and yelled, “Jonny! Here! Now!!” but his command fell on deaf ears except for the few regulars at the bar who had seen Jonny slip out the front door as soon as Lil came in.

“Aw, shit. That little arsehole’s in trouble when I catch him. He told me when he and Cora got up to Clawson she pointed to the stairs up to Temby and told him thanks but she could make it from there so he said goodbye and left her. And I believed the little shit. I’m gonna kill im! So he brought her to your house?”

“Yes, she’s there. She told me about you trying to help her. She said you hid her from some guy named Faulkner who was later killed in the bar here. Is that right?”

“Yeah. He come in shootin’ and causin a ruckus and somebody ended it for him. Hit im in the neck with somethin. Hit im hard enough to kill im. Sheriff said he would never be able to sort it out, so he’s not even goin to report it to the judge. He allowed as how nobody know’d the man Faulkner anyway and so nobody’d miss him. Just another miner who walked off the job one day and was never seen again.”

“Well, I wouldn’t be too hard on Jonny. Even in just one short conversation I can tell that your Cora is a strong willed young woman. Were you really telling her she had to sleep with Gertrude?”

Elmo shook his head and chuckled. “That was kinda pushin it, I reckon. She ain’t by any stretch ‘my Cora’ but she shore is strong willed. But what was I supposed to do. Give her a quilt and tell her to sleep on the floor in my room. What kinda reputation would she have after that? And what would people think of me?”

“What kinda reputation is she going to have after spending any time at all in my house?” said Lil. “What’s this bull about her calling you Pops and saying you’re her grandpa? I almost laughed out loud.”

“Yeah, that. After Faulkner was killed in here, and after she cried so, I seem to have inherited her care for the time being and figgered it wouldn’t look too good for a seventy year old man to be runnin around here and there and over to the Greek’s for breakfast with a eighteen year old girl. He’d be labeled a dirty old man as sure as shootin.”

Lil laughed. “May be. But everybody already knows you’re a dirty old man so why would that make any difference?”

“Aww. Shut-up!”

“So here’s the situation. I put her in the room I use when a new girl comes in and isn’t sure whether she wants to join the profession. I put her up there and give her a couple days to make up her mind.

“Make up her mind to what?” Elmo asked, already knowing the answer to his question.

“When a new girl comes into the house like this, while she’s deciding what to do, she has to earn her room and board by keeping all the chamber-pots in the house picked-up and emptied. That’s a chore that no-one has ever been willin to do for more than a couple days. I think three’s the record. By then, the girl starts seeing clients or finds accomodations elsewhere where she doesn’t have to empty somebody else’s slops all day.” She paused and then continued. “So what I’m getting at is that Cora is probably in line to become one of my girls?”

“Does she even know what kinda house you’re runnin?”

“Maybe. Don’t know. Don’t know what she might have asked Juanita. Or what Jonny may have told her.”

Lil thought she might have heard just a touch of caring in Elmo’s voice but was proven mistaken when he suddenly burst forth with, “I’m not sure why I even asked that. I don’t want nothin to do with that little wench. She can go to hell for all I care. Does that answer your question?”

“Guess so.” Lil said as she stood up and turned toward the front. She looked back, “Oh, by the way, don’t be hard on Jonny if ever comes back. From my five minute talk with Cora it’s obvious she was not going to let him deliver her to Gertrude’s or, if she did, as soon as he left she would have slipped out anyway. Jonny’s not to blame. He may have even done her a favor. At least she’s got a roof over her head and isn’t laying dead on the side of the gulch somewhere.”

At the conclusion of her speech, Lil turned and walked regally out of the bar, head held high.

Proceed to Chapter 5

%d bloggers like this: