Cora went up to the third floor but instead of going into #12 she knocked on #10.
Esmeralda opened the door and said, “Whatta you want?” It was not a friendly question.
“Please help me, Esmy.” Cora said, beginning to cry.
Esmeralda looked both ways up and down the hall before quickly pulling Cora inside and closing the door.
Cora continued sobbing. Esmeralda led her over to the bed and sat down with her. “What’s the matter? What’s happened to you?”
“I don’t know exactly. I was happy here yesterday, except for havin to empty everybody’s shit. And at supper, and later in the parlor, I was havin a good time watchin what was goin on until Pops come in.”
“Oh. That’s what I call Mr. Elmo.”
Cora had told Black Bonita what had happened to her since coming to Bisbee and what one of the girls knew they all knew with lightning speed.
“So what happened after Pops come in?
“I was so ashamed, I couldn’t stand it and then this mornin Lil said Pops was payin for me to stay in my room without me havin to work.”
“What!” This was news to Esmeralda and undoubtedly would be news to the whole house.”
“I thought everbody knew it.”
“No. All Juanita said was that you would be stayin in #12 and taking meals with the rest of us in the dining room. Maybe she didn’t know it was Elmo thats keepin you?”
She waited for a reply. Cora just sobbed.
“Is there something else, girl? Why are you still crying?”
“I cain’t find Jonny.”
“Jonny. Lil’s boy? That kid who works for Elmo and comes by regularly to get a handout from Cooky? Why do you want to find him, of all people?”
“He’s the one who brought me here so I didn’t have to sleep with the stinky woman. And then he come to my room later and …”
Esmeralda looked at the clock on the dresser. It was 4:15. She looked at Cora. “Where did you get that awful dress, girl?”
“I brought it here from Arkansas. I didn’t feel good when I went out in that dress Lil give me so I went up to the stinky woman’s where my suitcase was and got this un. What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s just ugly. We gotta go see Black Bonita. She’s the one you told your story to last night ain’t she?”
“Let’s see if she’s got any idea of where you should look for Jonny.”
As soon as Cora closed the door to Esmeralda’s room, she stepped across the hall to #9, tapped gently and went in. Mabel was reclining on the bed painting her fingernails. “Hi, Esmy.” she said. “What is it?”
Esmeralda sat on the edge of her bed and said quietly to her. “I’ve only got a minute but I need to tell you something. Cora’s able to stay in #12 as a ‘tenant’ because Elmo is keepin her! She calls him ‘Pops’ but I don’t know exactly why. But she wants our help findin Jonny. I’ll tell you more later, but let the others know Cora don’t deserve to be treated like we been treatin her. Spread the word.” She walked out the door.
Mabel and Esmeralda discussed it with Black Bonita and, later, it was the talk of the evening in the parlor as gentlemen came and went. Cora didn’t come down. At some point in the evening, Esmeralda came up and burst through the door of #12, a wide smile on her painted face.
“Cora. We know what you need to do. If you’re going to be out on the street looking for Jonny, you must become a boy. You won’t have to worry about yourself so much then. Between the bunch of us, we can have you some boy’s clothes by tomorrow. See you at breakfast.”
“But, Esmy. I ain’t got no money to pay for no clothes and I don’t know why becomin a boy will help me none..”
“Don’t worry, hon. Clothes won’t cost you nothin and we’ll explain tomorrow.
The next morning, after breakfast, Cora, Esmeralda, Black Bonita and Mabel gathered in Esmeralda’s room. It was larger than #12 but nonetheless rather crowded with four women in there, one of which was getting dressed in boy’s clothing.
“Where did you get these?” Cora asked, as Esmeralda held up a man’s denim shirt.
“That’s my secret. Now get that dress off and put this on.”
The shirt was loose on Cora allowing her breasts to betray her gender. Black Bonita studied her for a moment saying, “Be right back.” She trotted down to her own room and returned with a stretchy little shirt in her hand.
“Take that chemise off and put this on.” she commanded Cora. Cora obeyed.
The shirt hugged her tightly, pressing her breasts against her chest.
“Now put the other shirt back on.”
Cora’s breasts all but disappeared when she put the loose fitting shirt over the tight one.
Mabel reached into a towsack and pulled out a pair of britches. Everyone immediately began to gag. “Oh shit. What’s that smell?” she said, stuffing the britches back in the towsack.
“Smells like somethin died.”
“Where’d you get these. Off some an old drunk who passed out in the gutter and shit himself?”
Black Bonita took charge, grabbing the britches from Mabel and calling over her shoulder, “Back in a jiff.” and she headed for the stairs.
Esmeralda turned to Mabel. “Where did you get those things, girl.”
“One of Carmen’s reg’lars come in late last night and heard her and me talkin about needin to find some boy’s britches and he said he knew where he could get some. All Carmen had to do was give him a free ride. He brought them back in a towsack.
“Did they stay in her room all night?”
Before Mabel could answer, Black Bonita came back in carrying a dripping pair of britches in her hand. “Washed em out in the basin in the bathroom. Wrung em out best I could but they’s still drippin.” she extended them to Cora. “There’s a winda in your room that opens to the roof, ain’t there?”
Before Cora could respond, Esmeralda remarked, “Of course there is. That’s how Jonny got in there night-before-last, ain’t it, Cora?”
Cora, who didn’t particularly like everyone in the house knowing Jonny had come to visit her in #12, blushed, hanging her head and bobbing it slowly up and down a couple of times before steppping out of the room.
Back in #12, she pushed open the window and lay the britches carefully on the roof just outside. Then she sat down against the wall gazing at them. They made her think of Jonny because they looked just like Jonny’s britches.
By mid afternoon the britches were dry enough that she could try them on. They were only a little too long and would have to be gathered with something at the waist. But they were passable. They sure smelt better than they had when they first come out of that bag.
Cora felt around under the bed for the old pair of brogans she had worn to Bisbee from Arkansas. Instead she found a piece of rope. The rope Jonny had used to tie up his pants. The rope he had left behind when he escaped just as Esmeralda came through the door. She tied it about her waist and once again fished around under the bed until she found the brogans.
She looked up at the little piece of mirror on the wall and pulled her hair up, tying it in a knot on top of her head. “If I only had a cap.” she thought.
She hurried downstairs, dragging her hand across the tinkle-bell at the door making it sound like someone had come in from outside. Minnie, Millie and Maude were lounging in the parlor. They all looked up at her but didn’t recognize her, thinking she, or he, rather, had just walked in from outside.
Then Cora spoke, “Anybody seen Esmy or Mabel or Black Bonita?”
“Cora?” Minnie exclaimed, laughing, “what in the world?”
“It’s the new me. Like it?” she said, turning around.
Mabel, having heard the tinkle-bell and looking down the stairwell, ran for the stairs, tapping on Black Bonita’s and Esmeralda’s doors as she passed. She arrived in the parlor, closely followed by the other two.
They all agreed that what Cora needed to complete her transition to maleness was a cap and promised they would have her one before the night was over. Perhaps several!
All six of the girls began a very lively discussion bordering on argument as to what Cora’s boy name should be, largely ignoring Cora in the process. . Sam, Bill, Clem, Steve and others had been rejected when the diningroom door opened and Lil stepped into the room from where she had been surreptiously listening to the ensuing conversation. “His name should be Corky.”
Everyone turned to look at Lil as she stepped through into the room. It had, in fact, been her idea to have Cora pretend to be a boy who could go about the streets looking for Jonny without anyone taking a second look. She looked directly at Cora. “Follow me, girl. Let’s get rid of some of that hair.” There was absolutely no more discussion of what Cora’s boy name should be. It was Corky!
They passed through the kitchen where Lil said to Cooky, “Follow us. Bring your butcher knife.”
When they stepped onto the back porch, Lil said, “Whack off enough of that hair so she looks like a hick boy from Arkansas or some such backwater place as that. And she turned to go back in.
Cora was scared. Cooky had never liked her and it would be so easy for the knife to slip and it was coming alarmingly close to Cora’s ears. Or worse! But Cooky gathered sections of hair into her fingers and deftly removed several inches all way around.
“Okay, boy, go on and find yoself a mirra.” Cooky said, turning to go back inside. Cora followed her, passing through the kitchen into the hall. As she passed Lil’s door, Lil called out to her to step inside. She approved of the haircut and said, “You must now actually become Corky. How low can you make your voice go?”
Cora tried imitating a man’s voice. It was only a few tones lower than her normal voice and wouldn’t fool anyone. Lil, who naturally spoke with a low pitch anyway, lowered her own voice and demonstrated, adding a rasp that had not been there before.
“Go back up to #12 and practice the deepest voice you can and make it raspy like I did. Start thinking of yourself as a boy. I’ll send Maria up with your supper so you don’t have to come back down until the girls have found you a cap.”
“Like this?” Cora/Corky said in as husky a voice as she/he could muster with a definite audible raspiness, turning to step back out into the hall.
Cora/Corky took the little slip of mirror off the wall and sat down on her bed in #12. She cried. She thought of Jonny and how much she looked like him now. She had on the same kind of shirt and britches that he wore and even had them tied up with his rope. Surely Corky could find him tomorrow.
Meanwhile, down in the parlor, it was early evening, supper was over, and all the girls were quaffing beer from the pitchers in basins of cold water on the diningroom table. Things were lively in the parlor. The tinkle-bell sounded and everyone looked up to see a nice looking young man, wearing an ordinary plain cloth cap. Exactly what Corky needed. This fellow was new to the house and was about to get more than he bargained for.
Carmen rushed over to him, whisked the cap from his head, tossed it out into the room and enveloped him in her arms. She cooed, nibbling his earlobe and rubbing herself against him, whispering in his ear, “Want to come upstairs with me, darlin? Only two dollars.”
He pushed her away. “I want my cap back?”
From behind him Lizzie purred, “Come and get it, sweetie.”. She held it high above her head. He turned toward her and tried to grab it but she took a step backward. He started to step towards her as Esmeralda, standing behind him, slipped his galluses over his shoulders just as Lizzie took another step back, causing him to trip over his own britches as they fell around his ankles.
His cap came flying back out into the group of girls as he fell on top of Lizzie. Esmeralda quickly pulled his britches away from his ankles. He was naked from the waist down.
When he realized what had happened, he never thought about his cap again. He jumped up and lunged for Esmeralda who jumped back and sang out, “You gotta catch me to get them back.” She ran for the stairs. He followed closely on her heels, catching up to her just as she reached the top. He grabbed out for the britches and managed to catch hold of them with his fingers but Esmeralda had a firm hold and continued to pull him upward, directly into #10.
When Esmeralda showed the man out half an hour later he had forgotten all about his cap. He had also forgotten to check for his wallet.
The cap completed Corky’s disguise perfectly
The next day, the body of an almost grown boy, half naked, was discovered up Zacatecas canyon. Word trickled down for a ways but nobody cared and news of the discovery didn’t even make it to the lower gulch, much less reach the constable.
Two days later, people kept noticing the turkey vultures circling lazily in greater and greater numbers over Zacatecas for a time before descending en-mass to the place where the body lay.