Friday afternoon Elmo was sitting outside the bar as usual at that time of day. A young boy, about Jonny’s age, was hanging around down at the corner watching the train depot. Elmo recognized him as a boy he had seen around the last few days but had paid him no never mind. He watched as the train from Douglas arrived and began spewing passengers. The first well-dressed man, undoubtedly a drummer, that stepped off the train with two large suitcases brought the boy running. He spoke with the man for just a moment and then began lugging the two cases up towards the Copper Queen. Elmo noticed his hustle and wondered where he came from. That hustle and the way he was dressed reminded him of Jonny.
He called out to one of the men sitting at the bar. “Hey, Georgie. C’mere a minute.” When Georgie appeared in the doorway, Elmo pointed out the boy and said, “Catch that boy with them bags yonder. Find out his name and ask him to come see me after he gets done. There’ll be a fresh beer waitin on you when you come back.”
Georgie trotted off down the gulch towards the corner and the boy with the suitcases. He stopped the boy and said, “What’s yore name, son?”
“Corky.” the boy said in a husky voice.
“Elmo wants to see ya.”
It was all Corky could do to keep a smile from bursting out across his face, but he acted like he didn’t know who the man was talking about. He kept his head down and mumbled. “Elmo? At that bar just up the gulch?” But the man had turned and was walking away. He had delivered his message and was ready for his free beer.
As Corky continued to lug the heavy cases up to the Copper Queen Hotel, he allowed himself to break out in the broad smile that had only threatened him before. So Elmo had noticed him. That was what he had wanted since Wednesday. That was why he made sure he went by the bar at least once or twice in early afternoon when Elmo was settin outside on his stool. He knew that one day Pops would want to know who he was.
When Corky had collected his four bits, he hustled back to the depot, hoping someone would be waiting there with bags to be carried. As he crossed the gulch, he looked up the street but couldn’t see if Elmo was settin outside or not. There were no bags to be seen so he continued walking up the railroad track alongside Naco Road almost to Sacramento Hill before turning and walking back toward town. The clock on the Pythian Castle struck five.
Corky walked into Elmo’s bar five minutes later, keeping his head down as he passed down the bar and stood at the very end waiting for Elmo to notice. He kept his head down as Elmo walked toward him. When Elmo was standing in front of him Corky, still keeping his head down, said, “Hi, Pops. You wanted to see me.”
Pops! The word hit Elmo hard. Could this scrapping boy he had been seeing the last three days be Cora in disguise. Said his name was Corky. Cora. Corky. But his voice was so husky.
“Look up at me, boy.”
Corky looked up at Elmo, smiled, and said again, “Hi, Pops.”
“Awww, shit. Cora!” It slipped out before he knew it. Fortunately only Corky could hear and he said, “Corky, Pops. Best to call me Corky when I’m here in the bar.”
“Corky? Why a boy.”
“I’m glad yore payin my keep at Lil’s but I need to make some money. I reckon at some point, if I cain’t find Jonny, I’ll have to get back to Arkansas, and I don’t want to do it layin on my back, so while I been lookin for Jonny all the time, I’ve been hustlin for whatever work I can get. Boy’s work. Nobody’s ever paid no nevermind that I might be a gal.”
Elmo had noticed that when he listened to Corky talk he didn’t hear Cora at all.
“How much you made so far ‘hustlin’, as you call it?”
“Ninety-five cents.” Corky said.
“I’ll give you $2 a day, same as Jonny used to get, to come in here at noon every day and do his job. As long as nobody suspects yore a girl in them clothes, we got no problem. Come in tomorra around twelve.”
Without waiting for the answer to his non-questions, Elmo turned and went back up the bar. Corky, the smile firmly planted on his face again, walked out of the bar, still keeping his head down. No reason to call attention to himself.
He got back to #41 almost exactly at 5:30 and rushed through into the dining room. There were some leavings of a roasted chicken on the table along with a bowl of cold green beans and small new potatoes half submerged in congealed chicken gravy. No one else was in the dining room. Corky picked up the platter and carried it to the kitchen. Cooky was sitting at the table, a cigarette dangling from her lips, a cup of coffee in front of her. “What the hell you think you doin?”
When she saw Corky’s broad, goofy, boyish grin she said, “Stick them things in the oven long enough to melt that fat and they’ll be good as new.” Corky knew it would be barely edible, even warmed up, but what could he do. He ‘stuck them things’ in the oven and gave Cooky a quick peck on the cheek. “Thanks, Cooky. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Corky knocked on Lil’s door and entered when Lil said ‘Come in.’
“Hi, Corky.” Lil said. She sounded in a good mood. “What brings you in here?”
“Elmo sent a man to ask me to come to the bar and see him. He knew immediately, of course, as soon as I walked in a few minutes ago that Corky was really me, but he said he liked my voice and when I told him what I’d been doin for three days without nobody knowin I was a girl he laughed and told me to be at the bar at noon tomorra to start doin Jonny’s old job for the same two bucks a day he was makin.”
Cora paused for breath just long enough for Lil to interject, “Wait! Here you go again.” She chuckled. “Where were you when the man came to tell you Elmo wanted to see you?”
“Carryin some drummer’s bags up to the Queen. The man just come up and asked me my name and I said Corky and he said Elmo wanted to see me and left.”
“So did you go ahead and deliver the bags?”
“Yes’m. The man was payin me four bits to tote em.”
Lil kept asking questions until she had sufficiently heard all about Corky’s visit to the bar. She was glad Corky would be working for Elmo. Somehow, she realized that she and Elmo were the only people in all of Bisbee who might be willing to help her and keep her from making a living on her back.
Corky quickly lapsed into a routine. He was at the bar from noon to sometime around five. In the evenings he hung around the parlor and dining-room chatting and drinking with the girls, disappearing if they had to work. He had quickly developed a taste for beer. Now that he was a working boy, all the girls adored him. He was a pet.
And Cora/Corky also seemed to be easing into the role of Lil’s companion. Almost every morning she/he and Lil would have coffee in Lil’s room before Corky left for the bar.
After a while, Corky gave up searching for Jonny. He spread the word that if anyone ever heard anything about Jonny to let him know at Elmo’s bar. He started hanging out more and more at the bar, pitching in to help Elmo wherever he could, staying some nights until as late as eight or nine. Elmo raised his pay to $3 a day.
Things rocked along for several weeks until one morning when Corky, Lizzie, and Esmeralda were in the dining room having breakfast. Corky had just finished forcing down a bowl of mush when he jumped up and ran towards the kitchen, passing through and right on out to the back porch.
Cora lost her breakfast.
Embarrassed, she ran through the kitchen and straight out to the hall, bypassing the dining room where Esmeralda and Lizzie sat musing over what had happened to her. Back up in #12 she realized it was about time for Corky to go to the bar. But what if it happened again? She guessed she’d just have to wait and see.
Meanwhile, back at #41, the word of what happened spread throughout the house. Lil let everyone know she wanted to see Cora, not Corky, but Cora, as soon as she got back to the house.
Corky left the bar about ten that night, later than usual, and a short while later, Cora, wearing the dress Lil had gotten her, was sitting in Lil’s room.
“Cora. I need to ask you a question.”
“Yes’m.” Cora answered in Corky’s voice as she had become used to doing for the past six weeks.
“Have you had your monthly period since you got to Bisbee?”
“No’em.” Cora said, hanging her head. “Should I have?” She had lapsed back into her own natural voice now.
“Do you know how long it’s been since you had your last period?”
Cora had a confused look on her face momentarily before she said, “Oh. You must mean my monthlies. I caint rightly remember. What month is it, anyway?”
“September. Early September.” Lil said.
“Well, let’s see. I reckon it’s been quite some time. I remember it was real hot in Arkansas the last I had to spend the three days in the barn on account of… of that.”
“What!” Lil exclaimed incredulously. You had to stay in the barn because of your period?”
“Yes’m. Papa said I was unclean during that time and it was appropriate for me to sleep out there with the cow until I got clean again.”
“Did you have to stay in the bar every time month?”
“That old man should be hung up by his balls.” Lil said, matter of factly as she continued, “Cora, darlin. I think you’re pregnant.”
“What!” Cora exclained. “Oh no! I cain’t be pregnant.”
“Didn’t you say you and Jonny actually fucked that first night you were here?”
“Well. We sorta did. When he put his pecker in me it hurt like the dickens at first and I started to scream and he put his hand over my mouth and then he pushed it completely into me and it began to feel good when Esmeralda knocked on the door and Jonny run out without even gettin his pants pulled up. That rope Corky keeps his pants up with is the same one Jonny used. He left it under my bed.”
“Ummm.” was all Lil said, giving Cora a chance to continue.
“But, Lil, I don’t know what I’ll do if I’m pregnant. I won’t be able to go on bein Corky and workin at the bar.”
Lil couldn’t help but chuckle. “No, if you’re six weeks pregant you’ll begin to show pretty quickly. Then it’ll be goodbye Corky for at least the next eight months unless we have it taken care of.”
“Whadda ya mean, ‘taken care of it’?”
“I mean get rid of it. It’ll be like you were never expecting in the first place.”
Cora began to sob quietly and shake her head from side-to-side.
“What’s the matter, girl.” Lil said, and then, after a moment of reflection. “Oh god! You don’t want to get rid of it, do you?”
“No’em. It’s Jonny’s and now I just hav’ta find him.”
“Cora. There’s something I need to tell you. I don’t think you’re ever going to find Jonny. That first week after he disappeared somebody found a body up in Zacatecas Canyon. It was described as being about the same age and size as Jonny. The man who saw the body had no idea who the boy was and no-one he mentioned it to knew either. It took a couple of days for the news to trickle all the way down the gulch and by that time the turkey buzzards had picked the bones clean. No one could identify them. I know you don’t want to hear this, but I think, and I’m sure Elmo thinks, those bones might be what’s left of Jonny, but we’ll never know unless Jonny turns up sometime, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.”
Cora held her head in her hands and sobbed loudly. Lil had never been one to show her emotions so she simply said, “I think you’d better go up to #12 now.” and dismissed her.
Cora finally cried herself to sleep late that night. The next morning, she felt a little better. Not Lil nor anyone else knew for sure if the bones were Jonny’s. And she didn’t know for sure whether she was pregnant, so for the time being she could still be Corky. By the time Corky arrived at the bar at noon he was wearing a brand-new pair of overalls that Lil had sent Mabel to pick up at the Fair Store that morning. Cora had convinced herself that the britches she had been wearing for the last six weeks were, or at least could be, Jonny’s, so she was glad to get rid of them.
Elmo was not surprised to see Corky in overalls as Lil had sent him a note the evening before letting him know about her conversation with Cora. If Cora was pregnant, it would be easier to hide it in the overalls. But Lil had asked Elmo not to discuss it with Cora, afraid it would be too embarrassing for her. She asked him to keep it between the two of them until they knew for sure.
That was only a couple weeks away. Cora had begun to have morning sickness almost every day. When she looked at her naked self … When Lil looked at her in her panties … she could easily see the small mommy bump developing in her belly. There was no doubt Cora was pregnant.
But when Corky put his overalls on, Cora’s condition disappeared. Cora started going down to Lil’s room every morning first thing so Lil could inspect her. She would strip down to her panties and stand in front of Lil. As days passed, she began to notice that Cora’s breasts were swelling as well as her belly. Then Cora would become Corky right there in Lil’s room. Until one day, Lil realized that Corky still had Cora’s shape and that the gig would soon be up. She said, “Cora, have you told Elmo that you’re pregnant yet?”
“No’m. I figgered if he don’t notice, then I don’t have to tell him.”
“Well, here’s the thing. If people around town find out Elmo’s boy Corky is really pregnant Cora, what do you think they’ll say? I think it’s time you told him and leave it up to him how much longer you can keep working at the bar. Or… I have another offer. What if you stop going to the bar and become my full-time companion? Juanita is a good maid and servant, but I need a companion that is always with me when I go out. What do you say? I’ll even bet that I can talk Elmo into continuing to pay you the three-dollars a week he pays you now.
The next morning, Lil appeared at the train station and bought a ticket to Douglas where she was going to do some shopping. After the conductor had called ‘All Aboard!’ and stepped into a moving car, Corky appeared at the back of the train and heaved himself up into the caboose.
That evening, Lil and Cora stepped off the train wearing new frocks and juggling several large parcels. Lil hired a wagon to deliver the packages to #41 and she and Cora strolled up the gulch in their new frocks arm-in-arm, nodding demurely at Elmo as they passed the bar.