Ms. Cora’s Tale … Chapter 1

Elmo spent most of the next couple hours sitting outside on the plank walk where he could see both directions up and down the gulch, going back inside only when a new customer came in or someone inside called out for a refill. It wasn’t very busy and Jonny was perfectly capable of pulling beer without Elmo’s help when it was slow, so Elmo was sitting outside on his stool, watching the comings and goings along Brewery Gulch, when the four o’clock train from Douglas pulled up to the station at the bottom of the street. He could see the passengers as they stepped out onto the platform. He watched a young woman step down into the street, stepping gingerly to avoid the puddles. He could see from his position outside the bar that she was rather plain, of medium height and build, perhaps carrying a few extra pounds. She wore a plain dress, likely made from flour sacks. Her hair, a mousy brown color, looked as if it had been whacked off with a knife, more likely just a bad scissor cut. She was quite young, not more than twenty by Elmo’s guess.

She proceeded across the street and stepped onto the sidewalk just down from where Elmo sat and without ever casting a glance in his direction proceeded up the Broadway steps.

A shout came from inside the bar: “Hey Elmo. You gonna serve beer in here or sit out there and nap all afternoon?”

“Kiss my arse!” Elmo shouted back over his shoulder as he rose from his stool and turned to go back inside. This was the usual exchange every time one of the old sots needed a fresh one. “You’re not gonna die of thirst in the next few minutes. Now shut your pie-hole. By the time he finished saying this he was already several steps inside on his way around behind the bar, thinking no more of the young woman, continuing a verbal exchange with the three old miner’s who had been put out to pasture by the company. Injuries, lung-disease, anything that prevented a man from putting in a full shift got him ousted from the mine.

As Elmo stood there, the young woman he had so recently watched ascend the steps came walking into the bar, bravely stepping right up in front of where Elmo stood.

“Excuse me, but can you tell me how to get to Opera Drive?” She spoke very rapidly not pausing for breath before adding. “I’m lookin for Faulkner, a feller I met a while back back there in Arkansas where I’m from, Lake City, and he sent for me to come out here to Bisbee cause he said in a letter he had a good job in the mine and he said when I come he’d put me up in a room and pretty soon we could get married but some feller out yonder on the platform who I asked if he knowed where Opera Drive was told me to go up them steps just down thattaway … (she pointed toward Broadway) … and I did but they just led up to an old dark alleyway so I run back down here to find somebody to ask and you was the first one I could find.” … She finally paused for a breath and emitted a big sigh, gazing up at Elmo with a baleful look.

Elmo slowly counted to ten to make sure she had completely spoken her piece. He wanted to tell her where she went wrong was when she left that place Lake City in the first place, but he composed himself and said, “Go back to the top of the Broadway steps and turn right in the alleyway. Just a few steps ahead will be a much shorter set of steps that go up to Opera Drive. What’s your name young woman?”

“Cora. Thank you.” She sort of curtsied before turning and walking rapidly out of the bar and towards Broadway.

Elmo stepped into the bar just before noon the next morning. As usual, Jonny and the old man weren’t far behind him. Jonny claimed to be the son of a whore up in the red light district further on up the gulch. The canyon and road running up the floor of it was called Brewery Avenue instead of Brewery Gulch and then it became Zacatecas Canyon even higher up. Jonny called the old man he stayed with his pa but no-one ever knew whether he was his real pa or just some old man that he had taken up with. Jonny got the old man settled on his regular stool back in the shadows at the far end of the bar. Then he went to pick up his broom and started sweeping up the debris from the night before, starting at the back and sweeping everything ahead of his broom out the front door. He’d barely gotten started when a young girl burst through the door almost knocking him down.

She shouted as she ran in, “Please protect me, he’s gonna kill me!”

Elmo was in the back storeroom retrieving supplies to restock the bar when he heard the commotion. He came running forward and instantly recognized the girl from the afternoon before.

“Cora,” he said. “Who’s trying to kill you?”

“Faulkner. He’s right behind me. Can you hide me?”

“Watch the door, Jonny.” Elmo said as he pulled Cora back into the shadows at the back.

“Stay back here and hunker down. Nobody’ll see you.” he told her.

Cora ran back to where Elmo stood and squatted in the corner.

Elmo turned and started toward the front just as the door burst open. Jonny was leaning on his broom just inside watching, as he had been told. A man suddenly appeared and got two steps inside the bar when Jonny’s broom shot out between the man’s outstretched legs and he pulled upward as hard as he could, felling the man as neatly as a logger felling a tree.

Meanwhile Elmo grabbed a sawed off pool cue he always had within easy reach behind the bar and walked towards the front as the man slowly got to his feet, his face beet red with rage.

“Git outta my way, old man. I’m here to get my woman, and not you or anybody else is gonna git in my way.” He reached an arm out to brush Elmo aside just as the tip of the pool cue speared him in the solar-plexus.

“Now you listen to me you little pipsqueak arsehole,” … Pipsqueak did a pretty good job of describing the man’s physical size. … “I don’t know what you’re talkin about but the constable should be here shortly to sort it out.”

With this, Elmo began prodding him backward with the stick until he was all the way out the door still bent double and gasping for breath from the initial prod.

“Okay, here’s the scoop, arsehole. You come back in my place and try to make trouble again you’ll be in a world-a-hurt. Got it! Now git!” Elmo shouted as he kicked the man firmly in the ass, propelling him forward and causing him to stumble off the edge of the plank walk into the gutter beyond.

Elmo turned and walked back inside, closing the door behind himself but leaving it unlocked. He pulled the curtain back and watched the man, whom he assumed to be the man Faulkner that Cora was running from, stumble down the street toward the train station. Just as he disappeared from view, Jonny returned, followed a moment later by the constable.

“What’s goin on here, Elmo?” the constable said as he walked through the door.

“Aww, nothin really constable. Man comes bustin in yellin somethin about lookin for some woman that he claimed he’d seen runnin in here which is, of course, plum ridiculous, so I helped him back out the door usin this little sawed-off thing here. And I also helped him over into the gutter” … Elmo stood up and faked a kick to the constable’s ample rear-end. … “where I left him. I doubt if he’ll be back any time soon. Mighty obliged to you for comin down to ask, though. Want a beer? Or is it too early?”

“Reckon I could stand a little somethin wet goin down the old gullet, now! Reckon that’d be just okay.” the constable replied as Elmo began to draw his beer. The constable could count on one free beer per afternoon/evening in every bar in town. Else when the next ruckus broke out … and it was inevitable that a ruckus would break out in one or several of the saloons in town at some point during the evening … he might conviently be otherwise occupied and unable to respond quickly when called. One free beer a day was cheap enough insurance to guarantee his punctuality.

Elmo continued restocking the bar while the constable drained his beer in three quick swallows. He set his schooner on the bar and turned toward the door, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand as he exited. Elmo said to Jonny, “Quick boy, lock that door and pull the curtains and don’t unlock it again for nobody until I get back down here. If anybody wants in tell em to get lost.”

Elmo turned and walked to the back where he found Cora huddled in the corner, her knees pulled up to her chin, skirt tucked in under her legs. She rested her head on her knees as she cried softly. She looked up at Elmo as he walked towards her.

Extending his hand downward, he said, “He’s gone, and won’t be back if he knows what’s good for him. Come, I have a place where you’ll be safe for as long as necessary.” He reached down and took one of her hands pulling her gently upwards before turning and opening a door in the back corner that opened into a large storeroom. A flight of stairs to the right of the door led upwards. “Follow me.” Elmo said, as he pulled a string hanging down from the ceiling. A dim glow came from high above, barely illuminating his face. “C’mon.” he said as he began to step upward. “Be careful. These stairs is kinda dark but there’s nothin to hurt you. Just follow me.” The frightened girl still seemed hesitant but began climbing. Elmo continued. “There’s nothin up here but a small bed and a few necessaries… and junk, of course. I sometimes sleep up here when things have been really busy and I don’t feel like walkin back up to Temby Street, which is even higher up than Opera. So come on.” he said, turning and proceeding upward.

At the top, he looked back down and Cora was about halfway up, climbing slowly. When she reached the top, he said, “So this is it.” sweeping his hand around as if he was presenting the Taj Mahal. “Why don’t you have a seat on the bed there.” He gestured before turning and stepping into the back area littered with old broken furniture and assorted other junk. He began to toss things this way and that before exclaiming. “Ahh! Here it is.” He came up with an old chair that would hold his weight if he sat on it like a stool and didn’t lean against the back. He dragged it over by the bed and sat down.

“Now, Cora. You saw what just happened down there. Like I said a moment ago, Faulkner won’t be back today if he knows what’s good for him. You’ll be perfectly safe up here. There’s even a chamberpot back over there in the corner.” He pointed. “Now tell me everything that has happened to you since you left here heading for Opera Drive yesterday afternoon. I want to know everything right up to the instant you burst through that door down there a few minutes ago.

Cora began to tell her story.

“Well, as I said last night, the man Faulkner came through Lake City, Arkansas, a while back and made me believe he loved me so I waited till he wrote me a letter tellin me…”

“Yeah. … I know… Tellin you to come to Bisbee. I know all that. What happened when you got up to Opera Drive yesterday afternoon?”

“Well, it took me awhile to find Faulkner. Well, I didn’t really find him, but I found out where he stays, and that was just luck. I went there but he wasn’t there but some fella come along who said he know’d him and assured me that that was the room where Faulkner stayed and when I told him why I was there he said it’d probly be okay if I just went on in and so I did and I was just goin to lie down on the bed for awhile and so I did and then I went to sleep.

“Later, I don’t know what time it was, Faulkner come in, stumblin around makin lotsa noise and wakin me up. He was so drunk he didn’t know who I was even though I kept tryin to tell him and he just sorta fell down on the bed and then turned over and squinted at me …”

“’Wha … Wha ya say ya name was?’

“Cora. From Arkansas. You wrote me and told me to come here to Bisbee. Said we could get married.”

He tried to focus his watery eyes on me for a minute before he passed out across the bed. Even though he ain’t that big it was all I could do to turn him around and git ‘im layin along the bed like a body’s s’posed to. And I stripped his boots and dungarees off, leaving him layin there in his longjohns. And then I lay down beside him, but I kept my back to him on account of the stinkin fumes comin out of his mouth. Then I went to sleep.

This mornin when I woke up the sun was high in the sky. Bright light came in through the winda. I eased out of bed and looked down at him. He snored peacefully. I wondered how long he would sleep. I wondered if he would remember me?

It wasn’t too long, fifteen minutes maybe, before he suddenly sat straight up in bed and bolted for the open window, fumblin with the buttons on the front of his drawers as he ran. He managed to get his pecker out just in time to piss out the winda. As he tucked everthing back in again he turned around and saw me and said, “Aww, shit. Now how … now who are you again?

I told him. One more time.

As soon as I mentioned the word married, he got a strange look in his eye and lunged for me, sayin, “Well, darlin, if ya’r here to marry me, we might as well start in practicin.” As he reached out for me

I leaped up and stepped to one side, causing him to lurch forward and lose his balance. He jumped up and came for me again, pure madness in his eyes …”

Elmo had heard enough. “Stop!” he shouted.

She stopped speaking and Elmo paused for a moment to give both of them time to calm down a bit before continuing. “I’ll ask questions and you just nod your head. Did he have his way with you?”

She bobbed her head up-and-down slowly. Big tears began to run down her cheeks.

“Did you want him to?”

Her head swiveled from side-to-side.

“So he raped you? Is that what you’re sayin?”

Up-and-down motion of her head.

“The bastard!” Elmo said. “He’s a dead man. I got to go down and open up the bar. I’ll get back up here to talk more as soon as I can.”

Elmo got back down to the bar just at opening time. He unlocked the door and the usual suspects began to straggle in one at a time. He had time to get each a beer before the next one walked in. They always sat on the same three stools just inside the door. Elmo slid a beer down the bar as each of them took his seat.

Late that afternoon, Elmo was busy slinging beers while keeping an eye on the front door, knowing just as surely as he was standing there that the man Faulkner would be back before the night was over.

But when the man Faulkner did come in, Elmo didn’t see him until he fired a pistol through the ceiling and Elmo’s heart skipped a beat knowing that Cora was somewhere up there on the other side of that ceiling.

Although the bar was packed, everything went deathly quiet. Elmo spotted the little pipsqueak striding toward him, the crowd parting as he stepped forward. His pistol was leveled directly at Elmo.

In all of the excitement, no one noticed Jonny carrying the sawed-off pool cue quietly shadowing Faulkner.

“I want my woman and I want her now. I know you have her. She was seen comin in here earlier and never no one seen her come out. So I know she’s in here somewhere. Now where is she?”

He thrust the gun out toward Elmo just as Jonny, using both hands, brought the butt end of the pool cue crashing down on the man’s wrist with as much force as he could muster. The man Faulkner screamed in pain and dropped the gun just as Jonny’s second blow caught him in the throat. A sword would have lopped his head clean off. But the pool cue only crushed his windpipe. He couldn’t breathe. He died a few minutes later.

The coroner and the constable were called. Elmo took the pool cue from Jonny and dropped it down into the cold, icy depths of the beer cooler.

No one ever stepped forward to say how the man Faulkner met with his fatal injuries.

No charges were ever filed.

Proceed to Chapter 2

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