Tuesday Evening, First Week
“One dress down, two more to go,” Laurie Drake sighed, pushing the sewing basket beside her to the far end of the worn sofa, wishing she could fling it across the room, for no other reason than to use muscles that had not been used in several hours. She’d been sitting in the parlor of her house, using up as much of the natural light as she could before sunset. If she didn’t move something other than her fingers and right arm soon, she was certain her whole body would freeze upon the couch.
“Mama says we can stay a little longer,” Portia told her, looking up from her own work as she sat in a chair nearby. She was a girl just turned thirteen, but she had been Laurie’s sewing apprentice for a couple of years now. She nodded at her twin sister, Pauline, and added, “we told her you were in desperate need.”
“Thank you, dearies,” Laurie sighed, giving them both a tired but genuine smile. “Tell your Mama she will be in my prayers for a long time.”
“We can take the last two, if you like,” Portia said, pointing to the mound of silk nearby.
“Do so, and I will bring you the cookies I made,” Laurie said, with a wink. She had been most impressed with the fine consistency of the girls’ stitches and the seamlessness of their embroidery at such a young age. Both had been blessed, indeed! “Tell your Mama I spoiled your dinner, though, and I will make you sew burlap bags!”
She creaked and groaned to her feet, stretching a bit before taking a few steps around the room. Her legs had nearly fallen asleep! The curtains of the window had been pulled back to frame the view facing west and the sun’s setting beams were just beginning to turn the air in the room orange and gold. Laurie paused in front of this window to watch birds sail high into the sky and winds shake the shrubs that dotted the fields surrounding the town.
This week had been hard, what with Viola Kingsley’s high strung dictatorship of her dress – not an unusual order from the wife of the owner of the finest hotel in town…but in the last twenty four hours, the woman had become apoplectic for speed. Something to do with railroad executives and her duty to show the purveyors that Tucson was in need of greater access to civilization and would she please inform her other clients that they could wait on their dresses…?
Rubbing her neck, Laurie remembered George’s words to the maven: “I have two speeds, Mrs. Kingsley…”
How she wished she had the courage to fling those words in the woman’s face! But she needed the money and Viola would excoriate her, ruin her for her audacity. Laurie couldn’t ever let herself fall to a point where she didn’t have income. That much her parents had drummed into her with tales of near death and desperate survival back in Ireland. To not get as much from the New World as possible, when one was still able-bodied and sharp, was a sin, her father had told her repeatedly.
As sins went, however, Laurie sometimes wondered what the greater cost was: her soul or her sanity.
A discreet rap at her front door window broke her reverie and she slowly turned to go answer. If it should happen to be Viola again, maybe she would repeat what George said…!
“George!” she gasped, when she saw the actual personage. He was carrying a couple of small boxes. Instead of inviting him in, Laurie stepped outside and pulled the door closed. It would not make her week any better if she had to explain to the twins’ Mama that she had invited an unexpected man into her home. “Are these what I think they are?”
“Came in just an hour ago,” he told her, sounding a little breathless. “I tried to get here sooner but…”
“It’s all right, Mr…I mean, George,” she broke in, smiling at him. She had not seen him since yesterday, but the tension in the air between them was as if their last conversation had taken place just moments before. “If it’s what I think it is, they have arrived in due order.”
“It’s not for…?” George asked, looking awkward. Laurie was intensely aware that he might be disappointed he was not asked inside, but she had appearances to maintain.
“No. I have just finished that, Lord be praised.”
“Oh. Well…” he replied. “Then, I…do you suppose you and I could talk a bit?”
Laurie cocked her head, her heart thumping harder. Would this be about their near-kiss? He seemed as nervous as a cat in a room full of coals. Placing the boxes on the wooden bench next to the door, he stepped back and looked as if he were preparing to declaim an address.
“Now this wouldn’t be about the fandango Friday, would it?” she asked, a streak of mischievousness taking over her tongue. Saints alive, her Ma would scold! He looked so deer-struck, she nearly laughed, but she had to go on now. “I do nothing more than gab most of the time and some of the gents are too selective in their partners. I’m near empty of gab, George, and I never see you there.” That was about as close as she could properly get to asking directly.
“You’re right. I never go,” he said, looking both bemused and boyish.
“Well, I…” he hesitated. “I’ve never had a reason to, I suppose.”
Laurie clasped her hands in front of her, waiting. Sometimes men were so slow on the uptake!
“Would you dance with me if I came?” he asked her, and her eyes widened. When he aimed, he didn’t miss the mark.
“I’ll be there at sunset,” she told him with a smile and a nod. “Don’t you be forgetting it.”
Wednesday Morning – First Week
Ben Harrow had no reason to think riding into Old Tucson was a mistake. He fully believed no one would match him up with any two-sentence description given by a hysterical woman. Still, what good sense he possessed convinced him that waiting a day was a better idea. So early Wednesday morning, he boldly rode into town. He dismounted and entered the Swinging Door Saloon with a smiling countenance. He could smell the whiskey, cards, and whores already.
Seth watched Harrow approach a table and join in a poker game. Frieda walked over to the table to see what stranger wanted to drink. She told Seth he wanted a bottle of whiskey. Seth frowned. That was a sure sign of an impending brawl. She brought a glass and the bottle to Harrow. He laughed and pulled over a chair.
“Come on, honey, sit it down. You’re gonna be my lucky charm this game.” Frieda smiled and sat. He poured her a drink, which she ignored. Rule One: Never drink with a customer if you don’t know him very well. “What’s your name, little lady?”
“Frieda. Frieda Larson.” She smiled as she tried to watch the game. Rule Two: Keep one eye on the game so you can be a witness should there be trouble.
“Well, Frieda, I’m Ben. When I’m done taking these gentlemen for all their money, I’m gonna show you the best time of your life. Then I’m gonna take you to my hotel room and you’re gonna show me the best time of my life.” She looked over at Peaches. Frieda had only been there a week and wasn’t as experienced as the other girls. Still, she was pretty sure what this man was proposing wasn’t something she was required to do.
Peaches caught her glance and moved to the table next to her. Frank Myers was sitting there with another poker group of five. They exchanged a few pleasantries while she kept an eye on Frieda.
In no time, Ben Harrow had downed almost half of the whiskey bottle. Seth sent one of the bar boys to fetch some deputies.
“You get ready, Frieda. You and me,” Harrow said, almost falling over. Frieda tried to remain calm.
“My, such plans, Mr. Harrow. And you haven’t even won yet.”
“Oh, I will!”
Just then, Lewis Jerrod walked in and approached the bar.
“Seth, this is downright embarrassing; but I think I left my hat here a few hours ago. I’ve never done that.” Seth laughed and produced a hat from under the counter.
“It happens to us all at least once,” Seth grinned, still watching Ben.
Lewis was about to leave, when he saw the look on Peaches’ face. She was sitting next to Frank Myer. He was a decent sort; Lewis didn’t believe he was making her nervous. Then he realized she was watching Frieda, the new girl. It looked as though the poor thing was seated next to a dilly. Lewis changed his mind about leaving. He wasn’t any sharp shooter like Seth and the deputies; but sometimes any gun would help.