They stopped at the hitching post outside of Belulah’s Boarding House, he taking her hands and she looking up at him with a troubled face. Lights from inside Belulah’s made the front porch glow, but it wasn’t the shadows there that Virgil was considering. He was intent on something else entirely. Chloe could tell the whole time they were walking that something was going on, but Virgil wouldn’t speak of it.
“I want you to run on inside and don’t look back,” he whispered as he leant down, presumably to buss her cheek in a gesture of affection. His thick mustache was soft against her skin, but the turn of his face and glint of his eye let her know he wasn’t in a romantic mood at all. Something had alarmed him.
“What’s the matter?” she whispered back, but he ignored her.
“It was a mighty fine dance, darlin’,” he said loudly, as he straightened. He tugged at his hat brim in a courtly salute. “It was a privilege escorting you. May I call upon you tomorrow?”
“Yes, you may,” Chloe replied in formal tones. Virgil was trying to shield her from view from someone, it seemed, but the dark engulfed the street. Movement caught her eye – she thought she saw the figure of another woman coming toward them, but why would Virgil think that a threat?
“I had a lovely time as well. I will see you again tomorrow,” she added, distracted.
Virgil gave her a nudge and she knew him well enough by now not to argue with the look on his face, the look that said he was prepared to deal death to anyone who crossed him. She made her way up the steps, paused and turned to see him stalk away into the dark, frock coat flipped away from his hip, hand on his pistol. He was probably worried about the safety of that other woman, Chloe reasoned. Part of her wanted to go on inside – this was the life of a sheriff in this town, always at dangers’ call.
The other part, however, wanted to know exactly what had concerned him. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but the cat died knowing why, at least.
Not exactly good reasoning, Chloe told herself as her feet turned and paced her back down the boarding house steps, back to the street where darkness reigned, but the emotion of the moment carried her, not logic.
Logic did, however, recognize the click of a cocked revolver, as well as the cold anger in Virgil’s voice as he called out,
“Any sidewinder thinking of ambushing me better think twice. I ain’t blind!”
The words were almost too late: a woman cried in sheer horror “Virgil, help me!” There was the thump of two bodies colliding and gunshots; a hue of men shouting at each other.
Chloe couldn’t stop herself. She ran out into the street herself, tried to see Virgil or the woman, heard the sounds of struggle. None of the glow of the boarding house or any other building reached into the street. She opened her mouth to call out for Virgil herself, but a rough hand clapped over it while an arm wrapped around her waist.
“Stay still, little calico.” The whiskey-laden breath of her captor poisoned any air that made it into her nose, and she gasped to recover. The man’s hands slid up to her breast as he added, “be a good girl and you might leave this town alive.”
She clawed at his arm as he dragged her further into the dark.
Virgil Earp noted with rueful humor that the evening had gone too well: never discount a mean drunk or two on a tear to ruin a good time. He was just thankful he was able to get Chloe home before it all went down. It didn’t take much to dispatch the man who body-slammed him in the dark. He could see two other men hesitate, then scramble for cover as he rolled to his feet, dispatching his attacker with a gunshot. That a woman had been caught in the attack didn’t surprise him – one always seemed to get roped in somehow or another. It was the sound of her voice that made him catch his breath.
He knew that voice!
There she was, held in the vise-like grip of a third man, kicking and flailing as she called out for help. She threw herself into the fight so hard the drunkard was having a hard time holding onto her. Virgil aimed his pistol and advanced, long legs closing the distance.
“Drop her!” he ordered, gun barrel inches away from the man’s face. “You let her go or you’ll be walking around headless before the rest of your body figures out you’re dead!”
The man tried to knock away the gun, but alcohol made his movements clumsy. The woman took advantage of his disorientation to break his hold and she half-fell, half-lunged away, giving Virgil the open opportunity to backhand him with a fist. The drunk sprawled onto the ground and didn’t move.
He had a rope with him, a concession to his job as deputy on watch, so Virgil swiftly tied the man’s hands behind his back, as nimble as a cowboy on the range. Then, he stood up again, no longer caring to go after the others. All he could think about was verifying the owner of the voice.
The woman stood watching him. He approached her, almost afraid to speak.
“Yes, Virgil,” she said, anticipating his question. She smiled the smile he so often missed. “It’s me, your Allie.”
The man’s grip was tight for someone so sodden with liquor and his purpose was clear: she was being dragged towards the nearest alley. Panic shot through her and Chloe wriggled. It was no good. She had always imagined that, if accosted, she’d scream and kick and overpower her attacker; only now, she couldn’t scream and her attacker was far stronger than she could begin to manage. Tears filled her eyes. Why hadn’t she just listened to Virgil?
The man stumbled as his foot hit something in the dark. Chloe tried to kick, pull his arm away from her face, but he laughed, giving her a little shake, dragged her further into the darkness.
“You might want to let her go.”
The deep voice came from behind them. It scared the man enough that he removed his hand from Chloe’s mouth. Fresh air filled her lungs and she found her courage, gasped in outrage and fear. She jerked to pull away from him. The barrel of a gun was shoved against her neck.
“I don’t know where you are,” he called out, “but I’ve got a gun on this filly and I won’t hesitate to use it on her and you!”
Chloe thought she heard a snicker.
“If you don’t know where I am, how you going to shoot me?”
The voice didn’t sound like Virgil…one of the other lawmen? She tried to think of the names of the other deputies, but she was too scared.
“I, on the other hand, know exactly where you are.”
Chloe sensed that the man’s grip had loosened; he seemed rattled.
“Miss Grey? I hope you aren’t feeling FAINT.”
Irrational anger flared. Her virtue was about to be violated and he wanted to know if she was going to faint?
“That’s the last thing on my mind!” she snapped.
“Shut up!” Her captor yelled in her ear, peered into the alley, still not certain what he should do.
“Don’t be brave, Miss Grey. If you feel like FAINTING, do it.”
Chloe was very confused, then it occurred to her: it was Cort’s voice. She remembered him with a drawl that was just slightly different than the other deputies. It cut through her panic with a kind of reassurance.
She’d never fainted before in her life. How was she supposed to…?
Her captor gave a coarse laugh. “When I’m done with you, I’ll make her faint,” he sneered.
A scene from Little Women popped into her head: Jo instructing Meg…
She let her legs collapse beneath her, slid downward as dead weight, let all her muscles relax. Caught off guard, her attacker grabbed to hold her up, but she had been too sudden. The next thing she heard was the blast of a gun. The man practically fell on top of her and she kicked him away, happy to finally do so. Then, Cort was helping her to her feet.
“Are you hurt?” he asked.
It took her a few moments to evaluate: no, not physically, although the feel of that man’s hands were still crawling through her fear. And the shame flooded her, painfully acute. What was Virgil going to say? She had to put her hand on the side of the building to steady herself. It took a lot of will power to make her voice sound steady. She was not entirely successful.
“No, I’m unharmed,” she replied. Adrenalin was turning to nausea. She was thankful that she couldn’t see Cort’s face in the dark, that he couldn’t see hers. “Really, I’m fine.”
All of a sudden, she wanted to crawl under the house and not come out until it had rotted away.
The tone in the deputy marshal’s voice cut through her horror.
“Now, Miss Grey,” Cort said, “you’ve been through a scare. Don’t feel the need to be brave.”
She felt horrible, that’s what she felt. How stupid could she have been? But she’d only wanted to see what Virgil was so worried about. With any luck he’d not have any idea that she followed back into the street.
She caught a hold of Cort’s sleeve.
“Don’t say anything to Virgil about this. Please?”
His answer was to lead her to a barrel in the alley.
“Just sit here for a few minutes and breathe deeply,” he instructed. Lamplight from one of the windows made him pause and look intently at her. “Are you sure you’re fine? You look sick…take a deep breath. Some fresh air will make that nausea go away.”
Chloe obeyed and the nausea cleared, but the aftershock still made her tremble. Now she wanted to flee…while she still could.
“Is that better?” he asked.
Chloe nodded and gave him a brief smile. He was being so kind! He could be scolding her and instead…gratitude flooded her.
“Thank you,” she whispered, tucking her hands beneath her. She was starting to shake. “Thank you…for helping.”
“Ok, now if you want, I’ll walk you back to the boarding house and you can get some rest.”
She stood, very nearly began running; any kindness felt wrong. She was so ashamed! But she let Cort take her by the arm and lead her back to the street. It seemed a long way between the alley and the boarding house. People had gathered, carrying lanterns, and she wondered if they were there because of Cort’s shooting. But a few more looks showed they were interested in a whole different set of people.
Three men lay in the street and in between them all stood Virgil…and another woman…and they were gazing at each other as if they had completely forgotten the world. Chloe stopped to stare herself, opened her mouth to call out to him…and found herself choking in surprise as the woman threw her arms around Virgil’s neck and kissed him.
Virgil didn’t exactly push her away.
Until he caught sight of Chloe. He broke off and stepped forward, but she’d had enough. She wrenched from Cort’s grip and ran, blind to the steps of the boarding house, blind to the people in the parlor wanting to know what she’d seen, fumbled at the lock of her room, and slammed the door behind her.
Taffey & Sharon
“What was that all about?”
Allie had tucked herself under Virgil’s arm as people drifted away back into their homes. Cort had arrived, and Virgil had settled matters, so now that the troublemakers were dispatched, no one wanted to find out more, at least until the morning.
All Virgil could think of, however, was the look on Chloe’s face. Allie had bad timing! But if Chloe had just stayed indoors…what the hell was she doing out when he’d been sure he’d seen her into the boarding house? He looked askance of Cort, but the young man adopted a very guarded attitude and walked away without explanation.
How did Chloe end up on his arm?
They’d all have to have a little talk later.
“Don’t worry about it, darlin’,” Virgil rumbled, turning his consideration back to the boarding house. It was too late to go in after her. Belulah would fuss like a wet hen. And there was no doubt Chloe thought herself betrayed. At the moment, it was probably a good thing he couldn’t talk to her. He wasn’t sure what he’d say to explain himself. Seeing Allie sure brought up a lot of old feelings. “Where are you staying?”
“Bright Angel Inn,” Allie replied. She was watching him with uncertainty.
“Come along then. I’ll see you back.”
“I would have sought you out sooner, Virgil,” Allie said. She sounded as if she were on the edge of tears. Virgil stopped, hoping mightily that she didn’t break down. He didn’t think he could handle two weepy females in one night. “There’s been so much that’s happened.”
“Why?” Virgil asked, the question popping out of him, unplanned.
“I don’t understand.”
“Why…why did you come here? You said…”
“I know what I said,” Allie interrupted him. “I was wrong. So wrong! About everything.”
“It’s been a year, Allie, darlin’. What changed your mind?”
Allie didn’t answer him for several moments, studying him.
“Do you want to talk about it now, or in the morning?” she finally asked.
Virgil looked around and saw that the Crystal Palace was still blazing with lights and activity. It had a small private room for gambling…or meetings…
“Now would be as good a time as any, I suppose,” Virgil conceded. “We’ll talk tonight.”
He wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway, not with Allie nearby, not with Chloe in misery not far away. One thing was for sure, life had just become a whole lot more complicated. He almost wished it had been a simple gun fight in the street. Men were direct that way. Women, however…
“Thank you, Virgil,” Allie sighed, her face bright with happiness. “That’s all I wanted since I got here.”