“EVERYBODY HATES ME!!!”
The rasp in his voice disappeared, the scowl lifted, his tongue was no longer tied and the words flowed out of Slade’s mouth like the choppy waters of a roaring river. As if that weren’t bad enough, the lawman’s face was covered with snot and tears.
“Shhh baby,” Miss Bonnie said softly as she stroked her fingers through Slade’s luscious brown hair. “I got you. Hush that fool talk now, no one hates you.”
Yup. Men have needs and sometimes one of them is the shoulder of a good woman to cry on, or in this case, an ample bosom to cry into. Why? What did you readers think Slade needed?
“YEPH DEY DOOTH!” Slade’s voice was muffled by Miss Bonnie’s copious assets. He turned his head to the side for purposes of pronunciation and better air inhalation.
“Who?” Miss Bonnie asked. “Who hates you?”
Somehow in a town filled with nosey gossips, Slade and Miss Bonnie had managed to keep their arrangement secret for six whole months. Once a week, Slade would head up to Miss Bonnie’s room, plunk down her full fee, and then unload all of his burdens.
They never did anything beyond that. Miss Bonnie wasn’t against the idea but Slade didn’t think it proper. So the pair would just lie in bed, Slade taking a break from his tough guy persona while Miss Bonnie played the role of a discount head shrinker.
“What?” Miss Bonnie asked. “He does not hate you!”
“He doesn’t believe in me I know that much.”
“And what makes you think that?” Miss Bonnie asked as she took Slade’s hand and interlocked her fingers between his.
Slade sniffed and blew his nose into a hanky. “He wanted to run. He didn’t think I could handle the Buchanan Boys on my own.”
“Well shit, Rain, there was thirty of them and only one of you!” Miss Bonnie said. “Maybe if you’d of told him your plan. Don’t you think you should share these kinds of things with your deputy?”
“He second guesses me on everything,” Slade said. “He always tries to talk me out of whatever I want to do. I’m the boss! He should just do what I say and like it!”
Miss Bonnie rested her cheek on top of Slade’s head. “Oh honey. Bosses and employees bicker all the time. That’s natural.”
Another sniff. “It is?”
“Sure. Whenever I tell Waldo to water down the drinks he always gets all high and mighty with his, ‘I can’t lower my integrity just so you can save a buck’ routine but I always ask him ‘Are you going to pay for the extra liquor then?’ and sure enough, he shuts his trap and waters the hooch down.”
“So what the hell does that mean?” Slade asked.
“It means that the boss/employee relationship is give and take. You want your employees to feel like they’re free to tell you when they think you’re wrong because sometimes you might be wrong. Like that time Eleanor told me the girls didn’t want to entertain the circus folk. She was right. All those freaks had gangrenous peckers and the little money I would have made off them would have paled in comparison to the money I’d of lost if all the girls got sick for weeks after.”
“This…this is getting off topic.”
Slade rolled over on his stomach and Miss Bonnie knew that was her cue to hop up on the Marshal’s back and give him a shoulder massage.
“Honey, if you think you’re right and you put your foot down, then a good employee will still back you up out of loyalty,” Miss Bonnie said. “Gunther stood up for you, didn’t he? You should have heard the way he was talking about you in here, like rainbows were popping out of your backside and all.”
“Really?” Slade asked.
“Really,” Miss Bonnie answered. “Holy…you’ve got a big knot here.”
The Marshall let out a sigh of relief as Miss Bonnie worked her magic.
“Standing Eagle definitely hates me,” Slade said. “No way around that.”
“That is a sad situation,” Miss Bonnie said. “But stop beating yourself up about it. Sure, maybe you could have explained yourself better but everyone makes mistakes.”
Miss Bonnie moved her hands lower and started working on the kinks in Slade’s back.
“Ohhh…yea,” Slade said. “Right there.”
“Here?” Miss Bonnie asked.
As far as Slade was concerned, kinky sex was all well and good when it came to relieving a man’s carnal desires, but when it came to his wounded soul, there was no better balm than a woman willing to rub a man’s back and listen to his litany of complaints without thinking less of him afterwards.
“I’ll tell you what,” Miss Bonnie said. “You give the Injuns a few days to cool off then after the judge gives his verdict, I’m going to make the biggest, yummiest cake ever and you’re going to ride on out to the Injun lands, give the cake to the Chief and invite the whole tribe to come watch those Buchanan Boys twist in the wind.”
Miss Bonnie stopped the rubdown when she heard a snicker.
“You?” Slade asked. “Bake a cake?”
The madame slapped a light one upside the back of Slade’s head. “Shut your mouth! I can so bake!”
The massage ended and the unlikely couple spooned. Miss Bonnie was the little spoon, though on occasion Slade had been known to take that position. He would have surely committed hare kare had any of his numerous enemies ever found out.
“I can see it now,” Slade said. “The Chief takes one bite then pulls out his tomahawk and scalps me.”
“Rainer Slade! You take that back! I’ll have you know I’m very handy in the kitchen.”
“Uh huh,” Slade said.
“Fine,” Miss Bonnie said. “I’ll get one of the girls to make it. The point is just because people argue doesn’t mean they can’t make up. As soon as Smelly Jack’s six feet under Standing Eagle will talk to you again. You’ll see.”
“You know he said that if Jack doesn’t die I’ll wish I had died?”
“Well, that’s just plain rude,” Miss Bonnie said.
“And that the land will be useless for farming and everyones’ lives will be filled with torment and…oh! Get this…”
“What?” Miss Bonnie asked.
“He said that if Jack doesn’t die, then whenever anyone else dies they’ll…I forget how he put it…they’ll come back to life and start eating everyone for dinner or something.”
Miss Bonnie snuggled herself closer to Slade. “Injuns say the darnedest things.”
Briefly, as Slade nuzzled up to the all the red hair in front of his face, he allowed himself to be happy. But like most of the good times in his life, it was abruptly over.
WAM! A fist pounded on the door.
“Shit,” Miss Bonnie said. “Has it been an hour already?”
“Damn it,” Slade said.
More knocks, followed by the unceremonious voice of Roscoe Crandall, who returned for a second go-around.
“SLADE, YOU GONNA BE ALL NIGHT OR WHAT?!”
“Can we just tell him to get lost?” Slade asked. “I’ll pay for another hour.”
Miss Bonnie sat up. “No baby, that wouldn’t be fair.”
“COME ON, SLADE! OTHER PEOPLE ARE WAITIN’ FOR THE WHORE!”
Those words burned like acid in Slade’s ears. He put on his Stetson, then took his gun belt off the night stand, strapped it on, and pulled out his Colt.
“Stop it,” Miss Bonnie said.
“I ought to shoot him where he stands for calling you that,” Slade said.
Miss Bonnie took a seat at her vanity and primped herself in front of her mirror.
“It’s what I am,” she said. “People call you a Marshall because you get paid to catch crooks. People call me a whore because I let men have their way with me for money. There’s no shame in it except for what people attach to it. We all have to make a living somehow.”
Slade holstered his steel. Then, with his back to Miss Bonnie, he reached into his pocket and pulled out an old ring. It was a scratched and scuffed heirloom. Not much to look at. But it once belonged to his mother and he hoped it would do. He gulped, choking back the anxiety that rolled up his throat.
Miss Bonnie was busy inserting a hair pin into her elaborate do when she stopped. The distinct lack of the word “Miss” stood out to her. She knew something was up.
In his travels throughout the West, Slade had stared down the barrel of many a gun pointed his way and lived to tell the tale but somehow this endeavor proved more difficult than anything he’d ever done before. For weeks, he practiced what was going to say but now that the moment arrived, it wasn’t any easier.
“What would you say if someone offered to take you away from all this?”
Miss Bonnie turned to her makeup, adding just a touch of rouge to her cheeks. She didn’t need much. They were naturally rosy.
“Away from what?” she asked.
“This place,” Slade said. “What you do. Who you do it with. All of it.”
Still facing the closed door, Slade heard Miss Bonnie scooch out of her chair, then felt her arm on his shoulder. Slade palmed the ring as his paid companion turned him around. She put one hand on each side of Slade’s face, pulled his head down, then kissed him on the lips.
Oh how Slade dreamed of that. He wanted it for so long but never tried for it on his own. Paying for company was ok in his book but paying for anything more intimate was out of the question for him.
“You are adorable,” Miss Bonnie said as she brushed her hand alongside Slade’s cheek. “But you ought to know better than to fall for a…”
“What?” Slade asked.
“WHORE???” Crandall shouted from outside. “WHAT KINDA PLACE YOU RUNNIN’ HERE MAKIN’ A MAN WAIT LIKE THIS?!”
Slade tightened his fist around the ring. The scowl returned. The vein in his forehead popped out again. He turned the knob with his left hand and opened the door to find Roscoe Crandall with his dopey toothless face and stringy hair.
“Finally!” Crandall said.
Like a cannon at the Battle of Gettysburg, Slade launched a clothesline punch that connected with Crandall’s jaw with a bone shattering crunch, knocking his lights out instantly and sending him down for the count.
The Marshall fished his cigar out of his pocket and returned it to its usual resting place in the right corner of his mouth. The rasp in his voice was back and he was Mr. Tough Guy once more.
He look over his shoulder to Miss Bonnie. “Do I owe you for his hour too?”
Inside Miss Bonnie’s heart brewed a perfect storm of emotion. A little bit of fear, mixed in with some joy, pride and…she thought maybe love? No, it was more than love.
It was butterflies.
Miss Bonnie’s face scrunched up. “No…I’ll just take it out of his pants later.”
Slade grunted his ascent, then tipped the brim of his hat at the lovely lady.
Miss Bonnie watched as Slade stepped over Crandall’s oily hide then made his way downstairs. She shut the door, locked it, then returned to her vanity. She couldn’t hold it back any longer. Her face unscrunched and a few tears started to roll.
Why would a madame, the owner of a brothel, sell her own body? That was a question that loomed large on the lips of Highwater’s gossipy gadflies. The general consensus was that Miss Bonnie did it because she was appallingly promiscuous, but then again, no one ever bothered to ask her why.
Had they done so, they would have learned that she was married once, to a man who presented himself as loving and kind only to eventually turn loathsome and cruel. One black eye too many convinced her to grab her husband’s revolver and respond to his challenge of, “You don’t got the guts” to empty every last round in his chest.
Seemed like a good idea in the heat of the moment but when her good sense returned, she snatched what little money her husband had stuffed under the mattress, fled Illinois for good, and earned her keep as a working girl until she managed to save enough to buy a place of her own.
As anyone who’s ever been down on their luck will attest, when good fortune returns, the mind doesn’t set itself at ease. Thoughts are never happy but rather, they become focused on how to never go back to the dark, dirt poor times of the past. She’d given up on men, forgotten all about love, and money was her only friend.
Money meant power. Money meant respect. Money meant never having to cow tow to another man ever again. As far as she was concerned, she was never able to get enough of it and while she was happy to take her cut from her girls’ earnings, she was even happier to take a full fee on her own.
Rainer Slade. No man had ever defended Miss Bonnie’s honor like that before. And while she was’t exactly a damsel in distress in search of a man’s protection, she did appreciate that someone cared enough to rearrange a scumbag’s face in her honor.
Poor Miss Bonnie. She sure had a lot to think about.