Undead Man’s Hand – Chapter 18

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The Utter Freight Depot was a red barn. While most buildings in Deadwood were run down, Charlie kept it in good repair, covered with a fresh coat of red paint.

The businessman, his bodyguard, and his brother unloaded the contents of the wagon. Throwing it all just anywhere was out of the question. Charlie had a system and every item had a special section to be placed in. It was all alphabetical, based on the owner’s last name, making it easier to locate when townsfolk stopped by to pick it up.

There was one deviation from the system. Gold, silver, guns, ammo, and anything of value or particularly dangerous was locked up in a cage in the back corner. It was secured by a large padlock to which he had the key.

After everything was unloaded, Charlie and Jane sat on the back of the wagon and settled up.

“Come on, Ebenezer Scrooge,” Jane huffed. “Make with the dough.”

“Are you serious?” Charlie asked as he peeled a few bills from a wad of cash. “I’ve never cheated you or anyone else in my entire life.”

“Everybody knows the two things least likely to open up are a nun’s legs and Charlie Utter’s wallet,” Jane said.

“I’m just going to assume that’s they whiskey talking.” Charlie said. He handed over Jane’s pay, then pulled it back before she could grab it.

“One condition,” Charlie said. “Promise me you won’t spend it on liquor.”

“Fuck you, Charlie,” Jane said. “Condition my ass. I earned that money and I don’t have to promise you shit.”

“You’re right,” Charlie said as he tucked the bills into Jane’s hand. “Let me rephrase. As your friend, it would make me happy if you put that money to some purpose other than drinking.”

“You aren’t my Daddy,” Jane said.

“No,” Charlie said. “It’s just that I’ve seen you on the sauce and off the sauce and between the two, the Jane that’s off the sauce is far superior. And I feel like I’m seeing less of her lately.”

Jane emitted a foghorn-esque belch.

“Starting to wonder if she’s ever coming back,” Charlie said.

Charlie counted a few more bills and handed them over. “Here. Hazard pay for saving our lives.”

“And your hides from…”

“I don’t want to think about it,” Charlie said.

“Will wonders ever cease?” Jane asked. “Charlie utter parting with extra loot.”

“I’m not going to listen to this,” Jane said. “Our profits have always been split three ways. Always have. Always will.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jane said. “You say that but somehow you’re as rich as a sultan.”

Charlie was feeling the exasperation. He cradled his head in his hands and massaged his temples. “Because I’m the only one who saves his money Jane. If you’d quit spending all your money at the bar and sock some money away, you’d have something to show for it. If Bill would walk past a card table once in awhile, his pockets would be fat. It really is as simple as that.”

Jane hopped off the back of the wagon. “I don’t have to listen to your belly aching, Charlie Utter! Look at you. You sit there in your fancy buckskin suit like you’re some kind of rugged mountain man. You’ve never fired a gun in your whole life and you shit your pants at the first sign of danger.”

“I thought I actually kept pretty calm under the circumstances,” Charlie said.

“Those two yahoos would have gone to town on your hide six ways to Sunday if it weren’t for me and you know it,” Jane said.

“I do know it,” Charlie said. “What do you think I keep you around for? That’s what businessmen do, Jane. They pay people to do things they don’t want to do.”

“So show a little fucking appreciation,” Jane said.

Charlie stretched his arms out. “I do! I’m just asking you to stop drinking yourself to death!”

“Get off your damn high horse, pretty boy,” Jane said. “You’ve got no right to judge me.”

“I’m not judging you I just…” Charlie could see by the angry look on Jane’s face that she just wasn’t getting it. He laid back in the wagon and closed his eyes. “I give up. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“No you shouldn’t have,” Jane said as she stomped off. “God damn teetotaling fuck.”

“Lush!” Charlie shouted back.

“Fop!” came Jane’s voice as she walked further away.

“Alcoholic!” Charlie shouted louder.

“Queer!” Jane shouted back. Charlie could barely hear her voice now.

“I resent that!” Charlie cried.

And in a voice that just barely traveled to Charlie’s ears, Jane called out, “You resemble that!”

Charlie laid there in the back of the wagon. “Women.”

He rested for a few minutes until he heard some footsteps. He sat up to see his brother carrying a stick over his shoulder with a bundle tied to the end.

“Going somewhere?” Charlie asked.

“I’m going home, Charlie,” Stephen said.

“But…”

“Your offer was very generous but I have to decline,” Stephen said.

“O.K.,” Charlie said. “But why?”

“I heard stories about the West,” Stephen said. “But I never knew it was this bad. I’m not about to let anyone get another chance to have his way with my backside, thank you very much.”

“Look Stephen,” Charlie said. “Do people get robbed all the time out here? Yes. It’s happened to me so many times I’ve lost track. It’s just a cost of doing business. But today was the first time anyone’s tried to rape me.”

“One time’s too many for me,” Stephen said.

“This is just a mind trick,” Charlie said. “This is your first time in the West and someone tried to rape you so you now just assume that life out here is one big rape festival.”

“It isn’t?” Stephen asked.

“No,” Charlie said. “That happens so infrequently that statistically speaking, now that you got one attempted rape out of the way, the odds of it ever happening again are nill.”

“And yet the experience would be so atrocious I’d rather not risk it,” Stephen said as he put out his hand.

Charlie shook it. “Can’t argue with that I suppose. Want to at least stick around and visit for awhile?”

“I’d rather not,” Stephen said. “I am now unable to not presume that literally everyone out here is thinking about attacking my hind quarters and I’ll be happier once I cross the Mississippi.”
Charlie’s face grew sullen. He patted his brother on the shoulder. “Happy trails, brother.”

“Good luck, Charlie,” Stephen said. “I’ll pray that your buttocks remain unscathed.”

“Thanks for that.”

Charlie sat in the wagon as his brother walked away. Then he stood up and returned to the barn where he began to look for some work to do. Between the fight with Jane and his brother leaving, he needed something to occupy his mind.

He found it. A crate of letters that needed sorting. He went to it. He shuffled through the letters, making alphabetical stacks. Soon he had an A stack, a B stack, a C stack. When he worked his way to U, he found something unexpected.

It was a letter addressed to himself. “Charles Utter” written in what was unmistakably his wife’s handwriting. He opened it up and read.

Dearest Charles,

Many a night I have sat by my window waiting for you to return and become the husband that you promised you would be. It is clear to me now that your adventures in the West are far more important to you than I will ever be.

Perhaps you are right. Perhaps Deadwood is no place for a woman. You have promised me that you’ll send for me once you have saved enough money to build us a proper home, but what is the point? Instead of sitting by the window alone in New York, I’ll sit alone by a window in the Dakota Territory while you are out on the trail.

Mother says you are playing me for a fool, that you are no doubt drinking and whoring your days away, free from the prying eyes of your wife. I know you too well to know that is not true. I have defended you to her often.

Alas, I am the one who is weak. I have spent too many nights alone and what is the purpose of marriage other than to feel safe and loved in a man’s arms? You haven’t made me feel that way in some time and I must now seek it elsewhere.

My mind is resolved. Do not attempt to talk me out of it. I understand that it is a wife’s place to do as her husband directs. If this leaves a stain on my soul that God won’t forgive, then so be it. I must find happiness in this life.

Know that you are loved and that there will always be a piece of my heart that belongs to you.

Love,

Louise

There was a second piece of paper in the envelope. Charlie unfolded it. At the top, written in very official looking cursive letters were the words, “Petition for Divorce.”

It isn’t easy being a man who goes out of his way to do the right thing. With no interest in booze to calm him down and no desire to swear at the top of his lungs to vent his frustration, Charlie just stood there, dumbfounded.

“Fiddlesticks,” he said.

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