…The two sisters shifted into their usual standoff poses: Cora annoyed, self-righteous, her hands on her hips; Minnie, wiry, know-it-all, breathing hard.
Just then, one of their ladies entered. “Mrs. Cora, Miss Minnie, there’s a problem out on the floor.”
Cora sighed. “What now, Marlena?”
The soiled dove gulped before answering. “One of our customers, the old geezer one, is having a fit. Gettin’ real ornery, too.”
In recognition of a regular happenstance, the two sisters looked at each other and grimaced.
“Need any help?” Minnie asked Cora as she stood up.
“Nope, I have it under control. Thanks, Sis,” Cora replied and headed out the door, Ellie and her homecoming temporarily forgotten.
Out in the main parlor, the girls had already formed a wide circle around old Pete. Corsets, bustles, crinolines, pantaloons, and camisoles intermingled with a whiskey-stained suit, a grimy vest, and mud-caked boots. He was no match for them. As they gleefully shoved and tickled him, his fury rose with each breath, while his face ripened into the color of raw meat. Finally, when he could take it no longer, he sputtered, “She-devils!” which produced gales of laughter.
“Ladies, ladies. Enough. Leave the man alone,” Cora said, placing a concerned arm around the smelly habitué. “There, there, Pete. They meant you no harm.”
“As Mercutio proclaimed in Romeo and Juliet, …’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door, but ‘tis enough, ‘twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man. All I wanted was a little love, Cora. I swear it!” He sniffled pathetically as the girls giggled.
With a dirty glance aimed at the group’s ringleader, Charity, Cora turned back to Pete. “You did produce some money, right, love?”
He looked down.
“Now, Pete, you know the rules.”
“I just wanted a little love. As Henry David Thoreau said, There is no remedy for love but to love more. He also said…”
“Now, Pete, enough about Thoreau,” she interrupted, gently angling him toward the door. As soon as he left with a snort and an “After all we’ve been through together,” Cora shook her head and turned back to face her employees.
“Ladies, she said, “some women in this town may look down on us, but I do have my standards. Gentility is most important, above all else. I thought I had made myself perfectly clear.”
A few head nods and corset scratching was all she got before Marlena stepped forward. “Ah, Mrs. Cora?”
Placing one hand on her hip, Cora sighed. “Now what?”
“He was full as a tick, that one was. He almost fell down twice.”
Cora squinted her eyes, assessing her new employee. “I don’t care how drunk he was. He, Miss Minnie, and I go way back.”
“But you tossed out a feller from Fanny’s bed just the other night. I reckon he wasn’t half as likkered up as that ol’ coot.”
Cora frowned. “I could tell the man with Fanny was going to be big trouble.”
“Yes, zat one very, very scared me,” Suzette, the resident French girl affirmed. “I zink Mrs. Cora maybe saved Fanny’s life.”
“Trust Mrs. Cora,” Rosie interjected. “She’ll always watch your back, or at least your backside!” There was an explosion of laughter.
“All right, all right. Get a wiggle on, ladies,” Cora continued, her eyes sweeping over them. “I heard a group of cowboys are ridin’ through town, maybe even this afternoon. Now, go, go!”