The woman stood motionless on the porch. Her Winchester was cocked. Her eyes never left the rider. Her finger was cemented to the trigger. She could see the rider was well mounted, and even from a distance of 50 yards she sensed he's a man's man.
The gap between the two people closed 50, 40, 30, 20, 10 and then five yards. His stopped his Appaloosa in front of her. He moved his right hand slowly to his hat's brim and removed it. He fixated his eyes on the Winchester. He knew a sudden move could force her to fire.
"Good morning, Ma'am! Is Ben Tobey here?"
"Who's askin?" Her eyes never left him, and her finger was still cemented to the trigger.
"Coulter. Josh Coulter. And you, Ma'am?"
"Becca Tobey," she answered. Her eyes never left him and his magnificent stallion. "I expect you got proof saying you are who you say."
"I got a letter in my pocket from Ben."
"Show it to me and be careful. A sudden, wrong move, and I'll gut shoot you."
He pulled the letter rout of his shirt pocket and handed it to her. She recognized Ben's handwriting. She returned the letter and said, "One more. One more thing, I gotta ask. What did Ben call you when you were young uns?"
"Ben's been expectin you for weeks. Get down and come into the house. Your room's ready."
Coulter dismounted slowly. The gun was still pointed at his gut. He tied his horse's reins to the hitch rail in front of him.
"Mrs. Tobey. I'm wearing a hundred miles of wind, sand and trail dust. Before I enter, I want a bath and shave. And I need to feed and water U.S. Grant. Will you point me to the tub so I can enter your house smelling like a man and not a skunk?"
"Ben said you'd ask for a bath first before entering." She lowered the Winchester and released the trigger.
"You'll find two barrel tubs behind the far side of the second barn. Randy will boil hot water and give you as much as you need. There's toilet water in the room near the tubs. I'll have lunch ready in an hour and half."
"Thank you, Ma'am."
"Becca. Everyone calls me Becca. Since you'll be here for a time then call me Becca."
"Becca. I'll call you, Becca."
He tipped his hat and said, "Until later, Ma'am."
"Becca. Call me Becca." She put the rifle down, turned and went into the house.
He led his horse to the stable where U.S. Grant was unsaddled, fed, groomed, watered and turned loose in the corral behind the stable. Then Coulter bathed, shaved, changed clothes, put toilet water on and walked to the house carrying his repeating rifle, saddlebags and bed roll. He wore a Colt 45 on his right leg and a Bowie knife strapped to his left leg. He carried a whip on his right hip. He knocked on the screen door.
"Come in, Coulter," Becca said.
He entered with his spurs jingling.
"Leave your spurs on the porch. I don't want my floor dug into."
Coulter exited the house, took off his spears and re-entered the house.
Facing Becca, she said, "Your room's at the end of the hall on the right. You can put your clothes in the drawers and your rifle in the gun case. Hang your gun on the gun rack. I don't hold with guns being everywhere. There's fine Irish whiskey on the bar. Tobey had it shipped from San Francisco. "
Coulter dropped his bed roll and saddlebags on the bed in his room, placed his rifle and gun belt in their proper racks and then poured himself a huge glass of Irish whiskey. He slowly walked to the table and sat down for lunch.
"I sent Miguel to tell Tobey and Little Samuel you've arrived. I expect both will be happy to see you. Little Samuel recalls he caught his first fish and coon with ya," Becca said. Since she didn't know when Tobey would be home, and she and Coulter started lunch. Becca said grace before eating. Coulter joined her.
"Would you mind if we talk? I don't often get a chance to talk to people other than Tobey and little Samuel and that's only when they're home," Becca said as she sliced the ham.
Coulter grinned. Except for U.S. Grant, he hadn't talk to anyone in nearly a week. He wanted to talk.
"Ben said you two were raised in Boston by Noel and Maria Duel. He says Mr. Duel worked you every day."
"We were white slaves. When he worked us we got up before sunrise and bedded hours after sunset. We ate two meals a day. We got a whipping when we did not meet his demands."
"Ben got whipped more than you. So he says."
"He speaks Gospel."
Becca served hot ham, fried potatoes, blueberry jam, corn bread and apple pie with hot coffee. She had the strangest feeling they had met before, but she did not pursue her feeling.
Becca continued asking questions about the past. "Why'd Ben get more whippings than you?"
"He was bigger and older than me. Duel expected more from him."
Coulter finished his meal and grabbed the coffee pot.
"It's true then that one day when Ben was around 15 and you 12 that the two of you walked out and no one chased you?"
"It is. We left with two days' food, the clothes on us and twenty U.S. dollars."
"You came west."
"You worked on the railroads."
"You hunted buffalo,"
"You lived with the Sioux."
"For a time. Nothing long."
"You were in the War between the States together. Tobey says he saved your life and you his. Tobey says you scouted for General Grant. And you were there when General Lee surrendered. And he says you shook Mr. Lincoln's hand."
"I was there when General Lee surrendered. Soon after General Grant introduced me to President Lincoln. He was the noblest man I've ever met."
Coulter was starting his pie when he said, "Ma'am. I don't want to remember the war. Let's talk about you not me."
"Coulter! For the last time call me Becca." There was anger in her tone.
"One more question." Becca was silent for a while and said. "Tobey says you married. Is your wife coming? It will be pleasant to have another woman to talk to."
"No ma'am! She and Michael died from the fever two years ago. " Tears rolled down his cheeks as he spoke,
"And you? Where did Tobey meet you?"
"On the stagecoach going from Tucson to San Francisco."
"You married in San Francisco."
"We did! At St. Francis Church. Five years ago last month."
"How old was little Samuel when you married?
"Near eight, I think."
"I'm happy for both of you,"
"Thanks. I'm a lucky woman to marry such a man."
"Yes. You are."
As he finished his pie, the front door opened and Ben Tobey followed by Little Samuel burst into the house.
It had been six years since Coulter had seen Ben and little Samuel. Coulter. Ben was older with shades of gray along his temples. He was thinner and browner. His face seemed longer. His ever present smile was still there. His eyes seemed colder, bluer and more focused then Coulter remembered.
"Coulter! Coulter! God damn! It's so good to see you!" Tobey said as he bear hugged his life-long friend.
"Put me down. Put me down. You overgrown bear," Coulter shouted.
Little Samuel, being 13-years-old, stood quietly behind his dad. He waved at Coulter who waved back. When Ben released Coulter from his bear grip, Little Samuel was quickly pulled into Coulter's strong chest.
Coulter hugged little Samuel ever so tightily. Little Samuel hugged him back. Coulter released little Samuel ever so slowly. As he did, tears rolled down his wind burned cheeks. Without saying a word to Coulter, Ben and little Samuel went into the washroom to clean up. During the meal little Samuel sat across from Coulter.
"God damn! It's good to see you. Damn it Colt! What have you been doing? Where you been these last six years. No wait. Before Little Samuel and I start eating Let's have a double whiskey. Emma can join us," Tobey said
"Little Sam, your uncle Coulter is your baptized Godfather. Damn it! You know that all ready."
It was obvious to Coulter from the look on Emma's face when she looked at the boy that she loved him.
The three drank their whiskies and sat down. Tobey served himself and little Samuel lunch, while Emma cleared away her dishes and Coulter's. Tobey, Little Samuel and Emma learned that Coulter had lost a wife and son to small pox in 1873. Bitter, he drifted from job-to-job. He prospected for gold, scouted for a wagon train, punched cattle in the Dakotas, broke wild horses for the U.S. Army, was a deputy sheriff in Deadwood and was a shotgun guard for Wells Fargo. Hell! He even tried his hand at prize fighting. He stopped with an 0-3 record.
Coulter was emotionless as he talked. He said everything he had to in an hour and then asked, "Tobey! What's the deal? Why am I here?"
Tobey poured the two of them a double Irish whiskey. Emma shook her head no at the offer of another glass. Then Tobey said, "This ranch is too damn big for one man to run. Jesus Christ! I got eight thousand head of cattle to get to market. I got a hundred horses to break and sell to the army and other ranchers. I'm getting into the hog business. Two geologists found oil on my land. I'm getting richer each day."
Coulter raised his hand and motioned for Tobey to stop talking. Tobey did.
"I see the picture. What's in it for me?"
"Twenty percent ownership."
"Thirty," Coulter said as he finished his whiskey.
"Twenty two," Tobey said as he finished his whiskey.
Coulter shook his head and said, "Thirty."
"Damn it Colt! I ain't bargaining. Twenty five and no more," Tobey said sternly. "I didn't ask you here to haggle with me. Take the offer or settle elsewhere."
Coulter knew it was Tobey's final offer.
"My hand on it under one condition," Coulter said.
"Speak your mind."
"Five or six miles from here there is a grove of walnut trees, a lake and a clearing large enough for a house, barn and corral. Two years from today, I'll give you a thousand dollars for the land."
"Fifteen hundred, and it's yours today. I'll draw up the papers myself," Tobey said. "And tomorrow night we celebrate. I'll send some men out to invite the neighbors to meet my Prodigal brother and partner. Damn it Coulter I prayed for this day. Alleluia!"
They shook hands, hugged one another They were partners for life.
One lonely night while camping under the stars Coulter recalled the last six years. The years were hard on everyone. There were two years of the driest seasons that the old timers could remember. Cattle, horses, mules, antelope, hogs, coyotes, coons, dogs, cats, deer and bears died for want of water. Coulter organized a wagon train of 12 wagons. They went to rivers and hauled water in scores of barrels in wagons. When the drought ended, the torrential floods came, went and came again. The very religious believed Armageddon was arriving. When it did not happen they continued waiting.
Coulter loved living here. Tobey, Becca and Little Samuel were his family. He loved the ranch and the work. He had his own home. He worked four days a week for Tobey and three days for himself. He was seeing the widow Barbara Adams. He decided ro ask her to marry him.
The ranch prospered. Colt's Appaloosa stallion US Grant sired many, fine colts and mares. His off spring sired others. The ranch grew. It was shipping 10,000 head of cattle a year. The army, ranchers and townspeople bought the Bar TC horses The hog business grew. The rains came back. The railroad came within 20 miles of the ranch so the cattle drives were 3 days rather than 10 weeks or longer. Coulter had his land and built a house, barn and corral on it.
The six years yielded personnel losses. Men were lost to dastardly winters, scorching summers, bears, cougars, fevers, rustlers and Indians. They were lost during the trail drives when the cattle stampeded. Coulter went down during a stampede He broke a leg and an arm.. While recovering he came down with the fever. While trying to break a stallion he was thrown and broke four ribs. Beca went down with the fever and twice lost children as they came out of her womb. The deaths of the two children shook Emma and Tobey in ways Coulter had never seen. Emma sat quiet for months each time. Ben worked non-stop in those months, and so did Coulter.
Coulter and Tobey were good business partners.. They argued many times over ways to operate the ranch. Emma sometimes stepped in to remind them to be civil. They always finished their verbal altercations with a glass or more of the Irish whiskey.
Coulter taught little Samuel to shoot a rifle and pistol. Colt was better and faster with a handgun than Ben. They were equals with rifles. No one was better with a bull whip than Coulter. He could use it like a weapon to disarm foes or drunks. He never cracked his whip unless he had a reason.
On Little Samuel's18th birthday, he had a change of life experience Coulter took him to the Belle de Pari for his first piece of tail. From that night's experience Little Samuel considered himself a man. He dreamed about getting his next piece of tail. I
It was a hellish night. It was Little Samuel's 19th birthday. The rain was harsh and heavy. Lightning was a frequent as the rain drops. The thunder's cannonous roar came as often as the rain. Four or five degrees lower in temperature and it would be snowing. The heavy rain produced sink holes in the street. For everyone and every animal out that night it was a Herculean effort to reach a destination.
Little Samuel stopped his huge sorrel horse in front of the Belles de Paris. It was the best whore house in 100 miles. Coulter agreed to meet him here at 8:00. It was7:30. Little Sanuel decided not to wait for Coulter. It was clean, huge, noisy inside. Little Samuel opened the door and walked slowly to the gun rack. He took his Colt 45 out of his holster and put it on a hook. He hung up his long, heavy rain soaked duster and placed his rain logged hat on the hook with it. A bucket directly underneath his slicker caught the rain running off the coat.
He was cocky and confident as he walked over to Sarah Josephine Bell, the proprietor. She was 42, but looked younger. She had shiny, sparkling red hair and rich, enticing green eyes. She gave herself to few men. Those who had her never forgot her. She ran a tight ship. Her 22 girls were professionals. Very few got pregnant. They came and went when they wanted. She had been duped into getting into prostitution by her one and only husband. She developed prostitution into a thriving business.
Little Samuel sized her up, and she gave him the twice over look. His youthfulness did not mean anything to her. If he could pay, he could get serviced.
"Hello Little Samuel. Happy 19th birthday. Coulter said you'd be here tonight. I expected him".
"I'm half hour early."
"That will be ten dollars for the night and 10 dollars more for champagne or whiskey and another three dollars for a bath. You stink worse than a dying skunk. "
As Sarah accepted two $10 bills and three silver dollars, she asked, "How's Becca?"
"Do you know ma?"
"I met her years ago," she said smiling. "Ms. Darlene's with someone. Get your bath and then wait in the sitting parlor. She'll be out in 30 minutes."
Little Samuel bathed and then walked into the sitting parlor. It was a big room painted in a light brown. There were a dozen large chairs, four couches that seated three, four circular tables for poker with five chairs around them. There was a lighted fireplace in the extreme left hand corner of the room. The room reeked of tobacco, various whiskeys and dozens of perfumes. A self playing piano playing Dixie could be heard from another room.
Little Samuel sat down in a corner chair. He recognized the barber, undertaker, baker, two lawyers, stable owner and stable hand, some ranchers, ranch workers, deputy marshal and his father's accountant He refused to buy a whiskey for himself, remembering Coulter's advice, "whiskey and a first time tail don't blend well."
Little Samuel was listening to the thunder and harsh rain. He checked his watch. Still five minutes. He put it back into his pocket, folded his arms and closed his eyes. They were not closed long when he heard the door open. A big man dressed in all black entered. A black heavy beard covered most of this face. There was an aura of evil circling him. He hung up his pistol, his water logged black coat and black hat and brushed the rain off his face with a black scarf he took from his pocket. He ran his huge hands through his black thick, wavy hair. A close examination of his pistol showed four notches on the black handle. He was the devil incarnate. He would beat up people who just looked at him. He had a foul mouth. He didn't care who heard him. He was the tallesr and ugliest man in all of Texas. He walked over to the proprietress, laid down 20 dollars and said, "I want Miss Darlene, Get me that whore now!"
"Good evening Moss. She's with a client and someone has all ready paid to be with her beyond that. Actually, she's been bought for the entire night ," Sarah said defiantly.
"I want that whore tonight. No one's stopping me. Get her out here now. Wait. If she's in room 11. I'll go thar now. "
An unafraid Sarah said. God damn it Moss behave yourself or I'll have Brutus and Big Jim toss you out. I can give you, Lou. She's firmer and has more meat on her breasts than Darlene. And she's done a lot more tricks. She'll be ready by nine. And there's a tub in her room. Are you in or out?"
Sarah waved to the bouncers who started toward Moss. Before they reached him, Moss waved them back. "I'll behave. Honest. Let me sit in the parlor. Holler when Lou's ready?"
"I will. Now go sit down in the parlor. And damn it behave yourself," a cocky Sarah said.
In the parlor, Moss sat near Little Samuel who could smell the cow dung and whiskey on Moss. The smells nauseated Little Samuel.
It was 9:04 when Bell came into the parlor. All eyes turned to her. She spoke with authority as she said, "Jones go to room 1. Carlos go to 3. Matson goes to 5. The baker goes to 7. The barber goes to 9, and the young man to 11. The constable is in 15. Moss is in 16. The rest of you wait your turn."
The men got up and headed to their rooms. As Little Samuel got up, Moss blocked his way.
"You the runt whose got my Miss Darlene?" Moss was inches taller and 70 pounds heavier than Little Samuel.
"I got who I got," a defiant reply was heard. "Now move out of my way."
Little Samuel tried to move forward, but Moss was immovable. Before he said another word, Moss gave Little Samuel a harsh knee in the groin. The boy immediately dropped to the floor and screamed repeatedly. Moss then backhanded the boy across the face, sending two teeth flying across the floor. Next he kicked the boy in the ribs, breaking two of them. He kicked him in the right leg. And then he stomped on Little Samuel's right hand. His spurs cut deep into the boy's hand. As the crowd looked on, Moss was about to kick Little Samuel again when what sounded like a gun being fired exploded. Moss stopped his kick when his back received the first whip lash, tearing his shirt and bloodying his back. Before Moss could turn around, a second, third and fourth lashes took flesh from his broad back and took more of his shirt off. A fifth lash landed below his belt. A sixth and seventh lash brought him to his knees. Three more lashes brought him to the floor. An 11th and then a 12th lash produced an inhuman cry for leniency. The whipper stood over Moss and in a voice that was loud enough to hear every word throughout the building, the message was plain, "You bastard. I'll kill you if you made my nephew a crippled. Do you hear me, you stupid pig!"
Moss nodded yes. He was then struck across the face with the handle of the whip. He screamed as his cheekbone split.
"Somebody run for a doctor immediately for Little Samuel," Coulter shouted. Tears ran down his face as he effortlessly picked the unconscious boy up.
"Which room is his?" Coulter asked.
"Eleven," said Miss Darlene.
The crowd dispersed. As he was leaving the room, Coulter shouted, "Leave that piece of crud alone. I'll do the same whipping to anyone who doctors Moss."
Coulter's words put fear in almost everyone there. Sarah was the exception. Also in a defiant mood, she sent someone for another doctor. No one was going to tell her how to run her place. It was bad for business to have a nearly dead man lay silently in the middle of her business parlor. When the first doctor arrived she sent him to room 11. Moss was taken care of by the second doctor.
The following afternoon a buckboard stopped outside Les Belles de Paris. The two horses were heavily lathered. so much that it was difficult to tell their color. An irate Becca Tobey practically flew out of the carriage. She had driven the team hard and fast into town.
Becca went straight up to the door and went inside. Half a dozen men were inside. She walked past them. She recognized all. She proceeded to the bar.
"Where's room 11?" She asked Sarah.
"Follow me, Becca. It's been a while."
Shoulder-to-shoulder they walked to room 11. A very weary Coulter and an equally exhausted Miss Darlene were coming out of the room. Becca asked both, "How is he?"
"He's getting better. I ain't never seen one so young so tough," Miss Darlene said. "You can go in, but he just went to sleep."
"Thank you so much for caring," Becca said.
"I like Little Samuel," Miss Darlene said. "It ain't no trouble caring for him."
Sarah added, "He can leave here in four days. Doc Adams will be here at 4 to check him over. He's giving Little Samuel the best care."
Miss Darlene and Sarah walked down the hall.
Coulter, who had turned around and was looking out a window, shaking his head said stone faced. "A whore once told me, 'whores can't afford to care for their clients.'"
There was an instant look of fear and relief in Becca's eyes.
"Don't flatter yourself, Becca!"
"Do you think Tobey knows?"
"Your rare town visits. Never wanting guests at the ranch. Not wanting to travel to Dodge City. Tucson."
Becca was silent.
"You don't give him enough credit for how much Tobey loves you, Becca," Coulter said still staring out the window. "No man dare say anything about you to his face or behind his back, or Tobey would kill him. That's a powerful lot of love."
"I realize that now. I have always known he'd protect me," she said as she entered room 11.