The saloon doors swayed in the evening breeze. Mary Lou stood beside them, smoothing the new frilly pink dress that Mrs. McCoy had given her to wear on her first night in the Last Chance Saloon.
Betty Lee, with her back against the bar and her elbows on it, watched Mary Lou rub her hands together, then clasp them.
Sweet young thing, Betty Lee thought, you're hoping they're gonna like you enough to pay Mrs. McCoy a dollar and take you upstairs.
Betty Lee watched Mary Lou practice a smile, moisten her lips, and take a deep breath.
And you're hoping if they do like you enough, they'll pay you a little something extra that will help you to get outa here someday.
She watched Mary Lou rub her hands together again.
'Cuz more than anything, you wanna get outa here, so you're scared they'll run right past you, over to the bar, and over to . . .
Mary Lou looked at Betty Lee.
. . . me, Betty Lee thought. Oh, Mary Lou, I know exactly how you feel, just like I felt on my first night, when I stood beside those doors and looked at Sarah Jane, who leaned against the bar and sipped whiskey.
Betty Lee sipped whiskey from a shot glass.
I wouldn't be doing you any favors if I told you how things are gonna go, so I won't tell you. But here's how they're gonna go: the boys'll like you enough, all right, 'cuz you're sweet and young and eager to please. And you'll be so grateful. But they won't be. They'll think the dollar they give Mrs. McCoy will make up for the stains they'll leave on your dress, your body, and your soul.
Betty Lee looked at the stains on her old frilly red dress, then sipped some more whiskey.
Mary Lou turned back to the doors.
Will they like me? she wondered. Or will they run right past me, over to the bar, and over . . .
Again she looked at Betty Lee.
. . . to Betty Lee?
Mary Lou turned back to the doors.
I hope they won't run past me, she thought. But deep down inside, I kinda wish they would. Then I could just walk out of here and go . . . where? Not back to the farm, where that man killed Jesse and raped me.
That man didn't say nothing. He just stood there in the dark, then shot Jesse and climbed on top of me, and he stunk. Lord, he stunk to high heaven of that stuff the barbers put on a man after they shave him. Lavender.
She raised a hand to her mouth and retched, then breathed deeply and lowered her hand.
And if I walked outa here, what could I do? I ain't a nurse or a schoolmarm. And they don't want me clerking at the general store. They get decent folk in there, they said when I asked them for a job. They can't have me touching ribbons and calico. Get married again, they said. But no man would want me for a wife. And where would I find a man anyway? Not in here. In church? I can't go to church, so full of sin as I am.
No, I gotta stay here and do my best for Mrs. McCoy and them cowboys. And I gotta hope I can get outa here someday and go . . . where?
Mary Lou closed her eyes.
I'll do it just one time, she thought. I'll do it good, and I'll ask for a little something extra. And maybe it'll be enough for me to go somewhere, anywhere.
She opened her eyes and nodded again.
I'll do it just one time.
She looked at Betty Lee, who sipped her whiskey.
Just one time, Betty Lee thought. That's what you're thinking. Then you'll go.
"You won't go, Mary Lou," Betty Lee said.
"If you do it one time," Betty Lee said, "you'll do it again."
Mary Lou stared at her.
"Get out," Betty Lee said.
Betty Lee finished her whiskey, poured another shot, and raised her glass.
"Or you'll end up just like me."
Horses' hooves pounded on the ground.
Mary Lou cringed and turned to the doors.
Men whooped and hollered.
Mary Lou hesitated, then shook her head.
This life is worse than anything else that could ever happen to me, she thought.
She moved to the doors, pushed them open, and walked through them.
On the street, she stopped, turned to the left, saw cowboys galloping toward the saloon, and heard them whooping and hollering.
She turned to the right.
I'll get out, she thought. I'll go somewhere else, anywhere else. I'll do something else, anything else.
She took a step, and someone grabbed her arm.
"You're coming with me," Mrs. McCoy said.
She pulled Mary Lou into the street.
"Why?" Mary Lou asked.
"You're a thief."
"I didn't take nothing!"
"What you call that fancy dress I let you wear for the night?" Mrs. McCoy asked.
"Oh," Mary Lou said, touching the bodice, "I . . . I didn't think—"
"No, you didn't, you little whore!"
"I'll give it back."
"You're damned right you will," Mrs. McCoy said, pulling her across the street. "After a night in jail."
She pulled open a door, pushed Mary Lou into the sheriff's office, and pushed her to a desk, behind which sat a handsome young man, who looked up from a ledger.
"Where's Sheriff Olson?" Mrs. McCoy said.
The young man stood, looked at Mary Lou, at Mrs. McCoy, and at Mary Lou again.
"Please sit," he said, "Miss . . . ?"
"She ain't no miss," Mrs. McCoy said. "She's one of my girls—or she was before she stoled my dress."
"Please sit," he said again to Mary Lou, who stared at him, then sat on a chair in front of the desk.
He smiled at her, then looked at Mrs. McCoy.
"I'm Deputy Owen Garner," he said. "The sheriff is out of town, and I'm in charge until he returns tomorrow."
"You keep her here till tomorrow," Mrs. McCoy said. "I'll be back in to file a complaint."
He moved around the desk and touched her arm.
"I'll take care of everything," he said.
He led her to the door, where she turned and glared at Mary Lou.
"Yeah," Mrs. McCoy said, "I'll be back in tomorrow."
She nodded at the deputy and left.
The deputy closed the door and smiled at Mary Lou.
Mary Lou stared at his glistening hair, his smooth face, his broad shoulders, and his pearl-handled pistol.
He can take care of everything, she thought. He can take care of me.
"Good evening," he said.
She hesitated, then nodded.
"So, you've had some trouble," he said.
She nodded again.
He smiled again, moved past her, and sat behind the desk.
"Everybody has trouble now and again," he said.
He understands, she thought.
"Everybody deserves a second chance," he said.
Yes, she thought.
"And maybe even a third, fourth, and fifth chance," he said, then smiled.
"I'll give you all the chances you need," he said, "Just give me a chance, too."
A chance to take care of me, she thought.
"I will," she said.
He leaned across the desk and offered his hands.
She leaned toward him, took his hands in hers, and smelled lavender.
She leaned back and tried to pull her hands away.
He held her hands.
"Come with me," he said, standing, holding her hands, pulling her toward the jail cells.
"I'll scream," she said.
"They won't care," he said.
He stopped beside a peg on the wall, reached for the keys hanging on the peg.
She reached for his pearl-handled pistol and pulled it from his holster.
He released her hand.
She stepped back, raised the pistol, and pointed it at him.
"Are you going to shoot me?" he asked.
"I'm gonna go," she said.
Where? she wondered.
"Where?" he asked again, then laughed, then took a step toward her.
She took a step back.
He laughed again and reached for the pistol.
She smelled the lavender.
He stared at her, looked at his chest, and saw blood spreading across his shirt.
He looked at her again, fell against the wall, and fell to the floor.
Mary Lou looked at him, then looked at the pistol.
* * *
In the Last Chance Saloon, the cowboys stood with whiskey bottles and beer mugs in their hands, staring at the swinging doors.
Mrs. McCoy stood at the bar, staring at the doors.
Betty Lee stood beside her.
Someone fired another shot.
The cowboys looked at one another.
Betty Lee looked at Mrs. McCoy.
"Mary Lou," Betty said, "she got out."