Will to Survive
Chapter 03

Copyright© 2015 by Ernest Bywater

Second Winter

While travelling they all wear their oversized ponchos to blend into the environment and be harder to see. Because Will takes the lead to do the scouting he also wears his fatigues and the light armour he had on in the plane, but he does leave the helmet in a wagon. They go back the way they came, again avoiding everyone they can. Which works until they get back on the Butterfield Overland Mail Coach road just outside of Dome.

The area is fairly flat for some miles and there’s a lot of scrub in this area too. Thus vision of the surrounding area is fairly limited. So it’s no surprise for Will to not notice some people waiting in the scrub on the other side of the road until they move out to stop and rob a mail coach. Because Will is dressed to blend into the brush they don’t see him either.

The coach stops about sixty feet from where Will is just off the side of the road. The coach has to stop because the robbers drop a tree across most of the road. The four men take up positions of two on each side of the coach. They’re level with the horses so they can watch the driver, guard, and the passengers. Those in the coach are doing as told by the robbers, right up to the point where one of the passengers is wide-eyed at the odd sight Will makes when he rides onto the road to charge at the stage because Will looks like a huge weird combinations of a bear and horse due to the way the poncho sits on him and the horse.

With his shotgun in his left hand and his Colt Navy in his right hand Will only takes a few seconds to charge down the road. He gets to the coach before any of the robbers can turn around, although one starts to turn in response to the passenger’s wide-eyed look. Passing to the right of the coach horses Will fires the shotgun at the chests of the two men on his left to knock the nearest one off his horse and cause the other to drop his gun when some of the bird-shot hits his arm. Will fires his pistol into the back of the crook nearest him at the same time to knock him out of the saddle and Will moves his aim to the last robber. The man is starting to turn in the saddle when Will fires his revolver again to knock him out of the saddle with a renovated chest area. It’s quicker for Will to ride around the coach than it is for him to stop and back up, so he does that. Rounding the back of the coach he sees the wounded robber drawing a revolver with his left hand, so Will shoots him in the chest. In a matter of seconds the robbery starts and ends.

After he stops by the dead on this side Will starts stripping the dead crooks and he places the plunder on their horses. He takes everything except their long underwear, which they soiled in death. A noise in the brush has him spinning around. He sights movement, smiles, and calls out, “It’s OK! The robbers are dead. Come forward.” The coach crew and passengers are shocked to see two women dressed like Will move out of the scrub. They split up to go on each side of the coach to take the leads for the horses. Will moves to the other side to strip the two dead there while the coach guard works with Ann and Little Fawn to tie the tree to the horses of the dead to drag the tree away to clear the road.

By the time Will is finished stripping the dead the road is clear. Then he’s busy putting the dead across their horses and tying them down to take into Arizona to see if there’s any bounty on them.

The coach driver is looking closely at Will and Ann. He finally asks, “Ain’t you Will March and Ann Wilson from the Fort Yuma area?”

Will speaks while working on securing the dead to the horses, “Close. Ann’s my wife, so she’s now Ann March. We’ve been camping on the river due north of here for a few months and we’re now on our way back to the Wilson Ranch for the winter. We’re taking our time while we travel, so no rush involved.”

“Well, we’re in a rush. Thanks for dealing with them thieves. What do you want with the dead?”

“The last time I had to shoot some thieves it turned out they were worth a few hundred dollars in bounty. So it’s worth the trouble to take them into Arizona to see if these ones are worth anything. It also gives me an opportunity to sell the furs we have.”

The driver nods his understanding, then the coach is on its way again. Will finishes with the dead and he reloads his guns before mounting his horse. Just after they start forward again the rest of the family leaves the scrub leading the pack-horses and wagons.

Knowing the coach crew will tell the people at Dome of the robbery attempt they go through Dome instead of going around it. That saves them a bit more time than they lost with the robbery attempt. Being so close to Arizona they decide to continue until they get there.

They keep riding a lot later than they usually do to reach Arizona at dusk. They stop with the authorities to have the dead checked, and they get a receipt for a hundred dollars for them. They also sell the four horses; this time the army wants the saddles and tack with them too. The store is closed, so they set up their teepee on the edge of the town and get organised for the night. The wagons are secured with their backs to the teepee so it’s hard for people to open them, and hobbles are put on the horses to graze beside the wagons. Thus they make a nice tight camp.

It’s well into the night when the stallion Ann rides makes some noise to warn them of intruders. Will rolls out of bed, grabs his shotgun and revolver, then he rolls out under the side of the teepee nearest the horses while the ladies all grab their weapons and wait to see what happens.

Two men are trying to open the side of one of the wagons, and aren’t having much luck because of the way they’re secured. Will grins as he says, “Messing with a man’s gear without his permission is a quick way to get yourself killed! Now get off to where you belong.”

One of them says, “Just looking for a blanket or something to keep warm in, that’s all.” The way he talks makes it clear he’s drunk, and the other is just as drunk.

“Go to the stables and crawl into the hayloft. That’ll keep you out of the wind and the cold for the night.” Grumbling, the two men move off. Will tells his ladies what happened, then he waits a few minutes to check the area to make sure the men are well away. He use his monocular to check the area after watching the men until they go out of sight beyond a building half-way through the town. The monocular isn’t powered but the high quality lenses amplify the available light to give good night vision, even when the only light is starlight on a moonless night.

Back to bed for Will, and they all wake up with the dawn. While the ladies prepare breakfast Will checks over the wagons. Nothing missing with no damage done to anything, so no problems. Later he laughs when he hears about two drunks getting into trouble when they’re caught in the hayloft.


Shopping

They’re all packed and at the store when it opens. Will has some weapons and several large bundles of furs to sell. He does buy two more of the short barrel revolving rifles to use as extra shotguns. The receipts for the dead and the horses plus the credit for the furs and weapons are all spent on food, material, wool, canvas, and beeswax which they load on the wagons and pack-horses.

While they’re loading up an Army Captain comes by and looks at the wagons. He asks, “How solid and useful are they?”

Will glances over while loading and he says, “We’ve been using them every day since mid-spring and I’ve had no problems. I haven’t needed to see how they go with a gallop, but they hold up well at the trot. The big value is the size means I’m not restricted to roads or wide areas. If a horse can get through the wagon can too. Varnish soaked canvas covers on the sides and bottom to make them water tight, and a waterproof cover. So the contents stays dry in the rain as well.”

“What about river crossings?”

“If the load is light enough they float when the water gets too deep. In one river crossing the water was too deep so I lightened the load in each wagon until they floated, took them across, left two on that side with the ladies reloading them while I unloaded the third then I took it back to ferry the rest of the gear across, a part load at a time. Everything got across safe, sound, and dry. It just took a lot of work to do it.”

“How much to make one, and will you train my men to do them?”

Will thinks for a moment then he says, “Twenty-five dollars and you pay for the materials for me to make it at the ranch. Another twenty-five dollars to train one, or two, or three men how to do it, plus you provide the materials for them to make wagons under my direction too. Thus you get a wagon per man trained. You need to provide the food and tents for your men to stay at the ranch or provide food for my family if you want us to stay at the fort.”

“I’ve got to think about it and to talk to people. You staying long?”

“As soon as we’re packed we’ll be on our way to the Wilson Ranch to stay there for the winter. My wife’s family owns and runs it.”

“I’ll be able to find it when I want to talk to you. Who do I ask for?”

Holding his hand out he says, “Will March, Captain... , “ and he waits to hear who he’s talking to.

The officer shakes his hand, “Captain Jefferson Walker. I’m new to this part of the country. I’ve never seen a wagon like that before.”

“You wouldn’t. It’s of my design. A sort of cut-down cross between a hand cart and a four wheel artillery caisson as one big storage area. I did make the wheels wider to ride over soft ground better and have stronger spokes so they’re less likely to break.”

“Now you say that I can see the similarities with a caisson. I’ll still want to have someone see how you do this different because it looks tougher than any artillery caisson I’ve seen.”

“It is! It was designed to be tougher simply because I want to use it in very rough terrain you won’t get artillery into.” They chat some more then the Captain walks away just before Will has everything ready to leave as he worked while they talked. He mounts up and they head out.

There’s a lot of hugs and crying when they return to the ranch. The teepee is very quickly set up with everything put in it. The wagons are tied together beside the teepee and the horses are let loose in the corral, for now. They’ll all go into the barn when it gets too cold for them to be outside. The canvas, blankets, and wool are taken into the house to work on to make blankets for some money. Then the rest of the day is spent with the ladies cutting material for blankets while chatting about what’s been happening in the last few months.

The big news at the ranch is Jim and Nora got married a few weeks back, but it was expected by everyone, especially after the way they looked at each other and acted when Nora first arrived at the ranch. Nothing is said about all of the gold the March family has hidden in their wagons. Will does talk about the possibility of the work for the Captain.

Two days later Will goes hunting with Sam and they call by Long Snake’s village before they start. They end up leading a good sized hunt for the Indians as well as themselves. It’s a successful hunt and all are happy with the hides and meat they get from it. They also talk about a lot of other things while they’re riding together.

One of the conversations with Sam makes Will realise he needs to be better armed when they travel, so he makes a double cross-draw holster for him to carry two extra pistols at his waist. Most of the time he now wears buckskin shirts which hang outside his pants, so his ladies make the shirts longer with long side splits so the guns at his waist are hidden by a flap of the shirt while Will can still get at them easily from the sides.

Life on the ranch soon settles into much the same pattern it was before they went north.


Winter Work

For the next two weeks the March family is busy making blankets, many of them with the canvass waterproofing on one side. Betty doesn’t understand why until most of the Indian village turns up to do some trading: bundles of furs for the blankets, one with the canvas and one without. Will explains to them all how the canvas one is better for laying on the ground with the other on top of them.

A few days after the trading with the Indians the whole crew goes to Arizona for some trading. The big farm wagon is loaded with furs and blankets, plus all three of the small wagons are loaded with blankets. They’ve been very busy to turn all of the materials they had into blankets for trade, with a lot traded to the Indians for good furs.

While they’re unloading the furs and blankets at the store Captain Walker and three men approach Will about making the wagons. Walker says, “Mister March, these three men are the ones I want you to teach to make those wagons for me. A fourth man will go with you to the ranch to feed them. Now, what do you need in the way of supplies?”

Leaving Sam, Jim, and the ladies to look after things at the store Will leads Captain Walker and the trainees to the wainwright to organise the wheels and to buy the boards. Will gets a shock when he gets there. The man has thirty wheels already made and he’s busy loading the short boards onto a wagon. The wainwright looks at Will and says, “When the Captain said he wanted some wagons like yours I started making the wheels for twice the number of what you bought, with the same for boards. I’ve even got tins of varnish here for you, but it’s the normal stuff because you bought all of the batch that went brown.”

Will grins as he says, “I only bought it all because you were selling it cheap. The Captain will only need about five tins of varnish.” He checks the boards on the wagon, the ones they’re loading, and the wheels. All are right, so he helps them to load it on the wagon, along with the tins of varnish. Then back to the store for the canvas and rawhide needed.

The trip back to the ranch includes two army wagons: one with the materials for the horse wagons plus a small chuck wagon with tents and gear for the four soldiers to use. When they get to the ranch the materials for the wagons are unloaded into the barn and the rest into the house. The two army wagons are set up on the other side of the back porch in such a way as to provide them with shelter from the wind in all directions. By setting them at right-angles to each other with one beside the porch and one parallel to the porch the area inside the angle is also protected by the house and the teepee at the other end of the porch.

Will and Sam are sure Captain Walker intended the army cook to do all of the cooking and feeding of the army men, but the reality is he sets out the ration for each day’s meals and the ladies cook the meals for them all after they add the army rations to their food. The result is four very happy and well fed soldiers who work on the wagons together.

During the day Sam, Jim, and Nora share the ranch work while the other ladies do the cooking and make blankets. Will has the soldiers work in two teams of two to make a pair of wagons under his direction. When the ranch work is done for the day Sam, Jim, Will, and Nora work on the blankets as well. Of an evening the soldiers sit and chat with them while the civilians all work on blankets. After a few evenings the soldiers are all at work on blankets too. Every few days Sam and Jim go hunting as well.

Eight days later the first two wagons are done, so Will sets the men to work making a wagon each. Now they know what they’re doing the ones they make by themselves are actually faster to make, and all six are ready for the Captain a fortnight after they start to make them so they get ready to take them to Fort Yuma. They load four onto the now empty wagon used to bring the materials out and the other two are secured to the horses of the two soldiers riding horses while the other two soldiers drive their wagons.

Everyone’s been real busy so while they have only a few furs all of the other wagons are full of blankets for sale through the store. The soldiers each have two blankets as payment for their work making blankets each evening: one with canvas and one without. They really enjoy them.

While riding into Arizona Ann asks Will, “Why did you give the soldiers one of both styles of blanket each?”

He grins as he replies, “We had to pay them something for all of the help they gave us in making blankets each evening. However, they’ll use them at the Fort and when on patrol. The canvas one as a groundsheet and the other as a top blanket. Once the other soldiers see them they’ll want them as well, and they’ll tell other troops too. So a few blankets as pay now means a lot of sales later. I figure we must be just about out of new local customers for them by now, due to how many we’ve sold.”

The Wilson and March families stop at the store. The soldiers go to the fort across the river to let the Captain know they’re back and to show him his new wagons. The storekeeper walks out while they’re unloading the big wagon and he says, “Just stack the blankets on the boardwalk in piles of each type, please.” Betty gives a slight frown, so he adds, “My brother runs a store in Texas and he wants a wagon load of the blankets. I wrote him about them and he came out to see them. So most of these are to go back to Texas with him. He’ll be paying you the same as I do, but in gold coin. What he doesn’t take, I’ll take. They’re still good sellers, but almost everyone has as many as they want now.”

Ann butts in with, “Will paid a couple of soldiers for some work with blankets and he expects the rest of the soldiers will want some after they find out how warm they are. So sales should pick up.” They all smile and laugh at Will’s way of expanding the blanket market.


The Rest of the Winter

Time seems to go slow with a trip to Arizona every three weeks to trade the blankets plus furs from the hunted animals for things they want from the store. The ranch is growing well and they should have enough stock to be selling some next year. They’d only just got set up when Will arrived, so the focus has been on expanding the stock herds instead of selling them. Luckily the furs and other things have been all they need to buy supplies from the store. Christmas and the new year come and go, then winter passes into spring. Time and life move on.


Spring of 1859

A few weeks into spring Will wants to get started on having his family established somewhere safe from what he knows is coming after the next presidential election. On the night before a trip into Arizona Will sits everyone down and he tells them, “I want us to go north to set up our own place where it looks a lot greener than around here. However, I first need to go to California to do some business. We’ll leave soon, but before I go I want to talk about where I see things going for the country in the next few years.” They look up from their work to give him their full attention because politics is one thing he’s always avoided discussing. He sighs then continues, “I know I don’t talk about what the political people do in the capital, but I do read the newspapers and I listen to all of the other people. The political back and forth on the issue of slaves and the laws on slave ownership in other states and territories has been going on for many years. The shootings and killings in Kansas and Missouri are going to get worse. The fighting in Congress will increase. Everyone is focussed on the slaves and their freedom, but I think the real issue is the big difference it makes in the profits to those in power in some states due to using slaves. That, and watching all of the land in the territories go to poorer people who don’t have slaves. The slave owners would like to have a lot more land, but they fear they’ll lose their slaves and have to do the hard work themselves if the new states don’t support slavery.”

Jim interrupts to ask, “Will, do you support slavery?”

“No, I don’t! I see men as men, some good some bad. However, the slave based economy in the older states in the south is run by a few rich men who want to expand their lands, but they can’t if they can’t have slaves to work the land for them. That’s why they don’t like the idea of new states that don’t support slavery. Those in power due to making money off the work of the slaves want to continue to do so and to expand it. While those in the north who make money from their own work want to have neighbours who work like they do, not rich slave owners running big plantations. The big operations would soon force the little farms out. It’s all about money, but the underlying issue is the slavery system that allows a few people to make real big profits. If it was just a matter of the people being pro or anti-slavery on theological grounds it would be a minor issue. But because it affects huge profits it’s a major issue I can only see getting worse and leading to an armed conflict.”

Sam looks shocked, shakes his head, and asks, “You expect a war?”

“Yes. At some point those in power in the southern states will get so afraid of losing their profits and political power they’ll rebel and start a war. How far away it is I don’t know! But it can’t be far now, not with all of the bloodshed in Kansas over the slavery issue. Some hothead will do something real stupid, others in power will react, and then the ball will roll right over everyone. When the war starts people will rush to be on one side or the other and many will die or be seriously maimed. But nothing good can come out of such a war. Regardless of who wins the war the whole country, and all in it, lose, especially those who fight it.”

Jim says, “We should be able to sit it out safely here. There are no slave states near us so they shouldn’t come this way.”

“I can’t say if they will or won’t, Jim, but thugs like those in Kansas will avoid the real fighting while they look to loot as far and wide as they can. Think about it, the war will have to concentrate in the east around the seat of power in Washington and the pro-slavery states. They’ll draw the soldiers from all over the country to the fight there.”

Sam finishes for Will, “When the soldiers go east the crooks and the bandits will make more raids to grab what they can. The ranchers who hate the Indians will attack them and the Indians will retaliate. The war may stay in the east, but the fighting and killing will come here too.” He turns to look at Will, asking, “Is it a concern about such attacks that got you into making the house so much like a fort?”

Will nods, “Yes! When I first arrived you could’ve been easily burnt out, but not now. Also, the changes at the doors and windows means you’re now a lot safer from attack. All you need is a good cellar to fill with food, plenty of gunpowder, plus lots of Minié balls, and you’ll be safe from anything short of an artillery attack. I’d even suggest looking at digging a second well in the basement, if you can. That way you can hole up for many days.” Both Sam and Jim slowly nod their agreement before going into a longer discussion about what can be done to help them survive a major attack by bandits or by rogue Indians on the warpath.

The next morning everyone goes into Arizona for the trading. All of the wagons are heavily loaded with their trade goods, but this time a lot more in the way of food stuffs are purchased and loaded into the little wagons with some of the blanket materials to make more blankets for trading on their travels. When they’re all loaded up the parties head off in different directions: the Wilson families to return to the ranch and the March family moves off along the road made by the Butterfield coaches to San Francisco in California.

Will’s little company takes its time heading north-west and they set up a camp early each day after they get well off the road to hide in the scrub. Apart from the coaches going by, in both directions, they see no one on the roads except in the towns and hamlets they pass through.

Twenty-five days later they reach San Francisco, and immediately wish they didn’t need to visit the city.


San Francisco, Day 1

The March family’s introduction to San Francisco isn’t good at all. Near the outskirts of the city they’re met by six armed men stepping out into the road in front of Will. He’s about fifty feet ahead of the rest so he has no problem going into immediate action because the distance makes it hard for the men to deal with both him and the rest of his family while the distance to the ladies makes the men’s pistol accuracy doubtful.

All horses are trained for riders to mount and dismount from the left side of the horse. However, all of the March family horses are trained to allow mounting and dismounting from either side, ground hitching, and other things that can be useful in an emergency. The best trained is the mare Will rides. Normally you expect the man of a family to ride the stallion, but when he first got the horses the stallion made it clear he was Ann’s horse, to the great amusement of both their families.

The saddles of each March family horse now includes three specially made rifle boots, two for the short rifles loaded as shotguns and one for the long barrel rifle. The shotgun ones are designed for a fast draw of the rifle because they’re close-range weapons set for quick use when needed.

While using his left hand to pull the left shotgun from its boot Will also draws a Colt Navy with his right hand at the same time he falls to his right to assist his slide off the horse. The men expect him to stay still and seated on the horse, so his sudden fall to his right (their left) is a big surprise to them. The discharge of the shotgun at two of the men on his left is an even bigger shock, so is his shooting the one nearest him on his right while he vanishes down beside the horse. The men are starting to react to his attack on them at the same moment Will hits the ground. But the men don’t get much chance because it’s also the same moment when the women open fire with their long barrelled rifles and the last three men go down, one of them with two balls in him.

The ladies ride up and two stand guard while the rest of the family strip the dead of useful items before dragging them off into the scrub because Will decides against taking the men to the authorities when a check of the area fails to find any of the robber’s horses, as he doesn’t want the bodies messing up any of their horses by bleeding on them.

Two miles further on they’re riding past some commercial buildings when four men come out of one of the buildings while shooting back into its open door. Will and the ladies don’t even stop to think, five shotguns go off and the four men are dead. The ladies move to their practised positions to keep an eye on all approaches while Will moves to check out what it’s about. Normally they have only one or two keeping watch, but in this town situation they can’t see far enough for that to work well.

Two well-dressed men walk out of the building and look down at the four dead. One looks up and says, “Thanks. They just shot one of our clerks when their robbery failed due to the safe still being locked. You’re a bit fast with shooting them, but I like it.”

Will places his rifle back in its boot and he dismounts while saying, “We’re just in from New Mexico and it’s been a long ride in country you need to be fast to react to trouble. This is the second lot of robbers we’ve come across today.” He turns to his saddlebags to get out his first aid kit, adding, “I’m not a doctor, but I do know how to treat most wounds, so you best let me have a look at your clerk.” One man nods agreement, directs two of his workers to strip the dead for Will, and to dispose of the dead while the other leads Will into the building to treat the shot man.

It turns out to be a bloody wound, but not a fatal one. The ball hit his ribs at an angle and it tore a big gash in his side while breaking a couple of ribs. After having the man take his shirt off Will cleans out the wound before he bandages it while he tells the man how to keep it clean and to see his regular doctor, he also advises him to eat a lot of red meat to help with the blood loss. Both the man and his bosses appreciate having the quick treatment of the wound.

While packing up Will looks about the fair sized office he’s in. When told it was a robbery he thought it may have been a bank, but it isn’t. He says, “This doesn’t look like a bank! Why did they try to rob you?”

One of the men answers, “We do the accounts for a lot of businesses, and that includes preparing their pay-packets, some we do today. But we’re still preparing the envelopes and the money is still in the safe, so there was nothing for them to steal as opening the safe takes a long time.”

Will nods his understanding and asks, “What are the best banks in the city to do some business with?” The men name a number of banks, but Will recognises two of them and asks, “I know of the Hibernia and of Wells Fargo, where are their offices?” They give him directions and he leaves them to go on about his business while they do theirs.


Banking

An hour later the March family is outside the Hibernia office then Will is on his way inside to find out how they handle gold and what they’ll pay him for it, after having done that with Wells Fargo. He figures to go with the best rate. Inside he talks to the staff, and he learns the rate is the same at both banks. After going outside to get a sack with a pound of gold he opens an account and their scales give the same weight as the ones he used in New Mexico did, so he deposits that lot, making the bank manager happy with the account balance. He’s even happier when Will returns with another thirty pounds of gold nuggets and dust to deposit.

It’s back to the Wells Fargo office to test their scales with a pound of gold. The scales are accurate, so Will deposits the remaining thirty-six pounds of gold into an account with them. He still has some gold coin from the sale of earlier goods, so they don’t take any out right now.

The Wells Fargo staff give Will directions to a good store to sell the furs and blankets to, so they head over there to do business. While there they learn of where they can set up camp for a few weeks. Will figures the hotels won’t allow Indians in them so he avoids the issue.

All of the furs sell well, but the storekeeper isn’t that sure about the blankets until Ann convinces him to sit down with one around him for several minutes to see how warm they are. They stock up on food and blanket materials without spending all they get paid, so the extra gold coins are shared between their saddlebags.


Night Events

The directions to where they can camp for the night are good, and the fee is small. They set up their teepee and immediately get some interest in its design. Will explains to some watchers how it’s made while the ladies put it up. His Indian wives say putting up the teepee is their job and Ann agrees with them so he’s not prepared to argue about it. He does point out to the watchers how much easier it is to pack the teepee in their wagons than it is to use the type of tents most stores sell.

After an early meal Will leaves the ladies in the camp while he goes to do a little bit of investigation and exploring. He wants to hire some people to drive wagons of goods back to Arizona and he needs to see if he can find a few honest men interested in the work. The best place to look is the various saloons, which are not places to take his ladies.

The first place Will sees is a large building that’s a saloon and a hotel called The Star - it has a sign with a large five point star like you see a lot of sheriffs wear. He walks in and he sees tables with chairs everywhere. On one side all of the tables near the wall have people playing cards, the back is a bar with a door to a back area on each side of it, the other side has a stairway to the upper level, and the tables under the stairs aren’t in use while almost every other table is in use. While he studies the people movements he wonders why that’s so. It’s soon clear some of the females are working girls looking for clients to take upstairs and some are serving girls, along with some men, serving drinks to the tables as well.

He walks in and he takes a seat on the side under the stairs with his back against the wall to watch what’s happening. A young girl of about twelve or so walks up and asks, “Got any particular girl in mind?”

Will looks at her as he replies, “I think I may have done something wrong without meaning to. I just got into town and I wanted a place to sit with my back to the wall. Do these tables have a special meaning?”

“Yes! Men waiting for one of the whores or waiting to go upstairs with one sit at these tables. You can’t sit here without paying for a girl.”

“If I pay for a girl’s time can I sit here?”

“You should be able to. But the girls don’t take all that much time with a man upstairs, so it’ll cost a lot to tie her up for a long time.”

“What would it cost to have you sit here for a few hours?”

“The doctor hasn’t approved me to work upstairs yet, so we can’t go upstairs. I’ll have to ask my owner. Do you want a drink?”

“Yes. I want some good Kentucky bourbon. Tell the barman I know what it tastes like and if it’s watered down I’ll shoot him.”

The girl grins and walks off to the bar. She speaks to the barman then she walks into one of the back rooms while the barman grabs glasses and three bottles. He walks over, places the glasses on the table, and pours a little from each bottle into a glass. Will sips the first and spits it out. He sips the second and smiles. He tries the third before he shakes his head saying, “That last one’s not too bad, but it tastes a little watered down. Let’s save time and give me a price for what’s left in the second bottle?”

The barman smiles, “Well, unlike most, you do know the right taste. There’s not much left and it’s expensive. Ten dollars for what’s left.”

Will slowly shakes his head, “That’s damned expensive. But it’s been a few years since I had a decent drop so I’ll pay, this time. But rest assured, I’ll look around for a better price tomorrow.” He gets out a ten dollar gold coin and he puts it on the table.

The barman smiles while he picks up the coin, “If you can afford to buy a full case or two the wholesalers down at the docks are the best places to go for a good price.” Will nods his thanks at the advice while he pours himself a full glass as the barman takes the other stuff away.

The girl comes from the back room with another man in tow. The man stops for a word with the barman before he comes to the table.

The man walks up to the table and says, “Evening, stranger. You can’t take Ginny upstairs. So why do you want to pay for her time?”

“I want to sit to spend a quiet evening drinking. I like to sit with my back to a wall and this set of tables is the only place I can. I’m told I have to pay for a girl’s time if I sit at these tables. I don’t want the other girls to lose the chance at other work while sitting here, so I figure she’s a good choice. And probably cheaper for it too.”

The man looks at Will for a moment while he thinks about the situation. He says, “Two dollars for as long as you sit at the table. Get up to leave, for any reason, and the time’s up. All you can do is talk.” Will puts his hand in his pocket and pulls out two one dollar coins. He almost loses a finger when the man snatches at them once they hit the table.

The girl sits down and Will asks, “I see there’s a menu over by the bar. Is food still available?” The girl nods yes. “What do you suggest?”

She replies, “The stew is good and the roast beef sandwiches are good today. The bread and beef were cooked today.”

Will reads the menu prices and he also spots a list for drinks. Getting out a ten dollar gold coin he hands it to her, “Ginny, go order five of the beef sandwiches and get a bottle of the sarsaparilla for yourself too.” She gets up, takes the money, and heads to the bar. After a short word she’s given tokens to take into the other back room while the barman gets a bottle from under the counter. A few minutes later she’s walking out with a plate full of big sandwiches, gets the bottle, and brings it all to the table. When she puts it down with the change he says, “I don’t like to eat alone, so grab a sandwich to eat with me.”

While reaching for a sandwich Ginny says, “Thanks, Mister.”

“I’m Will March and new in town. Can you fill me in on which locals are honest to deal with and which aren’t?” She nods yes and starts telling him about all the locals while stuffing the food down as fast as she can.

A few minutes later Will is only halfway through his first sandwich when she starts on her second and she says, “You know I would’ve told you what you wanted to know without you having to feed me!”

“I know! But you looked like you need a good feed and I was a bit hungry as well. What we can’t finish here I can take back to my wife.”

“Dang! I thought you were working on me becoming your wife,” is her reply in a joking tone. They move on with the discussion about all of the people in the area and where he might find some honest workers.

“Ginny, why do you work here?”

“Got no choice. When my parents died, a few years back, everything was taken to settles pa’s debts and I was sold to Mister Butler. He’s just waiting until the doctor says I’m old enough to work upstairs before he puts me to work up there. I don’t want to, but I got no choice. If I run I’ll get caught and whipped then made to do it, anyway.”

Will isn’t happy about the situation, and it’s clear Ginny isn’t either, but is resigned to her fate. He asks, “How much to buy you from Butler?”

She glances over and says, “I heard he paid four dollars for me two years ago. So now he probably wants seven or eight dollars. He can make more off me as a whore, but he has to clothe and feed me as well. So it comes down to if he wants the money now or later. I wouldn’t put it past him to come to a price then try to force more after you agree. Be careful, he’s fast with a gun and the last girl someone tried to buy still works here because Butler beat him to the draw.”

“Go over to tell Butler I’d like a word, but don’t tell him I asked about buying you.” She nods to him before she walks toward the back room. Will makes himself more comfortable in his chair and he slips the leather strap holding his left hand pistol in the holster off of the gun while he cocks it ready for use. He also slips it a bit out of the holster.

Butler walks up to ask, “What can I do for you?”

 
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