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 High Spirits

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Join date : 2013-08-24
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High Spirits Empty
PostSubject: High Spirits   High Spirits EmptyMon Jan 25, 2016 5:39 am

This is a sequel to the 'Hole In The Ground Gang'.  If you haven't read it, here is the link. 

High Spirits

Nancy Rowe stared at the huge portrait of a reclining nude being held by her two handymen; the picture that is, not the nude.  A painted nail tapped at her rouged lips before they parted, contrasting yellowing teeth with the scarlet slash of her smile.  “Yeah, it’s fine.  No damage.  I’d have thought she’d have offended the temperance league, but I guess they were too busy smashing up the hooch.”  She waved a shedding feather boa in the general direction of a curtained off area of the salt mine.  “Put it in there for safekeepin’ and then you can put my brass bed together.”  She flicked the end of her wispy stole over the nose of the blond man, making his nose crinkle.  “Be real careful with it.”

“I’m always careful,” the Kid replied, struggling with the weighty gold frame before setting it on the ground. 

“Oh, honey,” the bar owned purred. “It’s fine to make mistakes, just don’t get caught.”

“We’re doing our best,” murmured the dimpled dark man at the other end of the burden.

“Sweetie, you two could do your very worst and have us look forward to another visit.”

“Get your end, Joshua,” the Kid gave Nancy a pained look.  “Sheesh, this thing weighs a ton.”  

Sheriff Flaherty cleared his throat.  “Can we get back to the point?  I’m a busy man.”            

Her expansive bosom inflated in indignation, her pancake makeup cracking with her rictus scowl.  “This is a health club.  My members come here to take medicinal beverages and invigorating activities in convivial surroundings,” she arched a brow, “in the soft hands of experts.” 

Flaherty’s eyes narrowed under bushy-caterpillar brows which partnered his moustache.  “Kansas has been dry since 1881, Nancy.  Your saloon and brothel was shut down; smashed up by the temperance league.  Do you really think we’re gonna buy your argument that this hole is a health club?”  He cast out a hand to the cave-like walls of the salt mine.  “All you’ve done is move your stock to the John Blue Mine and open up under the banner of a health club.”

“That ain’t true.  My stock was already here,” smirked Nancy.  “If’n it had been at the bar them embalmed old biddies would’ve smashed them too.  They’re only jealous that their husbands bring their honey to us instead of laying it before the queen bee at home.”   

“The hate that what men spend here,” Flaherty retorted.

“They hate what their men want to do to ‘em,” Nancy flicked away a tendril of bleached hair with a lacquered talon.  “Men are like tumbleweed.  Keep ‘em watered and bedded, they’ll flower, but when they go to a home as dry as their shriveled wives nobody’ll blame them for rollin’ off down the street.”

Disbelieving eyes glanced around the mine.  “So whatcha growing in here, Nancy?  Mushrooms?”

Her folded arms bolstered her obstinacy.  “Seems so.  You brought enough b*llsh*t.”

The lawman shook his head.  “Enough!  I’m closing you down.”

A man stepped out of the shadows, his hooked nose casting shadows in the flickering light.  “I am Bernard Schulmeyer, Attorney at Law.  When the law was enacted the legislature permitted on-premises sales of liquor in private clubs.  As Miss Rowe’s legal advisor I can assure you that I have done everything in my power to ensure we kept to the letter of the law.  The membership fee may be nominal, but they still have to pay to join.  The people here are paying members and the public are not permitted entry.”

“That includes the temperance hags,” snapped Nancy.  “Schulmeyer is my Bill’s lawyer.  He kept him outta jail for that robbery in Brimstone.  He’s real good”

“Yeah, but he can’t show his face around here ‘cos he got off on a technicality.  He’s as guilty as hell and the railroad want the gold back.”  Flaherty huffed away his incredulity.  “This is an old mine.  It’s a hole in the ground, not a damned country club.  You’re always findin’ these loopholes, Bernie.  The mayor’s getting’ real tired of it.”

“Damn the mayor and that sister of his.  They give me the creeps with them donkey smiles of theirs,” Nancy declared.  “They could eat watermelon through a picket fence, the pair of ‘em.  And if they harass me for Bill’s loot one more time, I’ll be the one swingin’ an axe.”       

The lawyer smiled.  “It’s my job to find the loopholes.”  A book was suddenly produced.  “Check the words for yourself.”  Schulmeyer poked a stubby finger at the page.  “There’s no definition of a private club.  It just says an ‘establishment.’  It doesn’t even say there has to be a building.”

“A mine ain’t no establishment.  It’s a hole.”

“It doesn’t change what the law,” Schulmeyer smirked.  “It’s not a building, but it’s still private premises you can buy and sell,” one eyebrow flicked up, his aquiline profile throwing the shade of an eagle on the wall in the lamplight, “just like the country club.”

“This is just plain dumb!” spluttered Flaherty.

“No, Jim.  It’s as smart as smart can be.  It can’t be burned or smashed, there’s only one way in or out, and it’s just outside of town.  If them temperance biddies bring them winterkill, pursed lips round here, I’ll see them off.” Nancy’s painted eyes blazed at the lawman.  “You mark my words.  Me and my girls’ll lay ‘em out.  Men are too gentlemanly to fight ‘em, but I got a right to protect my property, even if she is the mayor’s dry stick of a sister.  They ain’t hit the Gentleman’s Club frequented by suited stiffs.  It’s only the poor workin’ man who can’t kick back and have a drop of golden joyful.  That just ain’t fair.”

“If you want to close this place down you’ll have to do it legally,” Schulmeyer added.  “The definition of a Gentlemen’s Club fits us too.”

The sheriff shook his head.  “What’s in this for you, Bernie?”

The lawyer’s eyes slid sideways as he grinned lasciviously at Nancy.  “Just the joy of doing a good job for the little fella.”

“Let’s keep your little fella out of this, shall we?” scowled Flaherty.  “I’m gonna have to speak to the mayor and the county attorney about this.”

“You do that,” grinned Nancy, her shoulders emerging haughtily from a peignoir like a bodega Venus.  “And remind them that I know them all.  If’n they’ve a mind to forget, I’ll make sure everyone remembers their little peccadilloes.”


The Kid stretched out on his cot and peered glumly at the glinting walls of their curtained-off cubicle.  “This ain’t much better’n jail.”

Heyes looked up from his book.  “Huh?  We can walk out of here any time we want.  There’s food, drink, and women.”

“There’s no window.”

Heyes turned a page.  “It’s a mine, what d’ya want to look at?  A colony of bats?”

“I feel cornered when I don’t have an escape route.”

“You could run further down the mine,” Heyes flicked a glance at his edgy cousin.  “They’ve boarded up the tunnels to stop drunks wandering off too far and getting lost, but I’m sure you could get through if you put your mind to it.”

“Why would I run into a hole?  I ain’t a bear.”

Heyes rolled his eyes.  “You’re sure part-grizzly at times.  We’ve got an easy job here, building compartments to split the mine into rooms for the girls to take customers and make chambers into bar rooms.  Stop complaining.”

“I’ve just got this real bad feelin’,” his head snapped to the right, following a sudden noise echoing off the walls.  “What was that?”

A deep howl blasted through salt mine, bouncing off the multi-faceted rock crystals.  “I heard it that time,” murmured Heyes.

They both leaped from their bunks and ran into the body of the mine.  They paused, initially confused by the sounds resonating in a circle of emotion around the hard walls until a petite brunette in a feathered head dress appeared in the non-curtained side of the corridor.  She pointed up towards the exit.  “Gus Muirhead has gone loco!”

They followed the next cry, running up to the entrance, where a pink-faced man leaped up and down on the spot as Nancy did her best to calm him down. 

“It was her I tell you.  I heard her distinctly.   It was my wife’s voice.”

“A town’s woman sneaked in here?” asked the Kid. 

“No, you don’t understand,” Gus shook his head.  “Maggie’s dead.  Buried almost two years past.”

“It’ll just be someone who sounds like her,” Nancy dragged up a chair.  “Sit down and I’ll fetch you a drink on the house.” 

The man allowed himself to be lowered into a seat and pulled out a large spotted handkerchief to mop his brow.  “It weren’t nobody else.  It was Maggie.  I was just takin’ off my pants when I heard her say, ‘How much?  Who knew someone that cheap could be so expensive?’’ It was definitely her.  I’d know that female growl anywhere.”

“You must have misheard another couple, honey.  There are only curtains in between.  We ain’t got real walls yet.”  Nancy turned to the working girl walking into the main chamber, tying on her dressing gown.  “Did you hear anythin’?”

She shook her head.  “Nope.  He just started runnin’ down the corridor like the devil was after him hollerin’ about his wife.”

“How much did he have to drink?” demanded Nancy.

 Gus fastened his trousers and thrust a battered hat on his head.  “I’m leavin’.  This here place is haunted.”

“How can it be haunted by your dead wife?  What would she be doin’ here?” snorted Nancy.  “Did a lot of minin’, did she?”  She dropped to sotto voce, so only the ex-outlaws could hear, “or miners…?”

The whites of the fearful man’s eyes flashed in the lamplight as they searched the ceiling.  “I dunno, maybe this mine runs under her grave?  All I know is that I heard her, clear as I hear you now.  I ain’t hangin’ around here.”  He turned on his heel and stomped away.

“Well, that’s got to be the strangest thing I’ve seen since I saw Kyle with a book,” muttered the Kid, examining the ceiling with the madam.

“Yeah, but it was hollowed out so he could hide booze,” Heyes replied.  He stared off into the night at the shade of the departing customer.  “I’d lay odds drink was at the heart of this too.”     


A homely matron in a nightgown ran screaming into the corridor, her head a festival of wiggling rag curlers.  The sleepy occupants of the mine forced open bleary eyes in shock and fumbled their way out of curtained cubicles to see what was happening.  The Kid fastened his pants over his Henley, Colt at the ready.  Blue eyes fixed on the unknown face, lit by the nightlights illuminating the main aisle of the mine.  “Ma’am?  What are you doin’ in here?” 

She bustled over and grabbed his arm.  “It’s me; Nancy.  Are you blind?”

He blinked down at the familiar voice coming from the completely unrecognizable face.  “Nancy?”

“Yeah, it’s Nancy,” the steely glint in her eyes suddenly coupled with her voice to make the un-made-up face detectable.  “Did you see him?” 

“See who?  You look different,” he groped around for something positive to say about the woman who was as plain as brown bread without her cosmetics.  “More innocent…younger even.  What’s up?”

“It was Bill, my intended; right next to my ear.  If’n he didn’t come after me, he must still be in there,” the Kid saw the closest thing to fear he had ever seen flicker in this redoubtable woman’s eyes as she pointed to her cubicle.

“Your boyfriend?  He’s here?”  The Kid peered into the shadows. “I’d have seen anyone followin’ you so he must still be in there.  Why’re you so scared?”

“Because it can’t be him.  It just can’t…”

The partner’s eyes met in an unspoken conversation.  Heyes nodded and they moved in unison, sweeping back the curtain and swinging into Nancy’s private area.  They turned questioning looks on their employer. 

“There’s nobody here, Nancy,” Heyes cast out a hand to the empty room.

“It must’ve been a dream,” shrugged the Kid.  Nobody would’ve got past me out there.  I’d have seen them.  Our cubicle is right opposite yours.”

“I felt his hot breath on my face.  I could smell tobacco.”  Her curlers trembled with emotion.  “He was as real as you are.”

“Like Thaddeus said, it was a dream.”  Heyes nodded over to the gathering employees huddling into dressing gowns as the disturbed sleepers came back to life.  “Do you want one of the girls to sit with you?”

She started to shake her head, but seemed to think the better of it.  “Maybe I need a drink?  No, on second thoughts, I’ll have hot milk.  I don’t want to hear any more voices.  Maybe it was my imagination after all?”

I ain’t so sure, Nancy,” a peroxide blonde pouted.  “I didn’t want to say anythin’ but I’ve been hearin’ things too.  Weird things…”

“What kinda things?”

“Gigglin’, real high, squeaky laughin’,” she shuddered, “but it’s the scratchin’ that really gets to me.  It’s like we got elves.”

Heyes’ face lit up with suppressed laughter.  “Elves?  Like the little fellas with pointy ears?”

“I knew you’d laugh,” the girl pouted.  “Astrid heard it too.”

A dark girl nodded reluctantly before dropping her head in shame.

“What’s goin’ on?” Nancy threw up her hands.  “The word’s gone mad!  First ghosts, now elves.  What next?  Dragons?  You’ll be tellin’ me bigfoot’s tendin’ bar.”

The Kid’s brow furrowed.  “Maybe there’s somethin’ in the water?”

“Or the air,” Heyes’ nose twitched.  “This is a disused mine.  There’s such a thing as a gas called White Damp.  It causes hallucinations before it really gets to you.  We need to move everyone up to the mouth of the mine.”

“Gas?”  Nancy’s eyes bugled.  “Why didn’t anyone tell me there was gas in mines?  We’ve gotta get outta here.”

“Your place is smashed to bits and it’s gone midnight,” Heyes shook his head.  Everyone grab your mattresses and blankets and we’ll make do near the cave mouth until the morning.” 

“I’ve got big tents in the back store room of my old place for when we get busy with all the miners in the summer,” Nancy smiled coyly.  “I’ll pay you ten dollars apiece to go fetch them and put them up.  It won’t take more’n half an hour to get them back here.  We could be all tucked up by two; with no elves, ghosts, or gas.”

The partners paused, considering the offer in a mute conversation.  Ten dollars was ten dollars and easy money won the day.

“You got it,” the Kid replied.  “Judgin’ by the mess of the place since I last saw it we ain’t gonna need keys.”     


Four Forks was dark and subdued by the time the pair of horsemen trotted down the main street.  It was past one in the morning and it was a weeknight, so farmers, miners, and the old all long abed.  It didn’t take long to find Nancy’s place, a splintered, shattered ruin on the loose side of town; a place where the louche and infamous rubbed shoulders with the dissolute and licentious.  They stopped in front of the smoking sepulcher of indulgence and tethered their horses to the rail outside.

“I hope this ain’t wild goose chase,” the Kid rested his hands on his hips and looked up at the building.  “Those tents could’ve been burned or wacked by an axe.  They could be completely useless.”

“If they’re in a store room they might still be alright.  It was the booze that got the brunt of it,” Heyes finished tying off his mare.  “If they’re damaged it’ll be the end of Nancy’s business until the building’s repaired.  The mine’s not fit to be lived in, not with White Damp sending everyone loco.”

They stepped up on the porch, but stopped dead, their instincts singing a silent warning.  Their eyes met in the moonlight, the Kid’s brows arching in query, and a miniscule nod in response confirming that Heyes had heard the sounds coming from inside the building too.  They paused, necks craning to catch the least creak, and were rewarded by what sounded like the cracking of splintering wood.  Someone was inside.

“Temperance crowd?” whispered Heyes.

“At this time?” the Kid responded, quietly.  He drew his gun.  “I doubt it.”  

They slunk in through the unlocked doors, treading gingerly through the shards of glass and scorched floorboards.  Almost everything usable had already been retrieved and moved to the mine, but there was always the likelihood of a lone opportunist sorting through the remains of the bar to see what they could swipe. 

A light glimmered through the darkness leading them to the sounds of rooting and shifting coming from the back room.  They took position either side of the door, peering through the gloom.  They were pretty sure that the man was alone; crouched over the remains of a cupboard oblivious to the silent sentinels behind him.

“Looking for anything in particular,” Heyes’ dark-brown baritone drifted smoothly through the darkness.

The figure jerked in shock, dropping the broken door of the cubby with a jerk.  He swung around, blinking accusingly at the interlopers in the lamp light.

A smile twitched at the Kid’s lips.  “Well, I’ve seen it all now.  It ain’t often you see a burglar in a three piece suit and a derby.  Is this a formal break-in or can anyone join in?”

The stranger clambered to his feet.  “Put those guns down.  I’ve every right to be here.”

“Yeah?”  Heyes shook his head.  “And I’m guessing you’re so dishonest I can’t even be sure you’re lying.”

“I’m Mayor Montgomery,” the ex-outlaws suddenly recognized the prominent teeth and high cheekbones he shared with his axe-wielding, temperance-warrior sister.  “I’m checking out the damage.”

Cynical blue eyes drifted over the pulled up floorboards and the jimmy lying beside the panels wedged from the walls.  “By breakin’ up the rest of it?  It looks like a search to me.”

“Rubbish,” snorted the Mayor.  “My sister was involved in the activity which smashed up the place.  I felt beholden to see the place for myself.”

“Under the floor and behind the walls?”  Heyes’ cheeks dimpled as he glanced around at wall discarded panels lying around like scattered playing cards.  “Nope, you’re looking for something.  What?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Montgomery stammered.  “What could I possibly be looking for?”

Heyes’ eyes narrowed.  “Did you put your sister up to raiding Nancy’s place?”

“Of course not.  Why would I do that?”

“To make the kind of search we caught you doing.  Nancy sure wasn’t going to let you pry off boards when she was around.   What’re you looking for, Mr. Montgomery?”

“Nothing,” he simmered, defensively.  “It was like this when I arrived.”

“Sure it was.  That was why we heard the wood crackin’ when we crept up on you.  I think we need to take you over to the sheriff.”

Montgomery threw off the shock of discovery.  “Who are you to question me, creeping about here at this time of night?”

“We’re in the employ of Nancy Rowe.  She sent us here to get something,” Heyes replied.

“She did?”  Montgomery’s grey eyes gleamed in the lamplight.  “What?”

“None of your business,” the Kid retorted.  “Come on.  We’re takin’ you over to the law.”  His turned at the creak of a floorboard behind them.

“No need, boys.  I’m already here.”  They spun around to see Flaherty stepping carefully over the debris littering the floor.  “Yeah, we took this opportunity to look for the gold her boyfriend stole from the train over by Smoky Hill.  It was never recovered.  We’ve looked everywhere.  Even that mine she’s campin’ out in.”

Heyes shook his head.  “Gold?  We wouldn’t be working for her if she was hiding stolen property.  We stay well away from criminals.

“With respect, Mr….?”

“Joshua Smith.”

“Mr. Smith, you’re an odd job man.  She’s hardly likely to tell you, is she?” grinned the sheriff.  “She sent you for something?”

“Tents.  There’s gas in the mines and we can’t stay in there after all,” Heyes cheeks dimpled.  “I’m guessing she hasn’t got a fortune hidden anywhere or she wouldn’t be living poorer than a dirt farmer.”  He paused hooking the mayor with a questioning glint.  “You had to get her out of here so you could really turn the place over.  You sneaky, low-down, dirty….”  A nudge from the Kid reminded him to clear the note of admiration from his voice.  “How do you know she didn’t take it with her?”

“We’ve searched the place time and time again, before you got here.”  The sheriff replied.  We knew we had to go into the fabric of the building.  We’ve searched the mine too/ ”

“Nothing to do with us,” Heyes shook his head.  “Let’s get the tents and leave them to it.  It’s up to Nancy to decide what she wants to do.”

“And you know we’ll tell her,” the Kid warned.  “We ain’t takin’ sides.  Nancy’s likely to get so ornery she’d make a freight train take a dirt road.”

“Yeah,” the lawman nodded.  “Nancy’s a special kind of vengeful, but I’ll deal with her.  I’m beginnin’ to think she ain’t got any idea where it is.  Her place is in ruins and she’s moved into a hole.  I guess Bill Catchpole either lost it, or disappeared with it himself and deserted Nancy.  Ain’t nobody seen him for a year.”


The partners watched Nancy simmer; impressed at her creativity with invective and curses.  They’d never heard such an extravagant and embroidered tirade in their whole criminal career.  She even split up words to insert extra profanities.   

“That @*%$&^% Mont*&^%$£^ gomery!  He named the *&£%^$ street he “$*&%$ owns after his *&^%%$£* wife. What a grand *$£^%$*^& statement of his love!  Cold, hard, cracked, and only gets plowed around the holidays.  Wait till I get my ^%$*&%$ hands on him and that *&$^&$ stiff-*$^$£%^ sister of his.  I’ll *&£$£^* make them pay for this *£$&^%* mess.”

“We’re sorry, Nancy,” mumbled the Kid.  “We thought it was best to come clean with what we found.”

“Ya did right,” she announced, “get them tents up real quick and there’ll be an extra ten dollars in it for both of you.  Tomorrow I’ll get men rebuildin’ my place and we’ll be back in business before we know it.  I’ll show ‘em what a real *&£%$% woman can do.  As if Bill Catchpole left me?  No man ever left me.  Not ever!” 

She swept off into the mine, her epithets bouncing off the hard walls in ever decreasing circles all the way.   The worn velvet curtain to her private chamber was dragged aside to allow her to throw herself on her bed to wipe away the burgeoning tears in private.  “How dare they!?  I’m no pathetic weakling who lets a man walk away the minute he comes into money.  Nobody double-crosses me.”  Her gaze drifted over to the huge picture of the reclining nude propped up against the wall.  She stood and dawdled over to it, sniffing back anger and frustration.  “They never give a woman credit for anythin’.  I run a business and out-deal every man in town.  They’ll never find Bill unless they open this mine up again.”  She picked idly at the paint covering the frame.  “Those dumb asses couldn’t find the gold if it was right under their noses.  Hell, they couldn’t find it when it was hangin’ on the wall right in front of ‘em.  This time next year should be long enough to throw them off the trail,” She grinned, patting the frame gently, “then me and my portrait are headin’ out to San Francisco.  A woman can lose herself somewhere that big….”     

Historical notes

White Damp was one of the many names for carbon monoxide in mines.  It causes mood changes, hallucinations, and light-headedness in small doses.

Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight      Old Scottish proverb
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