The Last Draw
Mary, the homesteader who had only recently abandoned her bustle and corset, rested squarely and primly in a fine, two-piece, cotton calico, her elbows on the tablecloth, hat perched on yellow hair, gloved hands clasped. Carolina, the sometime scout and itinerant cowgirl, rocked back and forth on the sturdy hind legs of her chair, one buckskin knee bent, the other moccasin boot stretched ahead. Delphine, the owner of the establishment, reclined sensuously at an angle–her stocking-clad legs pressed close, her bloomers a garden of lace and embroidered flowers, her low-cute chemise bedecked with ribbons, feathers in her dark hair. The three friends formed a triangle around the table set for tea in the parlor of the Blue Moon Saloon. They stared at the last Bremner butter cracker (or savory biscuit, as Delphine preferred) in the center of the Royal Crown Derby Imari plate that rested in the middle of the table like the iris of an eye.
“So…,” Carolina said, pushing up the brim of her Stetson, exposing a puff of her brick-red curls. “Who gets the last one?”
Delphine’s green eyes sparkled. “I had them shipped all the way from Kansas City. The whole tin. Did we…?”
“Yup,” Caroline answered. “We ate the whole damn thing. Except for that little feller, there.” She settled her chair flat and folded her forearms on the table surface, rested her chin on the calfskin sleeves of her jacket. She peered at the cracker as if it were a rabbit she was fixing to shoot. “But what’re we supposed to do? Whoever draws the last … anything … cracker, card, gun, drop in the bottle … ain’t got long to live.”
“Hmm … but someone has to draw that cracker, or all of us will suffer,” Mary said. She took a sip of her tea. “Fine chinaware you have here, by the way Delphy. Right fine.”
“Why thank you, Mary! My former employer had no further use for it, being dead.”
Carolina straightened suddenly. Her right arm flicked out, her hand dropped; she grasped, lifted, positioned her Winchester 1885 across her lap. “You got visitors, Delphine,” she whispered.
Mary slid her eyes to the side so she could see the men who banged through the front door that led to the barroom.
“We’re closed,” Delphine shouted. “We don’t open until sundown,” she added, not changing her position.
They watched as Lionel the bartender, who was setting up, found his shot gun. Thomas, who was mopping the floor, slipped behind one of the wooden support beams, his hand on his holster.
The four men came to an abrupt halt, fists bunching, fingers inching towards revolvers, a shiny carbine barrel clutched and raised. One of them removed his hat and called to her through the polished wooden spindles of the partition that separated the “ladies” area from the gaming and drinking. “Don’t mean to cause no trouble here, ma’am.”
“Well neither do I,” Delphine sweetly called back. She beckoned him. “Why don’t you come on through and we can talk.”
The man blushed, looked at his companions–who smiled, shaking their heads. He shambled towards the women. The louvered swinging double-doors flup-flupped as he pushed into the parlor.
The place was dim, even though it was late afternoon outside. It smelled of stale cologne, alcohol and sweat. The walls were lined with red silk, and an oil five-arm chandelier dripping with crystals floated overhead. Delphine shimmied to her feet, her breasts thrusting under linen, her hands at her hourglass waist. “Now you boys come back when we’re open, and I’ll have something special for all of you,” she said.
He looked at the table, at Mary and Carolina. “Who, them?” He pointed.
Delphine and Carolina burst out laughing. Mary averted her eyes, and didn’t find it at all funny. “No, they are my friends. This is Mary Stanwick. She’s homesteading now up the Sawatch Valley. And that is Carolina Gustafson, she recently scouted for the US Army and herded cattle from Judge Carey’s ranch in Wyoming, all the way to Nebraska.”
“Howdy,” Carolina said, leaning back so their visitor could clearly see the Winchester gleaming in her lap.
“Name’s Charley, Charley Plunkett,” the man offered. “Me and my cousins just got here to St. Elmo; we aim to do some mining.” He noticed the plate. He stared at the round, bumpy, cripsy thing in its center. “Is that…?”
“The last butter cracker all the way from back East,” Delphine said. “We were just arguing among ourselves as to who would get it.” She sinuously reached one white arm and gripped the plate, swung it around so that it remained poised right under Charley Plunkett’s nose. “Have you ever had a fine oyster cracker before?” she asked. As his eyes widened and he shook his head, she continued, “Here, take a bite.”