A cowhand found Barbara Richmond’s body behind the livery stable. Some butcher took a knife to her belly and chest. I stood outside Doc’s office and wept. Lawman Bill Tilghman asked if he could walk with me. “You okay, Dora?” he asked.
He shook his head. “I’ve seen gunshot wounds and some pretty bad stab wounds, but this…”
The Lady Gay was a new saloon in town. Barb and I have been singing and entertaining the cowboys here since we came to town. The boys would come off a long cattle drive and they’d be looking for more than singing and dancing. I’m Dora Hand. I’m a lady of the night. That’s the polite name for what I do.
Bill’s a great lawman, but I miss the old days when Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday were here. Not that it was any safer back then.
I took up a collection to give Barb a nice funeral. The cowboys, as always, were generous. I saw more than one tear-streaked face. Gosh, I love those boys.
There’s more than just cowboys on Boot Hill. A whole bunch of us performers and cowboys trudged up to the freshly dug grave and watched as Barb’s body was slowly lowered into the ground. I stood beside my piano player while one of the older cowboys, a guy they called Preacher, read some prayers. Then we trudged back to the saloon. It’s where I work.
The fancy man stood alone at the bar when we returned. He’d been around for a few months, and I’d seen him staring at me. “Are you Miss Dora Hand?” he asked.
“I am she.” His suit looked expensive; the accent was pronounced, but it wasn’t New York or Boston, not that I’ve been to those places. “You ain’t from around here.”
“From Back East,” he said.
“You traveling someplace?”
“Not traveling. Escaping.”
That’s what men do out here in Dodge and other cattle towns. They escape. I figured he had a wife and kid someplace.
“What’s in the black bag?” I asked. “You a doctor?”
“Used to be.”
I thought about my old friend, Doc Holliday. “A dentist?”
The piano player struck up a lively tune. I got on stage, sang and danced. The boys cheered. When I finished my numbers, the stranger gave me a handful of gold pieces. “You got a room?”
He followed me upstairs. As lovers go, he was adequate. I kept my garter on. The boys like it, and I’ve got my protection hidden there in the sexy silk. Afterward, he slept, or I thought he did.
I looked in his black bag. I hadn’t expected what was in there.
“Didn’t take you for a thief, Dora.” His voice startled me.
“That’s quite a collection of butcher knives,” I said. He pulled the bag away from me, and slowly extracted a knife.
“Shame to kill such a pretty lady,” he said. “But then, the others were pretty ladies too.”
“Your name’s Jack, isn’t it? They call you a ripper.”
“I didn’t know my fame had spread this far west.” He lunged at me with the knife he’d pulled from the bag, but I was faster. I jumped sideways. Years of dancing had given me agility.
He missed but I didn’t. The small knife I kept in my garter had scared off more than one abusive cowboy. This was the first time I’d ever used it to kill. I plunged it deep into the fancy man’s naked belly. I kicked his collection of knives away. While he bled to death, I got dressed. I opened the window facing Main Street. “Someone get the marshal,” I called. “There’s been another killing.”
I turned back to the killer. “You should have stayed in London, Jack.”
M.A. DeNeve is a crazy cat lady, tree hugger, bag lady, and retired college English and writing instructor. Her short stories have appeared in Over My Dead Body, Yellow Mama, and Mysterical -E. Her novels are available on Amazon. She lives with her husband and ten cats in a house with a metal roof.