Synopsis: Johnny remembers an old friend. This is a reworked story I wrote in The Big Valley fandom.
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Johnny watches the girl, thinking of another. He forgets the beer in his hand, the glass midway to his lips. He’s unaware of the grinning man sitting across from him whose head swivels to the girl and back again to look at him.
He doesn’t hear his name being called. He grips the glass and watches the girl running her hand up and down some cowboy’s thigh. She whispers something in the man’s ear and he puts his hand on her breast.
He needs to look away. He knows he should look away.
He startles, remembering Scott is sitting there. He groans inside and waits for the older man to needle him. Surprisingly, his brother is quiet, waiting for him to talk. He’s not quite sure what he should say, not quite sure what he’s feeling.
He turns back one more time to look at the girl and sees she’s no longer at the bar. He remembers his beer is in his hand and drinks it down quickly. He is distracted. At the exact moment the glass slams down on the table, her laughter reaches him and he looks over his shoulder at her. She is holding a bottle and is climbing the steps to the rooms above the saloon. The cowboy stops her and shoves his knee between her legs, raising it upward. She moans and pitches her hips against him.
Johnny is caught off guard when she looks over at him. Her face is without guile. She is more child than woman. She smiles at him, but he doesn’t return it. He feels sad, remembering another.
“Well, that tears it! What is so fascinating about that girl?”
Johnny knows Scott is mostly concerned than annoyed and his face shows his frustration, no longer amused. Soon he will want an explanation and won’t rest until he gets one.
Johnny decides it’s easier to tell him than not. “Oh, I don’t know. I guess she reminds me of someone I once knew.”
Scott seems to think this over a minute and then nods. “Was she someone special to you?”
“Special? I suppose you can say that.”
Johnny gives a full smile. It warms him to think Scott wants to know everything about him. It’s not always an easy thing for him to do.
He hears himself saying, “Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you a story.”
Scott stands and walks to the bar. He comes back with a bottle of tequila and two glasses. Scott fills both and lifts his in a silent toast. Johnny, in turn, does the same and then drinks the tequila down fast. He likes the hard, steady burning through him.
“She was a pretty little thing. Her birth name was Constance, but she went by Connie. Hailed from Massachusetts and wound up down Mexico way after this fellow, Luther Cole, won her in a card game.”
“And no one objected?”
“She told me no one cared. It was her mother who lost her to him. Cole was an enterprising sort, opened a saloon only whoring out Connie at first and then over time bringing in more girls. It wasn’t different from her old life. Told me when she was no more than twelve, her mother brought in men to have a look see and then sold her for the night to the highest bidder. Most of her days had been spent toiling and trying to avoid a beating from her ma. Brought me to tears, listening to her.” He smiles at that, hearing her laughter because of it. “She called me soft-hearted. Maybe I was back then.”
Johnny sees Scott smile and duck his head, like he’s got a secret about something.
He stops to pour a drink for himself and Scott. He throws it back hard and pours another. He feels the tequila and he’s grateful for it, making the talking of things more tolerable.
“Connie said it was a waste of good tears ‘cause there wasn’t a reason for crying. You see, Scott, she told me she was happy and her life was real good. Better than what she’d had before. Being an enterprising sort herself, she’d been charging the men who lay with her, and them paying Cole as well. No one complained because she was worth the extra money and Luther Cole was never the wiser. No better place than here, she’d say. No better place.”
“Where is she now, Johnny?”
He thinks over Scott’s question, his brow lifts, but he doesn’t say anything.
Scott looks confused. “Not in Mexico?” It’s more statement than question.
Johnny shakes his head. “No, not in Mexico.”
“Well, where then? What became of her?”
“Somehow Cole found out about the money. He went crazy, loco. Beat her to death.”
“Dear God! Did they hang the son of a bitch?”
“No! What about the law?”
Johnny looks directly into Scott’s eyes and speaks to him slowly. “She was just a whore.”
Scott doesn’t flinch. He says very softly, “I’m sorry, Johnny.”
Johnny nods a few times at his brother and gives a half-smile. He considers things for a time and then says in a moment’s clarity, “I reckon she found a better place.”