Part I: A Letter From Emmet Pismire
[quoteright'/>I have a very extremely urgent need for 2-3 barrels of that black booze juice you have got before when they drain the bottom of those distillery vats in Manteca after a long batch run, and which can't be bought on account of it is now EPA controlled, and has therefore gone from worthless to priceless (which is pretty much the same thing) and which you could get your hands on without no trouble when Ronnie and Burford's EPA honchos were allowing them to dump most anything into the Stanislaus. You said you still had the connections to get ahold of some.
Please get it of the same strength as that time here at the Mines when we put a couple of jugs of your stuff out front that cold night to cool, and then we forgot to bring both in, and also forgot that brass monkey we had got from the flea market. The next morning we could tell by a couple of things in the snow that any of our further experiments in breeding brass monkeys was at an end. One of those jugs was also broke, but the other was froze like separator plates in a car battery, and we drained the concentrate out from between the crystals and took a couple of sips. We was using assay crucibles to drink from, and Wally accidental poured his second round in the wrong one onto the top of that ore from that hopeful drift back in the tunnel, and it blowed up. Wally said he guessed something must have reached critical mass, and that we might even be witnessing the Origin of a Second Universe. He wasn't hurt none, but those big termites up in the rafter logs was mad, and still chunk pieces of ceramic down at us ever so often. Going to pick 'em all down the next time we go for the cobwebs in that room — the shards, I mean, not the termites — don't want to antagonize them any more. Have a kind of working agreement with them — we don't spray them, they don't chew into anything vital. Anyway, we need that stuff extra urgent, and I think you will understand when you read further.
They's two things you need up here to survive a 35 foot snow winter — and the second is women (but them around here that claims to be are some doubtful). Well, I run an ad in the Sacramento Bee and nothing much happened, but after you bootlegged that matrimonial ad into that Intelligencer magazine where you said you had seen stranger stuff, I got some response. In a few days this latterday refugee from Oregon Hippiedom, jingling all over of genuine "Hecho in Mexico" Navajo silver and calling herself Ona DeFlor, showed up here at our digs. Said Oregon's getting overrun with Rajaneeshees, and their "Great Disenfranchised" had drunk up all the Henry Weinhard's.
After a couple of weeks, spite of DeFlor's weird cooking and some other mysterious night noises, I was beginning to think it might not be such a bad winter after all, but she said it was on account of she hodn't had a bath for a week, and it was me smelling all those accumulated Farallons was making me horny. I told her it wasn't them Farallons -it was because she was shaped like a girl even if she didn't look like one. So I said, well, OK, what the hell — I'd marry up with her because I was beginning to like doing "Turkey in the Straw" with her. She said that's because Wally and me was a good combination of turkey and hayseed, and that any marrying up with me she'd do would happen on a 31st of February some year! (I took that as a "No"). Anyway, I was getting a little tired of that Ona's cooking — she claimed it's some kind of gurmy soup, but I don't know of any gurmies still around this country -in fact, I don't know if a gurmy is a flora or a fauna — but she disappeared down the crick ever so often with Wally's .44 and I hear a couple of shots and a little later we eatin that gurmy soup again. Makes you wonder but afraid to ask.
Well, I got a letter from this here Belladonna Nightflower who enclosed her likeness and who is built like a pouter pigeon, and says she is a well rounded woman who lives out by a tenderloin near the Sunset Districts in San Francisco. I can tell she is a elegant lady, and sweet talks her about how fine it must be living where she did, eating tenderloins in all them fancy restaurant-clubs and watching the sunsets over the ocean districts. I also let her know I was a respectable man of affluence with a nine-room house, so she wouldn't get the idea that this was just any old place that she could free waltz into, just like that, without contributing any responsibility, so put it pretty strongly about could she acquire a dowry?...sizable?...could it be pawned?...or sold?...for a sizable sum?...just so she'd know she was expected to bring something into this partnership of the heart other than just herself. Well, seems she can put together a dowry, and we can sure use it on account of that drift looks pretty good but still ain't come in. Wally looked at her likeness and says I should marry up with her right away on account of she is some looker and he don't see where my prospects are ever going to be none too good. She asked for my picture so I put my name on a photo of our Lothario, Dave, up here, who has most of the local women in pursuit (and also three husbands, but not for the same reasons) though I don't see why — but I figure, go with a winner — whatever he has might work on this Miss Bella and lure her up to the Mines at least once. Wally said to be sure and check her teeth -they always did that back in Illinois when buying a cow or a horse, and he couldn't see where a woman was all that different — says he never knew what he was checking for, never really found anything, and only got his finger bit twice. Once when a lady giggled and the other time when the lady's dentures slipped. Says on account of that be sure her teeth is brushed even if you have to do it yourself — recommends Bon Ami.
Well, this Miss Bella says she is going to arrive the last day of February. I find out that Mme Squirrely May has also got about 4-5 new girls coming in for her establishment, on account of several of her regulars turned respectable and married up with some of the miners, except one who married a lawyer, and they is arriving on the same train, which only sports one passenger car, and Miss Bella is going to be among all them Phyllis Dejoys. On top of that, I find they's some Libbers got wind of this, and they sent for some reinforcements from down below at Gossip Gulch, where the wind in the willow blows somewhat hotter, special as relates to men, with them Gulcher ladies always trying to improve us here, claimin they's more scandalous sinnin and papa-less kids here than they is people in the whole town! We heard said Wally's the father of several and a half -kind of a father of his country — and they blamin me for that other half. There was that pore, wet, bedraggled young thing we took in only to housekeep, who too shortly after had that red-haired tyke and run off with that red-haired drummer, First them Gulcher ladies sayin we's guilty and then, cause they's in a crucifyin mood, sayin we's guilty cause we could have been responsible. Wally says strange how some knows more about his autobiography than himself who has lived it — makes him sad he's maybe missed out on some pleasure which he has got punished for but of which he unfortunate ain't had the joy. Anyway, it gives them an uneasy feeling to think someone might be enjoying themselves somewhere, so they's more than glad to come up and help demonstrate on account of them poor sisters who is about to get exploited.
I gets a quick letter off to Miss Bella to wear a rose in her teeth like in the books, but in case maybe somebody else meeting somebody, she might better have two flowers, one out on the left and one out on the right, and maybe she ought to even color code the roses as to white, red, or even yellow, and whether worn right or left. You can see this might have led to just all sorts of embarrassing confusion, especially what with that train coming in after dark, where I could find myself checking the teeth of the wrong lady, and for her to let me know right away what colors, the locations as to right or left, and even if she might possibly be planning to mouth a whole bokay.
Wally's setting around reading his new Frederick's catalog which he finds has many more redeeming social merit insights, though not as cultured as his Betsey Johnson, and I tell him we got to clean the place up and shovel out the potato peels and such cause it's getting on toward the time Miss Bella is due in a couple of days, and them Macy and Emporium underwear ads is got to come down so we make a good impression and don't embarrass the sweet thing. I wander down to Turner's Boozery (he went high-toned — everybody still knows its the saloon) to get some muscle relaxant, when I sudden hear a train hooting its way up out of the Gulch, and wonder, is it a special? I sees a whole passel of women with placards at the station, and it sudden comes to me its them Libbers and Gulcher ladies, and the train has come in early as it is not due until the 31st of Febuerry and it is now only the 28th. Old Lothario Dave is there too, ready to run a transit line on this new covey arriving, and I realizes we got a problem if Miss Bella is on that train and her looking for someone who is going to look just exactly like old Dave. I start backing off purty fast, just about the time the train is disgorging Fallen Women into the arms of their ever-libbin sisters, the Suzy Anthony Chapter of Women's Lib United.
They starts raising a noise unto the Lord which ain't joyous, what with the Fallen Women telling them others they don't know what fun is, and the Libbers waving them placards around and raising hell about how men is exploiting they bodies and don't they got no pride, and one big Mamoo cheerin, "Here's to exploitin — let it begin — Hallelujah!" They's only about three of them gone down in the snow so far when Big Mamoo's eyes light on poor Davy, and she shrieks, "That's him! My power-mower! My sweet baby!" Well Davy shows good sense and lights out, for there ain't nothing like a woman scorned to cause a bunch of fighting sistern to unite in Common Cause, and what with their line of sight aimed right through Davy and onto me like a buffalo gun if they misses, I ain't about to stay around neither and get whapped edgewise with one of them placards.
I light out for man's only refuge in emergencies, only I figure this herd ain't going to be stopped by no puny saloon door, so I cuts down alongside of the building through the slot between the Boozery and the Mortuary (which is somewhat related). They's two of the boys from inside the saloon out back standing close up against the fence that separates the Mortuary rear area from the saloon, on account of the saloon plumbing's been out of order since Turner was sittin back there smoking and reading, when a whole can of carbide spilled out of his back pocket into the stool. His cigar set off the gas that was generated and the bang that was heard in the whole business district not only cracked the crockery, but also blowed him right up through the ceiling and out onto the roof.
I know you got to make a quick right-hand turn when you come out from between the buildings, and I barely makes it past the two boys there, and Davy's comin on fast, with the Howling Horde right behind just entering the pass. I can see just what's coming and step inside the saloon casual-like and saunter straight through to the front and look innocent, just in time to hear the Ladies of the Night and the Ladies of the Lib and that fence all come to a meeting, and the works become a bunch of genuine fallen women. Well, they salvaged the placards and old Davy, and were able to rebuild the fence OK, but old Dave's laid up with a arm in a cast and other unmentionable frontal ailments that look like he's going to be out of commission til after Asilomar, much to the chagrin of some of the local ladies and the relief of several husbands.
I peer out onto the scene of the late battle, but they's nothing but dead placards laying around out in the snow, and none of them moving, so ducking low, I light for our diggings on account of we got trouble.
NEXT: Conclusion: "Miss Bella in the Mine"
© 1985 Burt Schmitz
Burt Schmitz has drawn a number of covers for The Ecphorizer as well as providing interior art. He recently worked on a large illustrated tourist map for a Silicon Valley promotion firm.
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