Read Karen Mercury Online

Authors: The Wild Bunch [How the West Was Done 5]

Tags: #Romance

Karen Mercury (8 page)

Fidelia’s look became almost flirtatious then. She wiggled her hips and rotated her shoulders, even twisting a lock of hair around her finger. “Well, things such as—”

 

Chess Hudson was a gambling man

He squandered far and wide

But when he saw Fidelia swoon

He took her for his bride

 

Stunned, Spenser waved his sword about the room, pivoting on one foot. Ulrich was singing, his German tones infusing what was clearly supposed to be a Western song. His brisk guitar accompanied him, strumming heartily away, but Spenser couldn’t see him.

“Do you see what I mean?” Fidelia cried. “This is the sort of thing! All day long, since I met Chess Hudson, he has been singing junk like that. I will be Chess’s bride, we will name a house after Ulrich, something about a Mirror Man—”

Spenser leaped and spun about when the jangling, twanging guitar started up again and Ulrich blared,

 

Fidelia is a bonny lass

Of this she does not boast

But when she saw Spence Murphy

She mistook him for a ghost

 

Spenser rattled his sword as the guitar strummed on, seeming to come from somewhere near the ceiling. “Thanks a lot, Ulrich!” he shouted at the ceiling. “You of all people should know I’m dressed like this because I’m at work
acting!
If you were in show business like Fidelia says you were, you’d know this. Besides, who’s the ghost around here? Why don’t you show yourself?”

Then he realized he was shouting at a spirit, so he lowered the sword.

“Sometimes,” Fidelia explained, “it’s easier for him to manifest himself through song. I believe that’s how it works, anyway. I think you scared him, so he’s afraid to manifest his body.”

“His body looks like a piece of cardboard anyway,” said Spenser. “Like an advertisement, you know? Like Fatoff’s Obesity Cream or the creepy painting of that clown who promises to restore lost manhood. He’s got a two-dimensional quality to him.”

Fidelia had found a knife to cut the chunk of cheese someone had left on a board. She handed Spenser a chunk, and he dipped it into a pot of mustard. “I know. That concerns me. I think it’s because we haven’t found his murderer yet. I think once that happens he’ll be more restored toward becoming a fully realized spirit.”

“Well, you know it’s someone who frequents this place and drinks absinthe.”

“And wears enormous spurs.”

“Which is no one.”

“But you said the spurs are so large, one would have to remove them the moment one dismounted. So we wouldn’t necessarily see them.”

“That’s true. We need to get more clues from Ulrich.”

“He did just sing something about a boss’s hat and a piece of paper, but that wasn’t of much help.”

“Right. Which boss? Which hat? Listen, I’ll help you, Fidelia. Get more clues, and eventually we’ll see this butcher sitting right in our audience. Or he may kill again, one never knows. Right now I’ve got to go talk to Bullet Bob about his
Hamlet
production. Can you save me some cheese?”

Bullet Bob immediately offered Spenser the position of the ghost of Hamlet’s father—provided he could act, of course.
Spenser promised to drop by the Oddfellows Hall after his next and final break for the day.

One odd thing about Bullet Bob. He seemed overly interested in Chess, whose last name was Hudson, according to Ulrich. In a low, confidential voice, the strange frog said, “You make love with that handsome Chess, no?”

Spenser looked from side to side. It was normally no big deal to privately admit one had sucked on a few tools in one’s lifetime, especially in the theater world, but Bob’s interest seemed overly prurient and twisted. Only, not in the normal poofy way but in a way Spenser couldn’t pin down. “Yes, I am acquainted with Mr. Hudson.”

“Mr. Hudson, is it? That’s even better. If you are Hercules, he must be Zeus, right? Ah yes, he is very godlike! Now, listen, my dear Hercules, bring Chess to the audition. Will you promise me that?”

Spenser was perplexed but promised to do what the strange Bullet Bob requested. Who knew what went on in Frogland? It was Bullet Bob’s business if he wanted to think Chess was a god, as long as it got him the part. The problem was, he doubted Chess would accompany him.
If we’re going to be at odds with each other, we can’t be embracing around every corner
. That was one of the last things Chess had said to him.

Spenser barely had time to piss in the backhouse before he had to resume his position as Hercules. Hudson, Hudson. That name rang a bell. Spenser remembered. Simon Hudson was a big Union Pacific magnate. Didn’t that fellow have at least three daughters?

Chapter Seven

 

“And it was the height of irritation, the amount of money I had to pay through the nose to Lord whatever his name was to remove your name from the
Illustrated London News
,” said Simon Hudson, sitting as imperiously as was possible behind his own desk. He grumped and even resembled a grouse, jowls shuddering.

“I do appreciate that highly,” said Chess emotionlessly. His father had practically slapped the whiskey glass from his hand when he had tried to pour one at the sideboard. Although, of course, this new rule did not apply to Simon himself, who gulped freely. This was absurd! Thirty years of age, and one’s father withholding sustenance as though one were a toddler!

“Of course,” Simon continued grousing, “that only eliminated your
name
from the newspaper. Didn’t stop them from printing that abominable illustration.”

Chess gasped. “What? There was an illustration of me?”

“There certainly was, and thank God it was a clumsy likeness or I’d of had all my acquaintances and associates joshing me about it till the cows came home.”

“Did you happen to save a copy?”

“Oh, I suppose it’s around here somewhere. Now, the fact of the business is, we can’t have any more of these japes, mishaps, and blunders here in Laramie City. I’ll give it to you straight from the shoulder, son. If you think you can come to Laramie and just continue eating Spanish fly and consorting with prairie flowers, well, such things are only done by lowdown half-breeds and these loafers of ill repute who have nothing else to lose. The days of the Hell on Wheels town are long gone—we have reached our Manifest Destiny! You’re the new owner of the Serendipity Ranch, son. You’re a cattle man now, a buckaroo.”

Chess raised an eyebrow. “Buckaroo?”

Simon was actually smiling, finally. “Yes, well. I think that’s English for ‘vaquero.’” He tried to sip from his empty glass.

“What is your assistant’s name? The tall, good-looking fellow with the…” Chess ran his hand across his forehead to indicate a balding fellow.

Simon didn’t seem to understand. “Assistant? You mean my adjutant Zeke? You know, he’s a war hero. He received some sort of hysterical brain injury during the recent War Between—”

Chess got to his feet and yelled down the hallway, “
Zeke!
” Fidelia was right—these Californio spurs
were
ridiculous. It was difficult to even stand in them.

Simon was still reminiscing fondly. “…and they had to pull bolt after skein of fabric and yarn from the rubble where poor Zeke had been buried, only to discover a knitting needle sticking out from his ear…”

The handsome balding fellow Chess had briefly seen earlier came squeaking promptly into Simon’s study. He wore a gaudy striped waistcoat, as though he wished to be standing in a barbershop harmonizing with other men. Did everyone in this town want to be in show business? “At your service, sir!” He even saluted. “I’m honored to finally meet you, Chesney. I can tell we’re going to be great friends.” The ingratiating smile fell, though, when Zeke’s eyes traveled down Chess’s body. “Why are you wearing those hairy chaps?”

Hairy chaps?
Chess had been told these were “woolies” that Wyoming men wore on the range. He had been steered down all sorts of wrong trails. He had paid a mint for these bear chaps that left his ass hanging free. He had felt like a dough-head even purchasing them but had figured it was the natty thing to do.

Meanwhile Simon kept musing, “It was later called the Big Calico Battle because those goddamned Johnny rebs had the gall to burn down a poor grandmother’s fabric shop…”

“Anyway,” said Chess. “My father mentioned a
London Illustrated News
article about me. Do you still have a copy?”

Zeke broke out into an even bigger grin. “Do I! That article? That was the funniest thing to happen in ages!” He even slapped his knee with mirth.

Chess glared at the adjutant. “What was so damned funny? Where is the article?”

In fact, Zeke was laughing so hard he couldn’t talk, only squeak, and he pointed at a room toward the front of Vancouver House, another sort of study. Chess shoved aside the adjutant and strode off down the hallway.

“Chess!” bellowed his father. “Stop scraping up my oak floors with those ridiculous damned spurs!”

Oh, holy hell.
How was a man supposed to get about in these things with rowels the size of paddle wheels? Chess was beginning to panic that his new career as a ranch owner would be up the spout before he even started it. He had wanted to ride up to Vancouver House in style, so he’d picked up what looked like a good thoroughbred bay from the Elkhorn Livery, but honestly, it had been years since he’d ridden a horse. It simply wasn’t done in Europe, where one got about on trains and cabs. And his ass was already sore from the short ride to Vancouver House, where he’d arrived apparently looking like a backwater sucker wearing “hairy chaps.”

In the front study, all manner of photographic equipment was strewn about a table. Next to this table was a well-stocked sideboard. Chess had navigated there somewhat bowlegged and had poured a hefty whiskey by the time Zeke had managed to stop laughing. Zeke still giggled as he searched through a stack of newspapers on a bookshelf.

Chess gulped the fiery liquor and said, “Now, Zeke. Did everyone in town hear about the Tower of Power incident and associate my name with it?”

“Oh, no, sir.” Zeke found the article in question and rattled it at arm’s length.

“Don’t call me ‘sir.’ My father said my name was kept out of it.”

“Oh, it was! I was only laughing because the illustration—”

Chess snatched the newspaper from Zeke’s hand.
Oh, hell
. “This jackass took
complete
artistic license! I never even
had
a moustache, and—what’s this? Smoking a hookah? And he’s made me fat!”

Zeke now attempted to stifle his levity. A few chuckles escaped the sides of his mouth. “I
knew
you were never fat, sir—Chesney. I took exception to that myself. As for the hookah, who knows? It only adds to the exotic allure of the drawing, don’t you think?”

“Exotic allure? He’s got me sinking down into this chair all roostered with my pants unbuttoned, and it looks like I either ravished or brained two of those hookers. How alluring could that possibly be? He may as well have drawn crosses for my eyes and had birds chirping over my head.” Chess slammed the newspaper onto the photographic table and poured more whiskey. “Look here, Zeke. You tell me that these chaps are worthless? They certainly
feel
worthless. I feel about as corpulent as the debauched fellow in that illustration, what with my legs rubbing together. I need to be outfitted for riding around the range over at Serendipity. Only, I’ve got to rename my new ranch. Neil’s keeping the Serendipity name for the small part he’s retaining.”

“Well, yes,” Zeke said frankly. “You’ve got the denim pants right, and the boots are good. But those woolie chaps are only good for when there’s a blizzard. Otherwise you do look like a bear, and it’s July. Let’s get you some ordinary chaps and some more practical Texas spurs over at Freund and Brothers.”

Chess realized that Zeke could be invaluable helping him sort things out in this new town, so he affably said, “Sure. After that, why don’t we stop in at the Morning Star Gallery? The doll playing Eve is a looker.”

“All right!” cried Zeke, giggling goofily. “And you know, since I’ll be working with you, and you’re a ranch owner now, we’ll be a ‘bunch’! That’s what they call a group of fellows out gathering all the cows into one big herd. Maybe they’ll start calling us something exotic like ‘The Savage Bunch’ or ‘The Tower of Power Bunch.’”

Chess snorted. “A group would have to be more than two.”

Zeke shrugged. “‘The Savage Duo.’”

“Chess!” Simon yelled from down the hall. “Come here and get these papers! You need to go to that lawyer Foster Richmond’s and sign the papers Neil and I already signed!”

Zeke nodded. “I know where that is,” he told Chess.

“And get me some honey!”

“I know where that is, too.”

Chess jangled out the front door. Things were starting to look up. He would find Fidelia and assert his courtship of her. He’d find some new spurs, and Spenser. He needed Spenser, as an experienced ranch hand. It would be pleasant to lounge around at night being pleasured by such a talented cocksucker, and Spenser’s ass really demanded fucking, too.

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