The Good Time Girls Get Famous Sample Chapter
“Would you look at that.” Pip Quinn pointed a black-gloved hand at the wanted posters papering the back wall of the mercantile we had stepped into. “That is an impressive line-up of criminality.”
The owner, a mule-faced fellow in a wool suit and celluloid collar, stared from behind the counter. He tapped a rubber stamp against the wooden top with one hand while the other reached underneath to no doubt grab up a trusty firearm.
We were, after all, no one he knew. It didn’t matter that Pip looked like a grieving widow, all in black with a heavy lace veil and a cane and a limp. I hung back near the door, my straw fedora low and collar up, looking like a sullen boy not at all happy to be out and about with his grandmother.
“I will be on the lookout for each and every miscreant posted above.” She thumped the floor with the cane then swung it at me. “Cedric, let this wall of shame be a warning to you.”
“Miscreants, Grandmama. That’s what they are.”
“Miscreants.” She thumped the cane again, right near the counter. “Cedric. Come here. You need to see this. There is a woman on the wall who looks exactly like a chipmunk.” She leaned forward as if her eyesight failed her. “Why she’s wanted by the entire state of Kansas, this Ruby Calhoun. ‘Attempted murder, Bible thieving, and general mayhem.’ Huh. I did not know that was a crime.”
I saw very well my own visage upon that wall, so did not come forward. It was a deeply unflattering photograph, having been taken on my last foray into the prison system, but Pip did not need to drive that home. I could very well have pointed to the next Most Wanted image and asked what demon spawned such an ugly face. Pip had never had a photograph of herself, but the artist’s rendering got the scar right and that set of her jaw when she got mad.
Pip gasped and stepped back. “That other one, why she’d frighten me to death should I cross her.” Her voice quavered. “That is the ferocious Pip Quinn, is it not? Even my failing eyes can see how ferocious she is.”
The man’s lips curled into a snake of a smile. “They got John Ward after them.”
My heart thumped hard enough I knocked my fist to it. My skin went itchy and cold. John Ward’s name did that to me.
“Word is…” The man shifted his eyes left and right, then leaned over the counter as if to tell a secret. “Word is he hangs ’em instead of bringing them in.”
Pip went very still, except for her index finger rubbing the silver cap on the cane. “That is terrible.”
“That’s what I heard.”
“This isn’t the Wild West.” Her laugh came out like a gurgle.
“‘Act like a Dalton, you'll be treated like one.’ That’s what he said last week in the World.”
“You got a copy of that paper?”
He shrugged and pushed the rubber stamp aside. “I did not hear you say where you’ve come from.”
“Why, we just had a bite at the Fergusons. Bella is my cousin and—”
“Don’t know a Ferguson.”
“Really? I thought everyone knew everyone in these sorts of places.”
“What sort is that?”
Pip gave a sharp little laugh. “The sort like your charming three-horse... I am from the Little Rock area and all these prairies look the same to me. Bella lives two towns over that away. Cedric, where does our dear Bella live?”
I mumbled something, then stuffed my hands in my pockets and stared out at the empty street and the dirt gusting into spirals and curlicues. Pip’s horse, Satan, chewed the post he was tied to and gave me the evil eye. Across the way was a single clapboard house with half a roof. An old man flapped a sheet about, losing the fight against the wind. Beyond him was a field of scrub grass and dust.
It was much like the other fields of scrub and dust we’d rambled through for too many days to count. We could have circled this hole-in-the-wall three times over and it was only happenstance we were standing here, with Pip ooh-la-lahing over her own wanted poster and me tamping down my annoyance.
I glanced above the man’s head at the clock. It was getting late and Martha Ruth still had not made her appearance.
“You got cigars?” I asked.
“You’re too young to smoke.”
“I’m old enough.”
He ignored me and turned his attention back to Grandma Pip. “You leaving mail?”
“No, sir, I am not,” Pip said. “But I would like to sample one of your butter cookies. My cousin Bella said I must stop at the Jaffa’s mercantile for these very cookies. ‘Little drops of heaven,’ she says.”
“Is that right? I didn’t know they’d become so well-known.”
“They are desired by many, sir.”
“Well…the wife makes them.” There was a scrape of glass and the scrunch of paper. “From her mother’s mother’s recipe.”
“Better than better. And not to bother, but we would like a soap cake, some tooth powder, three toothbrushes and that box of Hidalgos—you wouldn’t have a Peter Schuyler cheroot or two? No?”
She must’ve started in on the cookie as all I heard next were heavenly sighs.
The man took up the rubber-stamp and continued his rap-tap on the counter. He had added a cis-boom-bah rhythm to it and I had to stop myself from humming and throwing out a step-ball-change dance move.
Outside, a pretty girl in pink ribbons and flouncy skirts bobbed by the window. She slowed as she passed me, shifting a bunch of empty canvas satchels from one shoulder to the other, then crossed her eyes and rolled her tongue before continuing around the corner of the building. I spun from the window, sauntering and admiring the meager pickings. A single dusty rug hung on a couple hooks. I lifted the lid on a barrel of pickles but thought better of taking one and instead wandered by bins of garden seeds and tub tins and hoes. At the equine aisle, I picked up a hoof pick and held it aloft like a prize before pretending to set it down. Instead, I slipped it into my pocket.
The tapping stopped. “Did you just put that in your pocket?”
“Put what in my pocket?”
“You put a hoof pick in your pocket. I seen it clear as day.” He stepped from behind the counter and strode toward me with a shotgun hanging from his right hand, which put a damper on my enthusiasm for our plan to rob the store.
I had told Pip it was too complicated a plan, but she wanted to try it. Never mind we could have soaked our feet in the muddy creek and left Martha Ruth to sneak into the back and get supplies. No, Pip wanted to see her picture. That’s what she wanted, and I’ve never met someone with such vanity.
Now I had the barrel of a gun coming up at me, all over a little hoof pick we needed, as Theodore had a sore foot that required tending.
“Now sir…” Pip rushed the other aisle and came around the corner behind me. “I do not think a firearm is in order. The boy made a mistake. He’ll put it back.” She smacked my arm. “Put it back, Cedric.”
“He’s a sensitive boy, and with his mama in the grave and—”
“Let go of me you godless sow.” There was a loud shriek and Martha Ruth tumbled through the curtain dividing off the storeroom, kicking to get free of the woman twisting her ear. Her red hair ribbons had come loose and flapped around.
“Look at the vermin I found, Henry.”
“I’m being kidnapped. Someone help me.” Martha Ruth took to keening and clawed at the woman’s ample gut.
“You’re a thief. Henry, she’s a thief.” The woman’s spectacles hung off the tip of her nose. She tried to push them up with one hand as she kept a tight hold of Martha Ruth with her other.
“I didn’t take a thing. I was getting in from the wind and asking for a small drop of water. You should be Christian about that.”
Henry stalked over, gun to his shoulder. “Wilma, go telegraph the sheriff.”
“You want me to let her go?”
“If you’re going to get the sheriff then I expect you might have to.”
Martha Ruth stood straight and still. “Please don’t get the sheriff.” Her doe eyes brimmed with tears and she let them drop pretty as a picture to her dewy cheeks. “I got nothing and no one. I just took a little bit of sorghum as I was wanting a sweet. As it’s my birthday.”
The gun barrel wavered. “Now, now.”
Wilma dropped her deadly grip. “Well, I—”
“The sheriff, Wilma.”
Her eyes slid to him, then her gaze shuffled across the floor. And that’s how I knew there wasn’t a sheriff anywhere near at all to call on.
“It’s her birthday,” I said. “You should let her go.”
Three sets of eyes looked at me as if I had appeared from the ether. I forced myself to stare at Martha Ruth instead of Pip’s rump as she snuck behind the counter and darted out the back.
“Who are you?” Wilma asked.
Henry hooked the gun over his elbow and glanced around. “Where’s your Grandmama, son?”
“She’s long gone. She doesn’t like violence of any sort.”
“I didn’t hear the door.”
“She’s genteel that way.”
Wilma adjusted her glasses and blinked a few times. Her white eyebrows dipped and raised. She looked at me, then swiveled her head to the Rogue’s Gallery and back. I had but a split second to act before recognition clicked and hell and high water came to pass.
If I could come up with a story that put me and Pip here and Martha Ruth stealing foodstuffs from the back and then tie it all up with a ribbon like we were on our way to a funeral and needed a butter cookie for the road, then all this could be tamped to a reasonable level.
I took a breath. “Now see—”
My finessing was of no need. A polite knock came on the front door glass. The genteel widow leaned down from her shiny black horse, and used the Marlin repeating rifle she stole from a barn somewhere out by Langdon to push down the handle and urge the door wide. “Henry Jaffa.”
He raised the gun to his shoulder.
“You shouldn’t do that.” Pip lowered herself to Satan’s neck and kneed him so he clattered through the door, nostrils flared and stepping high and hard in the small space. Three canvas bags full of whatever Martha Ruth had stolen hung from the saddle horn.
“Get that horse out of here.”
Pip sat upright, raising the repeater. Satan swung his rump my way. I stumbled into a stack of grain buckets, knocking them to the floor.
“It’s them, Henry. I knew it from the minute—” Wilma tugged at her hair. “Shoot her.”
“You can’t shoot an old lady.” I jumped between them, pushing at Satan’s shoulder then at Pip’s knee. “Put that thing away.”
She shoved her horse right by me, crowding Henry and Wilma against the counter. Henry’s shotgun was pressed against his chest, the barrel faced up to the tin ceiling.
“Hand that over.” Pip kept her voice quiet and calm.
“I will not.”
Martha Ruth turned from the back wall, the posters rolled in her hand. “I highly suggest you—”
A blast went off loud enough I clamped my ears tight. The clock above Martha Ruth’s head was nothing but a big hole and a minute hand. Pip shifted the barrel so it aimed at poor Henry’s head.
I scrambled around and took his gun before it hit the floor and caused someone irredeemable harm.
Satan clawed a hoof to the floor and danced around. He coiled up, and I knew he would kick out soon if Pip wasn’t careful. She lay the reins across her lap, pulled the veil from her face, and glared down at the pair like she was center stage at the grandest opera house.
“I would like,” she said, “four boxes of Marlin .25-20 cartridges. If you please.”
“I don’t have—”
“Winchester’s will do just fine. We’ll take that tooth powder and box of Hidalgos, too.”
He swallowed hard, then side-stepped around the horse and gun and got the boxes and cigars down.
“Put them here.” Pip gestured to a leather pouch on her saddle. “No jerky moves. My horse bites.”
“This is outrageous. This is…” Wilma burst into a sob. Her glasses fogged up. She whipped them off, bending the frame, and letting out another sob at the state of them.
Martha Ruth rubbed the woman’s arm. “That’s a shame. It’ll be days before the postman comes and you can order another pair.”
“Weeks,” she murmured.
“Well, sometimes the world looks rosier the blurrier it is.”
That didn’t give much comfort as far as I could tell. But it did give us some valuable information on the speed we’d need to ride. Which wasn’t too fast, thank the Good Lord and the bad post.
“Ladies, I do think we have what we need, should you care to join me.” Pip laid rein to Satan’s neck, spun him around, and trotted pretty as you please out the door.
“Damn show off,” I muttered.
Martha Ruth gave Wilma one last pat, plucked the eyeglasses from her hand, and darted for the storeroom.
I yanked down a rack of seeds and sprinted out to the hard-packed road. Pip grabbed my arm as I tucked my boot into the stirrup and swung up behind her. I shoved the shotgun in the rear rifle scabbard and then locked my arms around her waist.
Satan side-stepped and pranced. Across the way, the old man stared, arms to his hips and the sheet forgotten and flipping around the road.
“Was that all necessary?” I asked.
“Oh hell, no. But it was fun.”
She gave a click of her tongue and we were off, Satan churning up dirt as we cut across a field toward a meager stand of willows.
We leaned low so the branches didn’t whip our faces, but I felt them along my arm. Near the creek, Pip gave another whistle. Theodore lifted his head from where he was guzzling water, his mule ears flicking around.
“What about Martha Ruth?”
Satan jumped the spit of a creek, his back arched up and all hooves tucked underneath him, for he despised water as much as Theodore loved it. I nearly lost my seat, grabbed tight to Pip to stay on, and spit out silt and grass that flew up as we took to the other side.
I pressed my cheek to her shoulder blade and turned my head to peer back, sure Henry Jaffa would be on our tail, and maybe the old man from the laundry, too. But there was no one following except Theodore who was exceptionally fast for being a smallish mule. The willows along the creek shrunk down to a thin line and disappeared, and the whole earth, no matter which way one looked, was flat and empty.
Pip pulled Satan up and let him blow. His sides expanded and contracted as he caught air. Theodore trotted up beside us and shook his head around before pushing his whiskery muzzle at Pip’s thigh.
I slid off and dropped the canvas bag. Tin cans rolled out. I stared at the label of the one that landed near my foot. “Canned beets? You were going to get us killed over canned beets?”
She smirked. “I like beets.”
“I like beets, too, but I do not think that’s the best method to get them.”
She slung her leg over Satan’s neck and hopped down, giving him a pat on the neck. Then she watched the direction we came. “Huh.”
My gut sank. The sun was near to setting, causing everything to glow with a strange yellowish tint. “She’s got that little mare you stole over in…wherever.”
“Yes, she does.”
“She’s like lightning. If you push her enough.”
“Maybe I should’ve—”
“Not done what you did? That disguise took me three different sneak thievings to piece together. Hardest costume I ever had to sew. All for cans of beets.”
We both waited. The sky went a wild orange and bronze as the sun made its way to rest. The plan had been for Martha Ruth to let loose the shopkeeper’s nag, then cut out fast.
“She should’ve been right behind us,” I said.
“We didn’t consider the old man, Pip. He might have had a horse. He might’ve caught her.”
Pip bent down to pick up the cans and shove them into the bag. “Did you see their faces? They won’t forget me now, will they?”
“I thought the point was to be forgotten. How else will we get to your daughter?”
“We need to talk about—”
“Yes, we do. We get your daughter and we get to Mexico. That is the plan. New Mexico to Old Mexico. That plan does not involve you parading about and giving people every opportunity to remember us.”
“That is still the plan. In general.” She held the bag out to me. “Let’s go.”
“We can’t leave Martha Ruth.”
“Yes, we can. I’ll give you a lift on to Theodore.”
“We really can’t.”
“She got caught. We’re not going to.” Her green eye sparked. She took one look back and I saw a shimmer of regret in the brown one. “And if she didn’t, she’s already back at the hideout.”
“Which the entire town of…where the hell are we?”
“We made it out of Kansas?”
“That we did.” She cupped her hands for me to set a foot in.
Theo squirmed as I landed on his back. I grabbed up the halter rope and a hank of his mane.
She mounted up, skirts flying and settling like a witch’s cape around her. “Ruby?”
“How about I roast some of those beets tonight?”
“I’d like that.”
“I knew you would.”
She heeled Satan to an easy lope.
Theo took up his normal bone-jarring trot. Our shadows grew long as we followed a dry gulley south and then west, picking our way around prickly pear and sand sage. I tied a scarf over my nose and mouth to keep the worst of the dust from making its way in, for the wind was a dastardly thing, steady and moaning low and damn irksome.
I took one last look back into the dark, a sharp hope Martha Ruth would be pulling up behind. But she wasn’t.
Theodore knew it, too. He stopped dead, laying his ears flat to his head and stretching out his neck.
I squeezed my heels to his ribs. “Come on, beast.”