I’m back with Kat’s story, Independent Brake. In this scene Kat has had enough with her travel buddies from the last year. Now that she’s home, she’s got some gumption up to speak her piece:
The leader of the Temperance group, Helen Bertrand, paced back and forth. By now Kat was familiar with the routine. Helen would get herself keyed up so that she might get the others keyed up to agree to the next step. She’d already loudly denounced Cole’s saloon as the worst of the bunch, which would make him a prime target.
At first Kat would argue until she was hoarse, but time had softened her arguments. Often instead, she’d merely protested, and then gone to the saloon Helen chose as prime target and attempt to warn the owner. Unfortunately she wasn’t always successful, many of the saloon owners dismissed her as an annoying, histrionic woman.
Because of that, many saloons had been left with hefty damages in the wake of the women in this room. Kat saw no promise in destroying a person’s livelihood. For where you destroy one, often two more would spring up in its place.
In the past few months she’d begun to believe with all honesty that Helen enjoyed reaching the point of violence. There was no sign of change now as, true to form, Helen quoted irrelevant scripture once again to boost her cause. “As it says in first Samuel, chapter fifteen, verse eighteen: ‘Go and utterly destroy the sinners…and fight against them until they are exterminated’.”
Kat bit her tongue to hide her sigh and one of her standard retorts of scripture. No amount of ‘judge not’ or ‘let he who is without sin’ ever made a lick of difference. She toyed with the teacup on her saucer for a few minutes before she realized every eye was on her. She frowned and straightened. “Yes?”
“No protest this time?” Lottie’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. “That is your standard approach, is it not?”
“As women who are beaten by their husband would tell you, you can only take so much berating before you cave to it. No matter what I say, you’ll do as you please.” Kat rose to her feet. “And so I’m leaving. I came along in hopes of helping some men learn temperance, not to destroy the livelihood of dozens of men who have no other trade.”
“We have changed lives.” Helen held her bible close to her chest. “Sometimes it takes a strong hand to enforce such a thing.”
“No. What you have done is bullied and pressured. You’ve interrupted men while in the sauce and tried to speak reason to their drunken minds. Perhaps on purpose because you knew then they wouldn’t listen and you’d have an excuse to take up your hatchet.” Kat brushed past Helen. “I want no part of such destruction. I never did. This call to arms is not what I signed up for.”
“Quiet women don’t change the world,” Helen objected.
“You don’t have to take up a hatchet to be heard,” Kat countered. “I am plenty loud without it. Plus, as I am, many men have listened to me. Perhaps I’ll be far more effective without the saddle of your infractions weighing my voice down.”
Kat turned her back on their gasps and murmurs and strode from the boarding house. Part of her wanted to just go flying across the street to the saloon to warn Cole, but if she did so the women would see and change their plan.
Instead, she turned and walked calmly back to the hotel. Once the world was quiet, she would go to warn Cole. For once, perhaps they might listen. Then maybe she’d feel her debt repaid, and could enjoy her pleasures without feeling like a whore.
Without a word to anyone, she passed through the casino and climbed the stairs to her room. She had the good fortune of a front room with access to the balcony, so she wouldn’t have to pass through again on her way out.
Three days she’d stayed at the Silver Saddle, and every day she hated it more. The proprietor was not only over-attentive in his consideration of her well-being; she’d learned in her time staying there he was also business partners with Jackson Krenshaw.
Kat shuddered at the thought of seeing the man that had bought her parents house. From all she’d heard, he was as loathsome as a snake. He was all pseudo-cunning and cruel actions, not to mention his bold display of his wealth.
She managed to slip into her room quick enough to avoid being seen by Guy, and locked the door behind her. In just a few hours when the town was quiet, she’d make her move. In the interim, she’d get her things gathered into her trunk, and then read.
Sometime the next day she hoped to find somewhere else to stay. Cora had been kind enough to offer a small room at the general store and restaurant she ran with her husband Kelly. Kat seriously considered the prospect, since she had few others on the horizon.
Considering she had no idea how long she’d stay, it was premature to search for a permanent residence. For all she knew, she might just pack up and head to St. Louis before the month was out. Once the Temperance group was gone, she wasn’t sure just what she’d do with herself.
Packing took longer than expected, and by the time she was done the town had already grown quieter. She gathered her book and sat near the door to keep an eye on the saloon across the way.
Two hours and three chapters later Graham was tossing men out on their drunken rear ends. She frowned, unwilling to cross paths with the man Cole had apparently taken on as a business partner without explanation.
Rumors had swirled about a young whore Cole had taken in for two years before shuffling her off just as quiet as her arrival; especially since at the same time of her arrival he asked Graham to join in running the saloon. Fiercely independent as Cole was, everyone was surprised he’d let in a partner of any kind—business or pleasure.
They’d thought maybe with the new partner he’d turn the saloon into a hotel, or add in a casino, but none of that happened. The saloon remained unchanged, Cole’s mood had soured supposedly, though Kat saw little sign of it in their interactions, and now Graham’s drunken benders were facilitated by his ownership, and gave him a certain power to use his anger to beat up more men under the guise of order in the saloon.
Kat set her book down and rose, closing the door behind her. Into the quiet of the night, she slipped down the stairs. By the time she reached the boardwalk, Cole was outside bidding farewell to Graham.
She lingered until Graham was well down the street and only the flare up of Cole’s cigar when he dragged on it remained. With a careful step she slipped between two vendor carts into the muddy street. One benefit to changing to pantaloons was not having to keep her skirts elevated to avoid the muck of small town roads, and as always she was grateful for that small benefit.
When she landed on the boards across the street, the light of the cigar turned her way. Inwardly she was both grateful they had yet to install street lamps, and upset by it. She’d appreciate seeing his face when she approached, but was glad the dark hid her from any prying eyes.
Either way, by the time she got close, Cole’s chuckle reached her ear. When he himself reached for her, she side-stepped him to the porch. “Easy there, Cole. I didn’t come for fun, no matter how powerful you think your charms are.”
“I don’t think—I know.”
“I don’t think you know, either.”
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