Summary: While in Carson City, Joe stops for a quick drink before heading home and meets Eleanor. A challenge piece based on the song “Eleanor Rigby” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Rating: T WC: 1463
With his business in Carson City complete, Joe ambled into the nearest saloon for a drink. It was early to be doing so, but he was heading for home, and a cold beer sounded good before hitting the dusty road. His boots echoed in the nearly empty saloon. A cowboy sat in the far corner sipping whiskey with his boots propped on the chair beside him. He nodded as Joe made his way to the bar.
“What can I get ya?” The burly barkeeper looked up from wiping a glass.
“Just a beer will do.” Joe pulled a coin from his jacket pocket and pushed it toward the man.
After receiving his drink, Joe turned and noticed a barmaid in a red and black dress staring out the front window. He set down his mug and swiped his gloved hand across his mouth. The barkeeper took note of the direction of Joe’s gaze.
“Eleanor.” When there was no response to his beckoning, the barkeeper, shouted. “Eleanor! Ya gotta customer. Git over here!”
Joe swiveled around. “It’s ok. I really need to get going.”
The man tugged on his vest and shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
Joe finished his drink in two big gulps. Turning for the door, he jumped when he found Eleanor standing right behind him. He had not heard her approach the bar.
He tipped his hat and offered her a tenuous smile. “Morning, miss. Isn’t it kind o’ early for you to be working?”
The girl just pointed toward the stairs, her expression flat. Underneath the paint on her face, Joe thought there was a pretty young woman, too young in fact to be working in a saloon.
A man’s prying eyes had no effect on Eleanor. “You comin’ upstairs, or not?” Her words implied frustration, but Eleanor’s voice had no emotion.
Joe felt a pinch in his gut. He was due back at the ranch later today, but his heart went out to this girl.
“Uh, sure – Eleanor.”
With no intention of engaging her services as she thought, Joe pulled off his hat and ran his fingers through his wavy hair. He motioned for Eleanor to lead the way.
The upstairs was quiet except for some snoring coming from behind the closed doors. Eleanor opened the door at the end of the hallway. She walked in without acknowledging Joe’s presence and began removing her dress.
“Wait! No!” Joe reached out to stop her small hands as she pulled down the straps of her shimmery dress.
Eleanor turned to face him. The straps of her dress were hanging on the sides of her pale arms revealing even more cleavage than had previously been showing.
“You do want to f…”
His eyes went wide and he pressed a finger to her lips shaking his head. “Please! No! I just thought maybe we could talk.”
Joe gently attempted to pull the straps back into place. His stomach churned. Eleanor’s vacant blue eyes frightened him. She stood stock still as if waiting for him to do with her as he willed. Joe eased her over to the bed and encouraged her to sit down. He took the chair hoping she would sense that he was being truthful. Her eyes drifted to the door and remained focused on it.
“I’m not good enough for you, am I? You like the fancy whores down the street better.”
Joe winced at her description. He knew he was no saint, but hearing those words come from the mouth of this young woman who was not that much younger than him seemed so wrong and degrading.
“No. No. Nothing like that.”
“Like I said, I just want to talk.”
Eleanor turned to look at him, but he felt like she was looking right through him. “Costs the same – talking or….”
He held up his hand. “I won’t leave without paying you. I promise.” Joe leaned forward and rested his hands on his knees trying to find a more comfortable position. “My name’s Joe Cartwright.”
“I know who you are. I’ve seen you before.”
“Oh ok. Yeah, I guess just because I -” Joe stopped when he realized his ramblings would be unhelpful. “How old are you, Eleanor?”
“Sixteen – as if it matters – old enough.”
“Do you have any family nearby?”
For just an instant, Joe detected that he had pierced Eleanor’s steely veneer. She stifled a shudder and then looked him squarely in the eyes. Her silence confirmed that it had been a ridiculous question.
Joe gave her an embarrassed shrug. He leaned toward her and spoke with all the sincerity he could muster. “I want to help you – Get you out of here. I can help you find other work.”
Eleanor examined his eyes for a moment and then averted her gaze. “You think you’re the first man to say that?”
“No. I guess not. I’m sure you’ve heard all kinds of stories, but my family can help you.”
“You don’t even know me. Why should you care?” She fingered her dress before smoothing it out over her thin legs.
“I just have this feeling that you don’t belong here.”
“As if any woman BELONGS in a place like this.” Eleanor muttered.
Joe knew that he had already stayed longer than he should. He weighed his options. His words only seemed to add blocks to the wall that Eleanor had secured around herself. “I’m going to go out for a bit, but I’ll be back soon. OK?”
Eleanor cocked her head to the side in a jerky fashion acknowledging his words.
Joe pulled out his wallet and pressed some money into Eleanor’s palm to demonstrate his sincerity. He traced her cheek with his finger and left the room.
Eleanor held the money in her hands before placing it on the bedside table. She reached for the drawer. Her fingers rested on the knob as her mind wrestled with the possibility that Joe Cartwright might be telling the truth.
He headed down the boardwalk and entered a dressmaker’s shop. He was standing at the counter when the sheriff of Carson City came in. The lawman tipped his hat to the proprietress.
“Pardon me, ma’am.”
Joe turned to face the sheriff and gave him a cheeky grin. “Morning Sheriff Gasherie. You shopping for a dress, too?”
“Uh no, Mr. Cartwright. I need to speak with you in my office.”
“Me? I don’t understand. What’s this about?” Joe could feel himself bristling.
“I’d rather not go into it here.” Sheriff D. J. Gasherie gave a slight nod toward the woman behind the counter.
Joe’s brow furrowed. “Alright. Just let me finish my purchase and I’ll be right with you.”
Minutes later, Joe was seated across from Gasherie staring at the sheriff in utter disbelief.
With his elbows resting on the arms of his desk chair, the sheriff steepled his fingers. “You can understand why I needed to question you. Rest assured that the barkeep will vouch that he heard the gunshot after you were gone.”
Joe massaged his forehead. “Yeah – yeah, sure.” He shook his head trying to wrap his mind around what had happened only minutes after leaving Eleanor’s room. “I want to pay for a marker and have her laid to rest properly.”
Sheriff Gasherie rubbed his chin with his thumb and forefinger. “Did you know Miss Rigby well?”
“Uh – No”, Joe whispered, “just met her about an hour ago.”
The sheriff reached to straighten some papers on his desk. “If that’s what you want, you’ll need to go and speak with the undertaker.”
Joe nodded. There was an awkward silence before he wearily pushed himself out of his chair and headed for the door. He paused to put on his hat.
.”Give your father my regards.” Sheriff Gasherie lifted his hand in a half-hearted wave.
Joe could not stop the deep sigh that came. “Thanks. I’ll do that.”
Two days later, Joe stood in the Carson City cemetery with his eyes fixed on a mound of fresh dirt. He mindlessly twisted his hat in his hands. The minutes dragged on until Hoss nudged his brother’s arm and whispered.
“Come on, Joe. This weren’t your fault, and there ain’t no helpin’ her now. She’d been hurt too much – couldn’t see the door when it got opened for her.”
Joe’s head came around toward his brother and then he looked back at the grave. “Yeah, I know. Just wish I could o’ done something for her. She was -“, the tears welled in his eyes, “such a pretty little gal. Delicate – and lonely – so lonely.” Joe’s chest rose and fell. “You deserved a better life.” He paused and a sob escaped his lips. “Eleanor.”
***Author’s Note: D. J. Gasherie served as Sheriff of Ormsby County and Carson City February 3,1862 – December 4, 1864.
Other Stories by this Author