Sunday, January 27th, 1889
Youngblood woke just before 10:00 AM, early by the standards of a Stingaree brothel-keeper. Taking care of his morning toilette, he went downstairs to find the bar deserted, the door closed and locked. This wasn’t unusual for an establishment that ran hammer-and-tongs far into the wee hours, but it left him disappointed. Last night’s panicked visitor had brought the second reference he had heard to one George Belmont, and it was nowhere near as benign as the first. He needed information.
He stepped behind the bar and took out a bottle of red wine, paying no attention to the lineage, and poured himself a glass. Taking it to his favorite table, the small round one beneath the staircase, he sat down to wait. The distant sound of a door, followed by deep, thumping footsteps on the wooden staircase, announced the rising of one of the girls, most of whom lived in their rooms upstairs. Shortly, tall, rangy Helen turned at the landing and descended to the bar. Attired in a full yellow skirt with no petticoats, and no top save her loosely-fastened corset, she had plainly just risen. He watched as she walked to the bar, showing none of the poise and grace her long form exuded during working hours, reached over to pull a bottle of hooch from a shelf, poured herself a shot, and knocked it back with no more effect than a shot of water might have. She poured another, and stood looking out the window.
“That’s a pretty rough breakfast for a lady,” Youngblood said.
She spun like a cat, feet wide, crouched in a fight-or-flight posture, then saw him at the table, and relaxed.
“Good morning, boss,” she said. “You’d be pressed to find a lady within a pistol shot of this place.”
“Still, you’re a lady to me until you prove otherwise.” He stood and pulled out the second chair. “Would you join me?”
“All right,” she said, cocking her head for a moment, then walking over, drink in hand, moving with the elegance of a high-born noblewoman; she was back “on stage,” for all of being half-dressed with a man’s drink in her hand. Youngblood held the chair and seated her.
“You’ve been around Stingaree for a while, yes?”
“Just over a year,” she allowed.
“What do you know about George Belmont?”
“That old scab? I know he owns a boatyard down south of town. He never comes down here, that’s for certain. Proper old prude for my money. Proper old hypocrite, too, most likely.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, they always are, aren’t they? The prudes, I mean. I promise you, you scratch the paint off of any of these old sticks who say that sex is dirty, and those who enjoy it are dirtier, and you’ll find the biggest pervert what ever crawled out of a hole.”
“Yeah? Well, you do what I do for a week, boss. You’ll learn things they don’t teach in them fancy back-east colleges.”
“I’ll warrant I would. No, what I want to know—”
He was interrupted by the front door swinging open, and Isabella and Chato entering, Isabella turning to lock the door behind them. She turned and spotted Youngblood and Helen seated under the stairs.
“Well, here’s a pretty picture,” she greeted them. “I know you have underwear on, being as I’m looking at it!”
“I— I’m sorry, Miss Izzy,” Helen stammered, looking down at the table.
“I called her over,” Youngblood said. “She didn’t even know I was down here. Why don’t you join us? I’m trying to get an idea of who George Belmont is.”
He rose again, and pulled a third chair to the table, holding it for her. She came over, looking none to comfortable, and took the offered seat.
“George Belmont is a big shot businessman from northside. He isn’t part of our world down here. Why do we care who he is?”
“Because if he becomes mayor, he’s going to be part of our world, whether we like it or not. It seems it would pay us to know what to expect.”
“Oh, I see. Well, he is the head of the Northside Businessmen’s Association. That is a group where all the big shot business owners get together to decide how they’re going to squeeze the little business owners out of business.”
“That doesn’t sound very sociable.”
“That’s because it isn’t, and neither is he. He wants only rich white men to do business in San Diego. He forgets that the Mexicans owned this land before the gringo army stole it.”
“I don’t know anything about that.”
“Most white men don’t, or at least they say they don’t.”
She was clearly angry, probably about Helen entertaining him in her underwear, and he had the sense to avoid the controversy she invited.
“I thought he had a lot to do with getting the local pirates under control.”
“Si, he did. He built the boats that patrol the harbor and escort ships in and out. Since he did that, the attacks have dropped to almost nothing.”
“That must have made him very popular.”
“Up north it has. But he hates Stingaree, and everyone in it. San Diego used to be a big town, twice the size it is now. Señor Belmont thinks that if Stingaree was wiped off the map, San Diego would come back.”
“Ignorant bastard.” Helen declared. “I guess he thinks all our customers would pack his boatyard if we weren’t here.”
“I don’t know about that,” Isabella said, “but he thinks we give the city a bad reputation.”
“So his becoming mayor could cause hard times for Stingaree,” Youngblood said, “is that about the gist of it?”
Isabella and Helen exchanged a glance, then both said, “Yes!”
“Then we’ll need a strategy. Jackson’s out of town today. I know. I’ll talk to Wyatt. He’ll know what to do.”
* * *
It was bad enough that his rival for Miss Alvira’s affections had won his prized heirloom watch with the full house that edged Hickok’s three nines, but to see Davis Tutt wearing it openly on his waistcoat was too much for Wild Bill to bear. Hickok approached Tutt with a vengeful stride, and at the unheard of range of 75 yards, called him out in ringing terms.
Earp closed the dime novel as he heard the key turning in the door to the cell wing. He was, and remained, a great admirer of one of the greatest pistol shots in recent history, but some of these authors left fact behind when they went in pursuit of a story.
And I should know, he thought as the door opened, revealing one of the deputies, Anderson, and Youngblood standing behind him.
“I can only give you ten minutes, Mr. Youngblood,” the deputy said. “Them’s the rules.”
“That should be plenty, thank you, Deputy.”
Youngblood stepped into the corridor as Anderson locked the iron door behind him.
“Wyatt,” he said, stepping up to the bars. “How are they treating you in here?”
“Well, the view’s garbage,” Earp answered, nodding toward the single barred window at the end of the hall, “But the food makes up for it. Any news on when I might get out of here?”
“No, but I do know that Jackson has ridden out to some place called Cajon Ranch to check on the story you gave him.”
“About damned time! That guy wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in Dodge.”
“You say so. At least he’s gone out there today.”
“I suppose. So, what brings you around to my palatial accommodations?”
“I’m looking for information on George Belmont. My staff, for all of their experience, don’t seem to know much about him.”
“I shouldn’t imagine they would. We don’t have much social contact with the head of the Association south of Market. I’m in the same boat as the rest of you. What makes you think I do?”
“I don’t know many people here yet, and you strike me as the kind of man who makes a point of knowing everything you can about a potential rival.”
“Rival? Belmont? Is he thinking about expanding into whorehouses now?”
“No, Wyatt. He’s thinking about running for mayor.”
“Mayor? Now, there’s a picture. George Belmont, mayor. Ah, there’s not a chance in hell he could win.”
“Isn’t there? Word I’m hearing is that he single-handedly, and at his own expense, stopped the pirate attacks, or whatever they were. And when I registered the Oyster last week, the clerk I talked to gave me the impression that he’d vote for anybody who promised to clean up Stingaree, which is exactly what Belmont’s saying he’s going to do. What little I’ve been able to find out suggests that he has a very good chance of winning.”
“That’s a sobering thought. Well, I don’t know what you’ve found out about him, but I’ve heard that he pushes a whites-only policy in every place he can influence.”
“That’s not unusual. Hell, Wyatt, half the saloons in Stingaree are whites-only.”
“Yeah, and Mexicans, at least, can vote, them that are citizens, anyway. You might could rally them to vote against him if you get them scared of what he might do.”
“Maybe,” Youngblood allowed.
“It could be tricky, though. What I learned in Dodge and Tombstone is that rich men are dangerous. They don’t like to get their hands dirty, but their money can buy the services of men who do. There was several times in Dodge, for instance, when the cattlemen down south took exception to the way I ran the town, and hired guns to take me down. These people are professional shootists. They come to town with you in their sights, and you ain’t even aware that there’s a target on your back until they make their move.”
“It’s amazing you’re still here.”
“It don’t make a damn who shoots first, it’s who shoots last that settles things. That, and chance. They would have got me one night in front of the Long Branch if Doc hadn’t intervened. Hell, that’s how we met. He was playing cards inside, and took exception to the noise. My lucky day, I can tell you.”
“And that’s why you’re still friends?”
“How do you turn your back on a man who saves your life? You don’t, if you’re any kind of a man yourself.”
“No, I don’t suppose you do. So, you think I should try to organize the Mexican vote to go against him, then?”
“Yes, and watch your back. You’re in a hell of a situation down there. A couple of hundred people come in your place every night, and any one of them could be an assassin. Belmont finds out you’re organizing against him, he won’t likely take it lying down.”
“Sounds like I’ll be keeping my back toward a wall from now on. I’m glad we had this talk.”
“We’ll talk more when I get out of here, if you’re still alive.”
“Oh, that’s a cheerful thing to say! Don’t worry, I’m not going to start anything until—”
He stopped, a thoughtful look on his face.
“Until what?” Earp finally asked.
“What if he’s started already?”
“Yes. What if those men who attacked Duncan’s place were Belmont’s? What if he had them kill Price, and frame you?”
“Pitting the Stingaree factions against each other would certainly give him a free hand to do whatever he’s trying to accomplish.”
“Divide and rule. It was a principle known to the ancient Greeks. Certainly no surprise that Belmont would be aware of it.”
“You lie low until I get out of here. We need to get the owners together for a little powwow.”
“Do you think they’ll go for that?”
“We can get a meeting easy enough. Convincing everyone will be the trick. But that should be child’s play for a smooth-talking back east businessman, right?”
“Now, hold on just a minute here!”
“You’ll be fine. If Jackson’s any kind of a fair man, I’ll be out of here tonight, and I’ll go straight to the Oyster. We’ll decide what we need to do then.”
* * *
. . . and this is where I was when the muse resigned. Anything showing up after this point is “new growth” so to speak, and the challenge will be to keep the quality up. I do my sights set on finishing this book, and this scene is just past the midpoint, which means there should be 45-50 left. I’m going to continue posting Chameleon scenes each morning, and Broken English when that’s finished, and then I will attempt to drive Stingaree. I don’t know how or whether this will progress, and I’m hoping working on it will jump-start my creativity, but nothing else will be attempted until this is complete. I guess we’ll all find out together . . .
To be continued . . . I hope!