Just Any Night

By Vivian Darkbloom

You are wild,
And I'm in your possession,
Nothing's free,
So f**k me, kitten.

REM, "Star Me, Kitten"

You get to the point where you really depend on those drinks that they buy you. Of course, the bartender waters ours, because a girl's got to keep her wits about her, and anyway if you get to boozing, you lose your looks, and then where are you? I've seen plenty of the girls who've done it, and it's sad what becomes of them. But there's still enough kick in what they give you to keep that little bit of distance between you and what's going on, so that you can smile and flirt at all those dusty cowboys and outlaws with their stubble faces and their bad breath who want to kiss you. Sometimes a cowpoke will pour you a drink straight from his own bottle, and then the genuine full strength of it will blaze a path down your insides, and set off everything inside you into a warm glow. But like I said, it's part of the job not to get to like it too much.

Of course, our official job is to get them to spend their money in here, buying drinks for us, for themselves, tipping the piano player, and so forth.  That's always seemed like a little bit of a joke to me, since the men who come in here are more than happy to unload their wages on booze and on cards, on girls and on oblivion. But I like the fact that it's the official job, because I'm not expected to take more than one or two of them upstairs with me a night. I do that, too, it's extra money for me and the house, but one or two a night is heaven compared to walking the streets like I used to. It's one of the reasons I'm here in New Mexico, and not still home in New York.

I had to leave school at fifteen, when papa was injured and couldn't work anymore. They sent me to a factory. My teacher was real sad about it, because she'd thought I had potential and was hoping to get me through high school, maybe even into a normal school after, so I could have been a teacher, too. I think I would have liked that, but once that scaffolding broke and sent papa for that fall, the factory was my only choice. I worked long days for low wages, and by the time I'd given mama and the little ones what they needed, there wasn't anything left for me.

I guess I was seventeen when I first learned things could be different. A girl at work invited me to go to a dance hall out in Brooklyn one night. She said a pretty girl like me could get men to treat her to all kinds of things: dinner, drinks, little presents. They'd even take you to the music hall. All you had to do is give them what they wanted, and it wasn't really so bad. I was a little hungry, but I was also starving for pleasure, and admiration, and a few pretty things, and I was easily persuaded.  After that she and I went out together three or four nights a week.  Mama and papa disapproved, but since I was putting food on the table, they couldn't say much. The men weren't so bad either: a lot of them would be satisfied with just kissing you or touching you, and the ones that wanted more treated you real good.  I guess they thought it was worth it, because they could pretend you were a nice girl and not a professional. I was never quite clear which one I was, myself.

But then this other girl at work, who had a homely face and thick ankles and couldn't get the men to look at her at all, got jealous of my lace-trimmed shirtwaists and pretty ribbons and told the forelady. Soon I was out on the streets for real, all dolled up and strolling Broadway. I had to take my own room then, but I sent money to the family regular. I still do.

I don't much like to think about those times, but I was lucky because they came to an end after only three months. An older gent, with something wild in his eyes, and a suit that was real expensive but not quite the proper cut, took me to his hotel for the whole weekend. He was from out West somewhere, and he told me about how they needed girls there. "Florrie, you'd love it," he told me. Florrie isn't my real name, but I've still got enough pride that I keep that to myself. "There's a real shortage of women out West. A saloon girl can pick and choose who she goes with, at least to a certain extent. Some girls work the whorehouses, of course, and that pays a bit better, but you don't need to. You're real pretty and you know how to flirt with a man." Some of the girls even make fine marriages, he told me. When there's a woman shortage, your past matters less.

He was a real kind gent. So at the end of the weekend, I was on a train West, with a ticket he'd bought me, wearing a respectable outfit he'd paid for, and with my carpetbag filled with the gaudy finery I'd need for my work. He'd even suggested a friend of his whose saloon I could go to, and wrote me a letter of introduction, like it was a respectable job. Oh sure, he was a procurer of sorts -- if there was a woman shortage, how else would they get women out there? -- but he did me a good turn, taking me off Broadway.

The only problem with the job is that most of the times in a whole night you don't find a man you'd choose to go with, and then you've got to smile at rough-looking miners and men who look like the brains God gave 'em fried out in the sun a long time ago.  Then I just think about Broadway and take another drink -- a watered one -- and keep going.

Every once in a while, though, you get one that's real handsome or treats you real good, or both, and you try to remember those and think of them when you're upstairs with a toothless old-timer or a fellow with mean eyes who looks like he'd shoot you soon as kiss you. There's one that was in here not too long ago that I think of a lot.

I can remember when they walked in, him and his friend, I was hoping they were looking for company and not for cards. To my disappointment, they strolled over to where the poker game was going on. I wasn't supposed to disturb the men who were playing, but I couldn't help myself from wandering over there from time to time.

Of course, at that point I didn't know which one I wanted. It's not like it's for me to pick and choose anyway, but I'd have gladly taken either one of them. The one was a tall, lean blond, with curly hair and a baby face. He had an open, friendly expression. I guessed he was a real nice boy, and he'd be the kind that would make a girl like me feel like he really liked her. I think while it was going on, he probably did, but he'd forget about you real soon.

The other one had dark hair and eyes, and he was real handsome, too, but in a different sort of a way. He had his best poker face on right now, but I'd noticed when he walked into the room that he had a smile that lit things up around him. I liked Baby Face a lot, but if I got to pick, I'd pick this one, just to see that smile again.

It was a slow night, as far as men looking for any action, so I was able to drift from table to table, flirting and getting those drinks bought, and keeping my eye on the poker game. As it stood now, it was mostly locals who'd have to get home to their wives, so I thought it would likely break up early. I had a chance there still, with one or the other of them. And what do you know, I was right?

"Buy you a drink, miss?" I turned around and it was the dark-haired one, the one I wanted. "I just won some money, and it's burning a hole in my pocket." He turned that smile on me, and I practically forgot who I was and where I was. He had a dimple when he smiled and I wanted to reach out and touch his face, to feel it.

But I had a job to do, and that was to get that money out of his pocket and into the saloon's cashbox. "I'd love one," I said, giving him my own best smile in return -- the one that was real.

He signaled for a bottle and poured us each a drink. Mine burnt as it went down -- it was the first taste of unwatered whiskey that I'd had in weeks. "Well, miss?"

"Florrie," I said.

"Well, Florrie, I'm Joshua. So what's there to do for fun around this place?"

I gestured around the saloon, where, by the way, I saw Joshua's friend Baby Face chatting up red-headed Molly Molloy. "You're looking at it -- less'n you're interested in the hymn sing over at the Baptist church."

He shrugged, his brown eyes twinkling. "Aww, too bad. Forgot my hymn book. I guess I'll just have to stay here with you, if that's all right." He slid an arm around my shoulders, and I could feel the roughness of his corduroy sleeve on the bare places that my bodice didn't cover, and the firmness of the muscle of the arm beneath.

"It's your soul to lose," I winked at him, and he poured himself another drink. He went to refill my glass, and I covered it with my hand.

"I like 'em the way Hank pours 'em," I explained, and signalled the bartender.

When my drink arrived, I reached out my hand for it, only to find Joshua's covering mine. "Do you mind?" he asked, and he took my drink and sipped a little. He made a face. "This is mostly water!" he exclaimed.

"What did you think?" I asked. "There's lots of folks come in here, want to buy me a drink. And it's part of my job to let 'em. If I drank what everybody else drank, I'd be out cold long before sundown." I took a large swallow of my whiskey-and-mostly-water.

"Smart girl. I like a girl with brains," he said, drawing me onto his knee.

I followed his gaze down the front of my laced-up bodice. "I don't think it's primarily my brains you're after. Least, I don't keep 'em down there."

He looked back at my face, amused. "Like I said, smart girl," and he kissed me.

Now in my business kissing don't mean much, so I was surprised at how much I liked it this time. His lips covered mine, and I could feel his wide mouth as he moved around in a long, lingering kiss. When he pulled back, I looked at him, breathless. He really was nicer to look at than almost any man I'd ever seen, with his strong jawline and cheekbones kind of contradicted by his not-quite-upturned nose, and those heavy dark eyebrows over those big brown eyes.

It was then that I heard my name being spoken gently, by someone standing behind me. Damn! I thought. That soft tenor belonged to Tom Dougherty, one of my most favorite regulars. Usually I'd drop anything for Tom, but I wanted this Joshua in the worst way.

I turned and gave him my sweetest smile. "Why, Tom, this isn't your usual night." Tom wasn't exactly pretty to look at. He was tall and lean, but not well put together like Joshua, more awkward and bony. He looked like maybe God had given him to a 'prentice to put together. He was already losing his sandy hair, and he can't have been thirty. His face was kind of the same -- there was nothing really wrong with any of his features, but they didn't quite go together, either. I guess he knew it, because he was awkward and quiet around women. Even around me, which is funny because he knew it was part of my job to be nice to him.

Not that it was hard to be nice to him. He was the foreman on the Merrill place, and had lots of fast young cowboys under him, and Tom was one of the smartest, hardest-working men I'd ever come across. Gentle, too. He was saving up for his own small ranch, and since he didn't drink or gamble, and I was his only vice, he was coming close to the sum. And I'd long since had a feeling that if I played my cards right, Tom could be my ticket out of the saloon. I only wished I loved him . . . or at least, that I didn't have to pretend that I wanted him. I wanted it to be different with him than with any of my other customers, and it wasn't.

"Will you excuse me for a moment, Joshua? I need to speak to Mr. Dougherty for a moment," and I pulled Tom away from the table.

"Guess you're busy, Florrie." He looked sad. Sometimes I thought he liked to pretend to himself that I wasn't what I was.

"Well, I did promise this gentleman . . . " I looked back at Joshua sitting there, so handsome and charming, pouring himself another drink, and I looked at Tom, so quiet, so sincere, so . . . awkward, and I decided to take a risk. "Look, Tom, he's just passing through, and I promised I'd keep him company. But if you come back tomorrow night, I promise I'll spend the whole evening with you." Tom never came in on Saturdays, because that was my busiest night, the only night of the week that three or four or even five men in a row would make their way up the stairs with me. I'd be giving up a good chunk of my week's income.

I guess for all he liked to pretend to himself I was just a hostess, and I just happened to like him, Tom knew that. His face lit up and he said, "All right, Florrie. But I'll be in early, so you remember your promise." He kissed me chastely on the forehead, and made his way to the door.

I returned to the table where Joshua was waiting for me, but I kept my eye on the door until I'd seen Tom was gone. "Someone special?" he asked, teasing.

"Well . . . yes. Someone who treats me like I'm really a lady." I looked for my glass. He'd gotten me another drink while I was away. I drank down the watered whiskey and mutely held my glass out for a refill.

He looked at me questioningly, and when I nodded, he poured straight from his own bottle. The strong drink felt good, going down, and when I'd finished it, I felt like I'd regained some of my balance. I held out my glass for another. I wanted to lose it again, though. I wanted to be here with this handsome stranger, and not feel like a whore.

"Is this a race?" He poured me a glass, and refilled his own. We clinked glasses and downed our drinks.

"No," I said, just a tiny bit woozily. "I think that does it for me. Any more and I might not remember things, and I wouldn't want to forget anything about you." I reached up, and ran my hand down the side of his face. He probably hadn't shaved since the morning, and his skin was a little rough to the touch, but it felt good.

"You want to head upstairs before we run into any more of your regulars?"

I didn't bother to tell him I couldn't care less about any of my other regulars. I just stood up, waited for him to offer me his arm, and began that short trip up the stairs to my room.

As soon as we'd gotten to the room and closed the door, he unbuckled his gunbelt, and hung it over the back of a chair. He removed his jacket, and placed it alongside the belt. Then he took me by the shoulders and began to kiss me, again. His kisses were long and hard, and they left me breathless. He kissed like he knew what he was doing, which is different from most of the men I run into in this business. I felt the pressure of his lips, and then his tongue, gently probing my mouth. I won't let most of them do that . . . it's the one place I can keep private and I generally do. But I found myself responding eagerly to it, sliding my tongue around his.

Then he paused, and led me to the bed, where he began kissing and stroking my breasts. He undid the bow at the top of my red satin dress, and then working the buttons at the front until my breasts were fully exposed, and he lowered his mouth to lick and bite gently at my nipples. He listened for my moans of pleasure, and after a little bit, he pulled away, that broad grin on his handsome face. "You like that, huh?" he said.

"Mmmmm," I replied.

He lifted my skirt so that he could stroke my thighs, above where my stocking ended. He began to roll them down towards my knees, when I stopped him.

"Wait a minute," I said. A lot of them men who came up here never did any more than drop their trousers and open their union suits, but I was going to see Joshua naked tonight, no matter what it took. "You want to take a bath?"

"A bath?" he asked, surprised. "I just had one back at the hotel, but . . . "

"You didn't have it with me."

He raised an eyebrow. "Is that an option?"

Well, of course, we girls bathe pretty often, what with all the men who come to see us, and the various conditions they're in, so it wasn't hard to ring my bell and get a tub brought in. While we were waiting, I offered to pour him another drink, but he wasn't interested. Instead, he

resumed his earlier business with my stockings, and this time I let him.

When the tub arrived, I was so preoccupied I forgot I'd ordered it, and I actually felt annoyance as I drew my bodice together to answer the door. It wasn't really big enough for the two of us, but I got him to strip down, anyway. He slipped off his white longjohns to reveal a trim but muscular torso, his chest covered in dark hairs, slim hips, and lean, powerful legs. As for his manly equipment, it was . . . impressive . . . and I've got quite a lot to compare it to. He slipped into the tub, and I took the sponge and began to clean his back and chest. It felt real good to me, and I guess it felt even better to him, because he was practically purring like a cat.  When suddenly he grabbed me and pulled me towards him to kiss him, I lost my balance and fell half into the tub.

"Well, look," he said, grinning widely. "You're all wet. We'd better get you out of those damp things, and into some nice warm water."

"If it is still warm after all the time you're taking," I said. The tawdry satin dress would probably be ruined, but I didn't care much about that.  I slid it off, and then my underthings, and my stockings. The corset took me a few moments, so I handed him a nice big fluffy towel, one that I'd bought for myself on my last trip into Taos.

Then we switched places, and I slipped into the tub, and he began washing me. The feel of the sponge, and of his hands, on my back, my breasts, my legs, made my skin all tingly. And then his hand slipped up between my thighs, and he began stroking, gently but firmly, on that sweet secret place that not too many men seem to know about, or anyway, to care about.  The ones that do, well, they're the ones that you hope come back again, more even than the generous ones or the good-looking ones. A saloon girl doesn't get to enjoy this part of her work all that often.

He'd climbed back in with me, and I was sitting on his lap, feeling his bulge against my buttocks, as he leaned from behind me and continued rubbing my clit. He must have been painfully ready, by now, but he continued to concentrate on what he was doing. Occasionally he'd lean forward and kiss my neck or my cheek, but mostly he concentrated on the sensations he was bringing me, as I slipped further and further into them. Finally, my soft moans turned to loud ones, and wave after wave of pleasure passed over me until I thought I couldn't stand it anymore, and I climaxed.

I'd been pretending them for so long, at least for the clients who were considerate enough to care, that I was completely overwhelmed by the real thing. I slumped back against him, spent, as he caressed my breasts and kissed my neck and shoulders.  Finally I took a deep sigh, and he took that as his signal to say, "It's getting a little cold and a little cramped in here. Do you mind if we move over to your bed, now?"

We dried ourselves off, sharing that same towel between us, and stopping to kiss every now and again, and then we moved to the bed. We sat down side-by-side, and he reached over and gently pushed me onto my back. I felt his fingers again, stroking me down there again. I was surprised that after all that, I quickly found myself aroused again. And then in a moment, his hard cock entered me, filling me, thrusting in and out. First he was slow and easy, and I could feel every little bit of it as he gently moved inside me, but gradually, the movement grew harder, more insistent. I opened my eyes and watched his hard torso arching away from me, and his lean hips pumping in and out. I smiled, watching his movements. He thrust and thrust, and I found a pleasure in it that had usually numbed itself away for me, long ago.

Finally, he came, shuddering with pleasure. For a few moments, he lay holding me, and then, he gave me a quick kiss, and with a sudden, decisive movement, he got up and went to where his clothes were, to begin dressing. "I've got to go, Florrie. We've got an early start in the morning, and I need to get back to the hotel and get some sleep."

I didn't ask him to stay. That wasn't part of the game. "Goodnight, Joshua."

"Good night, Florrie."

"Florrie isn't my real name," I said, wanting something to say.

"And Joshua isn't mine," he said, and for a moment we both laughed, as he continued dressing. Neither of us expected any more elaboration, and neither of us gave it.

"Well, good night, handsome stranger," I said.

"Good night, lovely lady." He closed the door behind him. It was late, and the floor of my room was splashed with water, and I wasn't going back downstairs again tonight, so I rolled over and went to sleep.

When I woke up in the morning, I saw the money on my dresser. At first I didn't want to touch it. I was afraid it would ruin my memory of the handsome stranger.

But then I remembered it was just about the time of month for me to send some money back East. Lydia, Paul and Frederick were still in school thanks to me, and mama's sewing and papa's odd jobs weren't what was keeping them there. And I'd promised my Saturday evening to Tom, so I needed this money.

Joshua had left more than double my usual amount. The memory of his kisses, his touch, flooded me all over again, so different from the selfish, or even brutish, attentions of most of the men who came up here. So different from Tom's gentle clumsiness. I could close my eyes and see him, feel him. I expected I'd be calling up his image quite a lot in the coming months, to get me through a lot of men I didn't want to be with.

Well, there'd be plenty of time to think about that later. Tonight would be the first step in my new plan. Another regular, in a fit of jealousy, had told me that a certain doe-eyed missy at the Baptist Church was sizing up Tom as a pretty good prospect, even though she had plenty younger and handsomer after her. But when that ranch was purchased, and a bride was carried over the threshold, it was going to be me. Because he did see me as a woman, and not just a whore, and I could make sure he saw more and more of one, and less and less of the other. Tonight I would wear another dress, an almost respectable one, to show him he was special. And I'd start to tell him about my family back East.

Maybe I'd even tell him my real name.

NOTE: Florrie's origins back East were inspired in large part by two history books: Luc Sante's Low Life (Vintage, 1991) and Christine Stansell's City of Women (U. of Illinois, 1987).

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