A Place Called Rainwaterby Dorothy Garlock
The small town of Rainwater, Oklahoma, has become a notorious boomtown now that a gusher has flooded its streets with drillers, welders and roustabouts of every description. Jill, a young woman who runs the hotel for her aunt, is unprepared to cope with the attention she receives from the woman-hungry men. See more details below
The small town of Rainwater, Oklahoma, has become a notorious boomtown now that a gusher has flooded its streets with drillers, welders and roustabouts of every description. Jill, a young woman who runs the hotel for her aunt, is unprepared to cope with the attention she receives from the woman-hungry men.
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A Place Called Rainwater
By Dorothy Garlock
Warner BooksCopyright © 2003 Dorothy Garlock
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRainwater, Oklahoma, 1929
YOU ILL-MANNERED LOUT!"
The glob of brown tobacco juice had hit and splattered as Jill was sweeping away the water she had used to scrub the well-worn boards on the hotel porch. Appalled, she glared at the man on the bench. His thin lips stretched in a grin, revealing stubs of tobacco-stained teeth. Then, to express his indifference, he extended his muddy boots out in front of him, crossing his legs at the ankles.
Jill's temper flared. "You ... jackass! Get off this porch and stay off."
His grin widened. "Are you deaf as well as uncivilized? Get!" She made a shooing motion with the broom.
"This is a public porch." "It's no such thing. It belongs to the Byers Hotel. The bench you're sitting on belongs to the hotel. If you're too lazy to go to the end of the porch to spit, you're no longer welcome to sit on it."
"Ain't yore bench. It's Justine's bench. Justine's porch. Justine's hotel." "That may be, but I'm running this hotel now and I'm telling you to leave."
"Or what?" He switched the chew of tobacco to his other cheek and puckered his lips as if to spit again. "Don't you dare!" Jill shouted. "Spit on this porch again and I'll call the sheriff."
"Go ahead. Sheriff ain't goin' to arrest me for spittin'. Ask Justine ifshe wants Skeeter Ridge to get off her porch. Me and Justine's just like that." The two fingers he held up were pressed together.
Jill leaned her broom against the side of the building. The man was dirty, with streaks of grime on his face, hands and forearms where the sleeves of his shirt were rolled up to the elbows. His britches and boots were caked with red Oklahoma clay. The neck of a flat bottle of whiskey protruded from his hip pocket.
"I don't care if you and Aunt Justine are just like that." She mocked his gesture with two fingers pressed together. "I'm in charge here now. I have just scrubbed this porch, in case you haven't noticed, and I'll not stand for a good-for-nothing loafer spitting on it. I'm telling you to go."
He gave her another impertinent grin. "Make me." Jill picked up the bucket and turned as if she were going back into the hotel. Instead she whirled around. "This is probably the closest thing to a bath you'll get all summer," she shouted as she tossed the dirty water in the man's face.
He came up off the bench cursing and balled his fists. "Ya ... goddamn ... bitch!" Jill dropped the bucket and grabbed the broom. "Back off or I'll wrap this broom handle around your neck." Grasping the straw end, she swung the handle at his head. He escaped by dodging down the porch steps. "Ya goddamn she-wolf!"
"Call me that again, you filthy braying jackass," she shouted, "and I'll bust your stupid head. You and your filthy habits are not welcome on this porch." Her angry words were accompanied by a jabbing motion with the broom handle. "What ya need is a strop on yore butt."
"Lay a hand on me, you belly-crawling worm, and I'll put holes in you big enough for the sun to shine through." Attracted by the commotion, two roustabouts paused on the walk to watch. Fresh from an oil rig, in oil-soaked clothes and with grimy faces, they shouted with laughter. "Skeeter, ya goin' to let that little wildcat run ya off? She ain't no bigger than a good-sized chigger."
"That yore summer bath, Skeeter? Ya'll need another'n 'bout Christmastime." "What'd ya do to get her so riled up?" "He spit on my clean floor, is what he did," Jill yelled. "If he does it again, I'll do more than douse him with water. I'll break this broom handle over that knot on his shoulders." "Wow, Skeeter! That little wildcat is madder than a wet hen. Ya'd better watch yore step." "Ya just wait, ya little split-tail. Justine'll set ya straight about a few things." Skeeter wiped the water from his face with the sleeve of his shirt.
Jill ignored him and vigorously swept the water from the porch, flinging it as far as possible toward the street. She had been in Rainwater for only a few weeks and doubted there was a dirtier town anyplace on the face of the earth. The town had been just a wide spot in the road until a wildcatter brought in an oil well a half mile from town. Now, three years later, a dozen pumping wells surrounded the town and a dozen more were being drilled. Rainwater had doubled, then tripled in size until now it housed almost five thousand oilhungry souls and was still growing.
The unpaved street that divided the two rows of buildings was hard-packed clay. The crude structures that had been hastily erected along Main Street had gradually been replaced by sawed-lumber buildings. The new boards were darkened with oil carried by the wind from a gusher before it was capped. The well, not far from town, had been cheered by the citizens of Rainwater even as they were being coated with what they called black gold.
Jill waited until the three men ambled on down the street toward the stores, pool halls, eating places and speakeasies where bootleg whiskey was as easy to come by as a cup of coffee. All were eager to part the roustabouts from their money. The sheriff had more than he could handle with fights, thieves and robbers to spend much time arresting bootleggers. Everyone knew that it was just a matter of time before Prohibition would be repealed. The law was not working as intended and was instead making millionaires out of a few big-time operators in places like Kansas City and Chicago. Jill picked up the bucket and went back into the small lobby of the hotel, then on through the kitchen. When she pushed on the screen door to go out onto the back porch, a black and white shaggy dog jumped up, moved a few feet away and waited expectantly.
"Are you still here?" she snapped. The dog's tail made a half wave, then sagged between her hind legs. Jill hung the bucket on a nail. "Go home." The mongrel looked at Jill with sorrowful eyes, then lay down and rested her head on her forepaws. "Suit yourself. But don't expect me to keep feeding you. A few bread scraps doesn't make us lifelong friends," Jill grumbled, then went back into the kitchen and slammed the screen door.
"Mercy me. What's got your tail in a crack?" It was always a surprise to Jill to hear the melodious voice that came from Radna, the bronze-faced woman who sat at the table peeling potatoes. None of the Indians she had ever known had such musical voices, nor spoke so precisely. "A nasty old man spit a glob of tobacco juice on my clean porch."
"Well, now, isn't that a surprise?" There was lilting laughter in her voice. "I gave him a bath with my mop water." "I bet he loved that." The dark eyes continued to smile at her.
Jill giggled. "I couldn't have surprised him more if I had sprouted wings."
"That must have been Skeeter Ridge." "How do you know that?" "He's harmless. He's been sitting on the porch for years. Thinks he owns it." "I set him straight about that, I think." Jill went quickly down the hall and looked out the door to see if the man had returned. "Aunt Justine hardly touched her breakfast," she said when she returned to the kitchen. "We're losin' her. You best prepare yourself. Justine's going downhill fast."
"Have you known her a long time?" "Many years. She was here when I came to the area just before the war. At that time Rainwater was just a spot on the prairie. The hotel, a store, a saloon and a few other buildings that didn't amount to much. It was a place to come to on Saturday night."
"You didn't live here in Rainwater?" "No. My man and I lived out on the prairie. He died about that time and I came here to help Justine." "Was he an Indian?" "Cherokee like my daddy. Lovely man but just couldn't leave the booze alone." "I don't see how Aunt Justine made a living here. There couldn't have been many travelers through the town in those days."
Radna gave her a sideways glance. "She had enough business." "Was this a whorehouse?" Jill bluntly asked the question she had wanted to ask since her arrival. "Not exactly." Radna didn't seem to be surprised by the question. She glanced at the door to Justine's bedroom to make sure it was closed. "Justine took in ... unfortunate girls from time to time and they had male friends who came to call," she explained in a low voice. "If they chose to give Justine a little money to pay for a girl's room and board, no one thought much about it."
"Aunt Justine ... didn't-" "How do I know, girl? She was still a good-looking woman ten years ago. Almost as pretty as you-bigger, more bosom. Men like women with big titties." "Then that lets me out."
Jill studied Radna. Although it was impossible to guess her age precisely, she seemed to be in her middle or late thirties. Her hair was thick and black. She combed it back and tied it at the nape of her neck with a ribbon. Not much taller than Jill's five feet three inches, she was thin but muscled from hard work. Her eyes were dark brown, her skin free of wrinkles. Only her work-worn hands told of a lifetime of hardship. She was always cheerful, although she often sang sad ballads in a throaty contralto as she worked. Now, as she sliced the potatoes, she sang a few lines of a song about a letter edged in black.
"Where did you go to school, Radna?" Jill asked. "An Indian school. The Cherokee Seminary at Tahlequah. They took me though I'm one-eighth colored. Mama was a beautiful quadroon. I've not tried to hide it." She looked directly at Jill to gauge her reaction when she made the announcement. "My daddy was a teacher and loved my mama to distraction. My, they were a handsome couple. She teased him about naming me Night Bird or some other Indian name. He threatened to call me Topsy or Jemima. I don't know how they settled on Radna."
"Are you their only child?" "No, I've a brother around somewhere." Radna moved the chair back and got up from the table. "No children?" "Had three. Two never breathed at all. One lived two days." "I'm sorry. It's hard to lose a loved one. Especially a baby." "It's all right. They never lived long enough for me to get acquainted with them." Radna poured water over the potatoes she had peeled. "I hear one of your hotel guests stirring around. You'd better get out there or he'll scoot out the door without paying."
Jill was standing behind the counter when the drummer came down the stairs carrying a large suitcase. She hadn't liked him when he came in, and she doubted her opinion of him was going to change now that he was leaving. His line was too smooth for her taste.
"Hel-lo. How are you this morning?" He smiled, showing a gold-capped tooth. "Fine, thank you. Did you find your room satisfactory?" "For a place like this, it was adequate. At least it was cleaner than it was the last time I stayed here." "And when was that?"
"About two years ago. The town has changed." "Do you come through Rainwater often?" The mustache on his upper lip twitched. He leaned on the counter, bringing his face closer to hers. His hair smelled strongly of brilliantine.
"Would you be waiting for me if I did?" His bold eyes moved down to her breasts.
"No. I'm just making polite conversation and waiting for you to pay me. That'll be seventy-five cents." "I'd pay two dollars for another night, if you know what I mean."
"I know what you mean." Her voice lashed out at him like a whip. "I suggest you bring a tent the next time you come to town. This hotel will be full." Jill's eyes, which could shine with laughter or turn as cold as a frozen pond, gave him a dismissive stare. She lifted her brows as if he were beneath her contempt. They were dark, with lashes to match that contrasted with her blue eyes and blond hair.
"I'm a paying customer, sweetheart, and don't you forget it," he said with an unabashed grin. "You're a cheating, low-life, rutting stud, is what you are. How many children is your wife taking care of while you wander about ... if you know what I mean?" Jill looked pointedly at the wedding band on his finger. "Well, it was worth a try." Showing no embarrassment at all, the drummer backed away, placed his coins on the counter, picked up his heavy case and without a word walked out the door.
"I guess we don't have to worry about him coming back or about you taking care of yourself." The voice, followed by a low laugh, came from the hall, and Radna pulled a heavy iron skillet out from behind her skirt. "Were you going to hit him with that?" "If I had to. I've done it before."
"How long ago was it that this was a whorehouse?" "Four or five years ago. And don't let Justine hear you call it that. She considered it a rooming house for young ladies." "Yeah, sure. What did everyone else call it?" "A whorehouse." Radna's laugh was like tinkling bells. "But not to Justine. That aunt of yours has a heart as big as all outdoors. A lot of people in this town are indebted to her. As far as I know, she never turned anyone away who was sick or needy."
"When she wrote to Papa and asked if her namesake could come and help her out until she could get on her feet, he had no idea her hotel had been a place of ill repute or that his eldest sister would probably never get on her feet. He didn't want me to come, but Eudora, my stepmother, persuaded him that at almost twenty-one, I was old enough to make my own decisions." "Is Justine's name Jill?"
"No. My name is Justine Jill Jones. All the kids in our family have names starting with the letter J. Mama's name was Jane and Papa's is Jethro. My sisters and brothers are Julie, Joe, Jack, Jason and Joy. In the town where we grew up, we are known as the J's."
"Isn't that something?" Understanding was in Radna's voice. "It sort of binds you all together." "Back on the farm it was one for all and all for one. If you ever messed with a Jones, you were in deep trouble with all the Joneses. My brother Joe is over near Tulsa. Eudora said she would write to him and tell him that I'm here and to come see me when he got over this way."
Sudden spontaneous laughter erupted from Jill. "Well, kiss my foot! What's tickled your funny bone?" asked Radna.
"You," Jill said and giggled. "I'd like to see you in action with that skillet. Are you sure you can swing it?" "You bet! Ask Justine. I backed her up a few times when we had to get a drunk out of here."
"I'd better go see about her." Jill came from behind the counter. "She might have heard the ruckus on the porch." "Oh, she heard it, all right. Not much goes on here in the hotel that Justine doesn't know about."
Justine Jones Byers settled in the chair beside the window looking out onto the side street. A year ago she'd had the energy of a twenty-year-old, but now she had to exert a major effort to negotiate the few steps to the chair. The thick wavy hair she had colored with henna was thin now and streaked with gray. The bright jewelry she loved lay forgotten in a bureau drawer.
Excerpted from A Place Called Rainwater by Dorothy Garlock Copyright © 2003 by Dorothy Garlock
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.