Chester McCabe needed to bed a woman. The squat drayman stepped outside the tavern with a scowl on his face, and looked up. The dark mountains which vaulted up on every side of Bridgeman, Virginia were barely visible now. The sun had set, and the run-down buildings of town were thrown into the shadows.
Laughter rolled out from the tavern behind him, but he ignored it. Instead McCabe tore off some chew and watched an old man light torches along Main Street. The town was no more than two drinking establishments, a mercantile, and a few ramshackle buildings.
Main Street was deserted tonight, and McCabe was disappointed. He wished someone would rile him up and give him an excuse to fight. He was feeling surly, and he knew pummeling someone would help him feel better.
Chester McCabe was a short, but powerfully built man in his middle years with thick black hair covering every part of his stocky body. It even pushed out of the top of his shirt. His favorite pastime was drinking and showing whores who was boss. He believed that they liked it rough, and he was more than willing to oblige them.
Two men joined him. One was a gangly youth with greasy, blond hair who went by the name of Whitey. The other was a fat drayman with a tobacco-stained beard named George Roscoe.
McCabe didn’t answer. Joining the army, any man’s army, disgusted him. He was not about to take orders from those pretty boy officers.
“I can’t wait to whoop those Injuns,” Whitey continued with a toothless grin. “I’m gonna sign up.”
“You stupid little shit,” McCabe snarled. “You’ll see how much fun it is when your guts are spilling out all over your boots.”
“Speakin’ of boots,” George Roscoe slurred. “At least we got new boots on our feet and money in our pockets. We damn sure earned it bringin’ that load of goods over them mountains. That was hell.”
“Well, I was hopin’ fer more than just whiskey tonight as reward,” Chester growled. He had been counting on bedding the whore, Lavinia Culvert when he got to town, but she had run off with a gambler two weeks earlier. She was the only prostitute the town had to offer.
“Well looky there,” exclaimed Roscoe with a chuckle and a nod toward the street.
A young country girl, fourteen or fifteen years of age, came around the corner. She was dressed in homespun clothing, and although it was a warm night, she had a shawl draped modestly over her shoulders. Her smooth, jet black hair was tied up in a knot, and she carried a basket.
“That there may be the reward we all deserve,” Whitey said. “Right, Chester?”
“Shut up,” McCabe mumbled as he reached into his pants, scratching himself. He smiled slowly and walked down the steps after her.
“She’s asking for it alright,” said Roscoe, falling in step behind McCabe. “Out alone after dark.”
After tossing back several gulps from a flask, Whitey ran after them. McCabe swung his arm forward, signaling for Whitey to go on ahead.
The youth stuffed the flask into his pocket and ran up to stop the girl. “Look at this sweet thing,” he said, jumping in front of her and walking backwards.
She looked up, startled and when he saw her face, Whitey called back to the men, “Whoee! Ya’ll gotta see this boys. Purty as a picture.”
The girl had dark eyes, smooth olive skin and high cheekbones.
“You part Cherokee, sugar?”
The girl did not answer and stepped around him.
“Now just a minute,” Whitey said indignantly and grabbed her elbow. “I’s just bein’ neighborly.”
She tried to free her arm, but Whitey would not let go. When the other two caught up and blocked her way, she dropped her eyes to the ground, standing rigid as a statue.
“Looks more like part nigger to me. Look at those lips,” said George.
McCabe ran his eyes slowly up and down her body and said to her, “White, nigger, Injun, a girl your age shouldn’t be out alone. Now we’re going to walk you home, lil darlin’. ”
He looked over his shoulder, took her elbow and pushed her toward the alley. Roscoe and Whitey scanned the street and then stepped into the shadows after McCabe. The girl squirmed and pleaded, “No, don’t. Please, let me go!” but the three whisked her so quickly into the darkness she had no chance to resist.
The alley smelled of rotting garbage, stale beer and excrement. Rats scattered when they stepped in back of an outhouse. McCabe clapped his hand over the girl’s mouth and swung her around, pinning her to a slimy wall. Her eyes were like saucers, and she struggled violently, trying to scream.
McCabe told Whitey and Roscoe to come and hold her arms. When they took hold of her, McCabe took his hand from her mouth and slapped her across the face. “Now you keep your goddamn mouth shut. I want you to enjoy this.”
She looked at him with blood trickling down her lip.
As McCabe started to unbutton his pants, Whitey began to rub his groin against the girl’s leg and George started to pull the blouse out of her skirt. Her hair tumbled down around her face as she shook her head from side to side. McCabe stepped forward with his pants around his ankles and clamped a hand to her throat. With his other hand, he began to pull up her skirt.
The next moment someone whooped, and the alley erupted into chaos. Men on horseback stampeded up, carrying rifles and clubs. There were five riders, who all had dark skin, and they were dressed in vests with bright sashes on their waists. They jerked up on the reins causing the horses to rear up, stomp and snort.
Roscoe reached for his revolver, but one of the riders burst forward and slammed him in the head with a club, dropping him to the ground. Whitey began to run, but another rider, a middle-aged man, swung a heavy chain into his face, smashing his nose and jaw. The boy tumbled back onto the ground, unconscious and bleeding.
As McCabe struggled to pull his pants up, the girl reached in back of her skirt, yanked a knife from her belt and plunged the blade deeply into his belly. In shock and horror, he looked into her eyes, and she smiled a crooked smile. With the calm indifference of an assassin, she pulled the blade out, wiped it on her skirt, and with her foot sent him tumbling backward onto the ground.
The riders dismounted, searching the pockets of Whitey and Roscoe. They found cash, weapons and tobacco, quickly putting the valuables into bags while one of the group stood guard at the entrance of the alley.
Although he was bleeding profusely, McCabe was still alive. He was too afraid to struggle when they took his belongings, so he continued to lay in the dirt, holding his belly and panting.
Through a haze of weakness and delirium, he watched the gypsies finish their raid. A handsome dark-skinned youth with a red sash called to the girl, and she looked up as she was pulling boots from George Roscoe’s feet. McCabe could not believe it was the same girl. Although she still had the smooth beauty of youth on her face, her demeanor was changed. Even in the fog of delirium he could see that she was a shrewd and highly jaded young woman.
The girl ran and launched herself into her lover’s arms, and the young man caught her, lifting her off the ground with a kiss. She wrapped her legs around his waist, threw her head back and laughed, tossing her dark head of hair.
“You did it again my Romani beauty,” the boy said, and he kissed her lustily.
Chester McCabe slid into oblivion as the gypsy band mounted their horses and charged out of Bridgeman, Virginia.