WHEN TIME COLLIDED
By Atonia Walpole
Chapter 13...PART 2: BEN
The Copper Queen Hotel was open for business. Ben had his liquor license and all permits to operate a hotel, bar and restaurant, though he’d not done anything about the food end of the business as yet. He did offer coffee and doughnuts in the lobby for early risers.
There were laws he had to become acquainted with. Legal ages for persons in the bar had to be 18 and no gambling was allowed. Ben moved the weekly poker game to the back room behind the bar and paid the sheriff a hundred dollars to look the other way. There was to be no solicitation by girls of that sort. So far Ben had not met any girls of that sort but he was on the lookout for them.
He still took his meals in the same café, not that the food was anything spectacular but Cora served his table and he’d eat anything she put before him. She made him hungry. He was still trying to entice her away from her waitress job. He offered more money but she turned him down for a variety of reasons. None of it made any sense to him but he had an idea what her problem was. It turned out he was wrong.
“It’s not because I’m afraid of you. I’m afraid for you. Does that make sense?” She sipped on her bourbon and water.
Ben leaned on the bar. “No, it doesn’t. I ain’t afraid of anybody. Who is it you think is gonna bother me?”
“I can’t say for sure.”
“Is it ya daddy? Bring him on in here. I’ll talk to him.”
“I don’t talk to him but that don’t mean he don’t keep up with me.”
“Thought you said he didn’t give a rat’s arse about you.”
“He don’t, really. I just don’t want to cause you any problems. I think you’re a nice man.”
“Thanks for that, Cora. I think you’re a nice lady.”
“A lady, wow, I don’t remember being called a lady before.”
“Well you are.” He leaned closer, touching her hand resting on the bar. “I recognize that in you. I’d never treat you any less, just so you know.”
“You’re a real gentleman, Ben. I don’t know if I ever met a real gentleman before. Nothing around here but cowboys.”
“Nothing wrong with cowboys,” Ben said and took a drink from his glass. “I’ve known a few in my time. Cowboys and farmers and then there’s your outlaws.”
“Some of them around too, I reckon. I’d better be getting home.”
“It’s early yet.”
“Not for me. I’ve got to be at work early in the morning. Thanks for the drink and the conversation.”
“Anytime, Cora, anytime.” He turned and watched her leave. One of these days…
“Ben, I got an idea for you.”
“Yeah, what kind of an idea, Jake?” Ben had the Shaw Hotel’s bartender working for him now.
“What you need in here is a jukebox. That’ll bring in a younger crowd.”
“Jukebox?” Ben gave him a blank stare.
“Yeah, you know, a little music on a Friday night will fill this place up. Ain’t nobody else got one unless you go out on the highway to one of them joints.”
“I’ll think about it, Jake.” He’d do more than think. What the hell was a juke box? “We got a piano. Maybe we need a piano player.”
“Nah, that’s not what the folks want nowadays.” Jake moved off down the bar to take care of some new customers.
Ben looked around the bar. He did need more customers and that was a fact.
Later after the bar closed down for the night Ben took a bottle up to his room on the top floor and opened the window and leaned out. It was quiet up here, quiet where a man could think and wonder at it all. He still didn’t understand how time could jerk around and send him into the 1960’s. But then if a man had been up there walking around on the moon he guessed anything was possible. When he thought about it, he really didn’t mind the time jump. So far he’d managed to obtain a place of business and it would be profitable given time. There were things he’d never understand, like television. It opened a world to him that he couldn’t fathom. He tried to think about where he’d be if time hadn’t thrown him out. Probably in jail or, no…no, that’s one place he never intended to go again. He’d been half way planning a stage coach robbery. That’s why he’d been in Bisbee in the first place. Of course this Bisbee looked nothing like the one he knew but that was all right. He could make it here.
He caught the scent of something on the air, something sweet and it brought to mind Cora. Something about that woman set him on edge, set him to wondering and thinking. What was it going to take?
Cora had been in bed for two hours and was still awake. She turned on the bedside lamp and sat up. A trip to the kitchen and a glass of cold milk, maybe a cookie to go with it. She dipped the cookie in the glass and bit down. She was going to have to do something about Ben Wade. He made her feel special when she was around him. The thing was, was that he was a man, a real man, a gentleman, and like nobody she’d ever known. She just had a feeling that if she stepped over that line she’d be a different person. But would it matter? Wouldn’t she be in a better place with him than trying to keep her head above water working at the Coffee Cup and living in this old trailer?
“Cora Belle, you all right?”
Cora nearly jumped out of her chair. “Who is it?” She got up and went to her door, checking to make sure the chain lock was in place.
“Nobody. Just saw your light come on.”
“Freddie, Freddie Baker, is that you? What are you doing hanging around here?”
“Go on home, go on now and leave me alone.” She jerked her curtains closed. It was too hot to close the windows but he couldn’t climb in anyhow. The windows rolled out and he was too big to slide through. She stood quietly listening until she heard his footsteps on the gravel drive. Fanning herself with her hand, she switched off the kitchen light and went back to her bedroom and turned off the lamp. “What an idiot,” she said quietly. Then she wondered how often he hung around her place at night. It unnerved her. She decided to confront him in the morning once she got to work.
The confrontation was still going on when Ben walked into the Coffee Cup for his breakfast.
“Your boyfriend is here,” Freddie sneered.
“You stay away from me, Freddie. I’m warning you. If I catch you hanging around my trailer again I’ll deal with you and you won’t like it.”
“What’s going on?’ Ben asked, placing his hat on the empty seat beside him. Cora was pouring his coffee.
“Oh, nothing, nothing I can’t handle. Freddie’s being a pain.”
“Who is he anyhow?”
“Nobody, he’s nobody. You want the country ham this morning or sausages and bacon?”
“I’ll take the ham and two eggs.” Ben looked past her at the young man. He was red of face and it clashed with his red hair. He kept his eyes on Cora. “He bothering you?”
“I said I’d handle it. Sorry, I’m…I’ll put your order in.”
Ben took hold of her arm. “Cora, you ain’t got to put up with this shit.”
“I know.” She pulled free and took his order to the window.
Ben kept his eyes on the boy as he swiped off the tables and loaded his tub with dirty dishes. He kept staring at him until Freddie glanced over at him. Ben gave him a little smile and stared him right into the back kitchen.
“Come work for me,” Ben urged when she brought his plate. “Quit this place today.”
“It’s not the place, Ben. Mama, that’s what we call her, she’s been good to me and hired me when nobody else would.”
“It’s time for you to move on. Who’s the kid?”
“He’s Mama’s ex-husband’s son. He’s got a crush on me, I guess. It’s just that it’s gone too far. I’ve told him off this morning. That’s all it is. Don’t worry about me.” She patted his shoulder and moved on to another table.
The boy didn’t make another appearance. Ben finished his breakfast and left. He had business to attend. For the next four days he was kept busy with his hotel. He’d made some inquiries about reopening the kitchen and serving meals. The dining room had once been a draw, it being the only white tablecloth venue in town. He liked that idea. He did an inventory of the kitchen with Shark. She told him the old tablecloths that had yellowed and were full of holes would make good cleaning rags. The expense of opening up the dining room was more than he’d figured. He would need a chef, not some burger flipping short order cook, but a real bona fide chef. The chef would need a few helpers. The equipment was old and better stuff was on the market now. Reluctantly, he contacted the sheriff about paying another visit to Mr. Holman.
“Well, now, I think that’s a mighty fine idea about opening the dining room. You know a lot of folks like to go out and eat after church on a Sunday. You do a nice meal for Sunday and your business would pick up right quick, Wade.”
“You think there’s enough folks in this little ol' town to support a fancy kitchen?”
“You might not think so to look at it, but there’s a lot of money floating around these parts. A lot of money. There ain’t no place around here much to spend it but if you get that dining room goin’ and that hotel, I figure this little town will grow. Might take it awhile but it’s got potential, yeah, potential.”
Ben sold a gold bar. He had more than enough money to open his kitchen and dining room. The only problem he had was finding the right people to run it for him. He slipped into the Coffee Cup for lunch to share his good news with Cora.
A new waitress came over to his table to take his order. “Where’s Cora?”
“She hasn’t been in for three days.”
“Taking time off?”
“Well, we don’t know. Nobody can get in touch with her. Do you need a menu or will you have the special today? Its beef stew.”
“Yeah, the special’s fine.” Ben paid attention to the lunch crowd. He didn’t see that red-headed boy cleaning tables either. The waitresses had to buss their own tables. “Y’all short o’help?” he asked when his plate of stew was served.
“We sure are. We got two missing this week.”
Ben finished his meal and left a generous tip. Over at the hotel Jake was setting up the bar. “Heard anything about that waitress, Cora?”
“Cora? Nope, ain’t heard nothing. Why?”
“Dunno, it’s just that she ain’t been to work for three days and nobody knows why.”
“Maybe she took sick.”
“Yeah, could be. Did you tell me one time she lived in a...a trailer?”
“Over at Rosa’s Trailer Park. It’s just outside the city limits.”
“Too far to walk?”
Jake grinned. “You’re sure interested in that little gal.”
Ben cut him a hard look. “She’s a nice young woman.”
“Yep, keeps to herself. Um, you wanting to ride out there and check on her?”
“If you don’t mind. Finish what you’re doing and find me. We’ll take a ride.”
Jake found Ben in the kitchen and drove him out of town to the trailer park. It was a small park with about six trailers lined up under some scrappy-looking trees.
“Now, I don’t know which one she lives in. You might check at the office over there.”
The office was another trailer with a couple of brightly-colored metal chairs set under an awning. Ben stood outside the door for a minute and then knocked.
“Come on in.” Rosa stood up from behind a gray desk.
Ben stepped inside, curious about such dwellings. “How do, Ma’am. I’m looking for Cora Belle. I’m Ben Wade.”
Rosa stuck a pencil in the bun on top of her head. “I don’t know you, Mr. Wade.”
“No, Ma’am, you don’t. I was, ah, hoping to hire Cora away from the Coffee Cup over to the Copper Queen Hotel. I’d like to talk to her about it and I check at the Coffee Cup and she ain’t been in to work for a few days.”
“Sorry, Mr. Wade, but…”
“It’s all right, Rosa.” Cora came from a narrow hallway. “Hello Ben.”
“Cora, what happened to you?”
Cora’s eye was black and blue and purple. “I, um, got in a fight.”
Ben inhaled, filling his chest. “With who? Who done this to you?”
“It don’t matter now. It’s all over.”
“Then why are you hiding out here? You are, ain’t you?”
“I said she could stay here for awhile. She was pretty shook up.”
“Who did this to you?”
“Ben, I…I really don’t, um.”
“I’m asking you a question.”
“It was that boy, Freddie Mack. Like she said, it’s all over now.”
“No, by God, it ain’t over.” Ben’s hands turned into fists.
“You trust this man, Cora?”
“Yes, Rosa, I do.”
“You want to tell him? That boy has been hanging around out here. I had no idea he was harassing Cora.” Rosa shook her head. “I would have called Frankie.”
“Maybe we’d better sit down.”
Cora told him about coming out of her shower and finding Freddie in her house. She tried to run him off but he had other things in mind. “I had on my bathrobe and I didn’t want to run out like that. I said I needed to put on some clothes. So I slipped into my bedroom but he came after me and hit me a few times. I...I grabbed the first thing I could, a knitting needle and I…I stabbed him with it.”
“Not much blood at all,” Rosa said, lighting a cigarette. “We cleaned it up, not a speck of blood anywhere.”
“You mean the boy’s dead?”
“Well, I stabbed him right in the chest, in his heart, Rosa said. He fell down on the bed and I ran out of the room. He didn’t make no noise so I went back and looked. He was dead, Ben.”
“So we wrapped him up in the bedspread and loaded him in the trunk of my car.”
“Where did you put him?” Ben asked.
“Where nobody will ever find him,” Rosa said. “We took his old truck out in the desert and left it in a ravine. Now then, Mr. Wade, what are you going to do with that information?”
“Not a damn thing. Cora, you get over to your place and pack up your stuff, whatever you want to bring with you. You’re moving into the Copper Queen where I can keep an eye on you.”
Cora looked at Rosa. “I don’t know, Rosa.”
“Better do as the man says. I’ll rent that trailer out before the week’s out, you just wait and see. Put your sunglasses on and go on, girl.” Cora went to get her handbag. “Mr. Wade, you’re probably the best thing that ever happened to that girl. Don’t let her down.”
“I have no intention of lettin’ her down.” Ben escorted her two trailers back to get her things. The trailer smelled of disinfectant, same stuff Shark used over at the hotel.
Jake was leaning on the side of his car smoking a cigarette. Ben stopped to tell him Cora was coming with them. “Something happen?” Jake asked.
“Nope, not that I know of. She’s not feeling well and I’ve talked her into coming to work for me. Gonna move her into the hotel.”
Jake grinned around his cigarette. “That so?”
“If you want to continue working for me, you’ll keep this quiet, got it?”
“Yes, sir, I got it.”
Rosa came out of the office and hurried over to help Cora. She carried an ancient suitcase with her. Ben waited outside and the two women hugged and spoke quietly for a moment before indicating Cora was ready to leave. Jake adjusted his rear view mirror and had a look at her. Her sunglasses didn’t quite cover the discolored cheek. She’d tied a scarf around her head and feeling his attention she pulled it over her cheek.
Jake carried the two suitcases into the lobby and left them there. He went into the bar and taking the opportunity with Ben’s back towards him, he took a drink from one of the liquor bottles.
Ben had a room on the third floor. It wasn’t anything fancy and he didn’t spend much time in there. Cora was led to a suite of rooms on the corner of the building. It was one of his best rooms with a little sitting area and a separate bedroom. The bath was just across the hall.
“This is too much, Ben.”
“You don’t like it?” He set her cases down.
“Oh, I like it fine but it’s too much. I appreciate what you’re trying to do.”
“You don’t have any idea what I’m trying to do. I want you to be comfortable and safe. Nobody is gonna mess with you in my hotel.”
“I don’t want to hear about him. He’s history now.” He moved close to her and tipped up her chin. “You just rest and get over it all. There’s plenty of time to talk about what your duties are to be here at the hotel. I’d advise you to stay out of sight until your eye heals.”
“I’m not going anywhere…where would I go? Thanks.” She touched his hand and he dropped it from her chin. Ben left her and she unpacked her clothes and set out the few little ornaments she'd wanted to bring with her.
Later in the week Ben was in the lobby checking over the register. He had six rooms let out. The sheriff walked in.
“Hello, Ben Wade.”
“Sheriff, what can I do for ya?” He’d already paid him his cut from the poker games.
“I’m looking for a little information so if you come across it or anybody comes in here talking, maybe you’d pass it on to me. Seems we got a missing person, a boy by the name of Freddie Mack ain’t been seen in nearly a week.”
“That the red-headed feller from the café? I ain’t seen him. He don’t come around here.”
“Seems like ain’t nobody seen him. His step-momma reported him missing after about four days.”
“Where’s his daddy?”
Ben smirked. “Guess he ain’t seen him.”
The sheriff grinned. “Nah, well, if you hear anything or sight him somewhere, let me know.”
“Sure thing, Sheriff.” Ben watched him leave and his eye was caught by Jake suddenly finding something on the floor to wipe up behind the bar. “Jake,” he called out, “I never did give you any gas money for running me out to the trailer park.”
“I don’t need no gas money. Hell, I ain’t a taxi.” Jake laughed.
“Anyhow,” Ben moved from the lobby into the bar and slid a couple of hundreds in Jake’s direction, “that outta cover it.”
Jake looked at the money, his eyes wide and he looked up at Ben. The man wasn’t joking. “Thanks, that’ll, um, cover it…sir.”
TO BE CONTINUED...
BACK TO PART 13A: JACK
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