Author's Note: This gapfiller falls in the middle of The Exchange, Part II, the Season 2 finale, after the boys have ditched Lou, for her own protection.
“Sorry, sonny, we need men what can handle themselves in a fight now. We ain’t gonna have no time ta be babysittin’ boys that should still be home with their Ma’s,” the burly outlaw sneered, stomping out the stub of the cigar he’d been puffing on when Lou had first approached him. “Look us up in a couple years,” the man grunted in afterthought. “if yer really as good with that gun as ya claim, the boss’ll want ta give ya a try.”
Without another word, the man walked back toward the prostitute who was leaning against the saloon door, waiting for him.
Lou heaved a deep, tired sigh, almost exhausted, as she watched the painted woman tuck her arm through the man’s and lead him inside the saloon, grinning the entire time. This was her last, best chance to find the Pike’s hideout. She’d tried following the boys, but lost their tracks fairly quickly on the main road and never found where they’d left it. Honestly, tracking had never been her strong suit, she was adequate at best. Then, she’d tried getting the Sheriff in town to raise a posse. No such luck. No one in this town was going to go up against the Pike brothers and their gang. Joining the gang itself had been a last ditch effort. She couldn’t even get anyone to tell her where their hideout was, other than the vague ‘south’ she’d gotten from the livery owner. They just looked at her and told her she was too young.
She didn’t know what she was going to do now to get out to Pike’s hideaway and help rescue Amanda while protecting her brothers. And she was running out of time. It had been a full day since the others had left her behind.
And believe you me, I’ll have a few things to say to them about that when I catch up with them, she thought angrily. How could they have done this to me? Then she sighed again as she contemplated her lack of ideas. If I ever catch up with them.
She shoved her hands deep in her pockets and hunched her shoulders as she started morosely walking down the boardwalk.
“Watch where your goin’, laddie,” came a sharp reprimand, accompanied by a rounded, feminine hand pushing Lou forcefully back.
Lou looked up and gawked at the parade of half dressed saloon gals marching past her and climbing into a large stage parked in the alley next to the building.
“What... what’s this?” she asked the large woman who’d pushed her out of the way. She was still standing next to Lou, directing traffic so to speak.
“These are Pike’s Gals,” the woman smiled down at Lou, her soft Irish brogue a soothing balm to Lou’s jangled nerves. “Leastwise, that’s what we call ourselves. The best and prettiest workin’ girls in the territory. This is our weekly trip out to play with our boys.” She smiled proprietarily.
“Um, Mistress Sorcha?”
The tall, broad woman at Lou’s side turned her attention to the well-rounded, but much shorter girl with lengths of tousled blonde curls falling down around her shoulders.
“Yes, Nora?” she asked.
“Ma’am, Clara’s sick. I mean real sick. She can’t come. What are we gonna do? Emory’s gonna kill us, we don’t got enough girls.”
A light entered Lou’s eyes. Here was a surefire way into the hideout. And they needed her, which means they wouldn’t ask too many questions. Without letting herself think about it anymore, she reached out and grabbed the edge of the Madam’s lacy sleeve.
“Ma’am, I think I can help. I know someone... a girl... she might be willin’ to go along.”
“Can she be here within a half hour?” Sorcha asked. “We can’t wait any longer. Showin’ up late’d be worse than showin’ up with too few girls.”
“Sure!” Lou exclaimed, already turning and running toward the livery stable at the other end of the street. “I’ll just run and get her.”
Mentally sorting through what she’d packed in her saddlebags as she ran, Lou shook her head. How was she going to pull this off? A slight fluttering of cloth to her left caught her attention and without thinking about it, she swung down the alley. On the other side of the two buildings that formed the alley’s walls, she found herself surrounded by the clotheslines of a laundry.
“Yes,” she breathed quietly to herself as she glimpsed all the clothes. Without giving the theft a second thought, she pulled the nearest dry skirt off the line, shoved it inside her coat and ran for the livery.
Inside the large barn, she snuck into a stall and began ripping off her boy’s clothes, until she wore nothing more than the thin, sleeveless chemise she’d had on underneath. She’d taken to wearing more girl’s underwear when it was just the boys, Teaspoon and Rachel around. They all knew her secret anyway. Over the chemise, she pulled on the skirt she’d scavenged.
She grunted in annoyance as she realized it was a bit too big. Sucking in her breath, she fastened it then knotted it up on one side, so it would stay up on her hips. There wasn’t much she could do about her hair, she figured, other than to comb it out real quick. When she dumped her saddlebags upside down to find her brush in a hurry, a pot of creme Rachel’d given her fell out, too. Lou grinned and slathered some on her face and lips to make them softer and shinier. Minutes later, a young girl walked, ran really, out of the barn and raced for the stage that stood just down the street.
She came to a skidding halt in front of the anxious looking madam.
“Are you Mistress.... Sor.... Sorcha?” she panted.
The woman’s eyes narrowed on her as she nodded slowly.
“My bro..ther, Jeremiah... said you could use an extra girl.”
“You don’t have the look of my normal girls,” Sorcha mused, looking her up and down. “But you just might do. “ She nodded. “There’s something appealing about your elfin appearance. Even if you are a bit on the... slender... side. ”
Then she shook her head in dismay. “But those plain clothes will never do. You look like a little girl playing dress up in her Ma’s clothes.” With no warning, she reached out and pulled the straps of Lou’s chemise down over her shoulders. “Magpie,” she called over her shoulder. “Hand me that scarf you’ve got in your hair.”
“But--” the other girl, with a mess of long, red curls twined around a white, lacy scarf, started to protest, even as she reached toward the scarf and began to pull it out of her hair.
“You know better than that, girl,” Sorcha said sternly, without turning to look behind her. “When I tell you to do something, you do it.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the girl answered, chastened, placing the scarf in Sorcha’s upstretched hand.
Sorcha pulled Lou roughly closer to her and wrapped her long arms around the smaller girl’s waist, taking the scarf with her. Soon, it was tied tightly about her waist, holding up the skirt and hiding the knot Lou’d used to keep it up. And Sorcha’s hands were buried in Lou’s hair.
“A shame you don’t have more hair, gel,” Sorcha mused. “It would be your crowning glory. Men love a woman with lots of curls to wrap their hands in. And you’ve got some beautiful hair.”
“I... ah.... was sick,” she muttered, looking down.
“Well, nothing to be done about it now,” Sorcha shrugged. With a strong, yet surprisingly gentle, shove, she pushed Lou toward the stage. “Up you go. We can’t keep the Pikes waiting any longer.”
Lou shivered from her seat in the middle of the stage. The chill prairie winds, heavy with the moisture of the recent storms, caressed her skin, leaving behind something that more closely resembled a chicken’s plucked hide than a fancy girl’s caressably smooth packaging. But that was the least of her worries.
Now that there was no backing out of this plan, she was starting to have second thoughts. Sure as shooting, when she arrived, some randy young buck would want to walk off with her. What--
Her thoughts came to a stumbling halt as the girl next to her started shouting something out the stage window to a rough looking man running alongside. Without her realizing it, they’d arrived. Lou silently swore at herself. Now she had no idea which direction to go to get out of here.
The stage pulled to a stop and the hands of an unseen outlaw jerked the door open. The other girls, even the Madam, began to step out, into the eagerly waiting arms of their hooting and hollering customers. Lou felt like she was frozen in place. Or was it in fear? She couldn’t do this.
But the girl next to her didn’t let her wallow in her sudden indecision.
“Move it!” she hissed, pinching Lou’s upper arm.
“Ow,” Lou muttered, rubbing the offended appendage. But she took the none too subtle hint and stood. Stepping down, out of the stage, she heard the sound of pounding hooves and turned to see who was following them into the outlaws’ compound. Amanda came flying through the gate, then slowed her horse and calmly dismounted, right in front of the man Lou recognized as Emory Pike from Teaspoon’s wanted posters. She watched, curiously, as Amanda said something to Pike. She could only catch a few words. Something about proving herself to Pike. Lou’s eyes narrowed at the words, as she tried to figure out what Amanda was talking about. Then, Amanda handed over what looked like a necklace of some sort.
Suddenly realizing she was the only one left standing by the whores’ stage, Lou started to move away. The words, ‘Trust me now?’, ringing in her ears in Amanda’s unique tones.
“Hey, there, purty thing.”
Lou gasped as a pair of strong arms reached out and wrapped themselves around her. She started to struggle, then realized she couldn’t. Not without giving herself away.
“Ooh, you’ve got spirit,” he cooed, the smell of whiskey on his breath nearly knocking her out as he nuzzled her cheek. Pulling his head back, he squinted down at her as his hands measured her size. “Yer a bit tiny fer my tastes, but heck, yer better than nothin’, which is what I’ve been makin’ do with!”
Lou forced herself to look up into his face and smile, like she was enjoying the way his hands were roving over her body, pushing rudely at her clothes, trying to get them out of his way.
“Why don’t we go somewhere a little more.... private,” she asked, giggling for effect. “So’s we can really have some fun.”
“Sounds good ta me,” he grunted, lifting her up in his arms. Lou forced herself to relax as he carried her toward a nearby tent. “What kinda fun ya got in mind?”
Lou looked at her captor and smiled as pleasingly as she could. “Now if I tol’ ya, it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it? And where’s the fun in that?”
He grunted in reply, whether to agree or disagree she wasn’t sure, as he bent to duck under the flap into an old army tent. He dropped her on the cot in the corner, half hidden behind a couple of boxes of supplies of some sort, then turned to toss his hat on top of a pile of personal belongings in the corner.
That was all the time Lou needed to pull her revolver out of its hiding place, strapped to one leg. He was still reaching for the buttons on his shirt as he turned to face her when the butt of the sixgun came slamming down on the back of his head.
He let out a slight moan as he collapsed at her feet. Lou didn’t give him a second glance, knowing he was out cold and would be for some time, as she stepped over his prone body and peeked out the tent entrance. She smiled grimly as she saw Amanda walking directly toward her. Time to get some answers.Author's Note: This story is dedicated to Segate, aka Indywriter, who inspired it with a picture and a complaining question about Lou's actions in The Exchange. Believe me, I will send a bunny to bite back, sooner or later!