The Whippoorwill Trilogy - Sharon Sala

The Whippoorwill Trilogy

Sleeping with men for money was not something Leticia Murphy had planned on doing when she grew up, but then, neither had she planned on being orphaned at twelve, or winding up in a god-forsaken place in the Kansas territories like Lizard Flats. But here she was, like most of the other lost souls who’d come West, looking for something better, and in her case, wishing for a second chance. She knew the odds were against her, but it didn’t stop her from yearning.

There was a ritual from her childhood that she performed each evening as the sun was going down, just as she was doing tonight. She stepped out onto the balcony off her bedroom above the saloon, looked to the heavens for the Evening Star, then stood quietly in the growing shadows to listen for the whippoorwill’s call.

The routine came from a memory of her mother who had died when she was ten. She was always sitting in her mother’s lap outside their clapboard house, watching night come over the land. They were on the bottom step with their bare feet planted firmly in the still-warm dirt, waiting for the first cool breeze of the evening. As they sat, they looked up, searching for the Evening Star and waiting for the whippoorwill to announce its presence. Her mother had always told her the bird was searching for its mate, but Letty had yet to meet a man who was worth the search.

However, the memory was one of the few good ones she had left. Two years after her mother’s untimely death, her father was killed by a Comanche hunting party. Letty survived by hiding in a hollowed-out badger hole and that was the last time fate had showed her any kindness. At twenty-seven, she was well past the marrying age and nearly too used up to care—even if she had never stopped dreaming about a different sort of life.

In the middle of her muse, a gunshot sounded on the streets below. It wasn’t the first time she’d heard that sound in Lizard Flats, and she would bet a year’s worth of wages it wouldn’t be the last. When the sound of an argument followed, she didn’t even bother to look down to see what was going on before she went back into her room. Chances were she’d see both of the stupid louts who’d started the fuss before the night was out. Men were always the same. Drink. Fight. Then celebrate their victories or losses by paying for her pleasures. Ever since Truly Fine had left Lizard Flats months earlier, Letty was the only woman still working at the White Dove Saloon, which meant she got more than her share of fools in her bed.

Refusing to think about the boredom of her life, she pushed the coal oil lamp a little closer to the mirror and then leaned forward, giving her appearance a final check before going downstairs.

Her eyes were still blue. Her hair was still brown, but there were fine lines at the corners of her eyes that hadn’t been there last year. She pouted her lips to check her lip rouge then gave a stray curl a final tuck. It didn’t do to dwell on the inevitable. She was getting older. The day was going to come when she would no longer be able to get a dollar for each man that she laid. The strange thing was that she had never been able to see beyond that fear. What happened to old whores, she wondered? Did they just dry up and blow away like the earth in Lizard Flats, or was there something worse—something more sinister than even she could imagine?

She made a face at herself just as Will the Bartender banged on her door.

“Letty! You come on downstairs now. I got customers wanting a little female attention.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming,” she yelled.

Just before she left her room, she blew out the lamp and then walked to the open door leading out onto the small balcony overlooking main street.

There was a faint breeze blowing, shifting the thin lace panels over her windows in an effort to get inside. She ran her fingers over the lace. Hanging the curtains had been a feeble attempt to give elegance to her life, but she did have a sense of satisfaction knowing she’d paid for them herself. Her momma would have loved the fine lace, she thought, as she walked out onto the balcony, although she would have