Tina looked his way and decided to approach in a fatigued gait. He leaned against a wall, pulling the Stetson down over his eyes, she looked scared maybe because her life was about to change radically.
With the eyes of a professional, detached and emotionless, she feigned interest as she got closer. The Cowboy whistled in approval -- she winced. That was a good sign, she wasn't completely devoid. There was a spark of life deep inside, it hadn't completely been snuffed out. "Yew a workin girl, ain't ya?" he asked.
She sized him up and decided no cop could act like this, "What's it to you?" she answered.
With a blur his hand shot out grabbing her by the arm. She struggled briefly, but through months of conditioning she knew that she wasn't going to break free. The Cowboy held firm, careful to not damage the merchandise. "Who do you work for?" he growled.
Through tears, everything came rushing to her. She had heard about the man called The Cowboy, and cursed herself for being so careless.
"Mohawk, I work for Mohawk. He runs all the girls down here," she said. "Don't hurt me."
"Mohawk," he repeated with a snicker. "You are much too purty to work fer a yellah bellied polecat like Mohawk." The Cowboy had heard of Mohawk, a medium sized fish who fancied himself big time. He would be perfect. "Where kin I find Mohawk?" the Cowboy asked punctuated with a shake that conveyed that he could easily rip her arm from the socket. She quickly surmised that tricks would not be good for a one-armed working girl and answered.
"I don't know!" The fear in her voice was real. "He might be at the bar, the Wading Pool, or he might be making his rounds. He comes by a coupla times a night."
The Cowboy looked deep into her eyes from under his brim. "Enjoy your last night, little filly," he said as she closed her eyes waiting for the end to come. She didn't expect the grip to fall away, "Tomorrow you begin working for me." She sighed in disbelief and shock as the Cowboy turned to walk away. Shaking, she jumped when he looked over his shoulder and asked her a question. "What's yer name?"
"Amaranth." She had the good grace to look a little embarrased. "Mohawk chose it, I wasn't going to tell him no."
The Cowboy scrunched his face up at the name, "Yew look like a Tina to me." The man continued to walk into the darkened alley, and from the darkness she heard "Good night Tina."
The Wading Pool was a riverside dive. The Cowboy decided that it looked like the place the working girls stepped into for a drink between trick. It was smoky and had a faint acid stench. There were perhaps a dozen men, probably all pimps, and half again as many women in the bar.
The Cowboy touched the brim of his Stetson to a redhead by the door and nodded a "Ma'am" causing a smile to form on her painted lips. He then walked over to the bar and called out "Barkeep, gimme a whiskey!" Turning, the cowboy rested his back against the bar at looked out over the patrons. A few polite nods delivered around the room returned none, and he inhaled deeply through his nose. "What in tarnation is that smell?" he bellowed.
"Smells like a mangy polecat ta me!" he continued. The Cowboy grabbed his drink and stepped out to face the men. "Smells like Mohawk."
"You got a problem?" said a man sitting at a table a few feet away. He was middle-aged, mid-forties somewhere, with a lot of hard miles showing on his face. He had a hard look, though, the look of one who didn't have much and had fought for what he did have.
"I gots lots of problems," said the Cowboy. "Yew Mohawk? I'd love ta solve one of them thar problems right now." The Cowboy surveyed the scene, which of the men were moving, which of the women? Were any shifting their posture to produce hardware that could make the evening fun?
"No trouble inside," said the bartender. "Please. I got a living to make here."
"Mohawk's got a lot of friends here," continued the man at the table. "Whaddya want him for?"
"It's his lucky day. Lady luck has decided to smile on him," he winked at one of the blondes in the bar. "Mohawk just got approved for early retirement."
"I'm not sure he's ready to retire, just yet. Maybe you ought to take your show on the road, if you know what I mean."
"My show is on the road pardner, and this is openin' night," placing his hands on his hips, tossing the Long Riders coat back. "Now, are you looking for a wagon train out of town too, or do I call the undertaker for a double-wide box?"
"What weird backwater did you come out of, and just who the hell do you think you are?" said the man rising.
"I'm The Cowboy," said the man, "and it ain't important where I come from, what;'s important is where ya'll are going." The Cowboy took a step toward the man, "Yew fixin' ta start something that yew got no prayer ta finish, sparky?"
"Cowboy, huh?" said the man. "I've heard of you. So that's what this is about." The man laughed harshly, "Allright, I'm Mohawk. What's your offer? The stuff I get for my girls is pure enough, and I get a good deal on it. What can you do for me?"
"I can offer ya safe passage out of Port Alexander," he began, "but I'm not much fer repeatin' myself." The Cowboy cooly stared around the room, "I'm expanding my ranch, and yer a squatter than I have to deal with, comprende?"
"Listen, Cowboy, you stick to drugs, and I'll stick to girls, OK?" said Mohawk.
"Ya see, the Cowboy likes the ladies too. And as of right now, they work for me." The Cowboy looked around the establishment, "I really hope you have a problem with that" he said with a grin while adjusting his gloves.
"That's not how it works, Cowboy," said Mohawk. "I've already got backing on this one. You mess with me, you're messing with something much larger."
"Then something larger can deal with me, because you're out of the picture." The Cowboy took a step toward Mohawk.
"Your funeral, Cowboy," said the man, backing up. He made an ironic sweeping gesture toward the door. "The tarts are yours. But they'll be mine again by the end of the week."
"You won't be here by th' end of the week. The only reason the Dagger Killer made it to trial is 'cause the deputies came too soon. Yew kin either make yerself lost, or I'll lose ya," threatened the man.
"Oh, I'll make myself lost. You won't see me." He sat back down. "Don't you have to go check on 'your' girls."
"Nobody's going to mess with them," he answered and walked up to Mohawk. A gloved hand reached out and grabbed him by the shirt, with little effort he lifted him off the ground. "Let's go flap our gums in private."
"No way, man! You just threatened to kill me, I ain't going nowhere with you! Take the girls, take 'em!"
"That was one of them reee-torical questions, yew ain't got a choice. C'mon." The Cowboy squinted over at the girls and muscle staring on, "ya'll got the rest of the evening off. Yew work for me now. Go on, git."
Calmly, The Cowboy carried Mohawk out of The Wading Pool into the darkness.
"Yew don't give the orders no more," he looked around the room.
"Someone call Reno! The organizaion aint gonna like this," screamed the hapless Mohawk as he struggled in the Cowboy's grip.
Things were silent in the bar for a long moment, then slowly conversations resumed. One man pulled out a cell and dialed a number. "Reno?" he said.