She nodded, "Very well as long as 'work around it' doesn't mean try to bargain down the price to something I will not agree to. I know what I bought this place for and I know I've made it more profitable than the previous owner did. I will not be low balled," she asserted.
Franklin shook his head as if to say, "I believe in plain dealing."
Matilda seemed to think for a moment as if tossing figures about in her head then suddenly came up with a lump sum number. As prices go it was a fair one, while she would not be cheated she also was not out to take advantage of Fortner either.
"Oh and that is only marginally higher than what I paid for it - just so you know," she added.
Fortner remained calm, resisting the urge to swallow. The figure was a bit higher than he'd hoped for. Also, this was happening a bit sooner than he'd figured on, which was good but he'd have to figure out the logistics.
Did the nearest bank have the ability to get telegraphic transfers? Such transfers were beginning to be used by Western Union. There was a bank at Fort Benton, but his money was in a bank at Carson City. It could be done, he was certain, but he didn't want to let this opportunity slip by because of dithering with the money issue.
Franklin believed her when she said she preferred a done deal - money on the barrel head, and not to be caught in an fetid swamp of I.O.U.s and promissory notes.
His mind was made up. There was only one choice for him. He would get the money from Hiram Priest, then repay Priest with the wired funds.
"I agree to your amount and terms. I will have the funds by midnight tonight. To hold this deal solid, I will pay you $300 now, and the balance later this evening. If that is satisfactory with you, we can sign a preliminary document right now. I would think that we can make the transfer date a couple of weeks out because you will probably want to settle matters and tie up loose ends.
"Do you want a lawyer to write this up? I understand that the old gent downstairs is a lawyer. Or we can scratch out the deal between the two of us.
The owner, this Miss Devereau, was a cool customer. Franklin admired her for that. She did not seem sentimental in the least, and he figured they could do business together.
"Sit down, Mr. Fortner, I'd offer you a drink but what I would like to do is engage in a very serious conversation about business. I'd like you sober afterall I don't know how many drinks you've had already," Matilda gestured toward the sturdy wooden chair opposite her desk.
Fortner sat quietly and crossed his left leg over his right knee. "Caroline plied me with one, maybe two drinks. That's it. In business, as in cards, liquor is the worst enemy."
The woman across from him spoke clearly and cogently.
"Now, I don't want to insult your intelligence because you look like quite the competent fellow but you realize the purchase of a saloon, especially a successful one like mine is would cost a lot of money? And you can afford it? I'm not talking promises - I will want the money upfront and it would be up to do to deal with a bank then regarding such things as loans."
Frank nodded as she made sense.
He'd sold the Silver Lady for $800 and some mining stocks. He'd preferred $1,000 but he had been in a hurry to leave town. There were saloons and there were saloons. Some were not much more than a large tent, especially in mining camps. But a saloon like the Star Dust, while still in a small backwater town, was anything but a tent with some whiskey barrels. Okay .. he thought quickly. A contract consisted of an offer, an acceptance (with details and clauses) ... and a cost.
"I don't want to insult your intelligence, Miss Devereau. Why don't you throw an number at me, and we can work around it?
After another shot, Frank followed Caroline up the flight of stairs, down a corridor and to a door marked "Private". The area was dim and, to Fortner, felt tight. It was not by design that he almost pressed against his female guide, and it was not an unpleasant experience. Was it lemon verbena he sensed?
It was clear that Caroline valued her job and that she had a large measure of deference toward the saloon's owner, Miss Matilda Devereau. Gone was her blunt, matter-of-fact delivery to be replaced by undisguised timidity.
"Miss Devereau, excuse me but I got someone who wants to see ya for a minute. It's business regardin' the saloon," Caroline explained.
Frank didn't catch the response, but it must have been favorable because Caroline opened the door and led him inside the inner sanctum. It was a proper and tidy office, not unlike the office he'd occupied at the Silver Lady. It filled him with a sense of confidence, not that he needed any because confidence was never in short supply.
Miss Devereau was as tidy appearing as her office. Her clothes were fetching but not garish. She was a businesswoman. That much was certain.
"Thanks, you can head back down then, Caroline. I got it from here," as usual Matilda was no nonsense direct. Caroline was used to such an abrupt dismissal, in fact she expected it and left without a word.
"And you are? " asked Matilda, "You obviously already know my name."
Frank held his bowler with both hands, pressed against his stomach, and exhibited straight posture.
"My name is Frank Fortner, new to Kalispell, and looking to settled down. I admire what you've done with the Stardust, ... it reminds me of an establishment I owned in the past. I would like you to know that if you ever wanted to part with this saloon, I would be honored to offer you a generous price. So, please keep me in mind if that day ever comes."
He smiled courteously, and executed a slight bow.
"Oh. Sorry about the fracas downstairs. Gun play is always my last resort, but the man couldn't be stopped."
"But I'm getting ahead of myself, Doll. The person who owns this place probably has their heels dug in and wouldn't part with it until they're hauled out of here in a pine box."
Yes, he certainly was. She had no proof he could even afford a horse much less a booming business, one suit of fancy eastern clothes and an upfront confidence didn't prove a goddamn thing in her opinion.
"Well, I can't speak for Miss Devereau, she owns this here place. I would arrange to have a little talk with her if I were you. Warn ya, she is no one's fool. She comes from a saloon background too ," Caroline smiled and finished her drink.
This split-tail is a tough one, Fortner reckoned. He knew when to back off, and he held his palm up and outward in the classic "Cease" gesture.
"I wouldn't dream of upsetting life in this great town." He looked over to where the newly lead-loaded body still lay. "I've done enough of that already today. Oh, and by the way,..." He called over to Hiram Priest. "Thanks for helping me out today, Mister. I'm indebted to you."
The older man was stuffing more tobacco into his mouth, and could only nod.
"Let me say this. If you hear that Miss Devereau ever wants to lay down the burden of running a place like this, tell her Franklin Fortner is interested in taking it off her hands. In fact, if I ever get a chance to visit with her, I can do it myself." He rushed past the subject, regretting that he ever brought it up. "I am looking into land purchases, mostly. I hear land is going for about $1.25 an acre, maybe more. Tomorrow I'm going on an expedition outside of town with some agents. I'm going to see for myself."
Another sip of whiskey.
"So, enough about me. Did you grow up around here or did some westward wind blow you into Kalispell?"
"Yessirree, that it is. And a dandy one it is too. Kalispell is a small town, one saloon is plenty. Except for some of those Bible thumpers folks like this place. We don't water down the liquor (that was actually true except for her drinks, the customers themselves got what they ordered) and we have the best stew in Montana, maybe even west of the Mississippi. Plus we got me. I'm the entertainment. I sing and dance. People say I got a great voice. "
"But, hey, I had asked you a couple questions first. Your turn to answer now, hon," she lifted her glass up and took a swallow then awaited his reply.
To Franklin, a saloon was more than just a watering hole with some entertainment. To him, it was a base of operations, a clearinghouse of all that was happening in a town. When he owned the Silver Lady, in Baxter Springs, Kansas, it was the heartbeat of the town. Decisions by the town elders weren't made in the Court House, they were made right at the Silver Lady, and Fortner was mixed up in all of them. That was where he met Mayor Hiram Priest. Oh, they went back a long way.
This dance hall girl was like so many he'd known: Trixie Campbell, Belle Summers, Kansas City Kitty, Rose Wood, and others.
"I have a lot of irons in the fire," he conceded. "Maybe get me a place like this." His eyes swept the interior of the Stardust. "If I did, I'd make you the big attraction." He raised his arms and spread then apart. "I'd have your name and face plastered on playbills all across town... even a small town like this needs an attraction."
He took a short sip and set the glass down.
"You would be strictly on Salary and you could keep any tips all for yourself. None of that splitting it between you and the piano player or management."
He could see that Hiram Priest was cocking his good ear toward their table.
"But I'm getting ahead of myself, Doll. The person who owns this place probably has their heels dug in and wouldn't part with it until they're hauled out of here in a pine box." Fortner hoped that didn't sound like threat because it wasn't.
She now leaned so her back was against the bar and added, "And if explainin' all this is gonna take awhile why don't you buy yerself a drink and I wouldn't be averse to one myself, hon."
Fortner was a man who always had control of himself, and he always posted a sentry at his lips. Still, rather than appear unfriendly, he would visit with her. Whether she'd be satisfied with their discussion was yet to be known.
"Ralph," Franklin called. "Two whiskey's, please." This time there was no caution about being stingy.
Once they were placed on the bar in front of him, he handed one to the lady, and then took the other. "Let's sit over here," he suggested with a nod at a vacant table near where Hiram Priest played Solitaire.
"You are a rare commodity," he said to her once they were seated across from each other. "It's not often you find a lady interested in business, much less a pretty lady." He took a sipped from his glass. "Tell me. Is this the only saloon in town?" He asked.
This was not the way Frank Fortner had hoped to enter Kalispell. For one thing, he did not want any association with a killing. Things like that can stick to a person and that is not the impression he liked to exude. For another, he didn't know whether the dead man who lay on the saloon floor had any friends or relatives who were as hot-headed as he'd been.
The Marshal, to Frank's relief, issued his assessment.
"Hardly what I'd call a welcome to Kalispell, but I guess it'll have to do. You gents are in the clear."
Thank you, Marshal," Fortner answered politely. It was a potent attribute of his to be polite and genial. It helped him in business and in consensus building.
Priest nodded firmly as he rolled his chaw from one cheek to the other. "A very sad turn of events," he issued in the manner of a politician or minister. "Loose talk, cheap liquor, and a firearm are a bad mixture in a town like this." He looked significantly from the Marshal to Fortner and then Ralph the bartender. After which, he went back to his table and his deck of cards.
Although he never got to enjoy his whiskey, Frank Fortner decided it might be a good idea to secure a room at the hotel.
"Thanks again, Mayor," he said to Priest, turning to leave but before he took a step, a "real looker" came up to him. She was the blonde gal who'd vouched for him.
"Mr. Fortner...was it? You said yer here in town on business. What sorta business you in?"
Frank gripped his coat lapels then glanced askance at her. "You might say I'm an investor, some say a visionary." It was a vague response from the man who elevated obtuseness to a high art. For her, he revealed a bit more. "I'm here to scout out opportunities on behalf of an Eastern consortium."
From across the room, Hiram Priest watched him through experienced eyes.
"What's your name?" he asked in the manner of one in a position of authority.
"Fortner. Franklin Fortner," the man offered straightforwardly. "I just came in to get a drink and it looks like I should have just kept on my way to the hotel."
Priest tugged at his chin and nodded sagely.
"Look," continued Fortner. "I don't know this man, ..never met him. I don't know what his beef was. I hate to talk ill of the dead, but he was a troublemaker. But thanks for backing me up. One never knows what will happen once the lead begins to fly."
Priest wrapped his thin, long arm around Fortner's shoulder, and pulled him away while saying so that everyone could hear, "We gotta get our defense right. Frontier justice is played with a deck full of Jokers. I was a territorial Judge in Dakota country, and the stories I could tell you." Then .. very quietly, "Did you get the papers"?
Franklin Fortner simply nodded yes.
Priest turned to the crowd. "Has anybody got a tablecloth or a sheer or something to lay over this poor soul?" He indicated the corpse.
Fortner calmly asked the cowpoke, "I have strange habit."
"Hope it ain't a dirty habit!" grinned Grimes nervously. If that was intended to amuse the man pointing a gun at his forehead, it didn't seem to work.
"Do you have any habits?"
Grimes frowned. What the Hell was this fancily dressed dude with the quick draw and the backup man raving on about? Habits, habits... ?
"Er... chew a little?" he hazarded a guess in the form of a question. He somehow didn't think his addiction to chewing tobacco was what the stranger was driving at.
Fortner smiled .. ever the gentleman.
"My habit is collecting drunken cowpokes' guns." His smile widen. "You see, whenever I meet a drunken cowpoke, I always ask him for his gun. I ask him real nice, at first."
He held out his free hand, palm up. "Or, am I gonna have to take it from you?"
The question was put squarely to Grimes.
Judge Priest was enjoying this. He'd seen this very scene played out several times in dusty towns from Missouri to Montana. He rolled his tobacco wad from one cheek to the other, but his gun remained steady.
"I see you have a protector," he said quietly to the lanky lout.
With the derringer in his right hand, he took his left and placed it on Arabella's shoulder and encouraged her to move.
"Step aside, little lady, I'm not going to hurt your hero, at least if he listens to good advice."
There was an impressive silence that was finally broken when Priest eased back the hammer of his gun. CA-CLICK. "You should take his advice and listen to the gentleman. It would be a crime if such a pretty piano player got caught-up in any potential gunfire."
That settled, Fortner calmly asked the cowpoke, "I have strange habit. Do you have any habits?"
Sagas of the WIld West is a roleplaying game set in a fictionalized version of the town of Kalispell in Montana territory. Our stories begin in 1875 and are set against the backdrop of actual historical events.Sagas was inspired by the classic television and movie westerns. Our focus is on writing, storytelling and character development.
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