"Dodge is the Deadwood of Kansas; . . . her principal business is polygamy without the sanction of religion; her code of morals is the honor of thieves, and decency she knows not. . . The employment of many citizens is gambling, her virtue is prostitution, and her beverage is whisky. She is a merry town, and the only visible means of support of a great number of her citizens is jocularity." —Hays City Sentinel, 1877
Dodge City, Kansas
Miranda Beamer held her breath as she gently slid open the top drawer in her stepfather’s dresser. Her eyes immediately darted to the gun in the front side corner. She covered the weapon with her hand and slowly drew it out, nervous at the heavy feel of the weapon in her sweaty palm. The coolness of the metal made a stark contrast to her warm, damp skin.
Sweat beaded her forehead as her stepfather, Frankie Smith, slammed his fist into the wall in the kitchen, cursing loudly and stumbling around. Any minute he would call her, and she wanted to be ready. She’d borne his fists and beatings for as long as she intended to put up with them. He’d vented his anger on her beloved mother until the poor woman died of a crushed skull, then turned his attention to Miranda.
Dropping the gun into her apron pocket, she tiptoed from the room. Not that he would hear her with all the noise he was making. She licked her lips and waited outside the kitchen.
“Where the hell are you, girl?”
Miranda slipped into the room and leaned against the wall. “Right here.”
Moving remarkably fast for being so drunk, Frankie lunged across the space and grabbed her by the hair, yanking her forward, causing her to fall to her knees. “Why ain’t my supper ready?”
She winced as he tugged harder, bringing tears to her eyes. “It was ready four hours ago. I put it away, not sure if you would be coming home.”
He brought his hand back and cracked her across the face. “Heat it up.”
Miranda’s heart pounded as he shoved her from him. She climbed to her feet and, on unsteady legs, fetched the food from the pantry. The heavy gun banged against her leg as she moved around the kitchen. Tears streamed from her left eye where he’d hit her. She would have another black eye in the morning.
“Where’s Woody?” Frankie sat at the kitchen table and lifted the bottle of whiskey to his lips. Another bane to her existence. Frankie’s son, Woody, was as violent and nasty as his father. He came and went as he pleased. She was sure he was involved with the gang holding up stagecoaches between Dodge City and Mud Flats on a regular basis.
Woody had always watched her in a way that made her skin crawl, and she knew it was only a matter of time before she would have to fight him off. She prayed nightly he would be caught and thrown into prison.
“I don’t know. He hasn’t been home in weeks.” The man asked the same question every night. Since Frankie was either drinking from the whiskey bottles Woody kept him supplied with or passed out, and Woody arrived home in fits and starts, father and son rarely crossed paths. But for some reason, there seemed to be a strong bond between the two men.
Frankie grunted and tilted the bottle to his mouth again. “If you married him, he would be home more.”
Nausea climbed up the back of Miranda’s throat. Oh, God. Married to Woody?
Staying as far away from Frankie as she could, she filled a bowl with the stew she’d made earlier and placed it on the table.
“Where’s the bread?”
“I didn’t make any today. We’re out of flour.”
He dipped the spoon into the stew. “You know, girl, if you ain’t gonna marry up with my son, it’s time you did something around here to earn your keep. Margie, down at The Wild Cat, is always looking for new whores.” He shoveled the food into his mouth, bits of it dropping onto his already filthy shirt. “Yeah, that’s a fine idea.”
Frankie ate in silence until he belched and pushed the bowl away. Narrowing his eyes, he said, “I been talking to her—Margie. She likes you, said you would bring in good money. Made me think.”
Think. The man didn’t have a relationship with that word. Miranda backed away, worried about the turn in conversation. She slid her hand into the apron pocket and fingered the gun. Could she actually shoot him?
“Come here, girl.”
Miranda shook her head. “No.”
Slowly, Frankie got to his feet, his bulky six-foot frame towering over her. “Get yer bag packed. Yer going to Margie’s tonight and earn some money for us.”
He circled the table, his eyes moving up and down her body. “Maybe you’re worried about going to Margie’s not knowing what to do. I can take care of that for you, girl. It’s time I showed you what a woman does to make a man happy.”
Oh God, if he touched her that way, she would kill herself.
He studied her with his bleary eyes. “I seen the way you look at me. I know you’re wondering what it’s like to have a man between your legs.” He cupped his groin. “Get yer clothes off, and I’ll show ya what ya need to do. Do it now, girl!”
She broke into a sweat. “I’m warning you, Frankie. Don’t come near me.”
He leered and then lunged. She backed into the wall and pulled out the gun. “Get away from me.”
His eyes widened. “You ain’t gonna shoot me. Put that down, girl, afore you hurt someone.”
Miranda licked her dry lips and held the weapon in front of her with two shaky hands. “I will shoot you.”
Dear God could she actually do this? Put a bullet in his body? Did she have a choice?
Frankie rushed forward as Miranda pulled the trigger. His eyes widened as he sucked in a breath and stumbled back. “Son of a bitch. You shot me.” He gripped his chest where blood poured between his fingers. “You goddamn shot me.”
Miranda released the gun which landed on the floor with a thump. She covered her mouth with her hands and watched in horror as Frankie dropped to his knees and fell forward with a thud. The scream coming from deep within her lodged in her throat.
Panting, her body covered with sweat and her thoughts scattered like the wind, she backed away, her eyes glued to the man. She raced through the door, her mind numb, her only thought to get away from the house as quickly as possible.
She would hang for murder. There was no doubt. Woody would see to that. Undeterred by the future, she made the three-mile walk to the marshal’s office in half an hour. She yanked open the door and stumbled inside, the lack of air in her lungs causing little black dots to form in her eyes.
Marshal Dane Jones jumped from his seat behind the desk. “Miranda, what is it?”
“I killed him, Marshal. I killed my stepfather.” Her knees buckled, and she slid to the floor.