“Hey Les,” I say.
“Hey Wes.” Les grins and claps me on the shoulder. “I was just thinking how I could use a drinking buddy. You game?”
I follow him into The Flying Rooster, where we both down a few strong drinks that taste like a cross between whisky and floor polish. Not far from where we sit, a group of men are clustered around a table, slapping down cards with loud whoops of glee. And yes, there is a piano guy banging out tunes on a splintery piano. It all seems familiar, though I don’t know if it’s due to Wes Turner’s memories or if it reminds me of a scene from an old western movie.
“What brings you around here so late?” asks Lester, after I’ve downed enough brew to start singing Oh! Susanna along with the piano. “Trouble with the missus again?”
“You might say that.” I give him a sheepish grin. I wonder how often Wes and Miranda have disagreements. “Any idea where a henpecked husband might lay his weary head for the night?”
Lester snorts. “I imagine you’ll find yourself at Buzzard Rock, as usual.”
“Oh yeah.” Wes’s memories swim through my drunken fog. Buzzard Rock is a compound of sorts, surrounded by high walls, where Wes sometimes rents a room. After I say goodnight to Lester, I somehow manage to mount my horse.
“Go to Buzzard Rock,” I tell her, my voice thick and slurred. “Gee!” Delilah moves slowly, deliberately up the road. But she doesn’t head back to Wes’s house. Instead, she deposits me in front of a closed pair of heavy wooden entry gates. Hanging above the gates is a crooked wooden sign, which reads: Buzzard Rock. I slide off Delilah’s back, stumble toward the gates, and pound them with my fist until at last an annoyed voice calls out from the other side.
“Good lord – hold your horses, already!” The gates slide open, and there stands a formidable woman, hands planted on her round hips, staring me up and down with an appraising look. Wes Turner’s memories tell me that this woman is Madam Cleo, and that I would do well to be humble and polite in her presence.
“Hello Miss Cleo. Ma’am.” I clear my throat. When she continues to glare, I slip my hat off for a moment and do an awkward little bow.
“Hmph Go on in, then,” says Madam Cleo. “I’m ‘fraid that Liddie’s run off, but Birdie and Maybelle are available, if they’ll do.”
I stop in my tracks. “Wait. You mean to tell me that this place is a…is a…” Two women approach just then, their garish frocks and heavily made-up faces answering my question.
“Come with me for some fun, darlin’” says one woman, who turns out to be Maybelle.
“Uh…I don’t think so,” I say, stepping back.
“I beg your pardon?” Maybelle’s jaw drops. “You got a problem with the likes of me?”
“No no, that’s not it,” I say hurriedly. “I’m sure you’re…very good. At what you do. But you see, I’m not – I mean, I’m uh…hungry.”
Maybelle is still pouting. “Well, go on into the kitchen then. They’ll get you fixed up right.” She sweeps an arm toward one of the wooden buildings. As I’m rushing toward it, eager to get away, it occurs to me that if I’ve been magically transported into the Old West, and I’m stuck in some other person’s body, then maybe Melissa and Richard are here somewhere, too. I glance over my shoulder at Maybelle and Birdie. Could one of them actually be Melissa in disguise?
Dazed, I wander into the kitchen, where I’m seated beside a gun-toting desperado named Joey the Kid, or possibly Richard, I don’t know, and served a bowl of some spicy, stew-like concoction.
“Say, do you know what’s in this stuff?” I ask, frowning at a spoonful of the greasy glop.
Joey the Kid shrugs. “Possum prob’ly. Though it might be skunk. Dunno.”
My stomach lurched. I shoved away my bowl and got up from the table. As I’m hunting around for someone to fetch me a cup of water to wash away the test of roadkill, someone lets out a furious roar across the room. I spin around. Joey the Kid is stomping toward me, pistol drawn.
“You dare to come ‘round here and insult a lady?” he bellows. I can’t take me eyes off the pistol, which he’s waving around in the air, finger on the trigger.
“Lady? You mean…her?” I gesture toward Maybelle, who is watching the confrontation with a scowl. “Listen mister, I didn’t— ”
“What, are you too good for the likes of Maybelle?” Joey steps closer, his pistol pointed right at me.
“Of course not, I— ”
“That’ll be enough, Joey.” To my relief, Lester steps between us, and Joey stalks away, still muttering under his breath. Lester turns to me. “I think it’s high time you were on your way, Wes.”
“Yeah. Guess you’re right.” I tip my hat one last time at the “ladies,” who are huddled in a corner shooting dirty looks my way. If one of them is Melissa, I have no way of knowing. I leave the compound and mount my horse, unsure as to where I should go. All I know is that Melissa and Richard may be the keys to getting back home, and that somehow, I have to find them.