An enthusiastic traveling snake-oil salesman who specializes in "enchanted” trinkets, dies while in the throws of his greatest enjoyment, but not before regaling the madam of the house with an outrageous story about a magical tin sheriff's star in his possession.
Josephine damn sure enjoyed the biggest, fattest ones. Cigars that is. The feel of the brown leaves between her fingers and the rich aroma that they left behind. A cigar provided true moments of leisure for her.
The snake-oil salesman, with his round glasses perched at the very tip of his sharp little nose always insisted that she smoked one after they finished with their business. Josephine didn't mind. After all, the cigars were mighty fine, and the little man was kind enough. He would always regale her with the stories of his travels as he finished putting his clothing back on. Mr. Frederick Marley was one of the few customers that Josephine saw these days who enjoyed getting buck naked with her. He was a frisky little fellow who, on occasion, made the madam of the house wonder just how many hands he really had.
This particular evening his story was a tall tale about a very special tin sheriff's star. The metal flashed in the light of the several lanterns Josephine had carefully placed about the elegant room. Freddy held the star between the fingers of his right hand as he told her how he had acquired the piece of pointed tin, after much haggling, from the medicine man who had enchanted it.
Smoke from their cigars floated in thin waves across the sumptuous quarters that Josephine kept in the brothel house as her own. The bed was a four-poster, carved from mahogany and stained a deep brown. Its elegantly turned posts nearly touched the ceiling. The satin sheets came from Paris. As madam of the house, Josephine had a standard to maintain. How else could she charge the exorbitant prices that she did?
Freddy's arms sliced through the veils of smoke as he told his story. His hands were rarely still. Josephine always did her best to stay alert as the snake-oil salesman spoke. He paid very well for her services and his stories, though outrageous, were amusing to hear. Plus, truth be told, the man had amazing hands. It was common practice to feel as little as possible while in the company of a client, but with Mr. Marley, Josephine sometimes found herself slipping.
Freddy was just getting to the part of the story where the medicine man enchanted the piece of ordinary tin for the sheriff. Josephine cupped her face in her hands as she leaned her elbows on the bed in mock interest. She was sprawled across the large feather mattress. Her pale naked form was lightly tangled in the silky bed clothes. Freddy had gotten too caught up in his own story to get dressed. He was strutting across the room, bare feet padding softly against the floorboards in full naked glory. His bare chest, with just its little tuft of man hair fuzzing out from the middle, was thrust out with pride. He was a very boisterous storyteller.
Freddy made sure that he finished the last few steps he had paced off before spinning on his bare heels to face Josephine.
“Yes, my dear,” he answered. For such a compact little man, Freddy's voice was surprisingly baritone.
“What does it do,” she asked. A large grin spread across his weathered face. Freddy rushed across the room and knelt on the floor before the bed. The twinkle in his eye was childlike. He grasped her two hands within his own. His excitement was contagious. Josephine's heart began to thump faster with anticipation.
“It makes whoever wears it, a hero!”
Josephine instantly regretted the tittering mirth that escaped her mouth. Freddy 's face fell like a stone dropping to the earth. He looked hurt. He released her hands and stood up. The snake-oil salesman began to quietly get dressed.
The madam jumped out of bed, nearly falling on her face trying to escape the bedclothes. She knelt at Freddy's feet and balled the ends of his shirt in her fists. The floorboards were rough on her bare knees. She would have scratches to sooth later.
“Freddy, I apologize. Please forgive me,” she pleaded with her favorite client. “Continue your story so that my ignorance might be substituted.”
Freddy looked down into Josephine's eyes. He saw that she was sincere. He tenderly traced her jawline with his finger and nodded. Freddy took her by the elbow and lead her back to the bed where they sat together on the edge of it.
“What I meant to say,” Freddy continued softly, “was that once a person puts on the star, their abilities seem to somehow be, enhanced.”
“But, Freddy, that sounds like magic,” Josephine said skeptically.
“You don't believe in magic?”
“I'm a whore, darling,” Josephine reminded him. “My belief in magic died long ago.”
Freddy kissed her brunette hair where the locks rested on her bare shoulder. “That makes me sad,” he said. “You, Josephine, are my magic.”
Josephine blushed and smiled at her client. He was such a charmer.
“Tell me more,” she told him. Freddy shook his head and put his hands on her shoulders. Slowly, the snake-oil salesman pushed the madam back onto the bed.
“Later,” he answered and brought the weight of his body down onto her gently.
Later never came. Josephine was sitting cross-legged on her bed, staring through teary eyes at the still form of her favorite client. Freddy Marley was dead. His last gasp of ecstasy was his final breath. He never drew another. The poor little man's heart had seized up and refused to beat even one more life-giving moment.
Josephine had yet to move. She should go tell someone about the tragedy. The madam could not seem to move her naked limbs. Nor could she pull her moist green eyes away from the body lying prone on her mattress.
A glint caught her eye. Josephine moved her gaze slowly to the spot where the candlelight had caught the sheriff's enchanted star. Forgotten atop Freddy's discarded clothing, piled on the floor near her dresser, the piece of tin seemed to beckon her from her daze.
After a moment of contemplation, staring hard at the metal shape, the madam scooted off the bed and went to pick it up. She held the star in the palm of her hand. In her stupor, she was confused to see drops of moisture splatter onto the surface and into her hand. Absently, she wiped away the tears that had now fallen from her eyes. When had she started crying? Josephine couldn't recall. Shock had overwhelmed her. The only thing that made perfect sense to Josephine at that moment was the shiny tin star in her hand.
A few moments passed as she stared down at the trinket. Finally, Josephine removed a silky peach colored robe from her armoire and slipped it over her nakedness. She let the tin fall into the only pocket on the thin garment. It felt heavy there.
With feet that felt as if they were weighted with lead, and a heart that was even heavier, the madam of the house opened the door to her sanctuary. A bouquet of smells wafted in from the rest of the brothel to assault her raw senses. Josephine's hand shot to her stomach. She closed her eyes and swallowed hard, trying to keep the sick from rising into her throat. Josephine had, of course, witnessed the death of men before. Her father and brother had been the first two, but Freddy was the first one that she had actually cared anything about.
As Josephine shuffled down the hallway toward the stairs leading to the parlor, a door opened in front of her. A high class john staggered out. The buttons on his frock coat were off-kilter and he couldn't seem to place his derby anywhere close to the top of his head. He stumbled back. The only thing that stopped him from falling was the railing. He bumped it so hard with his hip that he started to angle over the side. He suddenly realized his terrible predicament and let out a yelp of fear.
Before his feet could fully leave the ground, Josephine had a handful of his frock coat balled in her pale fist. She spun, using her momentum to fling the young man back onto his feet.
The rich man fell back into the arms of his scarlet lady. The madam stood where she had released the man. She was staring down her arm at her open hand. Josephine frowned. That was odd, she thought.
Pearle, the young prostitute with her arms full of young money, gently shoved the man away. They were both looking at Josephine with puzzled looks on their faces. Pearle recovered enough to pat her john on the shoulder in dismissal.
“Run along now dear,” she told him and winked. “Come and see me again, real soon.”
She shook her blond curls enticingly and wiggled her painted fingernails at him. He touched the brim of his hat with a goofy grin and steps away on rubbery legs. Pearle rolled her eyes after the richling was out of sight. She went to Josephine's side, realizing that something was out of place.
Josephine's face was completely devoid of color. Pearle put her hand on the madam's arm. Josephine was slow to react.
“Jo,” Pearle asked, very worried, “what was that all about? What's wrong?”
“Wrong,” Josephine murmured back.
“Sweety, somehow you just saved that poor child from most certainly falling on his head in the middle of our parlor. You're as white as a sheet, Josephine” Pearle said.
It was all too surreal. Josephine blinked. The action finally triggered a release from her shock. She looked up to meet Pearle's eyes.