Secrets of the Canyon

Unrelated stories that take place in a setting besides Star Wars...

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Starlight
Daughter of Epona
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Secrets of the Canyon

Post by Starlight » Thu Mar 19, 2009 10:53 pm

(ooc: here, this story is invite-only for the time being)

Nowhere was springtime more glorious than in California. Mustard flowers bloomed down in the Sacramento valley, bright yellow splotches that covered the countryside, a spectacular color that could be seen from miles up in the foothills. Near Dutch Flat, however, the Manzanita bushes were abundant and unique with their deep red wood and gorgeous pale leaves. The wood, hard and almost impossible to be chewed through by animals, was harvested and used for many necessities in the gold-rush town.

So much did Carissa Belle love the native bush, with its delicate pink buds and striking appearance, that she helped to plant a few by the monarch building of the town not long ago. The Dutch Flat hotel was three stories high with pillars and balconies on every level and possessed a glass chandelier that dripped stunningly from the ceiling in the main dining room. Built in 1852, it was only nine years old, but already had the reputation of being the first and best of several hotels located in the mining community. Almost every night there was entertainment to be had whether it was a gentlemanly game of cards, good whiskey at the polished wood bar, or on some nights, the stage.

Carissa loved the nights when she and some of the other girls went up and performed some dancing or singing numbers, accompanied by a piano forte. She could easily pretend she was a great actress in San Francisco or even New York. At least it was better than being a common saloon dancer at any of the other establishments. It was a lot easier than her other occupation. Carrissa Belle Montana was the owner of the Midnight Star; the classiest brothel in the foothills.

Oh, it wasn’t so bad a life now that she ran her own place by her own rules. She’d always been a night bird, even though now that her twenty-fifth birthday had just passed, she wasn’t quite up to the late nights as in the past. But the Midnight Star was grand, and Carissa was proud of it. There was no fighting permitted within the building and if there was even a whiff of abuse against her girls, the perpetrator would find himself unceremoniously beat to a pulp and tossed out the back door by any of the burly, bull-necked bouncers. The whiskey was only slightly watered-down, the cigars freshly rolled. The wine was imported from her own native France. As too were most of the girls…

Meticulous about cleanliness, decorative taste and manners, Carissa managed to garner more than a few slivers of respect. No one outside of town would even guess that the petite lady with rich blonde hair and stunning blue eyes was anything other than an upright businesswoman of the community. And because Carissa knew how to run a good business, business was great.

Still, with the strange happenings around town, she couldn’t help but wonder how much longer it would take before profits took a downward slide. Just last week, there’d been a bad mudslide that had taken out an entire camp of the Chinese workers. Logic dictated that it’d probably come from the heavy rains all year and the sludge building up in the rivers from all the hydrolic mining and that was the hope Carissa kept. What was the saying? Once was coincidence, two was suspicious, three was conspiracy. Dutch Flat had reached the conspiracy point weeks ago.

First it had been one of the huge winter food cellars. All the grain had been infested with rats, leaving nothing edible. After that, one of the mines had collapsed. Luckily, the miners had all been rescued but more than one had suffered broken bones and had their lungs filled with dust. Of course, that was a hazard of mining life, was it not?

Things had been quiet for a time after the last accident. Then a half-dozen pine trees had fallen during the big storm in February and Dutch Flat cemetery had gained three more residences.

Now it was late March and the weather should be rolling into the temperate climates that made living in the foothills hospitable. Down in the valley, temperatures would already be soaring into hotter days. Up in the mountains, however, things generally remained cool enough to put in a full day without a breaking a sweat. It also made the nights still a tad chilly and that meant the Midnight Star would boast a full house on most days of the week with men looking to keep warm, in more ways than one…

Carissa laughed softly at how her mind was always turning to business. It was a throaty purr that turned more than a few heads in the local general store. Carissa never minded the looks. It was as much an occupational hazard as mine collapses were for the workers.

“Hey there, Belle…You gonna be working tonight?”

Putting the box of fresh eggs into her basket, Carissa turned around, a saucy smile brightening her artfully-painted lips. “Good morning, Carte. Are you planning on a visit to the Star tonight?”

The tanned and dusty miner took a calculated step forward, his brown eyes as limpid as a pup’s when her exotic accent washed playfully over him. “It may be I am.”

The brothel-owner shrugged her shoulders eloquently. “Come by after the girls are done at the Hotel show, cherie. Perhaps we’ll share a bottle of merlot I have been saving.” With a swish of her well-tailored skirt, Carissa skipped around her best client and went up to the counter to pay for her foodstuffs. Already her skin tingled at the thought of Carte’s visit. It took a special customer for Carissa to come out of retirement. Tonight was definitely going to be profitable.
My horse's feet are as swift as rolling thunder,
He carries me away from all my fears;
And when the world threatens to fall asunder,
His mane is there to wipe away my tears.
~Bonnie Lewis

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ValynDyral
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Re: Secrets of the Canyon

Post by ValynDyral » Fri Mar 20, 2009 1:42 am

A gentleman was busy hammering a sign onto the wall of a common building. Down the block, there was another such sign already posted. In either direction, three more. Folk gathered to watch him work, if only to pass a moment's time. The poster read:

Image

A wave of murmured excitement rippled through the crowd. One of the more cosmopolitan of those present, a lawyer recently emigrated from New York, had read a review of the Magnificent Magisto in the Times and from his lavished praise - as though he had himself been present at the show - this promised to be among the most spectacular events ever visited upon the Sacramento Valley.

___________________

Two weeks later.

The final leg, by stagecoach, had been the most taxing. Nothing in the Old World compared to the Great American Desert, where one went for days without seeing anything save scrubland beyond measure. The Sierra mountains could not possibly be anything like the civilized Alps, nor could the untamed wilderness possibly compare to the palace - and cathedral - bedecked skylines of Imperial Europe.

So thought Eugene Helms, booking agent and manager of the Magnificent Magisto's North American tour as he sat opposite to the magician himself in the jolting, uncomfortable coach that even now pulled into town.
"We are here, Mister Wolfe."

The Magnificent Magisto, more privately known as Gerard Wolfe, did not stray at first from the letter held loosely in his hand. When at length he did, it was only a subtle shifting of his gaze - a dark, flashing, intelligent gaze that made Helms altogether discomfited - to the screened window. He said nothing.

Helms cleared his throat. "I say, the accommodations at the Hotel should be to your liking, sir." Wolfe's gaze flashed to him.
"A prisoner, Mister Helms, may rail against his shackles whatever their quality." His accent was infuriatingly British, the implied mastery of the spoken word and its subtle nuances drove Helms to distraction. He hated the manner of Wolfe's speech.
Helms continued, annoyed now. "The Dutch Flat Hotel is said to be one of the finest in northern California."
"Considering the nature of our arrangement, I suppose that I must be flattered, sir." Wolfe replied. Helms' eye twitched. There he was, doing it again. Mocking him with his fine words. Did he jest? Was he in earnest? Was he having some grand joke at Helms' expense? Why did his eyes always seem to hide a secret, why did he always seem to be nursing a cruel joke!
"You listen here!" Helms snarled, suddenly sitting forward and stabbing his finger at Wolfe like a rapier. "We have been over this man, and you are bound - bound by law and contract! - to perform in the Sacramento Valley until such a time as I and my peers-in-business release you from your obligation. The rapidity with which we make that decision rests solely on you. Do not dare my ire, sir!" His jowls trembled faintly with hot rage that turned suddenly cold, ice cold, when he saw Wolfe crack a very faint smile.
"Invite me, sir, to read your fortune at your leisure. I am certain that a man of your considerable command of circumstance would jump to learn the manner of his...." Wolfe leaned forward, twisting the handle of the stage door before the coachman could quite get to it, "...Undoing."
And with that, the Magnificent Magisto existed the coach and left Eugene Helms to tend to his shaking jowls in solitude.

______________________

Later that Evening.

Gerard paced, slowly, from one end of the hotel room to the other. In truth he could not recall whether the chamber was handsomely furnished or in shambles - his mind was elsewhere, as often it chose to be. There was to be a show tonight; singing and dancing, allegedly by the ladies of the local house of ill-repute. It would be a passable first opportunity to observe his audience. But first, there were other considerations. Foremost among them, the need to wash away the dust of the road and groom himself. His first scheduled show was tomorrow night, and there was much to be done.

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Starlight
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Re: Secrets of the Canyon

Post by Starlight » Fri Mar 20, 2009 9:14 pm

Earlier that afternoon...

Belle made a satisfied sigh as she approached the main portal to her establishment. The Midnight Star looked nothing like the typical brothel, either from the outside or the interior. She was meticulous about having a fresh coat of paint put on the wooden siding at the beginning of the summer, always light beige with a wine red trim. The windows were freshly rinsed with vinegar and water every morning to wash away the brick-red dust that seemed to coat everything in the Sierra and foothills. The girls all took turns with the household chores, rotating the tasks so they never became monotonous. Today it was the youngest girl, Margot, who had the broom out to sweep off the front portico. She smiled demurely and curtsied as Belle swished past and received a polite nod of greeting in return.

Inside, the colors were much the same; tans, deep wine red, a few spots of forest green. Luxuriant shades they were, all meant to lend an air of sophistication and indolent leisure. Belle was proud of her hedonistic qualities that reflected in the business. Like pearls that began to shine the more they were worn, the Star glowed from Belle’s attentions. But today’s schedule did not allow for lazy introspection and self-compliments. Bustling through the parlor, Belle made her way down the hall and into the small kitchen. The old cook, Mary, immediately stretched out her old, gnarled hands for the shopping basket and began putting the purchases away. Belle murmured and off-hand hello then spun on her heel and mounted the narrow stairway.

Besides the parlor and kitchen, there were four bedrooms and two tiny water-closets. The last had been purchased at ruinous expense and were little more than indoor-outhouses, but with the freezing winters, Belle had deemed it necessary. At least because of the local hydrolic mining, the technology hadn’t been too difficult to replicate the feats of East Coast advancements. Only the Dutch Flat Hotel could boast of anything similar.

Humming under her breath, Belle made a quick stop into her private chamber for a touch up to her cosmetics and to brush the dust from her skirt hems. There was going to be a grand show tonight at the Hotel, which meant that instead of going over accounts and numbers this afternoon, the premiere harlot would be making sure rehearsals went as planned and everything was in place before the first show.

With a lacy, hand-knitted shawl around her shoulders and a bonnet tilted forward to a jaunty angle, Belle deemed herself ready and hastened back outside, bustles rustling merrily against lace petticoats.

Even in the afternoon hours, the Dutch Flat Hotel was alive with activity. Visiting personages held court in the lounge or their private rooms, gentlemanly games of cards and dice were in existence across many a table and elegant ladies took a late tea of petit-fours and dainty sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Belle herself would indulge in the latter pastime after business was taken care of. For now, she bypassed the guests and their curious looks to her as she maneuvered expertly through the crowds. Her sharp gaze spotted Tomas Brickstone, the head bartender and event manager of the Hotel, and made her way to him.

“Afternoon Belle,” he called out, his face seamed with many wrinkles from a lifetime of smiling. Belle couldn’t help but be charmed by the elder man’s personality, just as she always was. She was disappointed the man had never come to patron the Star. Though Tom’s tastes would surely be a sight milder than what she was used to, Belle was certain the evening would prove entertaining. The woman sighed, long resigned that the man would rebuff any attempt she made in that direction.

“A happy day to you as well, monsieur Tomas; I have come to help with the show preparations. But first you must regale me with tales, my dear friend, over a good drink.” She reached across the bar with a lively twinkle in her china-blue eyes. Taking his hand with both of her own, she gave him her best impression of a love-sick school girl, her voice lilting with her French accent. “Your stories of reckless youth never cease to enrapture me.”

Laughing heartily, Tomas shook his head and gave a gallant kiss to the backs of Belle’s knuckles. “My dear, you do wonder for an old man’s heart…and his ego.” He winked and drew out two glasses, judging the time of day to be right for a shot of sherry. From the crystal decanter, he poured the glasses full of fragrant liquid then leaned against the bar. Typically Irish, Tomas had a gift for gab. With a smile still on his aged features, his eyes filmed over with the mists of memory. “I do remember this one day, back in ’35…”

~+~+~+~+~+~

Tom’s story of riding shotgun on a stagecoach across the Midwest had to be cut short when their glasses ran dry, but it was very entertaining. With a promise that he would finish the epic at another time, Belle licked the last of the sherry from her wine-red lips and abruptly became all business. Together, they debated which girls would perform that evening and what the entertainment would be. The youngest, Margot, would take center stage; her voice was a crystal-clear soprano and would be well-accompanied by the piano forte. Belle was certain that her charming voice and innocent demeanor would prove a definite draw to both the Hotel and for the Star later on. Only the highest bidder would grace Margot’s bed tonight; Belle had a knack for conducting silent auctions on her newest and prettiest arrivals and it was partially the reason she agreed to put on shows at the hotel in the first place.

The twins, Elise and Ruby, would perform the first dance number; a cabaret-style that was very popular in Europe at the moment. Imported together straight from Paris, they shared one of the bedrooms-and any customers that happened to prefer such an arrangement. Both buxom brunettes with brandy brown eyes, they were superb dancers which more than made up for the fact that they sang like strangled cats.

Valerie, with flaming red hair and green eyes, was just a year younger than Belle and had been in the business almost as long. So many years had certainly jaded the lady, but her customers never seemed to mind. In fact, she had more regular customers than Belle did these days. Tonight, she would sing the carousing melodies that cheered audiences; songs they could clap and sing choruses to loud enough that the noise would spill out into Main Street.

Belle wouldn’t be performing this evening. Instead, her role would be to ready the girls backstage then enjoy the show for once…While also surveying the audience for interest in the girls, of course.

“I think everything is in place, Tomas,” she said at last, blue eyes sparkling from the simple joy of debate and business. “I will have the girls arrive by the back entrance by six o’clock. The show begins at eight, oui?”

Nodding in the affirmative, Tomas slid Belle another drink; hot tea with a slice of lemon and a dollop of honey this time. “Should be a good show, I reckon. Pity the prettiest lady won’t be up on stage, though.” He winked and Belle flushed a charming rose shade.

“Always the flatterer, cherie,” she replied then stood from the barstool and made a playful curtsey. Belle spun on her heel and went in search of a quiet table to enjoy the hot drink before returning to the Star to complete the rest of the day’s tasks. Humming in a quiet voice, a French lullaby, she made her way with stately progress though the lounge, making sure to catch the eye of at least a half-dozen gentlemen before choosing a tiny table by the front window so that she could look out at the sunlight and been bathed in its warmth simultaneously.

So high were her spirits that she continued to sing the rest of the melody, her voice a soft whisper of sound as she stirred the honey into her tea.
My horse's feet are as swift as rolling thunder,
He carries me away from all my fears;
And when the world threatens to fall asunder,
His mane is there to wipe away my tears.
~Bonnie Lewis

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