Jack never forgot the women’s hospitality. Whenever he thought of Paradise, he missed it and wondered what would’ve happened if could’ve stayed. He soaked up all of the attention, and still young and not very experienced, essentially a boy among experienced women; he didn’t know what to make of it. He could’ve easily gotten used to the luxuries, washing up in a silver basin and eating with polished silverware. But it wouldn’t have been long before he became lazy and rotten.
Pertaining to this situation, Jack rejected all he had been taught by his folks. They seemed to have been wrong about respect and that the amount of respect you receive was necessarily proportionate with the amount of respect you gave. He couldn’t explain why it didn’t work that way with these women. He had three of the women waiting on him; and couldn’t explain why it made him feel foolish. Juanita’s intentions, on the other hand, were obvious. Obviously he enjoyed it. He soon got in the habit of sleeping late. He also ate and drank too much, but instead of disgusting them, he amused three of his hostesses.
Mornings he wasted. Lounged around half-dressed, loitered, and sometimes never got out of bed. He insisted on hot water. Cold water wouldn’t do; but shaving never changed his immaturity. With this the case, he often nicked himself and rarely shaved all of his whiskers off. Rising hours before he did, the women treated him as if he were royalty. No wonder Jack felt guilty. Still the more he slept the more sleep he required.
Around noon he’d walk around outside and feel as if that was a mistake. His gut told him to watch out for Hetty. By noon he knew that the best part of the day was over, and he knew he would find Hetty in shade. “Dama,” and he misused “Dama,” when he asked, “Find any gold?”
“Only fools gold” was her standard reply because she knew the first rule of prospecting was to never tell the truth. While at the same time she muttered to herself, “Where the hell did he come from?”
Hetty had no plan yet; but resenting the intrusion, it would be only a matter of time before she hatched one.
She gave him a tour of the old streets, including the narrower side streets, flanked by crumbling foundations and decomposed lumber. However friendly this tour might’ve seemed it wasn’t long before it became clear that Hetty wanted to concentrate on gloom, i.e., a stop at the old cemetery where she had placed plastic wax tulips on graves and fixed up the fences around family plots. She showed Jack where so and so cut his throat during a fit of delirium. They walked the streets of the ghost town and (as much as their imaginations allowed) relived the dreams of the past.
All was quiet except for a hot breeze. There was no sign of the hustle and the bustle that was once Paradise for so many people. Two stores, a restaurant, two saloons, an assay office, and a butcher’s shop but just where was the post office? Hetty researched and identified each home and building, when someone less determined would’ve given up. She found old maps, records, and newspapers, but her main focus wasn’t history. Instead of recreating the past, she was more interested in finding gold. So the two toured Paradise, while the guide told blood-curdling and hair-raising tales about gunfights and knifings and before the sun set she had pretty much shown him the town.
Jack dreamed that he’d stumbled upon a lawless gang of women. Perhaps he should’ve armed himself. Clearly the lawlessness past of the West had stirred his imagination. Now remember there was no evidence to connect these ladies with a crime. No reason at all for them to be hiding out in Paradise. They didn’t look the part. Up until then he had found comfort in not having seen them with guns. Then Hetty suddenly brandished a shotgun. Was it, as she said, for shooting rattlesnakes or was it for getting rid of another kind of nuisance?
Casually Hetty pointed the shotgun at him. She ordered him out of bed and cautioned him not to say a word in the house. But as they were going out the door, he caught a glimpse of Juanita with the saddest expression. Then the truck wouldn’t start.
Hetty then ordered Lenora to saddle up two horses, while Christina packed some grub and plenty of water. That left Juanita, who infuriated the others by nervously prancing around. Jack was forced once again into submission, yet questioned what was coming down. Things moved in slow motion until Juanita passionately grabbed Jack and kissed him hard on the lips. Under different circumstances, he would’ve enjoyed that. He appeared dazed, having been startled out of a deep sleep.
What was Jack facing? He would soon find out that he wouldn’t be harmed, but Hetty wanted to make sure he wouldn’t come back. By then, he looked pale; and Christina said to him, “Please, don’t judge us harshly. We all wish you could stay. No doubt Hetty has her reasons. She’s angry with us, and not at you. To her to admit that she needed a man would be an abomination. She’ll get over her pouting and this snit soon.”
Juanita stood close by and waited for her cue. After Christina, she said “Since she doesn’t have an ounce of sympathy in her, Hetty has to be bitchy and humiliate herself. She hasn’t learned that friendship is reciprocal.”
Lenora flirted with Jack as she saddled the horses. To this day, Jack remembers what was said and how quickly his life changed. As for Hetty, no one would overrule her. Jack might’ve stood a better chance had he been more useful and pitched in as he had on the towboat. But could he have satisfied all four women? From the beginning, Hetty had made up her mind about what he was worth. Now she was going to have to run him off or escort him away.
It was the hottest place on earth. It seemed like it anyway. Once more Jack entered a furnace, and, without water, they would’ve died. On a horse for the first time, he cursed the critter. Whenever he got off, it felt as if his legs had been dismembered. Without a horse and a guide, he knew he would’ve perished.
As the sun bore down and the glare hurt and the wind blew, they plodded through alkali sand dunes and lava beds. They drank water sparingly, rationed it. Jack wondered what was going on. Why he was being tortured. Should’ve brought more water. The horses also needed water. Hetty knew the way. She maintained a steady pace, but how long could they keep that pace up? Jack, a greenhorn, in his borrowed hat? He asked, “Why am I going through this?” Hetty showed no sympathy.
She kept her guard up, or else she might’ve had to kill someone. She feared the most ridiculous things and covered it up the best she could. Hetty liked some men, particularly the way they smelled; but that wasn’t something she publicized. It wasn’t anything she should do or maybe do or anything she thought about a lot. Now you see she’d been hurt and didn’t want every stray tom to see her weakness.
As she considered her next move, she felt the chemistry she and Jack had. He was reasonably handsome. Suppose they weren’t about to say adios, could she bring him to his knees? While she imagined this, she prodded her mare up a wash that she had discovered by luck, and so far, thanks to her mare his horse kept up. The hot wind blew in his face, as if the wind were conspiring to make him blush.
“Come on, Jack, hold on, you can make it.” And that from a woman who would giggle for him if he whispered the right thing in her ear.
He tried to keep his mind off of his pain by thinking of all the years he slept through church. While he slept, had he missed God’s call? He slept even through the “hallelujahs” and woke up only for the “amen.” “A sinner reapeth what he soweth.” His thoughts went from ruining his family jewels to standing in front of St. Peter. At the end of that tortuous day, he forgot about eating. As soon as sun went down, he crawled into a sleeping bag. As he lay there, he worried about what still could happen, since as in the case Jonah he ignored his Father’s business. He had this in mind as he prayed the “Lord’s Prayer” and received an answer from some coyotes. He thanked the Lord for that and had trouble with getting comfortable. The chill alluded to how cold it would get. It would be morning before he knew it.
Meanwhile, Hetty thought about the young man’s muscles. All day long she couldn’t clear her head and stayed focused on them. She couldn’t have been unattractive. His aches and pains opened an avenue for her. It was nice for him, nice in the sense that she helped him stay warm. She was clumsy, she was beautiful, and she wished she had resisted him. Amateurs such Jack weren’t suppose to have been that good.
By the end of the next day, they arrived at the Crossroads. Here they would have to say goodbye, and with the onslaught of emotions, she partially admitted her mistake. She had been forced to take stock of herself and felt really sorry. His age bothered her. She also surprised herself. She blamed herself. She had been ready and willing and had given into romance and sentimentality. She would never want the girls to know.
Hetty reminded Jack of her address in hopes that he would send her a post card. PARADISE was easy enough to remember.