In the vast desert of the Frontier there was nothing for many miles besides mountains and flat plains. Save for the large hulking ebony tower that shot for many stories into the sky. Known as the High Tower, or simply as the Tower, it was home to the high society. Those who could more than afford to live in the clean and orderly conditions lived in absolute luxury.
They paid no mind to those who lived below. Surrounding the base of the Tower was a collection of shanty towns of wooden buildings and industrial industries known collectively as Lowtowne. Those who worked either as miners, hunters, or oil workers lived in this poor part of the world as best they could.
From the outskirts of Lowtowne on the roof of a saloon called the Black Diamond, a girl in a dirty white and brown dress was staring up at the large tower in the distance.
Oh how Wendi Hattfield desired to go from this lowly place to the famed High Society in the Tower.
Oh but what all that would ever be just a dream. While she lived here that is all it would ever be.
A booming voice from below signaled the end of her fantasizing. "Wendi! Break's over, now get yer ass down here!"
Taking a pained breath the girl called back, "Yes sir!"
It was approaching noon and with it the Black Stone was entering one of the busiest times of the day. Lunch break was just starting around Lowtowne and with it all the workers needed to take their breaks from their labor heavy days. And with those breaks the alcohol would flow, and Black Stone was only one of many saloons and bars that would appease them. Compared to other similar establishments the Black Diamond was the biggest. Three floors and two bars inside it could hold over a hundred people on each floor. The entirely wooden structure had weathered desert storms as well as its fair share of ruffians while Mitt Collins ran the place.
Wendi came down the stairs, her heeled boots partially dragging across the wood. She came to the bottom floor just in time for her boss to greet her in his usual way.
"Dammit Wendi you just had to go to the roof again, didn't you? How many times have I told you to remain down here on break so you can help out?"
Old man Mitt Collins was what one would call a strict businessman. Loud voice, big exterior, and not an ounce of consideration in his being. Many of those who worked under him were scared or intimidated by him. Wendi included.
"I'm sorry, sir." All she could do was apologize, fearful of his reaction otherwise.
Still, her words of apology were an old song he had heard many times. "I need you to stay where folks can see you. A pretty face leads these simpleminded fools into the drink. How can you do that if you are on the roof?"
Wendi grabbed a towel off the counter and kept her voice silent. Mitt had five or six waitresses working under him any day of the week, but none of them were hired for their work ethic so to speak. They were hired for their pretty face, big chest, or magnetizing posterior. One of those would suffice, and once they lost the power to bring in customers old Mitt would fire them without a second thought. Never mind that they often had nowhere else to go when they were kicked to the curb. Mitt didn't care; he had a business to run.
A large group of men covered in soot and sweat rumbled through the doors. Loud and happy to enjoy the cool air of the saloon.
All Mitt saw was money. "Now there's some silver to be had. Make 'em happy darlin' and you'll get more out of the pay.'
Wendi eyed the group as they went and sat down in the large circular table in the center of the lobby. Her expression saddened. She knew what he meant. Of all the girls who had gone through the doors of the Diamond, Wendi had been around the longest. And that was not by chance. She had the best combination going for her. Being just shy of eighteen, she had an angelic face and an admirable bosom accentuated by the low cut dress Mitt forced her to wear. Long dirty blonde hair that reached her waist made her unique compared to the dark browns and occasional red head that came through the saloon's doors. A natural beauty, she worked hard to keep Mitt happy for her livelihood depended on it.
"Yes sir. I'll try." She gave a rough cough, one that she tried in vain to hold down but was unusually painful.
"And try to keep that coughin' to a minimum, got it? Those boys won't want a piece of you if they think you're sick."
Putting a hand on her chest Wendi nodded and went to work. She dreaded what could possibly happen next, and all she wanted was to find a way out. Yet that could only be a fantasy.
The doors of the saloon went open as a yet another customer entered the establishment. A man in a wide brimmed traveler's hat, his brown duster was dirty from a long journey to the northern fields. Brown leather with multiple belts around his waist. He was of slender build, different from the Hodge podge of overweight company bosses that tended to come in after a day at the office or the dregs and beggars of Lowtowne.
This stranger was looked upon by no one, minding himself as he went to sit at a stool at the counter. He pushed his hat back off his head, the string held it to his neck and down his back.
Ol' Mitt walked up to the stranger, genuinely surprised at how young the man appeared to be. Though that shouldn't have as anyone who had any sense to be had would do any line of work to eat. As for Mitt as long as there was silver to be had he would serve a starving babe. "Hello there stranger, what can I get you?"
Yet what Mitt hadn't expected was for the stranger to put a large fire arm on his counter. A triple barreled pistol that looked more like a shotgun in terms of size known as a pepperbox. Such a weapon wasn't used by just anyone save for hunters on the frontier.
The stranger calmly leaned on the counter, dirt came off his arms and onto the counter. "Wouldn't mind a liter of water."
A liter of water? That was a good deal of water from the well and he was almost out. Still, money was money. "I'll give you what I got, if you have the coin that is."
The young man set a neat stack of silver coins on the counter and pushed it towards the beaming bar owner. "Add a cigar to that please."
Mitt handed the man a brand new cigar from his cabinet next to the register. "I'll get you the water right now-hey Wendi! Darlin' get your ass over here and get this man some water!"
The girl, already running behind with orders was running as fast as she could to keep up with her boss' demands. She was sweating like crazy and her hair stuck to her bare shoulders. She got behind the counter and began getting the water as requested.
Mitt paid her no mind as she gathered the pitcher and started to pour the water from the metal container into the glass one. "So, stranger, what do you go by?"
"Name's Wynter," said the man as he lit his cigar.
"No last name? Well, none of my business so pay it no mind," said Mitt before he turned to see Wendi finish pouring what was left of his water supply for Wynter. A noticeable amount was at the base of the glass container, meaning she had poured wrong. Mitt wasn't happy about that as he viciously grabbed the young woman by the arm. She winced in pain and dropped the metal pitcher. It bounced off the wooden floor loudly. "How many damn times do I have to tell you to not spill any?! Damn girl, I swear to the lord above you're useless."
"Watch yerself from now on today, darlin', otherwise it's ten licks of the cat for you."
The 'cat' as Mitt put it was a triple tail whip usually served for carriage riders to use on horses. It was also a whipping tool used to put people in line should they misbehave. Wendi had been lucky to not suffer that fate, but right now she was dangerously close to crossing that line.
"I'm going to go get the water, since you can't do anything right. I'll be back."
The big man let go of her arm and went into the back, where a simple well for water was. He'd be gone for a few long minutes.
Wendi, on the verge of tears from the physical pain, rubbed her arm to try and lessen the pain. That wouldn't hide the bruises to her skin that were left behind.
She saw Wynter looking at her, his dark green eyes seeming to stare into her soul. He blew out a cloud of smoke from his cigar, but consciously blew away from Wendi, showing respect for her.
"Must be tough, dealin' with him."
With shaking hands Wendi up righted the metal pitcher on the counter. She was used to talking with customers, though rarely was it ever civil or went into anything less than trying to get under her skirt. "If you only knew..."
"Oh I do."
"Your first time here?"
The hunter shook his head.
A long look at the man's face and Wendi thought something was familiar. "Wait, haven't you been here before?"
Wynter kept his expression the same and took another smoke from his cigar.
That's when she remembered. "You...you usually sit in the corner over there!"
"Least you remember," Wynter said as he blew smoke out of his nostrils. The fact that he had bene coming in and out of the Diamond for the last two weeks and the boss of the place didn't remember was a bit of a puzzle to him. Yet it was his only bar girl that remembered the faces rather than the coin.
Wendi did pay more attention to the patrons than Mitt did, since she had spoken to almost every man and woman that stepped foot in the saloon. She wasn't always good with names but she remembered Wynter very well. He'd always come in, ask for water and then take a nap in the farthest corner of the room for at least an hour. all while Mitt was oblivious the entire time.
"So Mr. Wynter, is there anything else I can get for you?"
"No, and please just call me Wynter."
"Very well, Wynter." Wendi took a handkerchief out of her work apron and wiped the sweat from her face.
Wynter was genuinely impressed, all the while a tinge of sympathy oozed from his cool exterior. Wendi had been paying attention to him whenever he was in the saloon, but that door swung both ways. Mitt wasn't easy on her from all he had seen. He treated her no better than dirt, passing her off to customers for a moment or two or even offering her for the night should they desire. Then if that wasn't as bad enough for the poor girl she was verbally as well as physically abused from time to time. Small wonder she was the only one still working under him,; despite her delicate exterior she was tougher than she let on.
That was because she didn't have a choice in the matter. She needed a job and a roof over her head to survive as well as food. Sometimes, it was better to work in a dump with a terror for a boss than to live on the street with nothing to live for.
Such was life in Lowtowne.
Taking a clean towel out from under the counter Wendi began to wipe the excess water off the wood. "This is how it is here. Spilt water and another threat of the cat."
"Has he ever used it on you?"
"Take a look," she turned around and held up her hair, and evidence of the abuse was all over her back. Scars, most of them over a week old, covered her upper back and were covered only by her hair on a daily basis. There were also wounds on her backside from the strap Mitt used from time to time whenever she was a 'bad girl'. "Twice I've been whipped. Twice I've been given the strap and been unable to sit for hours. Twice he's threatened to toss me out, and only by the grace of the lord above I am still here."
Though his name and demeanor gave him an aura of coolness, inside Wynter was boiling. Anger was welling up in his chest and yet he hid it just below the surface. He took one last smoke of his cigar. "Why haven't you left?"
"The same reason anyone else wouldn't: house and food. If I can stay off the streets and the whore houses all the better."
"Can't blame you for that," said Wynter before he put the end of his fully used cigar into a glass ashtray next to him.
Mitt returned with a full metal canister of water. The whole thing had to weigh about fifty pounds and yet the man had to huff and puff to put it in place under the counter. When he was finished Wynter noticed sweat beading down his temple.
"There, now we should be able to give you the rest of that water. Wendi do it." He ordered while trying to catch his breath.
"Yes sir," she said in a low voice before complying. She had to bend over to properly get the water out and from his point of view he saw why Mitt made her do it. As she bent over the opening of her dress exposed the valley between her breasts and they hung from her body swaying with each movement in an enticing matter. The men who sat at the counter had a clear view and enjoyed every second of it.
Wendi wasn't a fool. She knew Mitt made her do it to keep the bar packed, and thus sacrificing a chunk of her dignity was the price to pay for keeping business going.
As soon as she finished filling the pitcher Wendi sealed the metal container shut. "There you go, fresh well water sir."
Wynter nodded in thanks then paid for another cigar. "I'm gonna smoke here before I leave."
"Enjoy yourself then, and if you need anything ask Wendi here," said Mitt before he grabbed his apron and towel and headed out into the growing crowd to serve them.
Wendi's expression turned sullen, clearly she was near the end of her rope. Wynter didn't intend to make it harder for her so he kept to himself while he enjoyed his cigar.
"Hey sugar! Mind if I have another drink?"
The loud voice came from a feet stools down from where Wynter sat and it was from a terribly drunk miner who was barely able to sit up straight let alone stay on his seat.
"Coming sir," said Wendi as she made her way down to him. She filled his glass to near over flowing but the guy grabbed the glass before she was finished and downed it without hesitation. He was beyond wasted.
"Fill'er up..." he belched while moving to lean on one elbow before switching to another.
Wendi however was already busy trying to get the mess she had made cleaned up before Mitt saw it. She had been threatened for spilling water, there was no telling how he'd react if he saw that she had spilled whiskey. Thus she didn't hear the man's demand for more drink.
"You hear me?"
Raising her head the girl finally seemed to acknowledge his request. Yet she was struggling to move fast enough. "I'll be right with you-"
The man reached over and grabbed her forearm and yanked her forward. Her pelvis went into the edge of the counter forcibly and her upper body was over the counter itself.
"That's no way to treat service, darlin' lest you want me to leave without paying you."
His logic was as bad as his level of drunkenness, but the fact that Wendi was held in a vice grip and couldn't get free was more of the immediate problem.
"Sir, please let me go," she grabbed his hand and tried, in vain, to make him free her but it was no use.
"Not until I have my booze," said the drunk before his free hand reached for Wendi. It went under the fabric of her dress and roughly grabbed one of her breasts. No doubt he had seen her stunt earlier and had been dying to touch them. Wendi gasped and brought her own hand back to try and force him out, but he had a handful of her and he wasn't going to let go. He twisted his wrist, feeling her up and admiring her breast with each second before he pulled her breast out of the dress. "Now I'd much rather prefer your milk, darlin'."
Wendi forced herself to look away, unable to defend herself.
The drunk had heard the sound but what really got his attention was the force of Wynter's triple barrel pistol pushing right into his right temple. The clicking had been the turning off of the safety, and now it was ready to explode.
Wendi hadn't even noticed the hunter move from his spot down the counter but she was glad to see him nonetheless.
"Mind unhanding the lady?" said the hunter calmly.
"And if I don't?" asked the drunk still with his hand on Wendi's chest.
"This pepperbox will give you a closed casket funeral if you go down that road, boy." He emphasized the threat by pushing it against the drunk's temple.
Not needing any more convincing than that the drunk let Wendi go. She pulled back from the counter, her left hand rubbing her wrist while her right massaged her chest.
Wynter didn't lower his gun. "Guess you're more sober than you're letting on." Then he lowered his weapon. Not for long as the drunk stumbled forward with an attempted punch. The alcohol in his body was too much to deliver a sure shot and with Wynter totally sober he simply moved out of the way. As the other man passed him he struck the back of his head with a knockout blow that sent him straight to the floor. He was out before he even hit the wood.
No one else in the building seemed to care about the situation and went about their business.
Except Mitt of course.
"The hell you doing!" He shouted as he came up to the counter to confront Wynter.
The hunter nodded to Wendi, "He was manhandling the woman, where's the wrong in knocking him down a peg?"
Mitt had his hand son his hips, and knew his own argument was over before he got a word in edgewise. People were starting to fill up the building and if a fight broke out now there would be untold amount of silver lost in the damages he'd have to pay. Yet, he kept his mouth shut about Wendi. He didn't care if the drunk had molested her if it meant he spent some more silver, but to defend that was a death sentence for his business.
Instead he made the only move he could. "Then I'll have to ask you to leave for the night, sir."
Wendi couldn't believe it. Wynter had defended her and he was the one being thrown out! "But sir!"
"Wendi, shut yer mouth or its the strap to your ass."
She shut up with that, but Wynter gave her a look that told it was alright.
"Sure. I'll just take my water and come back another day. Sorry for the disturbance sir," said the hunter as he put his gun back in its holster on his hip and his hat atop his head. Then he grabbed the pitcher of water for his steed.
Mitt huffed and went back out into the crowd to vent his steam.
Wendi sighed as she rubbed her sore wrist and chest. "So much for a good night."
Extending his closed fist to her, Wynter spoke as he finished his second cigar. "All we can do is keep going."
She took what he offered, and to the girl's surprise it was six or seven silver coins, bright and shiny like newly minted. "What's this?"
As far as she knew Wynter had already paid for the two cigars and the water, so what was this for?
"Don't tell your boss."
The amount of money he had given her was enough to feed and house herself for a month if not two. She didn't know how to respond but with a simple thanks though her enthusiasm betrayed how excited she was.
Wynter knew he had made her day as she lit up like the morning sun. He tipped the edge of his hat to her. "Good day, Miss Wendi."
She didn't have to ask if he'd be back, for she knew he would without question.