Chapter 9

The story so far: Milo’s education in union politics begins.

 

“I don’t think it is a good place for a boy,” Ana said as Milo was leaving.

Milo had secured lodging at Vince Torelli’s boarding house, one of the cheapest in town, with a notorious brothel and tavern. In the last year alone, nine men had been shot there and four of them had died. Musicians played into the wee hours of the night and men got so drunk they fell off their bar stools or vomited into the spittoons. Milo had never seen a gunfight up close or, more importantly, a sporting girl. He couldn’t wait to go. “No place for a boy,” Ana repeated.

“Ana,” Leo said. “He is no more a boy. He is seventeen now.”

“You are a stupid man,” Ana said.

“Then you married one. What does that make you, aye?” Ana was due to deliver her second child in a month or two. The shack was small. It was time for Milo to be moving on.

He arrived at the boarding house on a Sunday, mid-afternoon. The tavern was about half full. He walked up to the long bar. “Excuse me, ma’am,” he said to a woman, about fifty years old, dressed conservatively in black, who was pouring whiskey into a Mason jar for a customer.

“What will it be?”

Milo told her who he was.

“Eight dollars, up front,” she said, tucking the money into her apron pocket. Then she looked at him closely. “How old are you, kid?”

“Twenty.”

“Ever had a woman before?”

Milo hesitated. “Yes,” he said. “Many women I have had.”

She raised her eyebrow at him and watched as his face flushed. “I see how it is,” she said. “I’m Edna. Vince’s wife. We got a kitchen staff and I ain’t on it, so don’t be asking me for food. Order from the bar wenches and we’ll bill you at the end of the month for anything over two meals a day.” She poured him a small amount of whiskey, not more than a swallow or two. “Drink it. It’s on the house.”

Milo picked up the glass and drank it in one gulp. The liquor burned his throat, but he tried not to show it.

“Greek?” she asked him.

“No. Slovenian, I am.”

“What do you think of her?” Edna asked, pointing toward a blonde who was delivering some drinks to a table full of gamblers in the back corner. The woman wore a long red dress with a low-cut bodice. She had a small waist. Her hair was curled in ringlets and she had painted lips and cheeks.

“She beautiful,” Milo said. And she was.

“I thought she’d be the one for you. Greek men always go for the blondes. Think they are exotic.”

“I am Slovenian.”

“Same thing. Tell you what, since you’re new here, I’ll give you half price on her. Just two dollars a row.”

Two dollars? That was almost a day’s wages at the mine. “Maybe tomorrow,” Milo said.

“Deal’s only good today.” She poured him another glass of whiskey and watched him drink it. He started to feel slightly dizzy. “Get yourself settled. Your room’s up the stairs.” Milo picked up his rucksack and his guitar, and carried them to his room.

The house accommodated over thirty miners who spoke nearly as many languages. There were ten men assigned to each room. At any given time, because there were two shifts at the mine, a miner could be found asleep on one of the foul-smelling beds. However, because it was Sunday, only a few men were sleeping off hangovers when he got to his room. Three men were lying on their bunks reading. One man with a mop of yellow hair and a scruffy beard was cleaning out his fingernails with his penknife. “You the new man?” he said to Milo in a Swedish accent.

“Yep.”

“That one.” He pointed to the bed next to his and resumed his grooming ritual. “Fellow before you died. His name was Eric Gustafson. Upstanding guy. Got his self killed, right downstairs. Fighting over a woman, they say. Woman’s husband walked in a few days ago, right into the tavern, and shot him in the back. He died a few days later. His last words were, ‘Don’t prosecute. I done what he said I done, and I deserve it.’ ”

“Sorry. About your friend.”

“He were not my friend.”

 

Tomorrow: Chapter 9 continues.