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mimi and nebuchadnezera were caught in a strong wind and blown all the way to north platte. they came down in the railroad yard. old bull bowline, the meanest railroad bull west of toledo, saw them come down and trembled. old bull wasn't afraid of anything human or animal, but anything the least bit supernatural terrified him
- even elves, leprechauns, fairies and sprites, also angels, archangels, demons, banshees, vampires, ghouls, ghosts and poltergeists but especially werewolves, succubi, zombies, witches and devil girls. he considered the devil girls the nastiest of all, combining many of the worst elements of the others.
but he was old bull bowline and he couldn't show fear. the sun was shining, the air was as clear as it ever got in the railroad yard, and he gripped his big club, which he named molly malone, firmly in his meaty red fist and strode forth to do battle.
mimi saw him first.
"put that club down, bull, you don't dare use it on us," she shouted.
"why ladies," bull replied, keeping his voice reasonably steady, "you know i just carry molly for luck - everywhere i go." he twirled the club and stuck it in his belt.
we're hungry," nebuchadnezera announced. "at least i am."
"likewise," said mimi. "what have you got for us?"
""i got some beans back in the shack." bull's voice, which had sent chills down the spines of the james brothers and the younger brothers in its time, wavered just a bit.
"beans!" mimi glared at him. "we didn't come here to be insulted."
"how about some nice pork chops?" nebuchadnezera added in a milder tone.
"ladies, I'm a poor man. you know the railroad don't pay, especially in these hard times. i only eat what i can steal from the boes, and ain't too many of them carrying pork chops. or even lamb chops."
"nebuchadnezera poked him in his big gut. "you're eating something. strikers maybe?"
"surely you can come up with some scrambled eggs at least," said mimi.
"well - we could mosey over to ma blanchard's rooming house. she's got some pretty good pie - fill you right up."
"pie?" mimi looked at nebuchadnezera. "does she have decent coffee?'
"ma's coffee is the best in western nebraska."
"i guess it will have to do then," said mimi.
'"lead the way," said nebuchadnezera.
they left the yard and headed for a small tree lined street filled with boarding houses with signs in the windows.
"you know, bull," said mimi as they walked along," you seemed pretty eager to get out of the yard. are you up to some skullduggery back there you didn't want us to know about?"
these little devils! old bull was indeed up to some mischief. he had captured clarence and otis eno, the most desperate bank robbers west of peoria, but instead of turning them over to mr hoover and the fbi, he was holding them in a shed in the yards and auctioning them off to the highest bidder. so far he had bids from the ku klux klan, the pope, the daughters of the revolution, the masons, the darwinism propagation society, and the emperors of china and the lost city of x. he had planned to wait a few days for more bids, but with the girls around he thought maybe he should speed things up.
"you girls planning on staying a spell?" he asked, his voice a little squeaky.
"no," said nebuchadnezera, "we plan on catching the first fast freight back to civilized parts. with your permission, of course."
"sure, sure, no problem."
"anything for old friends, right?" said mimi. "but you didn't answer my question, bull - you planning some dark and profitable deeds?"
"now,where would you get an idea like that? what could a poor servant of the railroad be up to in such wise?"
'you could be selling strikers to the emperor of japan or the king of barbary."
"that's not illegal! besides, the strike is over, it's been over for a while."
"looks like we're here," said nebuchadnezera. the sign in the window of the last house on the block said "mrs blanchards - clean beds - solid food" "i notice she doesn't advertise her great pie."
"she doesn't have to," laughed bull. he led them up the short steps to the white front door, entered without knocking and headed straight for the kitchen.
"good morning, mr bowline," said mrs blanchard without looking up from her oven.
"morning,ma. i brought some guests along."
mrs blanchard gave a little start when she saw the girls. "hmph. nice friends you have, mr bowline."
old bull gave her an anguished despair of the damned look and she relented a little. she shook her big spoon at the girls. "just to let you know, ladies, i know something of the arts myself. my momma schooled me. so mind your manners."
"we just want some pie," said nebuchadnezera, "and some coffee, if you please."
"aren't you a little young for coffee?"
"they don't have any age, " old bull said.
"of course. well, sit down."
mimi had already seated herself and nebuchadnezera sat across from her. the kitchen table was covered with a worn but spotless white cloth. mrs blanchard put plates and forks, and cups and saucers in front of them in what seemed one fluid motion.
"well, what's your pleasure?" she asked them. "i've got some rhubarb pie fresh baked."
"how about blueberry?" asked nebuchadnezera.
"i've got blueberry. but the rhubarb has good medicinal value."
"what do we need medicinal for?" asked mimi. "i'll have some blueberry too."
"rude little thing, aren't you? if i was the prince of darkness or whoever your master is," - mrs blanchard glared at mimi - "well he's got plenty of fire at his disposal, doesn't he, i'd apply some of it to your bare backside."
"that shows how much you know," mimi answered. "we don''t have any master."
"i know what i read in my bible."
"not the best place to learn magic," mimi laughed. "is that how your momma schooled you?"
"don't mind her, ma'am," nebuchadnezera said. "we''ve had some trying experiences. now we'd just like some pie and coffee."
mrs blanchard glared at mimi and went to the pantry and returned with a huge blueberry pie. she dished out hearty proportions to both girls.
"looks good, thank you ma'am' '" nebuchadnezera said. mimi just grunted.
"well, mr bowline," mrs blanchard asked as she poured coffee for the girls, 'have you heard from that brother of yours? how's things down south?"
"pretty quiet. they had a little ruckus about a week ago, tarred and feathered a darwinist and a papist."
mrs blanchard's mouth tightened. "you know i don't approve of such stuff."
"but a darwinist and a papist!"
"i don't care what folks do - as long as they don't stir up the negroes." she looked down at the girls. "you girls don't plan on stirring up the negroes, do you?"
"no ma'am," said nebuchadnezera. "we just want some more of this pie."
"it's pretty good," said mimi. "in fact, it's real good."
june bug, kaleidoscopa, and lili were blown in the same direction hoover and dillinger were taking, and thought they might land right on top of their cars, but they managed to avoid this and sailed past them. they finally landed on a rolling green lawn with a long paved driveway twisting through it. two austin chummys, a daimler salon cabriolet, and a model k mercedes benz were parked along the driveway.
"it must be party time," said lili. "but i don't hear any partying."
"i don't even see a house," said kaleidoscopa. "this must be some driveway."
"where are the chauffeurs?" asked june bug. "cars like these must have chauffeurs."
"listen," said kaleidoscopa, "i hear something."
"i hear somebody," said lili. "somebody ve-ry familiar."
they headed down the driveway past the cars in the direction of the voices. after a dip in the road they saw a duck pond, and a group of four chauffeurs in uniform were shooting dice beside it. piles of money, including some gold coins, were clustered on the grass in front of the players.
the chauffeurs were so intent on the game they didn't notice the girls as they floated up silently behind them.
"you should be playing for pennies, floyd," lili said over the shooters shoulder. "bad pennies."
"be with you in a second," pretty boy floyd answered. "just let me make my point."
he rolled a nine - his point. he scooped up a pile of bills and gold coins and turned with a big smile to the girls. "do i know you?" he squinted at lili, then the other two girls.
"east st louis, floyd, east st louis. with dillinger," lili amswered.
"oh yeah, i kind of remember." floyd still held the dice and rolled them around in his hand. "but i don't associate with dillinger or his ilk any more. i'm a working man now, doing a day's work for a day's pay. "
"who's your friends, floyd?" asked one of the other chauffeurs, a chimpanzee, who was wearing the best tailored uniform of the four.
"keep rolling, son, you can talk to your friends later," said another, a gorilla.
"well put your money up," floyd answered. all three - the chimp, the gorilla, and a sunken chested little human with a pencil mustache, all put down larger amounts than before, doubling their bets.
pretty boy floyd rolled an eleven. he grabbed up the new bills and coins.
"let me see those dice," the gorilla said.
"sure, gus, they're your dice."
the gorilla looked at the dice. "so they are. but i say we don't play no more until we get some new dice."
"fine with me." said floyd, as he finished stuffing the money into the pockets of his tight uniform.
"floyd looks like he's put on a few pounds," june bug commented.
"honest toil must agree with him," said kaleidoscopa. "you got a good woman, pretty boy, feeding you pork chops every night?"
floyd ignored them. "i guess you guys are about tapped out anyway," he told the gorilla.
"i don't know about them, but i ain't tapped out by a long shot. the crown prince pays me good, real good."
"and colonel mccutcheon pays me good too," added the chimp.
"colonel mccutcheon!!" the three girls exclaimed together.
"not - colonel - osbert mccutcheon?" lili added,
"that's right," the chimp answered. "what's it to you, devil girl?"
the little chauffeur with the pencil mustache spoke up. "i knew you had some rather unfortunate acquaintances, floyd, but i never suspected you of associating with devil girls."
kaleidoscopa pointed her finger at him before he finished talking. "i know who you are!"
"really? i don't believe i've had the pleasure."
"you were in the papers." kaleidoscopa turned to june bug and lili. "it's the marquis of chutneyside. he's wanted for the brutal murder of the celebrated model and playgirl sally sensemilla. it's him!"
"the police of nine continents are looking for you, fella," june bug told him.
"prove it, sister. besides, we're in america now, where outlaws run wild and free."
"and lose all their money to pretty boy floyd," said lili.
"and is that any concern of yours?"
"not really." lili answered. "we just want something to eat."
"yeah." june bug looked at pretty boy. "where's the chow, sarge?"
"are you on the guest list?" pretty boy asked her.
"listen to you," kaleidoscopa said, "whatever happened to good old-fashioned hospitality? besides, you owe us."
"come on," lili added. "i can feel the money in the air here like a gas. there's got to be some good vittles just laying around. i bet they throw away more than honest folks get regular meals."
"i want some oysters," said june bug. "and some devilled lobster."
"and strawberry ice cream," added kaleodoscopa. "lots of strawberry ice cream."
the chimp laughed. "now they're writing the menu. look at them, how much can they eat anyway?"
"you don't know devil girls," floyd told him. "these ladies could beat a dinosaur in a pie-eating contest on the fourth of july."
"actually we'll eat anything," lili said. "any where, any time."
"and we'll even eat at the same table as colonel osbert mccutcheon," said june bug.
"what are you, suffragettes?" asked the marquis. "i wouldn't have thought devil girls would care two straws about the colonel's opinions."
"hah!" the three answered together.
"you'll be eating in the kitchen with the servants anyway," the gorilla told them. ""if they decide to feed you at all."
"you'd be surprised," said kaleodoscopa. "we are pretty good at getting ourselves invited."
the big white house looked built for comfort rather than show. colonel osbert mccutcheon was sitting in a rocking chair on the verandah, reading the financial pages of the san francisco chronicle. the new york times, vanity fair and a gin and tonic sat on a small table beside him. he looked up unconcernedly as his host's austin chummy, with the marquis of chutneyside at the wheel, coasted up in front of him. the three girls jumped out of the windows before the car came to complete stop.
the marquis slammed the drivers door shut and began chasing them as they ran up the short stairs.
"it's all right, trevor, i will take care of them," the colonel announced. trevor seemed happy enough to get back in he car and drive it around the side of the house.
there was a long cushioned porch swing on the verandah and june bug and kaleidoscopa made straight for it. lili perched herself on the rail in front of the colonel.
the colonel folded the san francisco chronicle neatly and leaned back in the chair.
"what can i do for you ladies?"
"we're hungry," lili told him.
"ah, some things never change. i will speak to the cook but can't promise anything. this house isn't mine, you see. it belongs to the duke of a-------, who will arrive on friday with most of the other guests."
so what mischief have you been up to?"
"not much. just recovering from the rude reception of my latest book." the colonel smiled.
"you should be used to it by now," said kaleidoscopa. she got off the swing and joined lili on the rail. "let's see, your latest was - "
"horses and their habits, in two volumes. critics had carped that my two earlier efforts, dogs and their destinies and women and their ways, weren't exhaustive enough. now they complain that i go on too long. ah well." the colonel took a sip of his gin and tonic.
june bug got off the swing and stood beside him, glaring. "so what will your genius tackle next?"
"how about devils and other supernatural beings?," asked kaleidoscopa.
"yeah, we could really help you out," added lili.
"oh no, i have a much more interesting subject i am already working on. something even more interesting than dogs or women or horses."
"butterflies. butterflies and their beings."