Billy Oldham's War
Billy's career as a bordello bouncer got off to a good start. The joint was trying to move up in class, so the madam insisted that Billy dress in finer clothes. She didn't insist on formal attire, but she did want him to wear a business suit of a fine cut. Unfortunately, nowhere in Mobile was there a suit that would fit her demands and fit Billy's dimensions at the same time. Thus, she was forced to have a suit tailored to fit Billy. This was rather expensive, but Billy cut a fine figure when he was all decked out in the ensemble, so the madam was satisfied.
Billy was also pleased with the suit and the fine new boots that went with it. The coat was cut to hide the fighting knife that Billy wore at his waist against his backbone. With a little practice, Billy was able to draw that knife with sufficient speed to have it do as much as a knife could to protect him in a fight. He also wore a steel bracer on his left forearm, so he had a rather effective shield, once he learned how to use it properly. Madam Hortense made sure that he got the necessary training. Furthermore, Billy kept a knuckleduster conveniently to hand in his pocket, so he was ready for anything short of firearms, and they were not likely to show up.
Billy's mere presence kept a nice lid on the more boisterous activities in her house, and Madam Hortense was very pleased with the decorum that Billy had shown on the rare occasions that he had been forced to escort an obnoxious customer off the premisses. Billy was uniformly polite to the women who worked for Madam Hortense, and he was well liked by every one of them. Except that it was prohibited by the rules of the house, every girl would have offered Billy a freebie just to sample the imposing young man.
When the rainy season was over, Jody tracked Billy down and asked him to return to Capt. Adams' ship, but Billy was thoroughly happy with his current place of employment, so he politely turned Jody down. The two men parted as friends, but never saw each other again.
Finally, it had to happen. One night, a pair of customers tried to negotiate a bargain price with the aid of knives. The two men were drunk; otherwise, they would have not been so foolish. Billy stepped in and tried to calm the men down before they hurt somebody. Madam Hortense shooed the girls and the other customers into another room while Billy dealt with the situation.
His first effort at negotiating a truce was totally unsuccessful, and one of the men actually swung at Billy with his knife. This looked like more forceful measures would be required, so Billy slipped his knuckleduster on his left hand and pulled his knife with his right hand. "Now, Gentlemen, please don't let this go any farther. I really think that y'all have disturbed Madam Hortense enough, an' y'all should leave afore anybody gits hurt."
The man who had swung his knife at Billy was not going to listen to reason. He tried to stab Billy in the gut, but Billy was much more agile than his looks implied. Billy was able to dance back, and the man who had tried to stab him suddenly found himself fully extended with his stabbing stroke and not easily able to recover. Billy countered the stabbing stroke by crashing his left fist against the wrist holding the knife. The knuckleduster did its job well, and several bones shattered from the impact. The man might never regain full use of that wrist.
The second man was so sure of his companion's ability to take care of Billy that he had simply watched as the two men fought. He was certainly surprised when Billy so easily disarmed the attacker. However, with a roar of drunken rage, the second man came at Billy with a knife in his right hand and a short club in his other hand. The man's knife was shaped like a "skinning knife," that is, with a relatively short but very sharp blade.
Billy countered by blocking a stroke from the club with the bracer on his left forearm. At the same time, he swept across his body with his own knife. He hit the attacker's forearm so hard with his blade that he actually removed a length of forearm, the wrist, and the hand holding the knife. Billy knew that he was strong, but he did not realize that he was that strong. Of course, the slicing stroke had something to do with it.
Blood spurted everywhere from the severed arm, and was making quite a mess of the room. The injured man was trying to staunch the flow of blood, but he was only partially successful.
Meanwhile, the first attacker had another burst of stupidity. He picked up his knife from where it had fallen on the floor and tried to attack Billy with the knife in his left hand. Of course, this was doomed to failure, since the man was right handed, and had neither the strength or the skill to accomplish his intention with his left hand. Billy had run out of patience with the man, so he hit him in the side of the head above the ear with the knuckleduster. The man immediately collapsed to the floor, and Billy turned to try to help the man with the bleeding stump.
This man was no more intelligent than his friend and tried to fight with Billy, so Billy was forced to hit him on the side of the head with the knuckleduster. He, too, collapsed, and the whole fight was over in less than three minutes. Billy stopped the blood flow with the man's sash as a tourniquet. But he had already lost so much blood that he was probably a lost cause.
Billy called Madam Hortense back into the room and apologized for all of the blood sprayed around the room. There was even some on the ceiling. Madam Hortense was very understanding about the whole situation and absolved Billy of any blame. She said that she had been planning to redecorate, anyway, so there was only a small loss, now that she knew that Billy was unhurt.
One of that night's customers was a doctor. He looked at the stump and called for cauterization. The injured man was carried into the kitchen and a flat iron from the stove was heated to red heat. Billy held the man while the doctor pressed the wound against the red hot iron. This seared the wound closed, and there was nothing else that could be done for the man, so Billy discarded him in the alley. He dumped the other man in the same place.
A couple of maids cleaned the parlor as best they could, and the customers and girls went back to negotiating their business. Except for the blood on the ceiling and the wet spots on the floor, no trace of the unpleasantness was to be seen, so Madam Hortense's bordello was back in business and everybody was happy.
After they closed their doors to customers about 4:00 AM, Madam Hortense called Billy into her office. "Billy, I must say that you handled that bit of unpleasantness very well. Here is a $50 bonus to show my appreciation, and each of the girls wants to express their thanks with a free use of their services. I hope that you will accept these donations in the spirit in which they are given."
"Madam Hortense, I don't know how to thank ya an' the girls. I do appreciate yer generosity, an' I am grateful for the gifts. All I can say is that I thank y'all very much."
Word of Billy's exploit got around Mobile very quickly, and Madam Hortense saw a significant rise in her business. She even had to hire two more girls. The combination of people wanting to see the man who could take on two toughs so easily, and the feeling of safety his presence offered resulted in bringing in the increased business. Madam Hortense was appropriately appreciative and increased Billy's wages by $2 per week.
Billy stayed with Madam Hortense for two more years, and didn't leave until the summer of 1854. He had no specific reason for leaving. The wanderlust just came over him. Madam Hortense was sorry to see him go, but she reflected on the fact that she had never been able to keep a bouncer more than about 14 months, so she had done very well with Billy. The girls were sad to see him go; he had never patronized them beyond that one freebie, but they all loved Billy as a brother. As a parting gift, Madam Hortense gave Billy a watch that a customer had left at the house; he was glad to get it since it still kept reasonably good time. She also gave him the knife, the knuckleduster, the suit, and the boots.
The clothes were still in pretty good shape, and the weapons were in perfect shape, so Billy was getting away with more than just the $100 that Madam Hortense gave him as he was walking out the door for the last time. All in all, it was a very profitable two years plus.
Billy decided to take passage on a coastal packet headed for New Orleans. He had no particular reason to travel to New Orleans, except that it was easy to get to and he had never been there.
During his time working at the bordello, he had learned to play draw poker, and he had become very good at it. He could also play whist, but he was not as skilled at that game, nor did he enjoy it as much as he did draw poker. He was happy to find that there were several other men who enjoyed draw poker, and he was quickly invited to join in the diversion.
The first day, he lost more than he expected, and he wondered if his skill had deserted him. The second day, though, he lost at an even faster rate, and the situation was becoming serious. However, he noted that three of the men rarely lost enough to make any difference, but the fifth man of his group was losing even faster than he was. He became suspicious, based on the stories of what he had heard about the cheats who stole from the unwary in this sort of situation. Therefore, he decided to pay more attention to the mechanics of the game and less to his pleasure, hoping thereby to determine if he and the other man were being cheated.