Fortune's Kiss

Some time ago, in a small town situated in a remote part of the country, there lived a woman. She wasn't rich, but she was "comfortable." She was a rather successful merchant. She ran a brothel.

Her's was the largest home in the town. It sat, surrounded by rose bushes, on a small bluff overlooking the central square. The only paved street in the town led up the hill to her home. She'd had it paved at her own expense.

The woman was the most admired person in the town, and also the most hated. She was admired by those people who understood and appreciated hard work and a good heart.

She was hated by those citizens who saw themselves as the Elite, the High Society, and the Guardians of the Public Good. She was hated by those people who wished that they were as prosperous, as successful and as smart as she was.

The woman in the large home on the hill knew that she was hated and in order to keep the peace and avoid uproar she maintained a low public profile and insisted that her girls do likewise. This just made the Haters hate her even more.

Serious hatred is a powerful thing. It can make people do cruel and stupid things. That is what it made the Haters do.

The Haters held meeting after meeting in the back room of the town hall trying to decide what they could do to rid themselves of the object of their hatred. Finally, they decided to pass new laws that would make her an official lawbreaker and thereby give them the legal power to ruin her business and drive her out of town.

They met in a formal Citizen's Council Meeting and pretended to argue the pros and con's of the issue and then quickly passed their new laws. The Haters were gleeful with what they saw as their new unequaled and unquestioned status in the town.

They couldn't just pass a law to simply make her brothel illegal; it was still too much of a frontier town for that. So they used their new laws to hurt the Woman on the Hill every way that they could. They made the street leading to her home a one-way street heading downhill and they posted a policeman to stop anyone from going the "wrong way" up the hill. When the customers began to cut through some of the Haters backyards to avoid the policeman they passed more laws.

They cut off garbage pick-up in the hope of having her home declared a health hazard. This attempt failed when every man leaving the home started taking a small bag home with him when he left.

A law was passed making it illegal for more than five unrelated women to live together in the same home. This caused an immediate uproar when the police arrested all sixteen of the Little Sisters of Saint Clair who shared the Convent down by the river.

With each new law the chaos in the town increased as the rights of the people, who didn't hate the Woman on the Hill, were taken away and their freedoms restricted. Taxes were increased by the Council to pay for more policemen to enforce their new laws.

After more than a year of trying and failing to close the brothel using the Law, the Haters finally realized that drastic action was needed.

They met in the Mayor's office at the Town Hall, and as the Mayor sat at the old piano he'd gotten as a wedding gift from his Mother, idly playing a song from his youth, they hatched a plan to solve their problem and solidify their power.

Late the next Sunday night, when the moon was new, a man in an ill-fitting policeman's uniform walked silently up the hill toward the large, well-lit home.

When he reached the front yard he stopped and took a bottle out of the canvas bag that was slung over his shoulder. He unscrewed the cap from the bottle, sniffed the gasoline that filled the bottle and tossed the cap into the rose bushes that lined the walk. Then he took a red handkerchief from his back pocket, twisted the end and stuck it down into the neck of the bottle. He struck a match on his badge and held the flame to the drooping end of the handkerchief. When it caught fire and began to burn up toward the mouth of the bottle the policeman called out.

"Old Woman! Old Woman! I've got a gift for you from your neighbors. You should have used your head and moved out when they asked you nice. It's too late now. Bye-bye, Old Woman."

He laughed as he leaned back and extended his arm to throw the bottle through the front window of the home.

"Bye-bye, Old Woman."

The blast was felt throughout the town and the fireball lit up the entire top of the hill. Down by the river the willows shook and the cottonwoods echoed the sound with an explosion of white tufts that rode the shock wave off across the water.

When the sound rocked through the town the Haters, who had been waiting for their order to be executed, poured into the streets and marched up the hill toward the thick, dark smoke.

As they got close to the home a strong breeze from the ocean blew across the hilltop pushing the smoke to the East and revealed the large home standing intact. On the porch the woman and her girls could be seen pouring pails of water over the railing onto the blazing rose bushes. On the walkway in front of the home was a hole where flames were busy consuming what was left of a dark blue uniform and a brown leather holster. A twisted metal star was lying in the burning grass thirty feet from the home. What used to be a hand was nearby, being picked at by a blue jay.

When she saw the townspeople coming up to her home the woman put down her pail and called her girls around her. She stared down at the approaching crowd, and then she spoke,

"The next time you hire an assassin get one that's not so long-winded."

The leader of the Haters stepped forward, spread his arms and said,

"What are you talking about? What a tragedy. Can we help?"

The woman stood silently for a moment looking down at her neighbors and then turned and looked at her girls who were huddled around her both to protect and be protected.

"Well, my little angels, it appears that although their hired killer ended up killing only himself and our beautiful roses I think that they have won this war."

Turning back to face the crowd the woman leaned forward, picking at the blistered paint on the wooden railing.

"Yes, my good neighbors, you have won. Your attempts to drive me away with your silly laws were, if anything, pathetic and somewhat amusing. This, however, is something else.

I don't care when you try to hurt me but, when you try to murder these young girls who have never done anything harmful to any of you, in fact I can see the faces here of a number of people for whom I have poured a late night sherry, I cannot allow this to continue. So, you win. I will close my business and I will leave this place. Then you can make this town into whatever it is that you think you want it to be. I hope it will make you happy."

By late the next afternoon the woman and her girls had loaded three wagons with as many of the furnishings and their personal things as they could manage. What they couldn't carry they left behind and just before sundown they slowly pulled away from the big home on the hill, down the one-way street and then left onto the dusty road leading out of town and into The Interior.

The wagons were barely out of sight when the Haters held a special meeting, declared the home on the hill to be an abandoned property, took possession in the name of the People and named the home to be the new official residence of the Mayor. All extremely legal and notarized.

The road that led to The Interior was dry, dusty and slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding forest and brush. The road led nowhere. The Interior was a place where there was only emptiness and History.

Earlier in the century fortunes were made and lost there as the price of gold and other precious things rose and fell with the schemes of speculators. Land and people were used up and then abandoned as the veins petered out or the pools got deeper than men could afford to drill.

At the end of her second day on the road into The Interior the woman pulled over her small caravan and gathered her pilgrims around her.

"What do you see?” she asked them.

"Where?” said one of her girls.

"Here, right at your feet.” she said, pointing down at the ground.

The girls all looked downward, trying to see what the woman, obviously wanted them all to see.

"Dirt", "Weeds", "Ants".

"Yes, but what else, underneath the dirt and weeds?"

One of the girls, a large, bony redhead who laughed a lot, squatted down and scraped at the dirt with her finger.

"Bricks. I see bricks", she said, looking up at the woman and smiling.

"Exactly", said the woman, "Bricks that lead off through the brush there. Donna-Marie, you and Celia come with me. The rest of you wait here."

The three of them slowly picked their way through the high grass and weeds and into the thin forest that stretched off farther into The Interior.

After about fifteen minutes the girls who had stayed with the wagons could hear excited voices and Donna-Marie's booming laugh as the three explorers appeared out of the brush and waved.

"My little Angels, we have ourselves a home. These bricks lead right up to the front door of what once was, and will soon be again, a large and inviting home."

With some effort and care the woman got her girls and the wagons up the pathway to the home.

The red brick mansion that sat waiting in the blistering heat and stillness of The Interior had been built on the backs of near slaves who had labored and died for passage and promises. They had come there over sixty years earlier to try their luck in the Great Scramble that had brought unimaginable wealth to the few who were smart enough, ruthless enough or fortunate enough to be standing on the right clump of earth when the hidden riches decided to show themselves.

The Scramblers had all brought with them the mental blueprints of the palaces they would build when their pick turned over the nugget the size of an egg or the drill bit broke through the last strata of shale and into a lake of Sweet Crude.

Like the Rubber Barons of Manaus, the new millionaires took their sudden riches and attempted to buy new backgrounds and values. They sent their shirts to Paris to be laundered, bought solid gold toilets and moved into immense Rococo homes that had stained glass windows and spiral staircases leading up to bedrooms where they slept off the effects of their good luck and failed to notice when the mines began to produce less gold and more bankruptcy.

When the money stopped cascading into their hands the palaces crumbled and the men drifted back to the mines hoping for another bonanza. And their pretty, young, wives, whom they had imported along with their other golden toys, sailed for home or drifted like their husbands until they either died or found other means to support themselves.

Time had been kind to the old home but the various passersby had not. Most of the furniture was gone or broken to pieces and burned, as evidenced by the blackened area in the middle of the marble-floored ballroom.

Late in their third evening in their new home, while they were enjoying their daily cordial, there was a knock at the massive mahogany front door.

When the Woman opened the door and saw two men carrying rifles she pulled back before laughing out loud and saying,

"Well, hello gentlemen. I didn't expect to see anyone from town out here so soon."

Answering with a courtly bow that revealed his bald and shiny scalp, the taller of the two men grinned and replied,

"A hunting trip, my good woman, and just because the Official Asses of our fair town behaved poorly to you, does not mean that you and your beautiful daughters are not desired and appreciated by the unofficial asses. We saw your lights shining through the trees and thought some other hunters were already camping here."

She welcomed them in and they spent their evening in comfort.

The woman knew the value of skilled labor of all kinds and so she offered the men a discount in return for their assistance in doing some repairs around the home.

"Tell the other men in town that we are here and that we're having a sale. A little barter perhaps? Carpentry for Love."

When the men got back to the town and word spread of the new Home, only two days walk to the East, the number of hunting trips to The Interior grew quickly.

The news also reached the ears of the Haters, but there was nothing they could do about it. Their powers ended at that point in the road where the birds began to sing again and the sunlight cut through the cold wind.

As time passed the parade of men restored the abandoned mansion to a grandeur rivaling that which it had had years before. And an interesting thing began to happen. Some of the men built themselves a small bunkhouse where they could store their tools and get some sleep before beginning the two day walk back to the town. Then a separate washhouse and eventually a small kitchen/dining hall were erected.

A small settlement started to grow around the home and take on a more permanent look with some of the men spending more time there than they did at their homes in the town.

The owner of the General Store, who had become an avid hunter of late, saw that opportunity was gently tapping on his doorway and he opened a small branch store next to the new tavern which was next to the new gunsmith shop which was next to the new bakery. But the cost of maintaining both stores was too high and he had to choose. On New Years Eve he closed the store in the town by the coast and moved his inventory inland.

Even the Little Sisters of Saint Clair, forgiving but not forgetting their incarceration, picked up and moved into their new convent which sat on a small, sun swept hill overlooking the settlement.

“A good home", said the Mother Superior.

Soon the new town realized what they had become and voted to give their creation the name of "Fortune's Kiss", recalling both the past and acknowledging the present.

Within another year the old town had given up its last residents as the Mayor and his wife were forced to make the walk to Fortune's Kiss. As everyone else moved away their fear of starvation became stronger than their fear of being powerless in the new town.

When the Mayor and his wife arrived in Fortune's Kiss they were met by the woman, who invited them to her home for a sherry and some conversation. After everyone was seated and served their drink the woman spoke.

"Well, Mr. Mayor, oh, I guess I can't call you that anymore, can I? Especially since I am the Mayor here and you are... my constituent? Well, my fellow citizen, I welcome you to Fortune's Kiss. This is a friendly town where everyone has the right to say how they think the town should be run. If you choose to stay here you will also have that right. But, to be quite honest with you, I think that you will find it hard to make a living here. All civic officials, the Mayor, the Town Council, and the Police, all of them get no salary and serve at the pleasure of the citizens. There is no money and no power in being a leader here. What do you think? Do you have any skills?"

He looked at his wife. She shrugged and reached for her purse.

"Madame Mayor, I think that I and my wife will not be staying here for very long. We will rest for a few days, replenish our supplies and set out for the Capitol where I shall ... do something. You're right; I don't think that I have any skills that could support us here. Aside from being a Leader all that I can do well is play the piano." His wife nodded in proud agreement.

And so, the World went on for the people of Fortune's Kiss. They were happy in their new homes and the old woman who lived with her girls in the large house on the square was happy too. Her business was good, never better in fact. The customers seemed to like the addition of the piano player. It added a note of elegance to the house. And she was happy that she was living again in the home where she had lived years before with her young and handsome husband who had sent his shirts to France to be laundered and who had disappeared into the Interior in a search for new gold. He never came back, but now she had, and once again there were roses blooming all around her house.