- Publisher: Rocky Ridge Books
- Edition: 2nd
- Available in: Paperback, Kindle
- Published: June 19, 2015
Now in a collector’s print edition: Victor J. Banis’ landmark Western tale is back!
Sometimes funny, sometimes tragic and often bawdy, Lola Dances ranges from the 1850 slums of the Bowery to the mining camps of California and Montana, to the Barbary Coast of San Francisco.
Little Terry Murphy, pretty and effeminate, dreams of becoming a dancer. Raped by a drunken profligate and threatened with prison, Terry flees the Bowery to disappear into the wilderness of the West. In the rugged settlement of Alder Gulch, he stands out like a sore thumb among the camp’s macho inhabitants – until the day he puts on a dress and dances for the unsuspecting miners. As beautiful Lola Valdez, fame and fortune are within reach, and so, ultimately, is love.
Excerpt: Lola Dances
Later, though, Terry had an idea. He broached it cautiously with Brian. “I could get a job, you know,” he said. “I could help with expenses.”
“What kind of job could you get?” Brian asked. “Peddling your ass? You thinking of going to work for Belle Blessings?”
“I used to work at the bars back in the Bowery,” Terry said. “I thought there might be something I could do at The Lucky Dollar. Or, now that you mention it, maybe at Belle Blessings’. Not that, but, maybe she needs somebody to clean, or empty the slop jars, or the like.”
“You ain’t working at no whorehouse,” Brian said, “and that’s final. You know as well as I do what everybody would think, seeing you sashaying in and out of there. Next thing people would be remarking on I had a nancy for a brother. There’s enough of them already wonder about that, I expect, without making it any clearer for them.”
He had not said, however, that Terry could not get a job at The Lucky Dollar, and Terry took that for at least a tacit okay. The next afternoon, he washed up, glad for a change that he didn’t have any bruises to hide, and strolled into town, to The Lucky Dollar.
The man behind the bar gave him a scowl when Terry came through the swinging doors of the saloon, and looked about to order him out. Terry said, quickly, “I was looking for Mister Willis.”
The bartender jerked his head toward the rear. “He’s back there, in Lizette’s dressing room.”
Lizette was the saloon’s entertainer. She sang and danced, and in between times mingled with the miners, drifting from poker table to poker table and sometimes disappearing for a spell with one or the other of them, to the room she had upstairs.
Terry made his way past the stage to the curtained doorway that led to the rear, ignoring the curious looks he got from some of the poker players always crowded around the tables. There were voices in the distance and he followed them along the narrow corridor, and found himself at the open door to Lizette’s dressing room.
It was immediately obvious that Lizette and Lem Willis, the saloon’s owner, were having a quarrel. Terry paused in the doorway, not wanting to listen, but not wanting to interrupt either.
“I’m leaving,” Lizette said just as Terri arrived at the door. “I’m going to Frisco, tonight, with old Jake.”
“You can’t leave just this minute,” Willis said, obviously angry. “I’ve got a room full of miners out there, waiting for you to come on stage.”
“Let them wait, what do I care,” she said. “Old Jake is in a hurry, and I don’t mean for him to go without me.”
“And you’re just leaving me in the lurch, is that how it is?”
“Listen, I’m sick of you. I’m sick of this saloon and this whole damn town. Old Jake’s been saving up his dust, he’s got a fortune, practically, and I mean to spend some of it for him. No more dirty mine camp for me, I’m going to live in the city and be a lady.”
“Well, what about all this stuff?” Lem gestured at the racks of dresses and the dressing table littered with jars and bottles. “What am I supposed to do with it?”
Lizette laughed. “You can eat it, for all I care. All those cheap dresses? You think I could wear them in Frisco? This is what I’m taking.” She picked up a small carpetbag from the chair. “Travels fastest who travels lightest, is what they say. Anything else I need, Jake can buy it for me when we get to Frisco.”
“Listen, you,” Willis said, but she didn’t wait to hear him out.
“No, you listen. It’s goodbye and good riddance.” And with that, she threw open the back door and went out, slamming it after herself. From outside, they heard a man’s voice say, “About time, I was fixin’ to go without you.”
“You ain’t going nowhere without me, you old sugar,” she said, and her laugh quickly faded.
“Good riddance is right,” Willis said, staring at the door through which she had disappeared. “Damnation! I ought to have thrown the ungrateful bitch out on the street a long time ago.” He turned, and saw Terry standing in the doorway. “What the hell are you looking at?” he demanded, “Who are you?”
“I’m Terry Murphy. Brian’s brother.”
“The mean son-of-a-bitch? I didn’t even know he had a brother, unlest it was Old Nick. Well, what do you want?”
“I came by,” Terry stammered, “I’m looking for work. I thought, well, maybe I could get a job here, at The Dollar. Maybe you needed somebody.”
Willis laughed mirthlessly. “You want a job? Why don’t you put on one of those dresses and go out there and dance for those damn fool miners. That’s what I need, sonny.” He stormed out, muttering angrily to himself.
Alone in the dressing room, Terry glanced about. The room was untidy, the air heavy with cheap perfume. His eyes fell on the dressing table. It was littered with toiletries, shabby little pots of rouge and black for the eyebrows and lashes. He picked up a Spanish fan that lay there and snapped it open.
Back in the Bowery, in the dressing room at the theater, Rosaria had entertained her fellow dancers often with her fan. “In Spain, a señorita doesn’t need words to tell a man what she wants to say, she can say it all with her fan,” she told them.
Clicking the fan open and shut, Terry strolled to the rack of dresses that stood along one wall, the costumes Lizette had left behind.
Why don’t you put on one of those dresses…Willis’ words seemed to echo inside his head. He thought of that time as a child when he’d dressed as a girl, how different he’d felt. He took one of the dresses from the rack and held it up before himself and looked speculatively into the standing mirror. The dress was black, vaguely Spanish in style, and lavishly trimmed in ruffles.
Even at a glance, he could see it would fit perfectly.
Lola Dances is available as an ebook, or in the new print edition from Rocky Ridge. Enjoy in your favorite format.