Excerpt: Life as Wade Higgs’ Woman

Summer turned to fall, turned to winter, turned to spring again as Lucky fell into routine: Rob a train, return to camp for a celebratory fuck with Wade while Trent counted the loot, then wait for the two oldest Higgs Boys to take at least half the takings back to their ranch and return with cakes, jerky and other provisions packed by their mother. During that timeframe they robbed 18 trains, one roughly every two weeks, and averaged a haul of $3,000 in cash, bonds and jewelry every time. 

Once the money started to pile up, they began to stay in hotels during the quiet times between their robberies. Wade baulked at the notion at first, claiming that mattresses and running water would make them grow soft, but Lucky’s proposal that she’d have to dress the part of a lady if they stayed in town won him over. Almost 20 train robberies since her first one in men’s britches, and she still saw him shake his head in disagreement whenever she freely kicked a leg over a horse or hid her face and hair under the large bolero she had stolen from the man on that third robbery. As soon as they got into town, Lucky would be back to her petticoats and side-saddle demeanor, and Wade would look at her again with warm regard. 

The first few hotels they stayed at weren’t much more than austere boarding houses, with rooms each containing a narrow bed with a creaky mattress, a side table with a tin cup for gathering water at the pump outside, and maybe a stool or chair in the corner. Places like these were typically run by strict matrons who arched an eyebrow at Lucky until Wade asked if he and his wife could share a room, at which point the arch would either disappear into their hairline or soften in understanding. It didn’t matter if the landlady was suspicious or sentimental: the mattresses weren’t any softer. 

But there were also towns — typically close to the major train lines — where some wealthy East Coast hospitality man had built a hotel in the likeness to the ones he ran in New York or Chicago. These establishments dripped in red velvet and gold fringe, and hardly a footstep echoed in the plushly carpeted halls. The rooms that Lucky and Wade stayed in were closer to what she expected as Miss Mimi’s, with their large feather beds, upholstered furniture and soft gas lamps that reflected in gilded framed mirrors. And soon these were the only hotels that Wade wanted to stay in, so comfortable was he in this life away from the woods, where he could surprise his woman with dresses made of crimson satin embroidered in black roses or green velvet trimmed in cream lace.

Soon they were signing hotel registry books as “Mr. and Mrs.” and dining in not just saloons but fine restaurants using some of their steal. Nights like these, she’d be Lucinda, swathed in whatever gift Wade had left for her on the bed. As heads turned to look at her when she walked into restaurants or shops, she worried that eventually someone would notice not just the finely dressed woman who had entered the room, but also the strikingly familiar face of the man next to her. If they could just flip the switch in their mind’s eye to look at him in black pencil strokes instead of flesh and blood, they would realize they had seen him papered up on the sheriff’s office wall.

As it was, Wade didn’t much seem to care once Lucky was wrapped in the finery he had provided. A proud smile would stretch across his face as he led her into dining rooms on one arm and used the other to hand the maître-d a few folded bills to guarantee a private table toward the back, where a sheriff or marshal would be less likely to interrupt their meal. Nights like these, Lucky missed the rest of the men — while Wade took her to sip wine from crystal glasses, Trent, Job, Elton and Squirrel would jovially shuffle to the nearest saloon or spend the night at the local cat house. The allure of being Wade’s woman wore away with each night she drank sherry with a roast chicken dinner instead of a shot of whiskey chased with tavern stew. She missed Squirrel and Job’s animated storytelling or Elton’s louder-than-life laugh that rattled the glasses stacked behind the bar. Most of all, she missed being just another Higgs Boy, and she wondered if they missed her, too.

There was something else gnawing at her. Despite all of Wade’s posturing around having her as a partner both in crime and in love, Lucky was anxious. Almost a year had passed since she accepted his proposition, and yet he still didn’t trust her enough to take her along to stash some of their treasure at his family’s ranch. She hesitated bringing it up do him — she didn’t want to sound like a silly girl fussing over not meeting her beau’s family. After all, she had hosted Jeremiah Bose, Jr., at her father’s table many nights without feeling any particular way about him.

Some nights when Wade was asleep, she would think of Jeremiah: Where he was, and if he had found someone new yet. She had no doubt that had she stayed in Crocus Falls, she would be in a bed similar to this one, sticky from the undertaker’s son and left to find pleasure at her own fingertips. In Jeremiah’s bed, her mind would likely have wandered to a life like the one she was living now, convinced that it would be a better life. As it was, she now lied in Wade’s bed, wondering if it really was the escape she had been seeking.

This is…NaNoWriMo 2018

Happy Nov. 1, everyone! While Americans binge on turkey, us writers purge on paper in an effort to compose 50,000 words’ worth of a single project in the 30-day period known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Many of us will make it, but we’ll sacrifice sleep, socializing and sometimes sanity to do it.

Last year I worked on my now-represented novel, Omaha, in an effort to get it ready for my agent. This year, I’m settling into a different kind of story — a Chuck Palahniuk-style satire called Nobody’s Hero that examines identity through the lens of an accidental vigilante — and I can’t wait to see what my uninhibited fingers type out.

Like most years, I’m not alone in my struggle. Tim Harnett, author of Reve and my writing buddy of the last three NaNoWriMos, plans to work on the second book in the series he began writing last November. I’ve hopefully convinced Cody Bridges to devote some energy this month to either Gin or The Phrenologist, two books he’s talked about writing for a while now. Partnerships during the month are almost requirements for success: No one quite gets the fervor of the month like someone in there with you. Plus, I’m competitive.

Luckily, those in my life who aren’t NaNoWriMoers also understand how much energy 30 days of creative outpour takes. Last year my friend Ally let me work for eight hours straight at her office in Seattle on Omaha (you could say it was partly born in the same place as Jeff Bezos’ rockets). I have a long list of people who wait to read the final product — though after edits, that means it’s April by the time I’m comfortable with them taking a peek. The Man with Time on His Arm has already offered to spend a quiet “creative day” with me and asks routinely if I’ve been writing. After all, he’s inadvertently helped me figure out a few plot points. Mom and Dad are used to my phone going straight to voicemail some November nights.

This year I plan to post every day on Convincing the Muse. They might be excerpts of what I’m working on or something completely separate that came to me. Maybe it’ll just be a song I’m using to set a mood when writing or a vignette based on a photo I took while daring to take my hands off the keyboard. All I’m saying is, stay tuned.

And let the writing begin!