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Miss Etta Place Seeks Work

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Etta dipped her pen, waited for the dark bead at the tip to drain off down the mouth of the inkwell, and wrote: “Dear sir, I write to you today in order to offer you my professional services. I imagine you do not receive many such letters from women, and hasten to assure you that I am a person of good moral standing, not-insignificant courage, and certain skills that may be of use to your agency…”

Good moral standing enough to corral twenty-odd frontier children and their rough-hewn meddling parents, forever coming around to peek through the schoolmarm’s curtains or count the items on her clothesline. Courage enough to spend years on the run – a drain on Etta, even when it was fun – and aid and abet in a string of bank robberies. As for her skills…

“I am handy with a firearm, can ride as well as any man, and speak Spanish fluently,” she wrote. “I am pleasing to look at, which I mention not out of vanity, but so you will know that I can be a useful decoy as well as a pursuer or resolver of situations. I can handle rough living as well as I can present myself in polite society.”

I am flexible, she nearly wrote, decided that would seem too manipulative. Even for the kind of work she sought, people expected one to at least pretend to be a straight arrow. Anyway, nothing Etta had written so far was a lie, though it only told part of the truth. The first time she’d met Sundance, he’d seemed irritated by her “airs and graces,” his words, which Etta learned to recognize as his idea of endearment.

When Sundance had introduced her to Butch, Butch had told her, “Why, miss, you’re as pretty as a high-plains sunset. If I’d had a teacher like you, maybe I’d have made something of myself.”

Etta cleaned her pen and resumed writing: “I know how to handle myself in the company of men, and can be trusted around them without distracting from the job at hand…”

Good as her word, she’d mended their socks, she’d done their washing, she’d laughed with them and stolen with them and danced with them. She never did manage to break Sundance of his habit of chewing tobacco, though, nor did her soft gestures and entreating looks ever persuade him to come closer, on those few occasions when Butch had mouthed at her under her skirts (“I don’t steal from my friends, Etta,” Butch told her, “but you and me, we both like sweet things”), and she’d spotted Sundance watching them from behind a tree or a half-open door.

Etta shifted in her seat, fighting down the butterflies in her stomach and the incipient sadness, and hastened to finish her letter before the afternoon post went out:

“If you would grant me an interview in person, I am certain you would find that my talents are well-suited to the manpower needs of the Pinkerton Agency. In anticipation of your response, I remain, yours truly, Ethel Bishop.”

Forgive me, Sundance, Butch, Etta thought, sealing the letter and writing out the address in her schoolhouse copperplate. But living requires one to work, and after all that has happened, I find I crave excitement more than anything.