Find the Rules at Rachael Ritchie’s blog: http://wp.me/p7rsge-cB
Genre: Historical Fiction/Western
The Best of the Best
Bob’s tea cooled on the table beside him. “I bet there isn’t a person alive who hasn’t heard of you. Your husband must be proud.” The young reporter slid to the edge of the armchair. He had not been keeping regular notes. Perspiration beaded his forehead though the temperature wasn’t hot. He drew out an overlarge cloth hankie out of his breast pocket.
Sixty-five-year-old Annie pursed her lips. Hair, like a fluffy cloud, she patted her husband’s hand on the patterned horsehair sofa between them. “Young man, I earned a living doing what I do best. It’s how I met my Frank.” She smiled over her shoulder for a long moment, then switched her attention to the eager visitor.
Bob stuffed the damp hanky into his pants pocket.“But you were a woman. The best sharpshooter ever. How’d you do that?” Pencil in one hand and small writing pad in the other, he waved them around.
“Practice.” She held his gaze. “How’d you learn to read and write?” Her tone signaled he had overstepped.
Coarse blond brows squished together, he pressed back into the chair. “How’d you learn to read and write?” he repeated after her.
She muttered to herself, but the reporter, absorbed, did not understand. “This generation…” She shook her head. Her husband’s laugh sounded like a bark.
“How old were you when you started practicing. I mean how many years did it take to get good, you know?”
“We were poor and had a lot of mouths to feed. Hunting with my father, I trapped small animals for food from the age of five. He died when I was six and by seven or eight, I used his old rifle to hunt. I was good from the start. Natural-like. Mother didn’t like it, but I learned to shoot a variety of guns. I helped feed our household of five siblings and hunted enough game to sell to the grocer.” Annie clasped hands to her chin. “It was hard times. Mother married again but her new husband died soon after and left her with a new baby—another mouth to feed.”
“You were a tomboy with all that hunting, I bet…”
“We were Quakers. I never wore pants like a boy and didn’t climb trees for fun. After supper, we gathered around Mother singing hymns. One melody stayed with me all these years, though I no longer remember the words. By ten I was sent to live at an orphanage. In exchange for work, I received a basic education and learned to sew. The Edingtons were good to me.” Annie closed her eyes and leaned back into the sofa.
“But when did you join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show?”
“Mr. Stannard, is it? You are impatient. Some years after I met Ducky, here.” She tipped a shoulder toward Frank. “Do you know how we met? A hotel owner invited me to a shooting contest with the Frank Butler. I was fifteen—and I beat him! And everyone else.” Face aglow, she giggled like a young woman.
“I didn’t mind.” Frank cleared his throat. “Once I laid eyes on that pretty girl, I was lost. Sure better than me.”
“A year later, we married. Been together almost half-a-century. We traveled everywhere: Spain, Italy, and Paris; even to England to perform for Queen Victoria. We still ate a lot of beans.” Annie arched her back and bent forward as if to stand. Her husband, older by ten years, helped her to her feet.
“Wait, are you leaving? I still have many questions…”
“About twenty-five years ago—in 1901 was it? We were in a train wreck. Annie suffered a spinal injury, which paralyzed her for a long while. She had many operations but came back, shooting and performing. The last few years her health has deteriorated. She’s frail and tired.”
“You starred in movies, too, didn’t you?”
Frank gave the reporter a long look, his wife supported in the crook of his elbow. “My wife is not well. Perhaps another time? See yourself out. Good day.” He whisked Annie out of the room.
Bob Stannard remained glued to his chair, blinking. With narrowed eyes, he gaped at the paper and pencil in his hands. Two words stared back at him: Annie Oakley. He grinned. No notes, but he had met the best sharpshooter in the Old West. She doesn’t look so old. Her skin is smooth as a baby’s. I’m coming back.
The screen door slammed on his way out. “Oops, Sorry.”
© 2017 Tess and How the Cookie Crumbles
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