Western Short Story
The Dam at Wasahoa
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

The settlement of Wasahoa in the Utah Territory sat on the Wasatch Plateau and was ripe with game. This cool forest high above the San Rafael Swell provided refuge for an incredible amount of prey, which also included all manner of criminals on the run, from all over the western region. One establishment in Wasahoa was reserved for bank robbers only, the owner figuring her clients were able to spring with cold cash.

Her name was Masi Begoyne, widowed three times by the law of the posse. When it was decided to dam waters flowing from the Wasatch Plateau the plan in the very beginning meant to include the San Rafael and San Pitch Rivers and Muddy Creek.

Masi Begoyne wanted no part of it, liking her situation and things as they were: her in control of seen and unseen properties and such assets. As she was heard to say a few times, “I’ve earned what I’ve got and I’ll keep what I’ve earned, and all to myself unless there’s a better man out there than the last three I’ve had as my husbands. Each of them got caught and killed. I’m tired of being widowed.”

She set her eyes on William Tawonda Brody, engineer of the new dam project, and she did not feel the slightest twinge when she fixed him up with a room at her “small digs I got by scratching for them.” Masi had 12 rooms at Her Place, above Her Saloon where the painting of “Her” stood mural-wide behind the bar in the saloon, a resplendently reclined, hand-gestured painting of a woman with nothing more than she was born with adorning her frame. At least once each weekend a tipsy drinker, leaning back and forth with his day-dreams rocking him, fell to the floor and had to be dragged outside. Masi saw to it that they would not be robbed by holding their money “until he comes back to collect it.” Very often, when they woke, they never realized their money was missing, and so did not pursue the situation.

Brody was as handsome as Masi was good-looking, and each felt a spark of inner recognition at the first meeting. “I hear you own the hotel and the saloon among other local property, Miss Begoyne is it?” His voice and his eyes carried the answer to what he had asked. “I’m looking for quarters for my stay here in Wasahoa during the planning of the dam project. When it kicks off, when money is arranged, there will be lots of traffic, lots of workers in the mix.”

His eyes said other results would also be at hand.

Nonplussed, Masi looked him right in the eye and replied, “I am the mistress of my own fate, Mr. Brody, and I gather you are a gentleman and a scholar of fine tastes.” She paused, made a subtle gesture of innocence, and said, “I have a room for you, on the corner with a view of the street and of the whole range as you look at it,” at which declaration she advised her bartender to “go clean out that room including the current tenant.”

Brody moved in, set up his office in a corner of the room where he looked down on the street and up at the range where millions of gallons of water gathered annually and which he wanted to bring unto the dam planned for Wasahoa.

The dam was not a dream, not a feather-brained scheme to draw and drag funds out of rich eastern pockets, though he realized the full possibility of such a scheme. He’d do his end, and worked hard in his study to draw up the best plan possible: he would get the water caught, trained, and aimed.

His nights, of course, had other potential, further pursued when Masi suggested that the dam was really not the best thing for this part of the country, at least not where he had planned to collect the water, in the Canyon of Dark Caves.

“Bill,” she said one night in her sultriest voice, her face rouged, her lips red, her dress fitting her with practiced precision, tightened where necessary, loose where not, “I own a good piece of the backside of the canyon. Bought it off a miner a few years back, Moses Denby, when he fell ill and I set him up here in this very room, to last out his final days. Moses signed his claim over to me, winked at me and said ‘Don’t treat it light, Masi. Don’t treat it light.’ Those were almost his last words. Then, in a last gesture, he pointed to his teeth. I could not figure that out for the longest time, but finally I realized Moses had found gold, had made a gold strike. He told me without mentioning a word. I just know it was gold teeth he was saying, in other words like they say. I’ve never told a soul about it until you. It has to be protected.”

“Well,” Brody said with an interesting tone, “maybe we out to take a ride out there tomorrow and see what’s what. We should know without any doubt about what you’re holding onto.”

She placed a conciliatory hand on his shoulder.

In the morning, the sun about to fly up, loose from the Wasatch Range, the engineer and “Her” of “Her Place” rode out of town on a pair of palominos a painter would love to see, twins, genetic parts showing in a matched trot, colors waiting for dawn to touch and go happy on, pride in a pair.

In the morning sun the pair climbed up slow inclines at the beginning of the range and entered a long, deep canyon whose cliff faces were marked with the darkness of cave mouths. Near the base of one sheer cliff, as if tossed there in prehistoric times as a mere shadow, was the small black mouth of an entrance that led to a long cave on one side which was found a tunnel dug for about 30 feet. At the end of the tunnel the two adventurers found a boulder that obviously had been rolled inside the tunnel from outside the cave and then set in place against the tunnel wall.

Brody realized what it was, but Masi had no idea, except it was a sign left her by Moses Denby.

When Brody, with some engineering with a heavy pole found outside, moved the boulder, another depression came visible. He lit a torch to get a better look, saw with deep surprise what some men have looked a lifetime for, a diagonal, downward sweeping streak in the wall of a gold strike, a shining strata of promised riches. The breath caught in his throat, and he pulled Masi close to him, his strong arms around her soft form. She kissed him as if she knew what he was about to say. She thought it would be together, get all the supplies you’ll need, hire me as your engineer, and open your own filthy rich mine. This might be the strike of strikes. All that has to be done is make sure the dam doesn’t get in the way of things.”

She kissed him again. Does that bother you?”

“Of course, the kiss does,” he smiled, and kissed her back, “but I have a problem with the dam. I signed a contract and it is bounden on me.”

“Would it bother you if someone other than you broke the binding of that contract?” She could still feel the sweet pressure of his arms around her, and the lingering tone of a promise that could hang all of it out to dry in the wind, and then get blown away plain as tumbleweed in the rush to nowhere.

“If someone up the chain of command, like at the top of the whole shooting match, was to break the contract, I’d follow that too, right to the break up.”

Masi settled into his arms and said, “I hope something like that happens for you.” She closed her eyes when she kissed again, thinking of his nearness and all the possibilities abroad in the land.

The official layout of the dam was finally drawn up after weeks of land and water flow measurement, all options regarded or disregarded after study, and the project presentation was ready for the top dogs, the big money from back east. Brody was confident the presentation would be okayed, and a whole range of thoughts hit him. Foremost was Masi and how she ended up if all of it went through. He was in his room of the hotel waiting for the big contact, who was Sir Arthur Trainor of the Allied Pacific and Atlantic Railroad and Utilities Company. Trainor was due in with his department heads … and his family, all going to wrap business and a vacation in the mix before they’d return to New York.

Trainor, as would be seen in a hurry, was a land-rich, silver spoon heir with more chance opportunities than expended effort, who came easily to his gains. He was also a bright man who had seen well beforehand the impact of railroads crossing the new country now moving explosively west quicker than the crown changed hands, or heads. With an alertness grown from observation and a certain feel for things mundane, like money, he had always made sweet gains.

Two stage coaches brought the parties into Wasahoa in the late afternoon, and dropped them off at Masi’s hotel, all rooms but Brody’s vacated for them. Trainor’s wife and two daughters were in one room, Trainor in a room by himself, and his party split out in the other rooms. Masi kept her eyes on all the members of Trainor’s entourage from her spot at the end of the bar, catering to Mrs. Trainor and her daughters as if she had been a maid in their home and was on vacation with them. Trainor, as late evening progressed, and his family retired to their room, found himself alone with Masi at the bar.

The attractive lady of the west intrigued him from the first sight, the way she carried herself, the imminent danger that lurked about her person, the live animal she portrayed, all grabbed Trainor by the lapels and hauled him in.

Masi, as planned, looked her very best, all dolled up in a dress that showed what might not be seen in another dress, and Trainor was all eyes for her somewhat subtle display. When Trainor mounted the stairs with her and went to his room, three employees stood outside the room in semi-darkness until they heard Masi say, in a louder voice than regular, “Well, now, look at this.”
They stepped into the room, saw Masi stripped of her dress, blood dripping from her nose, and Sir Arthur Trainor standing beside her, holding her by one arm.”

“What’s going on here, Masi?’ one of her employees said, “Are you okay, Masi? What’s this guy been doin’ to you?”

Trainor, old hand at situations, recognized everything at once. Looking over his shoulder to the next room where his family was quartered, he said, “All right, here. What’s the deal? What are you looking for? I can see with easy discernment that I am caught up in extenuating circumstances having a certain aroma hovering over them.” He looked at Masi, still nude ass ever, and said, “Is Brody a participant in this farce?”

Masi, flipping her dress back on her form, said, “Not in any way. He’s been working his butt off to get this damned dam built for you regardless of what I wanted, and I want him as much as anything. The dam is secondary. I never loved a man like him. As you can see, I’d do anything for him, but not let the dam get built. That would just spoil everything for us. He’s an honest man, the kind I haven’t met in a while, but we have other expectations.”

“Well,” Trainor said, ‘providing that my wife hears nothing about this and none of my associates, all sound asleep at this hour, I can guarantee the dam will not be built at Wasahoa.”

He winked at Masi and added, “You are a most attractive woman, and he’s a lucky man. But we weren’t going to erect any dam out here in the middle of nowhere. Not even in the first place. This was more a planned vacation than anything else. An inside request, if you know what I mean,” and he again looked over his shoulder at his family’s room.” What do you suggest my family ought to see tomorrow, what good sites in the area? Is there a cattle drive on the horizon? A duel between fast guns? “

“Not yet,” Masi said, “but I can arrange anything you want. Anything at all.”

Trainor, opening the door so they could leave, said, “I don’t doubt that one bit, my dear.”

He patted her on her backside as she left the room, her perfume hanging in the air, ripe as an adieu never to be forgotten.