Everywhere she goes, there’s the drumbeat of persistent, mocking laughter. “Well, shoot,” she says, pounding her whiskey-and-sasparilla at the otherwise empty bar. “If this don’t beat all.”

(HA HO HAR HAR HO,) roars the crowd. She whips around, reaching for her pistol, but there’s no one there, just Francis over in the corner, polishing brass ahead of the evening crowd. “Ya hear that, Francis?” (HAR HAR HA HA HO)

“I don’t hear nothin’, Calam’. You feelin’ okay?”

She pauses; silence. “Must be the heat, I reckon. Got a little sunmazed on that last stage run, mebbe.” (HO HO HA HA HEE)

She twitches, and Francis comes over worriedly. Francis’s a fussbudget, a real mother hen, and twitchy himself ever since that first drag act went over like a lead balloon. The town’s warmed to him, since, and the act’s gotten better now that he’s got more’n five minutes to prepare, but the twitch never really went away.

“Ya oughta lie down, if’n you’re feelin’ poorly. Go back to the dressing rooms and I’ll have Kate bring you in a sandwich or somethin’ in a bit. What you need is a woman’s touch.”

She opens her mouth to thank him, then closes it, whipsaws her eyes around, wary as a skunk in coyote country. She nods instead and squeezes his shoulder gratefully. She turns to leave and—(HEE HEE HAR DE HAR HOO HOO)—she grits her teeth and squares her shoulders and walks out, seven vipers and hardened steel in a buckskin suit.