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garden railways.. chap12
The ongoing Saga of the Toenail Ridge Shortline

Uploaded June 17,1998

Chapter 12
The Selbyville Hotel

Just about every community above a certain size has need of a residence for visitors and transient workers. In Selbyville this role was filled by the hotel which stood on the south-east side of Main Street, opposite the meeting hall and court house, and backing onto the Toenail Ridge trackage where the line swung towards the west to skirt the town.

The hotel played host to itinerant rail-yard workers, miners sleeping off their three-monthly visits to town, loggers waiting for equipment to arrive on the Shortline and a few permanent residents who had no family with whom to reside.

The owners of this important establishment were Lois and Richardo Lamborgino, who had moved to the valley from Texas, primarily so that he could evade poker debts.Main St. Lois Lamborgino was a striking woman, in fact she often struck Richardo when she found out that he had been gambling again.
For Richardo had a personal problem.
He was a deeply committed devotee and worshipper of Lady Luck, and She, like all omnipotent Gods, ignored him utterly and totally.

The day-to-day running of the establishment fell on the shoulders of Lois. She oversaw the housekeeping, the preparation of meals, the laundry, the collection of tariffs, the hiring and firing of staff.
She acted as hostess in the dining room and as receptionist in the foyer.

Richardo spent his days chatting over cigars with residents or trying to drum up a poker game at Chuck Parker's saloon.
But all of the regulars there had been on the receiving end of Lois' tongue when she had caught them indulging him in his gambling, and subsequently they refused to sit down with him even if he was just playing Solitaire.

But every now & again a stranger to the valley would accept an invitation from the tall bearded Richardo, and join him in a game or two, which would continue until one of the local kids, sent by the bartender, would fetch Lois from the hotel to fetch her recalcitrant husband.

Now, a woman who is constantly at loggerheads with her husband about his personal idiosyncracies and habits has a few options available to her, those options falling into two categories.

Category one: Accept him as he is, idiosyncracies,warts, flatulence and all, and any person who has ever had a wife is currently guffawing in his beer at the mere thought of his wife accepting him as he is.

Category two: Change him.

It is an amazing and oft-observed phenomenon that a wife will spend years training her partner in life to pick up after himself, put the toilet seat down, not pass gas in bed, help with the dishes instead of watching the football.... and then complain that he isn't the man she married!

But regardless of how often this phenomenon occurs, most every wife will give it her best shot, and Lois Lamborgino was no exception. For years she had nagged the unfortunate Richardo regarding his gambling addiction but to no avail.

Unlike most nasty habits, though, gambling hurts others as well as the addict and Lois had on more than one occasion had to think fast and act faster to prevent the loss of her family assets. This in fact had been the reason for the couple settling in the valley of the Toenail Ridge, it being considered the least likely place that the Texas Connection would seek them out.

But she was nearing the end of her tether.
Nagging hadn't worked.
Intimidation hadn't worked.
Physical emphasis behind the left earhole with a four by two had only dampened his ardour for the paste-boards for a couple of days until he could stand again.

One of the permanent residents of the hotel was New Jersey Jack Lazyacre, the Selbyville solicitor and (unbeknown to anyone in the town..) former professional gambler.

He had observed the tribulations to which Richardo regularly subjected that fine figure of a woman, Lois, and his heart was touched. Not with love or lust or concern at the position of another human being, but rather at the sniff of a hint of a chance of a possibility of making some extra money.

He had been reading lately in his Financial Times about a new development in parting the general populace from their hard-earned cash.

This was called Insurance.

Insurance had been practiced in the shipping industry for years, and in the transport of goods, but some bright person in some smokey backroom had come up with the idea of extracting premiums from the average householder and small businessman in exchange for a piece of paper, written by a lawyer, that assured the said premium payer that they stood a chance of receiving something back in the event that said premium payer had to claim for a mishap to the said premium-payer's personal normal habitation or possessions.

Like a lot of pieces of paper written by a lawyer, the main beneficiary of the terms written on the paper tend to be the person ordering the piece of paper and the lawyer writing the piece of paper.

Anything left over may in fact go to the other interested parties mentioned, although the chance of that is assured only if that other interested party (hereinafter called the other interested party) has also engaged a lawyer on their behalf.
This is not because the new lawyer is able to present a legal and rational reason for the first party to pay, but rather because lawyers like to keep other lawyers on their good side, you never know when the shoe might be on the other foot.
This is why the legal representatives of even the most viscious and mortal enemies refer to each other as 'my learned friend.'
This is based on the well-documented observation that if you are scratching someone's back they can't put a knife into yours.

Anyway, New Jersey Jack took the opportunity one morning, when Mac had left early to paint the school-house, and the other hotel guests were about their business, to mention to Lois that she had a sizeable asset in the hotel and had she taken any precautions to preserve it?

Well, trying to avoid talking about insurance to a lawyer or an insurance broker is like trying to be polite at the front door to un-invited purveyors of exclusive religious dogma.
The polite answer and non-commital reply just draws the conversation deeper into the direction that the unwilling participant doesn't want to go, and unless intervention in the form of a baseball bat is applied, the individual might as well save time and reach for the wallet or drop to their knees.

Thus it was with Lois.

She had pointed out to her the dangers of guests smoking in bed, wood stoves in the kitchen and parlour, the tarred shingles on the roof, the dry weatherboards lining the walls, the calico curtains, the......

Not to mention the possibility that one of the Toenail Ridge Shortline cars could derail and punch straight through where all her guests were just sitting down to dine. Or one of those mad miners from up in the hills could go berserk and trash the place.

Lazyacre didn't possess a real diploma in law but he was naturally so glib, so erudite, so convincing, such a liar, that he would have received an honorary Doctorate in Letters from any University in the world.

He took it upon himself to contact the Amalgamated, Consolidated Prudent Rock-solid Most-all-States Insurance Company of Moline, Illinois and had himself appointed an agent in good standing.

While waiting for their official company policy documents to arrive by US Mail on the Shortline, he printed off a few himself and signed Lois Lamborgino up with a policy that assured her of more dollars than she had heard of if, by terrible chance, the Selbyville Hotel burnt down.
Jack made a point of not including Richardo on the document and instructed his client not to mention the existence of said paper to her spouse.
He also told her that as her friend and guest, he would refrain from taking his usual agent's commission, but should the worst come to the worst, she may notice that 10% of her settlement was to be in his name in the unlikely event that her establishment caught alight.

Now it so happened that Richardo Lamborgino had been spending some time in the company of a fancy woman who originally hailed from Georgia, a real shady character called Frances.

Frances had drifted into the valley in company with an aspiring state politician on the campaign trail but they had parted ways soon after she found that it wasn't just political promises that he was unable to deliver.

She had stayed on, resident in the hotel, always dressed immaculately in the styles of years before, with billowing long dresses and corseted torso.

She insisted that people refer to her as Madam, although whether this was as a sign of gentility or a reminder of a past occupation is not known, although it had been observed that a number of the former seamstresses that Emmett Selby had brought in from Seattle would even curtsy when they passed her in the street.

She spent her days sewing or knitting on the balcony of the hotel overlooking Main St. or if the weather was inclement, occupying a straight-backed chair in the corner of the parlor.
When engaged in conversation she demonstrated herself to be an erudite and knowledgeable woman with strong opinions on politics, morals and sufragette issues.

Richardo had originally shared time with her out of politeness, but he had become beguiled by her world-wise opinions and forthright manner, with the result that soon he sought her out solely to share ideas and conversation with a fellow intellect.

Unfortunately this was in a time when women were on the whole regarded as not quite the intellectual equals of men, so the gossips soon had it around town that that immigrant from Texas was keeping time with that fancy woman from Georgia and right in the home of his wife, the poor dear!

And the gossip reached the ears of Lois, right about the same time that a final demand notice also landed on her writing bureau requesting re-imbursement for another of Richardo's little pecadillos.

It happened that there was a county fair in Rowel that week, on the Saturday, and everyone not bed-ridden had made the journey from Selbyville on the Toenail Ridge Shortline to join in the fun.
Mac had been proudly accompanied by Dora, Jack Lazyacre shared a smoke on the rear porch of the observation car with Michael Cotton, the flock of the Reverend Jeremiah Little had taken over one whole passenger car for their own, singing hymns and laughing in anticipation of the day's merriment.
Even Florence Golightly had taken Archie, in company with the Shay clan.

The town was deserted, even the firehouse stood un-attended.

And in the kitchen of the hotel, a quiet and surreptitious movement opened the damper on the big wood-fired stove, draped a dish towel next to the roaring fire on the grate, opened the kerosene jug that replenished the lamps, and splashed the cabinets and curtains liberally with its contents.

Then fled.

Over in Rowell the fair was in full swing.

Mac and Dora were acting like a couple of school-kids on the swings and the roundabout, the schoolkids were acting like adults, sneaking cigarettes behind the tents, the parents were indulging the little ones in too many candy apples and floss so that they would be sick all over the upholstery of the train on the way home.

Cotton was judging vegetable entries in the produce tent, casting his critical eye over the entries by the hard-working dirt-farmers of the valley.
His children, with their mother, were inspecting macinery and cakes, studiously avoiding the fun parts of the fun-fair.

In the hospitality tent Chuck Parker, in league with George Schrieker, one of the barkeeps from Rowell, was pouring beer into mugs as fast as he could tap the barrels.
The men-folk of the region, this being one of the few times yearly when they could all get together to swap lies, were doing their part in improving the output requirements of the local brewery and exchanging pleasantries and greetings.

Amonst their number was Richardo Lamborgino, waiting to meet his wife Lois who said she would be late as she had to stop by to visit with some eldery folks before she arrived at the fair.

He had spent a pleasant hour on the train in the company of Frances, talking about the state of the state economy and what that fool was doing over in Eastern Europe and whether the President had any brains at all, and remained blissfully unaware that as he leaned towards Frances to make a point or hear a response, the other denizens of the passenger car added another pecadillo to his score.

He hadn't noticed where Lois had seated herself on the train, assuming if he had thought of it at all that she was in the company of hotel staff who all had the day off to attend the fair.

One of the standing crowd in the beer tent was a burly, brusk and cigar-smoking man by the name of Bert Bass.
He was the leader of the informal and strictly voluntary Selbyville Fire Department. They had, with their own labor, erected an imposing little fire-station, in fact sited just next door to the hotel. It was painted red and bore in a small tower on its roof a brass bell, salvaged from the pile of old railroad parts out the back of the Selbyville yards. Inside the fire-house was the old hand-pump on its cart, kindly donated by the management of the Toenail Ridge Shortline, and the volunteers trained weekly until they were able to respond to a practice bell in a matter of minutes.

If they were in town to hear it.

Woody and Ken had the task that day of trundelling reefers to the cheese factory in Selbyville, stoking old No.9 from Rowell with its consist.
Schedules had been a bit awry that day, due to the Extras that were servicing the county fair.

They had had advance warning from Lois Lamborgino the previous week that the hotel would not be able to supply them with their beans that Saturday lunchtime, due to all the staff being in Rowell, so both of them had brought from home a meal packed in a lunch pail and accompanied by a coffee pot heating on a shovel full of hot coals from the firebox.

The train rounded the curve running beside the rise behind Main St. and the little town came into view.
With a road-crossing ahead, Woody didn't spare more than a glance towards town but Ken, taking a momentary breather from shovelling coal into the maw of the fire-box, leaned back against the brake-staff, removed his cap, wiped his brow with his red spotted kerchief, and saw the flames billowing from the upstairs windows of the Selbyville hotel.

Well, by the time that word got through to the county fair in Rowell about the fate of the hotel, especially since no-one was available to fight the fire, Richardo Lamborgino was well in his cups.

In a hazy way he understood the news and asked all of his acquaitances there to find Lois, as she would know what to do.
The men in the beer tent scattered to the four winds, delegating their kids to search, finding their wives, passing on the calamity.

Like all stories of disaster, what started out as the hotel burning down soon reached a stage where the whole county was in conflagration and great was the lamenting of women and children, not to mention their stoic husbands, as they rode back to the utterly destroyed ashes which was all that remained of their town.

And of course, it wasn't.

Certainly the hotel would never again ring to laughter in its front parlor or shake to the raised voice of its Mistress berating her husband, but the rest of the little town stood unscathed.

Richardo was at a loss as to the whereabouts of Lois, but a search of the ashes showed no signs of a body, and plenty of people said that they had seen her in Rowel.

What they didn't say was that they had seen her at the Rowel railroad station.

For Lois, claim form in hand, valise packed, was en-route to Portland on the Portland & Great Eastern, prepared to start a new life in the freshly opened territory of Alaska.

New Jersey Jack was back in town, with nowhere to live, of course, but content in the knowledge that his 10% would probably secure him a nice little cottage somewhere in the area.

Unfortunately, he'd have to buy another portable printing press.

That shady lady Frances took the loss of her possessions very hard. She wailed and carried on until the locals took up a collection for her, enabling her to replace some of her accoutrements, and very soon after that she left the area, moving to Washington D.C. where she subsequently became a professional lobbyist for the women's equality movement.

Richardo was left penniless, wifeless and clueless.
However, having lost his Lois, he had also lost his curb and took to poker with a vengeance.
Not content with just losing money to the local inhabitants of the valley, he travelled further and further afield, winning some, losing some, until word reach the Texas Connection that he had resurfaced.

His current location and condition is unknown.

Chapter 13! The Law must be Enforced!

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