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High Cotton by P J Dunn @pjdunn49

Several months after the club opening, one afternoon, Scooter left the front entrance to the club, and noticed two Negro men on the street corner, with a tin cup at their feet. The older of the two gentlemen, would watch people as they went by, and select someone. He would greet them and casually reach up toward their ear and produce a coin, as if taking it from their ear. This aroused the interest of those chosen and others passing by. The man then would perform other slight of hand moves that amazed the crowds gathered to watch. The man approached Scooter, shook his hand, and then offered to sell him a watch; Scooter’s own watch! The crowd laughed and Scooter was amazed. “What is your name, pal?” Scooter inquired. “The man replied to Scooter, “My name is B-roy.” “B-roy?” Scooter mused. “Yeah, you see, on the plantation in Charleston, they called me ‘boy’, but my little brother here, he don’t talk too plain and he stutters, and he called me ‘B-roy’ and it kinda stuck.” B-roy tried to explain. “Well, what is your brother’s name?” Scooter asked. “We call him BD.” B-roy said. “BD? Why BD?” Scooter said as he smiled, waiting for the reply. He thought this may be interesting. B-roy patted his brother on the shoulder and said, “BD stands for ‘brain dead’. You see, he ain’t quite right in the head.” Scooter and the others gathered around laughed heartily. BD laughed and shook his head too. The crowd started to move on and B-roy was concerned they didn’t leave much money.

 

Scooter saw B-roy as he looked into the tin cup, and BD picked it up and shook it. “Don’t worry about that B-roy,” Scooter said as he reached in his pocket, removed some money, and placed it in BD’s hand. BD excitedly put it into the tin cup. B-roy looked at Scooter with amazement. Scooter spoke up, “that should be enough to feed you two for a couple of days, and have a little left over. By the way, where do you two live?” B-roy hesitated, then replied, “We been sleeping in the alley beside the saloon up the street.” The same alley Scooter slept in when he was on the street. “Come with me,” Scooter said. He took B-roy and BD around to the side entrance to the apartment and told them the two rooms were theirs as long as they needed them. B-roy spoke up, “thank you Mr. Scooter, but we have to pay for our room, and we only need one. BD is scared to sleep by himself.” “I have jobs for both of you here at the club. B-roy you will be a magician, entertaining the folks, and BD, well, we’ll find something for him.”

 

Scooter and O’Hara began to work with B-roy on his magic performance, and surprisingly he had quite a repertoire of moves to amaze people. BD was learning to help Ella keep trash up at the bar.

 

The economy was booming in St. Louis in 1874. The railroad was expanding with the opening of the Eads Bridge across the Mississippi River, for both traffic and rail. The first train robbery by the James Gang took place at Gads Hill on January 31 and began the crime spree of the gang. The High Cotton Club was growing in popularity, so much so, that Sugar began to look for new ways to attract business. But it seemed no matter what he tried, the St. Louie saloon was struggling. A new club also had opened across the river, in East St. Louis.

 

October 4, 1874, the High Cotton Club had experienced the largest crowd ever, partly due to the entertainment of some special guests from Europe who were touring in the U.S. Lydia Thompson, and her troupe, known as ‘the British Blondes’, were a very popular traveling burlesque show, that drew large crowds of men and curious women. O’Hara, after seeing the troupe in Nashville, managed to book them to the High Cotton Club.

 

The new club , in East St. Louis, catered to a slightly different clientele, by offering much the same as the High Cotton and the Saloon, but also offered ‘burlesque’ style entertainment, and personalized services from the ladies in the club.

 

O’Hara was also looking to help Sugar with entertainment at the Saloon, and booked a very popular pantomime show to appear the week after the burlesque show. George Fox, produced and performed a show called ‘Humpty Dumpty’, which eventually became the most popular and the most successful pantomime show in the Americas.

 

With the performance of these two shows, the East St. Louis Club, known as Harley’s, saw its clientele begin to return to the High Cotton Club and the St. Louie Saloon. The owner of Harley’s, Edward Harley, had a few choice words for Sugar, Scooter, and especially O’Hara, vowing to close their businesses.

High Cotton

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Genre – Historical fiction

Rating – PG

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