Tumbleweeds rolled lazily across the plain as hooves beat a dusty path towards the hazy horizon. The morning sun kindled a coral flame that crept up the barn walls, settling in a halo over the main road then breaking into a golden blaze with the first crowing of a rooster. Three horses reigned to a restless halt, panting and snorting as the lead rider reached up to wipe the dust from the rim of her hat. She glanced at the wooden sign stuck into the dry earth. MGTOWN. Population 421.
“Second road to the left and straight on till morning.” Wisps of blond hair rustled in the warm breeze as Liz smiled at her companions. “Looks like we made it, girls.” Mel and Raven shifted uncomfortably in their saddles. Mel fluffed up her sweat soaked bangs and shaded her puffy eyes, gauging the remaining distance between her and a bath.
“I’m sure I’ve got a rash,” Raven complained. “Do we even know what kind of bushes we rode through? I heard lyme disease is a problem this year. I think I got a mosquito bite about an hour ago.” She shoved her hand under the layers of travel duds to scratch at her upper arm.
“I think I got a blister from these boots,” Mel sighed as she glanced back at the bulging saddlebags behind her. “And I can’t remember where I put my sunscreen, can I borrow yours, Liz?” Liz whipped her 85 UV blocker out of the holster on her hip belt and tossed it over.
“We don’t want to linger, there’s a probably a woman being raped right now in this two-bit town and she needs our help.” Liz held her hand out for the bottle of sunscreen, misted her own face with a quick spray then shoved it back in her holster with a twirl. She dug her heels in and the bloated gelding beneath her snorted then jumped into a trot.
Inside the Sheriff’s office, Joe Goodman watched his morning coffee drizzle its way into the carafe. He’d often wondered which he liked more, the happy gurgling noises of the machine or the smell of java as it wafted from the counter to fill the room. He kicked his feet up on the desk and leaned back in a lazy stretch. Except for the fundraiser being held that afternoon, his calendar was clear for the day and chances looked good that he’d be able to finish reading his novel. His well-trained ear picked up the approaching patter of horses in the distance. Deciding it was the delivery of whisky arriving for the saloon, Joe rose from his desk, sloshed some fresh brew into his mug and sauntered out onto the veranda.
The three feminists jostled in their saddles as they rode into town. Leading the trio, Liz’s ice blue eyes darted from side to side, sneering at the lack of imagination in the paint colours of the houses. She pulled her horse up a few feet from Joe’s doorstep and sniffed down in disdain at his amused, raised eyebrow. They stared at each other for a moment before he took a sip from his mug and turned back inside.
“Are you the Sheriff around these parts?” Liz’s shrill voice made him wince and Joe slowly swiveled in the doorway, glancing up at the clearly marked sign above his head. Liz shifted in her saddle to dismount. “Well, I need a word with you. Come here and help me down.” Joe took another sip.
“Nope. Don’t think I will.” He shook his head as Liz, Mel, and Raven fumbled about with stiff behinds in their expensive chaps layered over designer jeans that, for Raven, fit a little too tight because she hadn’t wanted to admit her true waist size. Mel cursed as her belt caught on a saddlebag and she clung desperately to her gelding’s neck to avoid falling while Raven hobbled over to unhook her. The horses skittered about until Liz managed to tether them to the hitching post. They collected themselves into a solid line with hands on hips, meaning business. Joe took another sip of his coffee then went back inside. Liz elbowed Mel to grab a binder out of one of the bags and waited impatiently with her hand held out. Brushing the dust from her jacket, she stomped into the Sheriff’s office with her cohorts in tow.
Joe was just putting his feet up again when Liz slammed the binder down on his desk.
“What’s that?” He had a sinking feeling that he wasn’t going to finish his novel.
“That is the damning evidence of your shoddy rape conviction record!” Liz glared at him accusingly.
“I’d imagine it is pretty shoddy, since I’ve never raped anyone. Just hasn’t made it on my ‘to do’ list.” He rested his cowboy boots on the binder and started rolling a cigarette. Liz grabbed the book from under his feet and opened it up to show him a chart. Joe rolled his eyes and squinted at the page as she jabbed a manicured finger at the bolded number circled in red.
“Don’t get smart with me, mister! Did you know that one woman in four suffers from rape and you only had one conviction in Mgtown over the entire last year? ” Liz took off her wide brim hat, shook out her blond locks and threw her hat on his desk in disgust.
Joe put his feet back on the ground, leaned over and flicked her hat onto the floor with the back of his hand. “Who are you clowns? And what will make you go away?”
“You can’t intimidate me, Buster! I chew up rape apologists like you for a living and you’re about to hit my dinner plate.” Liz grabbed her hat from the floor, snarled at the dirt that clung to it, and deftly snapped her binder shut with the other hand. Mel and Raven smiled gleefully in the background. “I want a list with all the names and addresses of the women in this district, I want safe space granted for my interviews, and I want three rooms with running water and a private bath for me and my associates. We’re not leaving here until we get to the bottom of this.” She tossed a business card at Joe’s head and he caught it mid-air.
Liz Fudd, President, Centre for Women’s Advocacy and Protection (CWAP)
“Look here, Ms. Fudd of CWAP, I haven’t let a woman tell me what to do in twenty-five years and I’m not about to start now. We’ve only had one rape in this town and it was a traveller that done it. As a result, we don’t take kindly to strangers so I suggest you turn yourselves around, get back on your neutered horses and ride your diva asses back out of town.” Joe stood up and refilled his coffee mug hoping he’d get a chance to actually enjoy the second cup. Mel shuffled out of his way with a limp. She should have picked boots with a softer leather. Raven was looking nervously at Liz, there was no way she was getting back on a horse until her rash had settled down. Surely they couldn’t make her do it.
Liz nodded reassuringly at her sidekicks. “You are a public servant and I represent the public. I’ve got legal documents here and a mandate to monitor every county until the number of men in jail matches the number of crimes against women!” She waved her binder in the air. Joe put his cup down and strode over to grab the book from her hand. He flipped through the pages and chuckled.
“Justice for wives? We don’t have wives, in Mgtown. And these aren’t legal documents. You wrote them yourself. It’s just CWAP.” He handed it back to Liz dismissively.
“These CWAP documents have just become law in this state. There’s a new sheriff in town, buddy boy.” Liz donned a smug grin and turned on her heel. Mel and Raven fell in behind her and they made their exit. She called back over her shoulder, “Feed our horses and bring me my list. I’ll be in the pub in two hours.”
They grabbed their luggage and headed for the nearest inn.
Closed signs whizzed down over store front windows as the women passed. Liz narrowed her eyes. “Looks like a town that’s got something to hide.” Raven had other things on her mind as she juggled Liz’s bags with her own while trying to dig out some baby powder. Liz whapped her on the back. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, girls.”
Three feminists walked into a saloon. The barkeep looked up. “Wine?” A finger was jabbed at his face.
“You sexist bastard! I haven’t even started talking yet.”
The barkeep raised his palms in the air, slid a full bottle and some glasses down the bar then moved as far away as possible. Liz surveyed the saloon and decided to claim a table in the corner for their interviews. Mel carried their beverages over while Raven squirmed at the idea of sitting and excused herself to find the ladies’ room. Liz chose a seat facing the door and started pulling out her questionnaires.
“No time to waste. A woman gets raped every 2 minutes and we’ve already been here for three hours.” Liz arranged her paperwork and looked for a pen.
As Raven returned to join her comrades, a group of ten women threw open the saloon doors and stormed in.
“Where are they?” A robust woman with cropped hair followed the barkeep’s pointed finger to Liz’s group in the corner. The townswomen, varying in size and shape but not in their anger, closed the distance quickly. Liz’s plastic smile quivered for a moment.
“Good afternoon, ladies. My colleagues and I are here to help you.” Liz straightened a paper stack in front of her on the table.
“Then fuck off. We don’t need you, we don’t want you, and you can pack your lies up to peddle your poison somewhere else.” A redhead in Doc Martins dutifully documented events on her camcorder.
“I understand your anger,” Liz calmly replied, “at least two of your group have probably been raped and never had closure.” She picked up a survey and held it out to a brunette who glared and snatched it from her hand.
“Bullshit.” Reading from the paper, the brunette laughed. “Have you ever been looked at in a way that made you sexually uncomfortable?”
“Yes,” Liz nodded, “you can be raped by someone’s eyes. And there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop it. Eye rape is real.” The ten women fell silent and stood staring at the CWAP table in disbelief. Liz felt a small victory. “That’s right, ladies, the men of this town may be raping you every day and you don’t even know it.”
The saloon doors were flung open as Liz was carried out over a shoulder with her buddies close behind. Her legs kicked as the townswomen transported her back to the hitching post. They strapped the saddlebags back onto the horses, shoved her papers into a side pocket and dumped her at the foot of the watering trough.
Joe sauntered out from his office with his novel in hand and chuckled as Liz sputtered and tried to regain her footing. “I see you’ve met some of our women folk,” he quipped. “How are the interviews going?”
Liz waved a fist in the air. She pulled her business cards out and started shoving them in nearby faces. “I’m a professional, damn you! Damn you all to hell!!”
Joe lifted up his cell phone. “There’s about 45 women in Mgtown. Would you like to meet them all at once?” Liz shot him a look intended to kill but the target was impervious. He smiled, “I’m not hearing an enthusiastic ‘yes’ so I’ll take that as a no.” He tucked his cell phone back in his pocket, cracked open his book again, and headed back inside. The last chapter was getting really interesting.
As the three visitors eased their asses back on their mounts, Joe waved to them from the doorway. “You can update your statistics when you get back. Our conviction rate is 1 for 1. That’s 100%”
“That’s impossible!” Liz retorted.
“It’s quite easy, actually. You just have to have a town that ain’t full of liars and leeches.” He tipped his hat as Liz slumped in her saddle and the three feminists rode off into the sunset.