EDWARD ROYSTON Nightingale Pennelegion-Oldershaw had only stopped by to inquire as to why the whorehouse wasn’t decorated for Christmas. If there were two things he loved, they were Christmas and… well….

But the madam, Miss Nelly Birtbaum, had other ideas.

The brothel manager, a striking middle-aged woman whose sunrise-on-snow complexion and cool blonde locks had resisted the Southwestern elements remarkably, arranged her voluminous satin skirts as she perched on the edge of a velvet settee, picked up a paper fan, and launched into a tirade.

“An armadillo fell into the well again. I sent that worthless boy you hired to fish it out, but do you think he could manage? Do you think he could, Your Worship?”

Edward paused at the sideboard next to the piano, his hand resting on a bottle of Kentucky bourbon. “I feel, Miss Birtbaum, that I’m safe in my prediction that young Davon’s performance was once again a disappointment.”

“You’ve got that right! Do you have any idea what a dead armadillo boiling in hundred-degree water smells like?”

“I shudder to think. I’ll get one of the celestials to take care of it.” Edward poured his drink and took a seat on one section of the lurid round sofa. “Now, about the holiday decorations—”

“Something has to be done about this heat! Never in all my years have I seen anything like it! It’s bad for business. Especially with this god-awful drought on top of it. My boys and girls barely have enough drinking water, let alone any left over to wash. Now use your imagination, Mayor. Do you suppose not being able to wash regular adds to a whore’s appeal?”

Edward took a deep drink of his bourbon, but amidst the stifling heat that had descended over his town right after Día de Muertos, its burning path to his belly barely registered. Miss Birtbaum wasn’t wrong about that; his Parisian shirt and gold brocade waistcoat were soaked through. Still….

“My good woman, I can hardly control the weather.”

The madam used a silk handkerchief to dab the sweat from her face and décolletage. “If someone don’t do something, it’ll be the end for this town. The ranchers can’t keep their cattle alive. Nobody gets off the train to enjoy the many pleasures we’re so famous for or to trade in goods hard to get anywhere else. Lots of folks are talking about moving on to California. Even Texas. If something doesn’t give, won’t be nothing left out here but a scorch mark across the desert. You mark my words. Seeing as how you’re its founder and mayor, it best be you.”