The Penitent

(An ATC to "Perce," episode one, season seven)

Ida Poe had done a very bad thing.

Of course, she realized it on her own, but not until the Marshal had glared at her and told her that she was the one responsible for Perce McCall's death, did it sink in.

That big, righteous Marshal, kneeling over Perce's body, had actually told her that SHE had just as well loaded the killing bullet into his gun!

Ida did regret that handsome, romantic Perce was dead, but more so that he had shot and killed her "Sugar Daddy" Hank Seeber before getting shot himself by the Marshal. She would miss rich cattleman Hank's money more than the man. Unlike Perce, Hank was middle-aged, plain looking, and had a bulging stomach that he hid under the long suit coats he always wore. But he had been very generous in buying Ida dresses and jewelry, and she had planned on getting much more.

She felt that she ought to behave as if she were remorseful and penitent, but wasn't sure how to do so. Ida had a pretty tough hide at age thirty three, having been a saloon girl for thirteen years now. Being a saloon girl naturally made a woman become a good actress in order to survive. Wearing your true feelings on your face was a sure way to be hurt and misused by the variety of leering, rowdy men encountered.

Even so, Ida was aware of the cold, appraising looks she had been getting all over town since Hank and Perce had died. The eyes of Marshal Dillon and her employer, Kitty Russell, were particularly cold and piercing. The false smile she put on coming down from her room above the saloon was starting to make her face ache.

Ida was also a strong-willed woman, and was determined to atone in the eyes of the town by purposely choosing to sit now with the poorest cowboys and farmers in the saloon. She would show all of those judgmental people looking down their noses at her! Ida would be as humble as possible, but it pained her to earn so little without Hank's money to make it all worthwhile.

A dark-haired beauty, Ida often thought of the first words poor Perce had said to her. The good-looking young cowboy had seen her on the sidewalk, hurried over, and removed his hat.

"Morning, Miss. My name is Perce McCall, and I just want to say that you're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen in my life."

Ida was used to flattery from men trying to get what they wanted, but Perce had seemed so serious and sincere. She had responded to and even encouraged his pleasurable kisses and attention. It was just too darn bad that he was so poor and an ex-convict with difficulty getting a good job.

She couldn't say he didn't try. When his gambling attempts brought in insufficient money to please Ida, he tried honest hard work in the stock pens until Ida saw him and sneered in distain at his filthiness. He tried gambling again and lost all of his money because he refused to cheat. Ida had told Perce that if he would get enough money, she would go away with him to anywhere he wanted.

While Perce was out of town desperately looking for some way to earn money to please his obsession with Ida, a stage was robbed, with no money taken but a man wounded. Being an ex-convict and ex-stage robber, Perce was unknowingly blamed.

Coming back from the fruitless money making trip, he went into the Long Branch and saw beautiful Ida sitting with Hank, laughing and playing up to him, stroking his arm. Perce, frustrated and discouraged, tried to ignore them. The rich man couldn't let him alone, and came over to the bar where Perce was, loudly accusing him of robbing the stage.

Perce gritted his teeth and turned to leave, trying to avoid trouble.

"You keep away from Ida! You're a coward! You're a coward, McCall, and a thief! I ought to kill you right now!" Hank taunted in a voice that carried through the saloon crowd.

His brittle resolve snapped, and the maddened young man whirled around, pulled his gun and shot his surprised harasser in a burst of jealousy. Too late he saw the holstered gun on the dead man's hip.

Knowing he was now a murderer, and hanged or not, would have to spend time in jail again, Perce sat down outside the Dodge House to wait for the Marshal to ride back into town.

A little over a week ago, when Perce and the Marshal had met out in the prairie, Perce had helped save Matt's life when three wanted men had tried to gun him down. Without Perce's intervention, the Marshal would most likely have been shot, and possibly killed. Even before the shootout, the two men had taken to each other and become unlikely friends.

When Matt approached Perce, and tried to get him to surrender his gun, promising him a fair trial, the distraught young man saw nothing but a hanging after more unbearable jail time.

"Perce, why didn't you run, ride away somewhere?!" The Marshal was aching at the thought of having to imprison this good man whose life had been twisted and ruined by the greedy saloon girl.

"Matt, I couldn't run from you. And it would just prolong the inevitable shootout in the prairie dirt somewhere." Perce sighed resignedly, as he stood up and readied to draw, forcing his friend to also draw, knowing he would lose.

After the Marshal had to shoot and kill Perce, and was still kneeling down after comforting the dying man, he had looked up to see Ida Poe.

"I didn't mean for it to end like this." Ida's face was twisted with distress, when the Marshal's cold blue eyes met her dark ones.

"As far as I'm concerned, you loaded the gun that killed him! Now you can live with that the rest of your life!" His deep voice seethed with distain at the utter waste.