It’s not everyday that the passengers of a stagecoach in the Old West see a naked man hiding behind a rock. But the motley group of people on a stage bound for Uvalde, Texas, stop and question Finnegan McCall, naked as the day of his birth. He says he is the new manager at the bank in town and a thief stole all his clothes.
But if Finnegan McCall is telling the truth, then who is the stranger at the bank claiming he is the new bank manager? And why is this stranger asking the assistant manager to open the safe?
Stagecoach driver Henry Price yanked the reigns of the horse team when he realized the man standing next to the road was stark naked. The man had hid himself behind a large rock and Price almost missed seeing him, but the paleness of the man’s body shone like a beacon in the midday sun.
Price called for a halt. The horses obeyed. The passengers in the stage began to grumble. Dust motes caught in the stage’s tailwind curled around everything.
There was a moment when Price thought about going for his weapon. The shotgun was shucked inside a leather holster on the ledge in front of him within easy reach if outlaws tried to hold up the stage. But this man was as naked as Adam. Both hands were visible. The man’s bare backend proved he wore no gun. Price relaxed.
“Tarnation, mister. Where are your clothes?”
That got the attention of the folks inside the stage. Winston Dennigan, the cattle baron, traveling back to Stonewall, Texas, peered out the window. Jim Stanley, a haberdasher, called up a question to Price. Lilly Bowman, stocky, blonde, and without a husband, opened the door and stepped out. “I want to see this.” She wobbled on legs too long in the stage and looked up at Price. “Where’s the naked man?”
Price pointed to the rock they had passed.
Lilly turned and tried to spy the man who had stopped the stage. She patted her sweaty face with a cloth. “I don’t see him.”
“I’m here,” a voice behind the rock said. “I’m just trying to spare whatever dignity I still have.”
“Why’re you out here in the nude?” Lilly said. She moved closer to the rock and chose a side. She waited for the man to begin speaking.
“I was taking a bath in the river,” the man began, “and I…hey!”
The naked man scurried around the rock to avoid the prying eyes of Lilly who had snuck to the back to catch a glimpse of naked man-flesh. He avoided her eyes but exposed himself to everyone else. He held a small branch of leaves over his privates but his pale rump glared in the sunlight.
“Where’d you go?” Lilly said from behind the rock. “Come back here. I ain’t seen a naked man in a long, long time.”
Dennigan leaned over to Stanley. “I don’t believe she’s ever seen a man as God made him. You?”
Stanley just shook his head.
“Ma’am,” the nude stranger said, “I beg of you. Have some decency.” One hand held the branch. The other, with fingers splayed, covered his butt. He backed away and leaned up against the rock. “I need help.”
“I can help,” Lilly said. She had come around the rock and stood next to the man. She leaned on an elbow and gave the stranger a long look up and down.
“Mister,” Price said. Ostensibly he was in charge, since he was the stage driver. His passengers were his responsibility, and the Pine Cove Stage Company prided itself on an excellent record of avoiding any hold-ups or Indian attacks. No record existed on meeting naked people in the wild. “How’d you come to be in your unique predicament?”
The man, tall, clean shaven, with tousled brown hair, bowed at the neck. “Thank you, sir.” He warily eyed Lilly out of the corner of his eye. He adjusted the angle of the branch to better hide himself.
“My name is Finnegan McCall.” He didn’t have a trace of an Irish accent. “I was traveling by horse to Uvalde. I was road dusty and weary so I thought it a good idea to clean myself up before I arrived in town. First impressions and all. I hitched up my horse, a beautiful gray beast I call Molly, and went down to the river. Which one is this?”
“The Frio,” Price said.
“Ah, yes, the Frio. Explains why it’s so cold. I wanted to get good and clean and, with no one coming around here, I thought it a good idea to, um, make all parts available for cleaning by bathing in the nude.”
Lilly whistled softly. She continued to mop her brow.
Stanley said, “Didn’ja figure someone might come along?”
McCall bowed again. “Quite right, sir. But no, I thought I’d have more than enough time to bath and redress before anyone saw me. I even had my undergarments in case someone did stumble upon me.”
“So what happened?” Dennigan asked. He lit a cigarette.
McCall gave a sheepish grin and a shrug. “The water felt so good, so refreshing that I kept swimming. I swam across the river and back. It so invigorated me that I did it three more times. It’s not far to the other side, maybe about fifty feet. By the time I done that, I felt great. I got out of the water, went to the branch that held my undergarments. They were nowhere to be found.”
He paused in his story. His hair, soft and billowy without any pomade in it, wafted in the fair breeze. He switched the branch to his other hand. Lilly craned her neck to get a better look.
“What business do you have in Uvalde?” Price asked.
McCall snapped his fingers. “My apologies gentlemen. And lady. I am the new bank manager at the Farmer’s Mercantile Bank. The home office down in San Antonio sent me up here to replace”—he thought a moment, trying to remember the name—“Elmer Curtis, I believe.”
Stanley looked to Dennigan. “How long’s it been since Elmer passed?”
“A week.” To McCall, Dennigan said, “I’m guessing your credentials are in your saddle bag.”
“Undoubtedly, assuming the bandit didn’t throw them away. I would be much obliged if I could get a ride into town and see if we can’t solve this little conundrum.”
“There’s another conundrum you haven’t accounted for,” Price said. “You’re nude.”
McCall cleared his throat and craned his neck to see where Lilly was. Somehow, she had inched herself closer to him. “Of course.” He took in the features of each man. Stanley was short, probably at least four inches under McCall’s six-foot frame. Dennigan was about the same height and build. “Do you have any extra clothes I might wear into town?”
Dennigan shook no. “I woke up this morning in my own bed and I’ll be sleeping in it tonight. Didn’t need to carry extra clothes.”
Price still sat atop the stage. McCall couldn’t gauge his stature. “How about you?”
The driver slightly chuckled. “I’m in the same boat as Mr. Dennigan.”
From McCall’s left, Lilly edged closer another inch or two. “I’m returning from a week down in San Antonio to visit my sister.” She used her head to indicate the bag on top of the coach. “I’ve got something you could wear.”
McCall gulped. She was a tall woman, nearly as tall as he. “Please tell me you packed something other than dresses.”
The grin on her face widened, looking like a cat after eating a chicken. She merely shook her head.
The men started to laugh. Price stood and unfastened Lilly’s travel bag. “It beats arriving in the suit God gave you at birth.”
Lilly trotted over and retrieved her bag. She opened it, rummaged around, and pulled out a long dress. It was red and white striped. It more closely resembled a table cloth than a dress. She walked back over to McCall and extended her arm with the dress.
He reached for it but she pulled it back. “Since this is an exchange, I’d like a little something in return.”
McCall dreaded the answer. “Madam, I am hardly in a position to offer anything.”
She arched an eyebrow. “Not entirely true.”
“Once I get into town and hopefully recover my clothes and belongings, I will gladly pay you.”
“I don’t want money.”
“Well, what do you want?”
No one spoke for a moment. The silence was broken by Stanley spitting on the ground. “That’s a fair trade, mister. Hurry it up so we can get back home.”
McCall nodded. “But later. Only after I am fully restored in my own clothes.”
“Deal.” She held out the dress again.
McCall snatched it with his free hand. He edged along the rock, making sure his backside wasn’t exposed. “And you stay here,” he told her, “while I change.”
He vanished behind the rock. He dropped the branch and held out the dress to verify the front. He shimmied into the garment, straightened out the sleeves, and looked at himself. Thankfully, the dress extended to the ground. He sighed.
Walking around the rock, the three men guffawed heavily when they caught sight of him. He shrugged, resigned to his fate. Lilly caught his hand and escorted him to the stage. “You can sit next to me.”
McCall followed, gingerly walking on bare tiptoes. He tried to climb the steps into the stage but couldn’t manage.
“You’ll have to hike up the dress,” Dennigan said. That brought fresh peals of laughter from the men.
McCall stepped back and turned to Lilly. “Madam, if you please, show me how it’s done.”
Lilly stepped forward, grabbed handfuls of cloth and pulled up nearly to her knees. She stepped inside and sat. She patted the place next to her.
McCall, awkward movements and all, mimicked her actions. He climbed aboard the stage and joined her on the seat. She was uncomfortably close.
The other passengers returned to the stage and Price whistled to the team to start up again.