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   Joanie remembered little of her early life, only that it had been a hard one, hand to mouth, hard scrabble, existence. Mostly she suspected she remembered so little because it was too painful.

She wasn't even for sure if she had been born here in Raven's Bluff, a wild rowdy bit of a town, almost at the back of nowhere, much like any border town, on any other outback planet, like Concord Prime. There were few laws and what lawmen there were crooked as snakes, like the pitchbellied sidewinder, and twice as ornery.

She was sure, couldn't be sure for she hadn't been there, that other places were more civilized, more rarified, than here. She had never even been to Concord, the captital city of Concord Prime, though she heard plenty and she wasn't wanting to any time soon, thank you ver much. Too big and some said, even rowdier than Raven's Bluff, though she didn't see how that was possible.

What she did remember was being on the streets; she must have been something like nine or ten, trying to make it from one day to the next. She soon learned all the back alleys, the best places to scavenge food, and places one could take a leak without being shot or raped. More importantly, she had learned how to survive.

She reckoned, though, she just might not have made it if it hadn't been for Miss Sary. Miss Saryjane, she called herself. At first, it was just a bit of bread and such left on the stoop, for Joanie had been as skittish as a whipped pup, but a lot easier to tame. For as time went on, Miss Saryjane took Joanie into her home, such as it was, along with the ragtag group of three young girls, who were with her. Joanie had been their leader, she remembered, their mother hen, who kept them together, through thick and thin. Even after moving in with Miss Saryjane, the other girls would look to Joanie first to see if they should do something. Though they had soon learned not to be quite so skittish about every jumping horny toad.

Joanie still didn't see how she did it, but she blessed her every day for doing it. Just look at her now. Owner of her own place; so, Zeb claimed to be part owner. Just good policy, she figured on her part. Zeb's share was litle enough, and he did manage the gambling side of it. She took care of managing the girls. It was also left up to her to be taking care of all business details, accounting and such, for that was nuther thing that Miss Saryjane was responsible for blessing her with; she taught her to read and write. A pure blessing being she was running this place.

The thing was, life was like that, hard and gritty, and it didn't get any easier. She had learned that fact for certain. The daily grind of every day life had ground it into her, even though she knew for a fact she had it much better than many did.

She didn't deny that, and she used it to help her girls who worked for her as much as she could. Much the same way that Miss Saryjane had done for her and her first three girls, two of whom were still with her. Course there were always some who couldn't or wouldn't take advantage of what meager help she could give them, but wasn't much she could do about that, except be there for them.

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