November 8, 1887: Glenwood Springs, Colorado – Wyatt
The enigmatic gambler and gunman had saved his life so many times – and then, with his dying words, he saved his life again. Doc had asked him to move on – to find Josephine and live a full and long life – for him. Wyatt intended to honor that wish even though, having faced death so often, he’d been paralyzed by a fear of life – or was it more than that?
A brunette woman of exotic beauty walked up to his table. She was dressed in funereal black, a drastic change from her habit of wearing scandalous shades of red. The bottle of whiskey in her hand was a common and almost comforting sight.
“Have another?” she asked.
The few other men in the saloon who bothered to watch them probably thought she was a prostitute moving in on her first mark of the day. None of them knew the history between them.
“Thanks,” he muttered. “Have a seat, Kate.”
She sat beside him and poured the liquor into his glass as she’d so often done for Doc. When Wyatt immediately tossed it back, she filled the glass again.
“Where will you go?” Kate whispered.
“I don’t know. I may stay here.” She reached into a pocket in her skirts and pulled out a small engraved silver stirrup cup. Acknowledging Wyatt’s stare, she said, “I told them I was his wife, and they gave me his effects. The rest is in my room. I thought –” She paused, her dark eyes full of regret. “I think he’d want you to have the guns.”
Wyatt paled at the thought of it. “You may need them … a woman alone…”
“I have my Derringer and his knife. Please, Wyatt – he’d have wanted it that way.” Swallowing, he nodded. Kate smiled at him gently. “Did he ever tell you how we met?” Wyatt shook his head. “It was at Shanssey’s, in Fort Griffin, Texas. The Bee Hive, you remember? He said he met you there, too.”
“I’d love to hear about it,” he answered, curious about times and events in Doc’s life that he’d never spoken of.
“If you tell your story after,” she said with a smile. Her exotic Hungarian accent still sounded like honey.
She told him how she’d met Doc, and then he shared his tale. Kate watched him as he spoke and when he finished they both fell silent, lost in their memories of a very unique man.
November 1877: Fort Griffin / the Flat, Texas – Kate
“Ed Bailey’s a man accustomed to having his way and no questions asked,” John Shanssey told her gravely. “You don’t want to make an enemy out of a man like that, Kate.”
Mary Katherine Harony glanced at the owner-operator of the Bee Hive Saloon and smiled briefly before turning her dark eyes back to the corner table, where a slender and well-dressed man had driven two other players to fold.
He fascinated her and provided a welcome distraction from Bailey, whose advances she’d spurned. The wealthy gambler watched the remaining active player with a cold calculation. It was an expression she often wore herself.
“I answer to no man and I do what I please, go with whom I please, too,” she replied. “I’m tired of toughs and dusty drovers – I want a man who bathes … and I need a challenge.”
“That’s not a challenge, that’s Holliday – a vicious man, got consumption, too. You want to die, go ahead – but it seems a shame.”
She might have denied that but as the man called Holliday showed his hand and won the game, a rough cough broke his quiet smile. The other men at the table got up and hustled away, furtively – as if they didn’t want to insult the man but weren’t eager to remain in his company, either.
For an instant, he seemed pained – either by the cough or the hasty retreat of his company, she couldn’t tell. Then his expression hardened into a cold mask. He took a swig of whiskey from his glass, pocketed his considerable winnings in his expensive suit, and rose. To her surprise, he walked over to the piano.
The man who normally played the instrument was just returning with a drink but seeing who had claimed his bench, he returned to the bar. The gambler began to play, and the music was exquisite.
Shanssey sighed. “He was at that game for thirty-six hours, too and ought to be in bed.”
Kate smiled. “I’ll see what I can do about that.” Ignoring Shanssey’s surprise, Kate faced the pianist. “Holliday – does he go with the girls around here?”
The startled man stared back at her. “Nope – never saw him with one of ‘em, but they’re all afraid of getting sick, aren’t they? They won’t go near. He doesn’t go near them, either. Doesn’t seem interested.”
Kate smiled. This was the man, without a doubt – and she wasn’t afraid of his cough or the ivory handled guns he wore. “Maybe he just needs an invitation.”
Leaving both men to wonder, she crossed the room with a predatory grace. Her mark saw the movement and watched her come closer, never missing a note of the intricate music.
“You know Chopin,” she said with an inviting smile.
He managed to make a swift look up and down her body seem appraising, rather than lustful. “All my life,” he replied, “but he never writes.”
The words weren’t slurred, but she’d known too many drunks not to notice that this one, though he hid it well, was deep in his cups. His words were accented, spoken with the slight drawl of a Southern aristocrat, yet the clipped speech of the toughs was absent. Something about his manner intrigued her further and drew her in.
There was a table nearby with an empty chair and she gestured to it, ignoring the other patrons sitting there. “May I sit and watch you play?”
His smile was thin and sly. “Be my guest.” He slid down on the bench with a challenge in his eyes. Would the woman dare to sit beside him?
She would and did. He fell silent and played. Kate studied the pale slender fingers as they moved over the keys. They were groomed and clean – a gentleman’s hands. A watch fob dangled from a golden chain on his red silk vest, winking in the lights.
These things would have strengthened her resolve to pursue him on their own, but he was handsome, too, with dark ash hair and a trimmed thin mustache. A small triangle of hair under his mouth completed the frame for lips that could curl quite naturally into a genial smile or straighten into a cruel line.
As he finished the piece and his fingers stilled, he turned to face her. Mesmerized by his gray-blue eyes, lit by some secret thought that might have been humor or cruelty, she stared back as he rose from the bench.
“Evenin’,” he whispered, immediately stifling a cough. He was out the door of the saloon before Kate realized she’d been holding her breath.
She rose and went out into the mild cool of a Texan winter night. Spying his slim tall figure a short distance down the boardwalk, she hurried to catch up with him before he reached the hotel.
Hearing the quick approach, he turned fast to face her, his right hand on the gun holstered under his left arm. Seeing her voluminous crimson skirts, the hand fell to his side.
He watched her with an unnerving stillness and for the first time in her eventful young life, she was afraid – his silence and rigid, wary stance told her he might have shot her before he noticed she was a woman.
“I’m not after murder,” she answered his stare. He said nothing, but a cough broke his stillness. He controlled it and regained his motionless stare. “I wanted to speak with you – privately.”
“Wasn’t after company,” he drawled languidly. “And you shouldn’t be after me.”
“I’m not afraid of – it doesn’t worry me,” she hesitated. “And you’d be after my company quick enough, if you gave me a chance.”
Holliday sized her up as she stepped closer into a circle of light along the boardwalk. Controlling her breathing to make her chest rise and fall alluringly in the light, she stared defiantly back at him.
What changed his mind, she never knew, but she knew it when it happened. His expressive lips curved into a wicked smile, and he held out his hand to her – the same hand that might have ended her life moments before.
Walking up to him, she took his arm. He turned her toward his hotel and when they entered the establishment, they both ignored the desk clerk as he watched them climb the stairs.
November 1877: Fort Griffin / the Flat, Texas – Wyatt
The trail went cold as the Texas heat wrapped around him. He slumped in the saddle as he entered the town called the Flat, beneath Fort Griffin. Four hundred miles of antelope grass and vegas lay behind him, all the way back to Kansas.
Wyatt had hunted Dave Rudabaugh on a U.S. Deputy Marshal commission, his prey having been accused of robbing a Santa Fe Railroad construction camp. Heading for the Bee Hive, the largest saloon in town, he stopped to ask the owner, a friend, if Rudabaugh had been seen in his place.
John Shanssey confirmed the outlaw’s visit but added that he had already left. “See that gent at the poker table? That’s Doc Holliday. He was playing a few hands with your man. Maybe he knows where he was headed.”
“Holliday?” Wyatt scoffed. “He won’t talk to me. He hates lawmen by all accounts.”
Shanssey smiled. “He owes me one. I’ll ask him to help you.”
Wyatt had never forgotten his first look at Holliday. The slender man was a richly-dressed scowling cynic, whose eyes only came alive when he sensed trouble or was about to create it. It was the only time he smiled, too. His reputation was already infamous.
The dentist turned gambler had left his former life behind when he contracted tuberculosis. Heading west to a climate that might preserve his life, he’d moved from one gunfight to the next, leaving an unknown number of dead men in his wake – all of them guilty of insulting their opponent.
He was an ace gambler and a drinker who played better, and shot better, the more he drank. Though most of the men he killed had accused him of it, he didn’t cheat at cards – he didn’t have to – and it was always the accusers who died, even if Holliday was sick enough to cough up blood as he gunned them down.
Shanssey, having spoken quietly to Holliday, waved the lawman over. At loose ends, Wyatt sighed and approached the table.
Joining the game when he could seemed the simplest way to talk to Holliday without a confrontation that might be misunderstood, despite Shanssey’s help. So he did – though his money was running as low as his hope of catching his prey.
He never knew if Doc had heard of his reputation, either from Witchita or Dodge City, but something changed in the gambler’s attitude from the first hand Wyatt laid down. Not only was his reception warmer than the frosty sneer Wyatt expected, the least due a favor reluctantly repaid, but the Georgia dentist turned laconic gunfighter began to talk and the words were exactly what Wyatt wanted to hear.
“Rudabaugh… why yes, I took his money, too. He played worse than you.” The slight smile was almost secretive.
“Did he say where he was bound?”
“He likely did, though not to me. I shall make discreet inquiries and let you know what I find.”
“My thanks, Mr. Holliday.” Wyatt smiled at the thin man, impressed. “With a little luck, we’ll apprehend him quick.” He looked at his cards. “I call,” he said with a smile and showed his cards.
“Don’t use your own luck,” Doc had said with a saucy wink as he laid his superior hand down.
A few days later, Doc had news for him – Rudabaugh had headed for Fort Davis. Wyatt had wired the tip to Bat Masterson, his friend and the sheriff of Ford County, and would continue his hunt.
Before Wyatt left the Flat, he’d come to admire the gambler more than most. They spent only a brief time together then, but it was enough for Wyatt to see what Doc was up against, how he fought his illness with a maniacal lust for life, and the quality of the intelligent man who had only drawn one bad hand in his life: the disease that plagued him. Something about his freedom and his vast experience at such a young age captured Wyatt’s imagination – and though he couldn’t live the same way, he both admired and craved the simplicity of it.
Why Doc grew fond of him in return, Wyatt never knew, yet perhaps it was the same reason: the wild lifestyle outside the law drawing him into a fascination with the lawman that held to his moral code and lived it, too. How many others had chased Doc with a badge but no honor? Too many of them were no better than legal brigands.
The night he left, Wyatt wrote of the consumptive gunfighter:
I found him a loyal friend and good company.
He was a dentist whom necessity had made a gambler;
a gentleman whom disease had made a vagabond; a
philosopher whom life had made a caustic wit; a long,
lean fellow nearly dead with consumption and at the
same time the most skillful gambler and nerviest,
speediest, deadliest man with a six-gun I ever knew.
November 8, 1887: Glenwood Springs, Colorado – Wyatt
Kate smiled. “I remember when I met you – I liked you about as much as Bailey. I was angry with Doc for helping you against Rudabaugh. He was more our kind than you were.”
“Ed Bailey,” Wyatt said after she’d been quiet a moment or two. “Isn’t he the trouble that made Doc head out to Dodge City?” Kate nodded. Her expression was soft and full of memories. Wyatt spoke again, calling her attention back to him. “Tell me about Bailey. What happened?”
Though she had nodded her ascent to telling the story, she was silent for a while longer. Wyatt didn’t press her but wondered what she was thinking. When she spoke, she started telling him about Bailey abruptly, as if she were escaping her other thoughts.
November 1877: Fort Griffin / the Flat, Texas – Kate
On the ship to New York City from Hungary, Kate had been filled with romantic notions of the new life she could have in a wild new land. Yet she hadn’t sought a husband and family. It was adventure and freedom she craved – not the safe and drab life of a domestic drudge.
Her travels and adventures landed her in Texas, where she became more skilled at her chosen trade: prostitution. She joined no house, obeyed no man or madam. Working as an independent woman, she refused to be tied down in any way.
Kate had also acquired a taste for the good life, many of the luxuries of which the men she’d been with couldn’t afford. She needed more than the common dirty cowherd. She might not have been able to describe exactly what she wanted, but on the night she entered Doc Holliday’s room, she found it.
The room was an expensive one; Kate had never been in finer. It even had a balcony overlooking the main street through town. The light breeze moved the open curtains in the dark.
She turned when a light flared and saw Holliday setting the glass over a low lamp flame beside a large bed. He watched her as men in bedrooms always did, with the heat of lust making their eyes appear clouded. Still, there was something different about this man – he was almost wary.
Kate knew how to soothe his concerns. She reached up behind her head to undo the top laces on her dress and then, sweeping her heavy dark curls to one side, turned her back to him, silently requesting assistance.
When his fingers finally touched her clothing, they were quite skilled at removing it. He took the Derringer she had concealed in her skirts without comment and set it on the nightstand. The corset and bustle were no trouble for him, either, and he offered her his hand to step out of the pile of feminine articles as smoothly as if he had asked her to dance.
She started to undo a small buckle at his waist that held the thin leather harness for his guns, but he stopped her and removed his coat and weapons himself. Walking to the other side of the bed, he draped the coat over a chair and set the guns on the other nightstand.
Kate followed him and began helping him out of the rest, laying it all over the chair. His body was as young as hers and his eyes told her he was no stranger to the charms of women, but something about his silence and hesitant air left her wondering what ghosts might haunt his mind.
When she pulled the covers of his bed away and laid down, the expression he turned to her might have been one of pain or grief.
“What is your name?” he asked abruptly, as if it truly mattered.
“Kate Elder. Everyone calls me Kate.” She moved over to make room for him. “What should I call you?”
“‘Doc’ is good enough.” Even then, she wasn’t sure if he would join her or not. Finally, he seemed to decide something and sat beside her. His hand reached out, not to touch her body, but to stroke her thick hair. “I’m not the safest man to bed with, Kate.”
“I’m not very safe in bed, either.” She flashed a suggestive grin.
Her bravado was rewarded by the first charming smile she’d seen on his face and by his body sliding down over hers. That first coupling had been awkward – she was reminded of bedding a married man with a guilty conscience. Yet he was generous, gentle, and skilled – as no others before him had never been.
Much later, she would learn so much more about him: his full name, which he never allowed her to use in speaking to him or others, and many of his quirks. She also discovered that his gentle and easy lovemaking was rooted in the physical weakness his illness plagued him with, though if he were more rested, they could tear up a room in time.
She guessed his weakness was why he was so quick to draw a weapon, too. Although she learned in time that public opinion, the notion that his violence was a mixture of wanting to die and wanting to make others suffer, was off the mark. He was a gentleman of good breeding, and a Southerner would brook no insult to his honor. Beyond that, he was simply the faster man, every time.
His illness drove him to all his pursuits, but in the midst of living the life of a professional gambler, whiskey at hand night and day, he treated her like a lady with all the genteel manners he possessed.
Unfortunately, that had also been the source of their many fights later. She was not a lady – she had been a willful girl addicted to the wild life, and to men, to the adventure of separating them from their money. Doc wanted her to give it all up and be his woman. A lucrative offer but one devoid of the nightly excitement she craved.
Yet all that had unfolded over time. In the beginning, he never paid her because she never left. So he fell into including her in his nightlife and she enjoyed with him the fruits of his skill at cards. Before long, everyone knew she was the consort of Doc Holliday and no man would dare give her trouble.
Then there had been the incident with Ed Bailey that started them on their life of traveling together, often running from the law.
~ ~ ~
It was a repeat of the night she had met him – two players had dropped out of the game with one man in a top hat left, plus Doc and Ed Bailey. Kate had discovered that Doc had a reputation which had followed him to the Flat but Bailey didn’t seem impressed. The big sullen tough-looking cattle trader had even attempted to irritate the gaunt and elegant Doc by looking at the cards in the discard pile, the ‘deadwood’, something that was strictly against the rules of poker and generally forfeited the pot.
As Kate returned from the bar with a bottle of whiskey, Doc set his cigarette in the ashtray. He picked up a coin to flip it between his fingers and spoke the same warning for the second time, “Just play poker, friend.”
Bailey put the discards down at that familiar code for ‘stop cheating’ and glared at Doc. Leaning forward, seething with impatience, he responded, “I said that’s five hundred to you, Holliday. In or out?”
“Five hundred? Must be a peach of a hand,” he drawled, unconcerned as he smoked.
Kate smiled, refilling his engraved silver stirrup cup as she impulsively sat on his lap, holding a small cigar in her other hand.
“Oh, thank you, darlin’.” Doc put an arm around her and then, after an imperceptible startle, he turned playful. “Kate! You’re not wearin’ a bustle.” He looked to Bailey and added with lascivious delight, “How lewd!”
Kate smiled and stood to her feet again, wandering back to the bar.
“Come on, Holliday, are you in or out, dammit!”
“Why Ed Bailey, you look like you’re just about ready to burst.” He took a sip of his drink.
“Come on,” Bailey pressed, “show.”
“Well,” he began, slow to set the cigarette in the ashtray at his elbow, “I suppose I’m deranged, but I guess I’ll just have to call. Cover your ears, darlin’.” Doc covered the bet and showed his hand. Top Hat folded in disgust as he did so. “Isn’t that a daisy?”
Bailey stared the royal flush before he lurched back as he stood, overturning his chair. “Son of a bitch!”
“Hey,” Top Hat warned him, “Bailey, just settle down.”
“Shut up.” He glared across the table as he stood to his feet. “Take your money and get out. I’m tired of listenin’ to your mouth.”
Doc leaned back, a fingertip tapping on one of the twin ivory gun-butts sticking out from his coat. “Why Ed Bailey … are we cross?”
“Them guns don’t scare me. Without them guns you ain’t nothin’ but a skinny … lunger.” His voice had lowered to a hiss, trying to make the words as insulting as possible.
Doc barely looked offended but his manner was coiled and ready. Kate watched them both closely as Doc answered him.
“Why Ed, what an ugly thing to say! I abhor ugliness. Does this mean we’re not friends anymore? You know, Ed, if I thought you weren’t my friend, I just don’t think I could bear it.”
Bailey reached for his pistol, but Doc had both of his drawn before it cleared leather, pointing the nickel-plated .38 Colt Lightning and .45 Colt Peacemaker on Bailey. He cocked them, watching eagerly until Bailey backed down. The saloon had gone dead silent. Then Doc laid the guns on the table on top of the pile of cash, valuables, and coins. He patted them, making the coins jingle.
“There, now we can be friends again.”
Bailey was boiling mad by then. The moment Doc’s hands moved away from the guns, he jumped up and lunged at the dentist.
Doc sprang up, grabbed him by the shirt and stabbed him in the side, before turning with him and twisting him backward onto the top of the next table, jabbing his fist into Bailey’s armpit as he went down. Bailey screamed and doubled over. Doc’s blow had seemed so light it shouldn’t be capable of the effect it had. When he twitched, crying out, Doc stood ready to strike again. The room was still but as he straightened over the crumpled man, they knew everyone in the saloon had seen the bloody knife in his hand.
The bartender had reached for the shotgun under the bar. Kate was faster. She pulled her Derringer from her skirts and pointed it at him.
“Touch that gun, I burn you down!” Kate covered the room as he backed off and then went to the abandoned poker table and began gathering up the pot quickly, scooping it into Doc’s black leather doctor’s bag.
Bailey curled into a fetal position and moaned. Eyes gleaming cruelly, Doc turned away from him, straightening his gold spotted brocade vest as he put the knife away and turned to Kate.
Retrieving his guns, he blandly told her, “I calculate that’s the end of this town.”
Kate smiled, thrilled by all he’d done. “I had a boy at the hotel check us out. There are horses outside…”
“That’s why you’re not wearin’ a bustle.”
His smile twitched at her chuckle as he tweaked the upward curl of his moustache. She stowed her gun and they both headed toward the door.
“My sweet soft Hungarian devil,” he mused, toying with his reclaimed cigarette as he picked up his stirrup cup and followed her.
Tipping his head back, having never lost his black hat, he finished off his whiskey. They paused at the roulette table and as he reached to drop the cup in, Kate was already opening the bag to catch it. He picked up the stacks of cash on the table and added them to the take, too.
Doc spoke to the frozen figures around them, his voice cultured and polite as if thanking them for a meal. “Well, good evenin’ then.” He tipped his hat and they walked out, leaving Bailey lying in a pool of blood on the table.
Out on the boardwalk, Kate was almost dancing with excitement as she led him to the horses, but then she paused and looked off in the direction of the hotel.
Doc caught her arm to stop her, turning her to face him. “Let’s not bother about the luggage.” The gleam in his eyes reminded her they had enough money to settle anywhere. He tossed his cigarette into the sandy street and pulled her into a passionate kiss. She clung to him, kissing him fiercely as he pushed her back toward the horse.
He broke the kiss with a satisfied smirk, set the leather bag down, and helped her up into the saddle – where she straddled it like a man. Hanging the bag from his saddle horn, he mounted up on the other and they galloped out of town into the gathering dusk.
After riding for hours, he called a halt to get his bearings. The land was empty and dark under the stars, but it never took Doc long to know where he was.
Kate watched him, exhilarated. “Where will we go?”
He hadn’t hesitated. “Dodge City, Kansas. Got a friend there – or someone who might be a friend. We’ll find out.”
Setting off on the four hundred mile trip on borrowed horses, Kate didn’t question him. It made no difference to her then where he went – she intended to follow. In that moment, she was ready to follow him straight into Hell.
~ ~ ~
When they arrived in Dodge City, Doc registered them at Deacon Cox’s Boarding House as Dr. and Mrs. J. H. Holliday. He seemed determined to make her happy. By June of the next year, they were settled and comfortable in the new town. She gave up her trade and he returned to his – hanging out his shingle once more. He put an add in the local paper offering his services as a dentist over the coming summer.
November 8, 1887: Glenwood Springs, Colorado – Wyatt
“I remember that – he offered a refund for anyone who wasn’t satisfied with the service.” Wyatt’s smile faded. “It didn’t last long, did it?”
Kate looked wistful. “I wasn’t born for a quiet life, not then. I missed the excitement of the saloons and dance halls, and I’d never wanted to be any man’s wife, even for Doc. I told him I wanted to go back to it all, and we fought. It was terrible. I wasn’t sober, neither was he. We fought often, you know – but the first time, when you’ve been happy together, always seems the worst.”
An old knife of regret twisted in his guts. “I understand.”
“I’d dealt with respectable living as long as I could. It was strange about Doc. As much as he seemed to love the gambling dens, he was always drawn to his proper profession and tried to go back to it more than once. Often as not, I helped pull him away from it again, one way or another.” She sighed. “That ugly argument split us up for a time. He didn’t last long on the straight and narrow either, though – started dealing faro at the Long Branch Saloon.” Eyeing Wyatt closely, she added, “He said that was where you became his friend ‘in truth’.” Smiling, she added, “You know how he used to talk. Sometimes he talked right over my head.”
Nodding, Wyatt took another drink. “Mine too. He saved my life in Long Branch, plain and simple.”
“Tell me.” Kate topped off his drink. “Then I’ll tell you how we met again, in Prescott.”
July 1878: Dodge City, Kansas – Wyatt
Deacon Cox’s Boarding House had acquired new residents – a Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Holliday. Wyatt assumed Doc was fleeing trouble and seeing Kate with him bore out that theory. It was obvious in an instant she was no man’s wife; she looked like the very image of trouble.
The tall exotic brunette beauty walked into the Alhambra Saloon on Doc’s arm and sat beside him at Wyatt’s faro table. Clearly no stranger to saloons or the company of men, she appeared to be quite taken with her pale and dangerous companion and kept giving him whiskey as the night progressed. There was a story there that might be best left unknown. In any event, Wyatt never asked and Doc never told.
For Wyatt’s part, he was happy to see the old rip again and ignored the whispers of the discontented who wondered why their marshal was a friend to such lowlife. Yet Doc kept the law in Dodge City and began running a faro table himself in a back room of the Long Branch Saloon.
It had been a busy and potentially lethal summer for Wyatt. He stepped on toes as part of his job and some of the drunken gunmen wanted to step back. One shooter barely missed him as he watched Eddie Foy’s vaudeville act at the Comique Theatre and another man tried shoot him from a dark alley off First Avenue. That bullet whipped past his face.
Then real trouble showed up in the form of Ed Morrison, a man from Wichita whom Wyatt had humiliated. His companions included Tobe Driskill, a desperado, and fifty Texans intent on helping Ed to tree the town.
Wyatt had established a Deadline sign in the town to mark where citizens weren’t allowed to carry guns. Anyone carrying beyond that point was arrested with no questions asked. Ed and his new friends started by shooting the sign to pieces before they howled down Front Street shooting out shop windows.
They chose badly when they entered the Long Branch Saloon, vandalizing the place and harassing its customers.
Wyatt had found out too late what the real play was and ran into the saloon, straight into a score of bristling gun barrels. He was armed but if he reached for his guns, he’d be shot by over twenty men at once.
His anger was hotter than his fear, but there was nothing he could do. The man leading the mob had a personal grudge to settle and wouldn’t be satisfied with anything short of blood – all of it.
Ed Morrison sneered as he stepped forward. In a growling voice, he commanded, “Pray and jerk your gun! Your time has come, Earp!”
A thousand thoughts whirled in his head as Wyatt realized his life was over. Then he saw a door to one of the back rooms open behind Morrison. A voice, rough and cultured at once, rang out.
“No, friend, you draw – or throw your hands up!”
A revolver was pressed to Morrison’s temple, the nickel-plated .38 Colt Lightning that Doc wore in a shoulder holster under his left arm. Its ivory handled twin, a .45 Colt Peacemaker, sat untouched under his right arm. The rustlers had disturbed his card game, and he’d come out to find them threatening his friend.
“Any of you bastards pulls a gun and your leader here loses what’s left of his brains.”
The Texans didn’t hesitate – their firearms fell to the floor. Doc helped Wyatt get them all to the jailhouse, and then invited him back to the Long Branch for a drink.
After that incident, Wyatt had his response ready for all detractors. “If anyone questions my loyalty to Holliday, there’s my answer. The only way anyone could have appreciated the feelin’ I had for Doc after the Driskill-Morrison business would have been to have stood in my boots at the time Doc came through the Long Branch doorway.”
Doc and Kate left Dodge City soon after but headed in different directions. The rumor around town was that the two had quarreled again. There were other rumors of trouble, about men left dead in the gunman’s wake – but that was nothing new.
Wyatt didn’t see his friend again for two years.
~ ~ ~
Dodge City lost its dangerous edge after Wyatt cleaned up the outlaw element that had plagued it, but for him, it also lost its adventurous appeal.
In 1879, he left with Mattie, the woman he lived with as man and wife but had never married. They headed to Tombstone after receiving a letter from his brother Virgil. Wyatt was eager for the next rowdy frontier town and for the dream of living as a family again with his brothers. It was an old dream that might finally become reality. They would make their fortunes, and their futures, together.
Arriving at the train depot in Tucson, Arizona, he met his brothers Virgil and Morgan, with their wives, and got his first real news of Doc in a long time. Virgil had seen Doc in Prescott, winning at poker. Kate, his Hungarian shadow, had been once again in tow.
The Earps arrived in Tombstone on December 1, 1879, but Wyatt didn’t meet Doc again until the next summer.
Summer 1880: Prescott & Tombstone, Arizona Territory – Kate
It wasn’t hard to keep track of where Doc Holliday went or what he did when he got there. For the first, rumor and local newspapers would track his progress through the West. For the second, Kate knew him well enough to guess.
After their first violent quarrel in Dodge City, Doc had saddled his horse and ridden out of town in a furious mood. The papers placed him in Trinidad, Colorado, where a foolish young man known as ‘Kid Colton’ badgered Doc into a fight – presumably for no better reason than to make a reputation for himself. It ended as it always did; the twin Colts blazed, the opponent fell, and Doc found another town.
Saloon and sporting house talk said he ended up in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and in the summer of 1879 he hung out his shingle for the last time. It was a short attempt.
Kate soon heard that her former paramour had acquired a saloon on Center Street, the Occidental, won in a faro game. Mere weeks later, he had to escape New Mexico after killing a local gunman named Mike Gordon – who had turned out to be too popular for Doc’s health. She did smile at the story that he had invited the man to start shooting whenever he felt like it, but it was Doc’s trio of bullets that lodged in Gordon’s stomach. He disappeared just ahead of a hanging mob.
Doc told her later, when they’d reunited, about his decision to head back to Dodge, and Wyatt: “It was the only safe place for me for a time, darlin’, but it seems the old son had tired of his cow town. They said he was headed for Tombstone, in the Arizona Territory. What could I do but follow?”
What indeed. Kate suspected there was more to it than the gambler had said. In later years, she could never pry him away from the Earps and it was a situation that started early in their tumultuous relationship.
She encountered rumors of Doc the moment she landed in Prescott but for once they were fresh tales – the man himself was still in town, taking a rest from his trip to the silver mining boomtown of Tombstone. The hotel clerk gossiped that he was winning at poker as always.
Kate soon discovered that Doc’s current streak made it worthwhile to creep back into his good graces. Not an easy task, as it turned out – but she was persistent.
There were Earps about in Prescott too, but Wyatt wasn’t one of them. Morgan came from Montana with his wife Louisa, and Virgil was present already, with Allie, his pretty and feisty wife. They intended to meet Wyatt in Tucson, and travel together from there. Apparently, they had also talked Doc into going with them. When they were ready to go, his streak was still going strong and he promised to follow them later.
Having planned to head for Tombstone herself, determined to open her own sporting house there, it seemed the perfect time to court the infamous Doc Holliday again. By guile or seduction, she intended to lure him back to her bed. Failing that, she’d ambush him in his.
~ ~ ~
Kate couldn’t afford a room at Mount Tritle, where she had heard Holliday was staying. Gossip told her that his quarters were the best, complete with a beautifully appointed sitting room. The porter wouldn’t let her into the doctor’s suite, however. Nonplussed, she headed over to the Gem Saloon and Gaming Parlor, sure Doc would be spending more time there anyway.
Done up fancy in her finest scarlet dress, without a bustle just in case it amused him, she entered the saloon. Doc was easy to find at the back of the poker tables. Smoothly avoiding the other men who noticed her, she bought a bottle of bourbon at the bar and carried a glass with it over to Doc’s table.
She wasn’t the only woman present and the men were too wrapped in their game to look around. The familiar silver stirrup cup waited at Doc’s left hand, half empty. The bottle beside him might have one shot left. She didn’t touch it, opening hers instead.
Doc was raising at odd times as usual, confusing his company of dusty traders. Kate knew him well and waited until she wouldn’t disrupt his game. Then, leaning forward to set her lips closer to his ear, she filled his cup.
“Surprise, Doc. Did you miss me?”
With his poker face on, it was hard to tell if he was surprised or not. She couldn’t even determine if he was still angry with her, but his manners never flagged, whatever his personal feelings.
“Evenin’, darlin’. Can’t talk just now.” Turning back to the others, he continued stunning and outraging them with his skill at cards.
“I’ll wait and keep the whiskey going, sugar. You were almost tapped.”
He gave her a look that was hard to read but answered, “I’m obliged.”
They both knew the alcohol soothed his cough. It was the reason he drank before breakfast, through the day, and most of the night. Without it, the coughing fits could render him unfit for company, to say the least.
Although she had certainly seen him drink enough to pass out, his tolerance was amazing. Most men wouldn’t have been able to function at all on half the bourbon Doc consumed. At times he drank two or three quarts a day, yet it actually seemed to lend him energy and focus.
Of course, he could pretend to be much further gone than he felt – that was just one of his many tricks. It often lured others into reckless behavior, with their cards and their guns. Over time, she had decided that when Doc seemed to be seriously incapacitated, it was his malady, not the drink, impairing him.
Just before the game ended, Kate made sure she was sitting next to Doc but out of his way. She was almost surprised when none of the traders finished up dead. It was after midnight: early by Doc’s standards.
“I believe you wanted to surprise me?” He asked her as he stood and headed for the bar with his empty cup dangling from a finger of his left hand. He’d come out over a thousand ahead and it might help her efforts if he was in a spirited mood.
“I still could if you felt like retiring.”
“Perhaps.” He was still cross, she could see that now. His mannerism was polite but tinged with a sour wariness.
“Come on, Doc. We’re right back where we started, aren’t we? If you wanted to be a dentist, you wouldn’t be here.”
“Dentistry is a precarious profession for one in my situation – quite fleetin’ if rumor has its way. Some choices are made for us, Kate.”
She smiled. He was relenting already, wasn’t he? “Let me make one for you now.”
Slipping her hand around his arm she glanced at the door and back at him, pleased to see the warmth of lust melt his stiff attitude. With any luck, few others had dared to take her place.
“Lead the way, then – I’m sure you already know where I’m stayin’.”
~ ~ ~
Entering his suite, she released his arm and moved through the sitting room to lean against the bedroom doorway.
He shut and locked the door. Without turning, he said, “Make yourself at home, darlin’. I’ll be there in a moment.”
She shed her clothing and slipped into his bed, amazed it had been so simple to get him here.
When he entered the room, he blew out the lamps, leaving them in darkness. She listened as he undressed in the dark. Was this a new shyness? He’d never been so secretive before.
Before she was aware of it, he pulled the covers back and pressed her beneath him. He seemed urgent and all the gentle play and lingering affection was gone. Kate didn’t concern herself about it. He’d been direct and all-business before, and they’d been apart and estranged.
She stroked his back as he moved over her, his skill with lovemaking as fine as ever. He was thinner and shortly dowsed with sweat, but it was as good as it had been in Dodge City.
He was quiet when he finished and fell still. As she began to brush through his hair with her fingers, he rolled away from her and sat up. A lamp on the nightstand flared to life.
“What is it, Doc?” His stare was indifferent and she felt a tightening in her stomach. “Is something wrong?”
“No, not a thing, but we’ve completed this business, haven’t we? What are you chargin’ these days?”
“What?” Her shock faded as a frown bloomed on her face.
“You were rather strident, when we parted, on the subject of your chosen profession. Am I to assume you’ve given it up? If not, we should settle the debt. You need to be on your way, I’m sure, and I believe I’d like to sleep in peace.”
It was a test, perhaps – or a touch of mild revenge. Anger was useless. She possessed a quick mind and a talent for sizing up a situation, and she knew this man well. Smoothing her frown at the thought, she settled deeper into the pillows and smiled up at him.
“I’m not working right now. You’re a treat, not a mark.” Reaching out, she stroked his pale stomach. “You’ve had your dig. Can’t we be friends again? I’ll take care of you, you know you like having me around.”
He took a breath to answer and was instantly doubled over by a coughing fit. He turned his face away from her quickly and groped for a handkerchief and his flask.
Kate wasted no time. She rose and fetched the flask, handed it to him, and watched him take a long pull. It quieted the cough, but he abruptly appeared weaker, in pain.
Sitting beside him, she gave him his handkerchief. “I’m sorry, sugar – for everything. Now let me stay and watch out for you. We’re good for each other, you and me.”
He had allowed her to stay and took her at her word, though it had been a while before he trusted her again or relaxed enough to be the lover she had missed more than she cared to admit.
She stopped spending time with other men and tended to Doc, enjoying his wit as well as his reflective silence and indulging herself in his bed as often as she could.
It was a challenge to sleep soundly at times and she was often woken by his coughing, but she cared for him without a fuss, never allowing pity to enter her eyes or her voice … and they fell into old routines with relative ease.
~ ~ ~
In the summer of 1880, Kate and her man finally headed out for Tombstone with $40,000 hidden in Doc’s money belt. It was reason enough to be a couple again, but she wasn’t going to play wife. She told him her plans to buy a large tent and become the boomtown’s first official madam. Perhaps mollified by her resumed attentions, Doc hadn’t protested.
When they arrived, Kate established her business after rounding up several likely girls. The tent was wedged between a funeral parlor and the Soma Winery on the North side of Allen Street, at Sixth Street, but she lived with Doc in a boarding house called Mrs. Fly’s. Doc set them up in style in the most expensive room available, with a balcony overlooking the street, a view he always insisted on.
Kate plied her trade as Doc began his rounds of the gambling dens and life was good again for a time. That was before the Cowboys clashed with the Earps. Many times, Kate wished Doc would keep out of their affairs, but he was more loyal to Wyatt than to her – that had never changed.
It had been a frightening and uncertain time, but though she sometimes wished it could have been different, she had to admit that her life had never been such an exciting daily thrill.
November 8, 1887: Glenwood Springs, Colorado – Wyatt
“Tombstone.” Wyatt fell silent. Glancing at Kate quickly once, he looked away again. “I try not to think about it … but it feels like yesterday.”
Kate touched his shoulder. “I know. I can still smell the smoke of Doc’s cigarettes in my room sometimes. It’s hard.”
He watched her without answering. She had paused often in her tale of their Prescott days, and he knew she had left a lot of things unsaid. He didn’t press her for secrets or private exchanges.
‘The incident at Tombstone’, as it was so often called in saloons and the newspapers, pressed in on him, yet not all of their times there had been a horror.
A flashing picture of his younger brother Morgan filled his thoughts and he winced. Morgan smiling, playing pool – Morgan striding down a street at his side, headed for a tragedy that would later cost him his life.
Shaking his head, he focused on the woman beside him. They both drank again and Kate refilled her cup and his glass. Memories, private and shared, haunted them.
Summer 1880: Tombstone, Arizona Territory – Wyatt
Barely a resident of Tombstone, he had challenged a bully named Johnny Tyler and taken from him a quarter-interest in the faro game at the Oriental Saloon. It had been all too easy and he’d done it without wearing a gun.
Rejoining Virgil and Morgan on the street, he told them the news. He hadn’t seen Tyler advancing with the sawed-off shotgun, until a familiar and very welcome voice called out to the angry tough.
“Why Johnny Tyler, you madcap! Where are you going with that shotgun?”
He stopped short twenty feet away from them and spun around to see Doc Holliday standing in a doorway, smiling. Tyler froze. “Doc? I didn’t know you were in town.”
Wyatt spotted Doc and walked up, his brothers in tow. As Doc met them in the street, a rare smile spread across Wyatt’s normally dour face. “Well, well. How the hell are you?”
“Wyatt, I am rolling.”
Doc’s reply had been given with a sly smile and a slight bow. A broad smile stretched over Wyatt’s face.
He and his brothers had started having trouble with the cattle rustler group of Texas outlaws called the Cowboys almost as soon as they arrived. Virgil muttered that adding Doc Holliday to the mix was pouring whiskey on a blaze, but Wyatt was pleased to see him. There was no better man to have on their side.
Tyler burst out, startled, “Wyatt? Wyatt Earp?”
The men smiled briefly at him, amused, and then Doc shook hands with the brothers. “Morgan,” he greeted the younger. “Virgil.”
“Hello, Doc,” Virgil responded, guarded but friendly.
“What are you up to?” the gambler asked.
“Goin’ into business for ourselves, Doc.” Morgan replied. “Wyatt just got us a faro game.”
“Since when is faro a business?”
Wyatt faced him as he puffed on his cigar, delighted to be in his company again. “Didn’t you always say gambling’s an honest trade?”
“No, I said poker’s an honest trade. Only suckers buck the tiger. The odds are all with the house.”
“Depends how you look at it,” Wyatt answered. “I mean it’s not like anybody’s holdin’ a gun to their heads, is it?”
Doc grinned. “That’s what I love about Wyatt. He can talk himself into anything.” He reached out and shook Wyatt’s hand. They laughed, and then Doc abruptly noticed Tyler again, who had begun to tremble. “Oh Johnny, I apologize – I forgot you were there. You may go now.”
Wyatt spoke up. “Just leave that shotgun.” Tyler tried to offer it to him. “Leave it.”
He laid the gun at Wyatt’s feet. “Thank you.”
Tyler turned, relieved, and walked away as John Behan, the county sheriff, approached affably. Doc sniffed in disdain, amusing Wyatt.
“Sheriff Behan, have you met Doc Holliday?”
Under his breath, Doc muttered, “Piss on you, Wyatt.”
Behan was impressed and held out his hand. “Mr. Holliday.”
Doc hid his distaste well and used his breeding to advantage. “Forgive me if I don’t shake hands.”
Behan nodded with a smile and turned to Wyatt. “So how’s Tombstone treating you?”
“Fine, fine. But I was thinkin’, you know what this town really needs is a race track.”
“Really.” Behan fiddled with his walking stick as he talked. “That’s not a bad idea – send a signal we’re growing up.”
Doc weighed in then. “Way ahead of yourselves, aren’t you, boys? This is just another mining camp.”
Behan, a regular civic booster, was unfazed. “Have you seen how everyone dresses? Awfully Toney for a mining camp. No sir, the die is cast, we’re growing, be as big as San Francisco in a few years, and just as sophisticated.”
Doc’s sarcasm dripped. “I can hardly wait.”
In the next moment, a bullet whizzed past Behan’s head and they all ducked. More shots were fired as a man holding a bloody hand to his throat reeled out the door of the nearby Crystal Palace, his gun firing wildly before he pitched face first onto the sidewalk, dead.
Two more men appeared immediately: a staggering drunk with a bullet hole in his shoulder, and a leathery plainsman with his gun at the ready.
A crowd formed as the drunk raised his pistol, bellowing, “You son of a bitch!”
Then a third man appeared, long-haired and hawk-nosed. He held his pistol at the ready, keeping bystanders at bay. “Easy, gents,” he said. “Private affair.”
The drunk raised his gun nearly level. The plainsman warned him, “Don’t raise that arm!” When the drunk did just that, firing past his head, he shot him dead.
Unable to resist, Doc turned to Behan and remarked, “Very cosmopolitan.”
Wyatt stared at the shooters. “I know him. That’s Creek Johnson.”
Then the long-haired man spotted Wyatt and the others a moment after Johnson did. “Wyatt? Doc?”
Doc lifted a hand in greeting.
Wyatt knew Texas Jack Vermillion as well. “Jack,” he responded.
Vermillion headed over first. “What do you say, old friend?”
Wyatt spoke as they joined them. “What the hell was that all about, Creek?”
“He crawfished a bet and called me a liar.”
Doc, playing host, turned to Behan to introduce the men, taking pains to sound as civilized as possible with a smirk tugging at his lips. “Sheriff, may I present a pair of fellow sophisticates, Turkey Creek Jack Johnson and Texas Jack Vermillion.” Noting that Johnson was bleeding, he added, “Watch your ear, Creek.”
Johnson touched it, saw the blood, and gave a silent start. Marshal Fred White arrived, drawn by the shooting. Looking weary, he faced Johnson and Vermillion.
“‘Fraid I’ll have to have those guns.”
“It was a fair fight, we were legal,” Johnson protested.
“Sorry, boys,” White answered, “I gotta take you before Judge Spicer.”
Johnson sighed as they began to hand over their guns. “Law and order every time, that’s us.”
A large and fancy stagecoach had arrived and stopped in the street at the Grand Hotel. The others turned to look as a handsome and gallant man stepped out and handed down and stunning brunette.
Virgil looked at the two dead men lying in the street and shook his head. “What kind of town is this?”
Staring at the woman, Morgan remarked, “Nice scenery.”
His comment made Wyatt turn to look. She spotted him instantly and the stare they shared seemed to transcend time and place.
Doc, amused at Wyatt’s blatant stare, couldn’t resist commenting. “Well… an enchanted moment.”
And it was, a moment that changed his life, but Wyatt had other problems. Mattie’s dependency on laudanum had been driving a rift between them already and the arrival of Josephine Marcus, with that look in her eye, was bound to complicate matters.
Behan broke the spell. “That must be the theatrical troupe. There’s a show tonight at the Bird Cage Theatre.”
Creek Johnson spoke up, “Hey, Wyatt, you goin’ to the show? Maybe we’ll see you there.” He turned to the marshal. “Won’t we…”
Marshal White answered grudgingly, “Yeah, probably.” He led them off.
Wyatt and the actress held each other’s gaze as she spoke to her handsome companion and smiled across the wide street at him.
The beautiful young actress had set her sights on Wyatt immediately, but he, responding to Doc’s instant taunting, began a campaign to ignore her. It was less than successful, as he’d fallen in love with her the moment he saw her. Doc, of course, had known it. It had been a whirlwind evening, starting at the Bird Cage Theatre.
~ ~ ~
Virgil, Morgan, and their wives sat in their box seats on the second floor. Wyatt led Mattie to the next balcony over. Doc entered with Kate on his arm just after them.
“Kate, you know the Earps.”
Wyatt had shaken her hand rather than kissing it – he knew she preferred to be treated as an equal by men.
They sat as Mayor John Clum and his wife approached with Marshal White, who made introductions, and then the mayor began the predicted spiel. “Your reputation precedes you. I wonder –”
“Not a prayer. Nice meetin’ you.” Wyatt turned away to face the stage below them.
The orchestra tuned up and the crowd’s excitement rose. Wyatt took the time to study a collection of Cowboys on the first floor. The outlaws had conquered the front rows of chairs, pitching other citizens out of them.
Billy Grounds, Zwing Hunt, Billy Claiborne, Wes Fuller, Tom and Frank McLaury, and Billy Clanton, the youngest and the wild one, made up a regular rabble. Florentino, half-Mexican, might hate Mexicans more than the rest. Wyatt recognized the breeds, Hank Swilling, and Pony Deal. Rounding out the mix of ruffians were Johnny Barnes and Frank Stillwell.
Behan’s Deputy, Billy Breakenridge, was just entering, heading through the rest to the leaders. He was a slight young man, often the butt of the others’ jokes. Wyatt tracked him to the big boys: Brocius and Ringo.
Curly Bill Brocius had led the Cowboys since Old Man Clanton was killed by Mexicans, according to Marshal Fred White. The elder Clanton son, Ike, had apparently not won the respect of the others fast enough to claim the top spot.
Out of all of them, it was Johnny Ringo who inspired real concern. He was rumored to be the best gun alive. He was a quiet and nervy man, perhaps a little mad. He only spoke to Brocius.
The Deputy was saved from Cowboy ridicule and catcalls of ‘sister-boy’ by Curly Bill and sat on his other side, away from Ringo, just as the music started and the house lights dimmed.
The audience hushed, but the rabble didn’t stay quiet for long. The first thing the acting troupe learned was that they’d better be good – or the Cowboys might take the entertainment into their own hands – with their guns.
The lead actor, a handsome, slightly raffish man named Romulus Fabian, came out early after a juggler, Professor Gillman, was shot at onstage and frightened away.
Loud enough to be heard by all, Curly Bill called out in a mocking drawl, “Prettiest man I ever saw.”
This was the companion of the actress he’d been distracted by all afternoon on one look. A classical tragedian, Fabian stood bravely in his tights and Shakespearean costume, having cast away his cloak dramatically, and recited the Saint Crispin’s Day Speech from Henry V. He barely reacted to another shot fired at his scenery: a plaster column. Brushing the dust from his sleeve, he continued and won over the crowd instantly with his bravery if not his words.
“If we are marked to die, we are enow to do our country loss; and if to live, the fewer me, the greater the share of honor….”
As he finished to wild applause and cheering, and more gunshots – firing at the ceiling now – Fabian bowed with elaborate modesty. The curtain fell. Another card was placed out to announce the next entertainment: ‘Faust – or the Devil’s Bargain’, and the orchestra whirled into ‘Danse Macabre’ by Saint-Saens.
The rising curtain revealed a wild painted backdrop, all black and red, covered with weird, Beardsley-esque designs and images of death and damnation. A light came up, revealing an ancient white-bearded scholar sitting alone with his books.
Then a masked Satan danced across the stage, slender and lissome in paned black doublet and breeches and black hose, tempting the old man with images of wealth and youth in the form of a shimmering blonde ballerina. The old man succumbed, signing Satan’s contract.
The audience watched in rapt attention, especially the Cowboys, who had to comment on things anyway. Wyatt was grateful he couldn’t hear them.
Across the table, Doc leaned in close to the smiling Kate. “Is your soul for sale, dear?”
On the stage, the smug Satan made a flourish. A flash-pad explosion transformed the old scholar into a young student. The ballerina flitted by. The student offered her gold and they danced, swirling about the stage in a mad waltz with Satan hovering behind them, mirroring their every move like a puppet master. Finally, having gotten all his gold, the Ballerina drifted away leaving the young student alone, lost in bitterness as he changed back into the old scholar sitting with his books. Satan appeared over him, exultant and triumphant, ready to collect the debt. Actors dressed as demons led the scholar away into Hell. Satan wrapped his arms around his chest smugly and walked after them with mincing gloat of steps as the curtain fell with a final crashing chord.
Thunderous cheering and applause broke through the theatre. The curtain rose again and the performers came out for bows, all except Satan.
Doc seemed amused. “Very instructive.”
Wyatt scanned his program. “But who was the Devil?”
As he looked up at another round of applause, Satan had bounded out, removing the mask. It was Josephine Marcus. She spotted Wyatt’s box and smiled at him, a warm invitation in her dark eyes.
Wyatt was stunned. “Well, I’ll be damned…”
Doc raised an eyebrow and leaned in to speak to Wyatt in an undertone. “You may indeed. If you get lucky.”
Mattie hadn’t missed the exchange, and Wyatt cursed Doc’s reckless ways under his breath.
He arrived at the Oriental with Morgan for the night’s work at the faro table where they were soon joined by Doc and Kate.
The saloon was packed, full of men in button shoes and saloon girls in patent leather pumps. Cowhands and drovers wore stack-heeled boots with jingling silver spurs. The crowd wore slouch hats, pork-pies, derbys, and wide-brim sombreros. Every one of this diverse crowd was focused on one thing: the redistribution of other people’s money.
Wyatt sat against the wall behind the faro layout as the night got off to a good start. Doc sat at his side and Morgan stood behind Wyatt’s right shoulder, on lookout. As high rollers came and went, the Earps got richer. One overdressed gambler lost the deeds to his silver mines.
At a break in the game, Wyatt studied the deeds as his brother and friend looked on. Kate sat on Doc’s other side, blowing smoke rings contentedly.
“So now we’re in the minin’ business,” Wyatt commented. “Turnin’ into regular tycoons. Gonna call this one the Mattie Blaylock. Mattie’ll get a kick out of that, it’s her maiden name.”
Doc smirked. “And what a maiden, pure as the driven snow, I’m sure.”
Morgan was shocked. “Hey Doc! Come on now.”
Wyatt wasn’t upset or surprised. “Just his style, Morg. Doesn’t mean anythin’. Kate, would you watch the table?”
When she nodded, the men got up and headed to the bar, but Doc wasn’t ready to let the subject drop. “So tell me, Wyatt, I’m curious. Do you actually consider yourself a married man? Forsakin’ all others?”
“Well yeah, pretty much. I mean I was no angel when we met and neither was she. People can change Doc. I mean sooner or later you gotta grow up.”
“I see. And what would you do if she walked in here?”
“You know damn well who I mean.” Doc twirled a hand at him as if drawing her figure in the air. “That dusky-hued lady Satan.”
“I don’t know. Probably ignore her.”
“I’d ignore her. People can change, Doc.”
“I’ll remember you said that.” Doc struck his glass against Wyatt’s cup and walked away.
“What?” Wyatt asked, as Morgan grinned. Then he saw what Doc and his brother had already noticed. Josephine Marcus had just walked in with the other actors and as the crowd noticed them, applause broke out. She was a vision in a silver satin and lace gown. Wyatt’s heart sank. “Oh, hell.”
Josephine crossed the barroom floor by dancing a few steps with several smiling men, always handing herself off to the next with a laugh. Spotting Wyatt, she stopped in front of him, her gloved hands out to offer to dance with him, too. Her curtsey displayed her cleavage, barely more modest than one of the saloon girls.
Aware of Doc’s gaze, Wyatt looked away, as if ignoring her. She looked stunned, but Behan quickly stepped up to her, offering her a drink and an escape from the awkward moment. They moved toward the bar.
Wyatt turned to the waiting Doc. “Satisfied?”
“I stand corrected, Wyatt. You’re an oak.”
They returned to the faro table as Mr. Fabian entered to enthusiastic applause. Dressed stunningly like Lord Byron, he bowed, accepting the invitation of Deputy Breakenridge to sit at his table, near the faro game. Breakenridge fetched champagne for him and sat beside him eagerly.
“Oh, thank you. You’re very kind,” Fabian said, his words enunciated perfectly.
“Mr. Fabian, I’ve got to tell you,” Breakenridge gushed, “that’s the most wonderful thing I ever heard, what you did. What was that?”
“Shakespeare, Henry V. Henry’s all right but he’s no match for the Melancholy Dane.” Seeing the young man’s confusion, he explained. “Hamlet, dear friend, the supreme role of any actor worth his salt.”
Doc leaned in, pointing to Wyatt. “Here’s a man you should meet, Mr. Fabian. Excellent character study for you, the real-life actual Melancholy Dane.”
Fabian smiled genially. “Indeed, sir? How so?”
Delighted, Doc elaborated. “Well he hems, he haws, he talks out both sides of his mouth – but all on a very high plane, just like Hamlet.”
Wyatt frowned. “Gettin’ drunk, Doc.”
Unconcerned, Doc chuckled.
November 8, 1887: Glenwood Springs, Colorado – Wyatt
Kate was quiet beside him. Wyatt took another drink and tried not to dwell on Josie. She was in Denver, at a playhouse – or so local rumor claimed. He didn’t want to think of her yet – though Doc had told him to seek her out and claim her, it seemed wrong to plan for the future while Doc was laid out for burial.
The feud with the Cowboys, the driving force of their lives that long ago summer and autumn, was too muddled and agonizing a memory, too. Virgil had been crippled by it and Morgan had been murdered by the outlaws, dying in Wyatt’s arms.
He bowed his head, staring into his glass. Think of Doc. Remember him as he was.
The gaunt and elegant dentist had had a languid, almost feline grace. Full of Southern refinement, he had an unerring style and such aplomb that he could make his constant tubercular cough sound as if he was merely clearing his throat.
Doc had always dressed richly and looked like a dandy, even when he was drunk and bathed in sweat, but whiskey never took away his mind or his wit: it only sharpened his temper. Or sometimes, and most thought this was worse, it would bring out a cold and calculating desire for blood in the man. His talent at graciously insulting his target into a rage was legendary. In those moments, Wyatt had never been sure if it was his opponent’s death or his own that Doc was eager to achieve.
In spite of that, those times were also some of Wyatt’s favorite memories and most often the moments when Doc could help him forget his nagging conscience and make him laugh.
A smile tugged at his lips abruptly as he remembered Doc trading Latin phrases that night with the psychotic Cowboy second, Johnny Ringo. Doc had never told him what they’d said to each other. Maybe he could ask Father Feeney? If it was safe to ask a priest what two crazed gunfighters had said to egg each other on. The words, like the night itself, were etched in his memory. His hand gripped his glass and his eyes closed.
“What is it?” Kate whispered.
“Do you remember the night Doc and Ringo had an argument in Latin?”
“Did he ever tell you what they said?”
“Never. Doc didn’t explain himself when he talked over your head.”
Wyatt nodded. Most of the time, he could understand the philosophical bents pursued by Doc’s gifted mind. He suspected it could be another reason the doctor liked having him around. Yet when he slipped into Latin, he left his friend behind.
Summer 1880: Tombstone, Arizona Territory – Wyatt
Wyatt sat at his faro table and appeased the Cowboy Curly Bill with a $500 win and the news that Wyatt was retired from law enforcement. Their leader’s satisfaction backed up Ike Clanton and the others a bit.
Then Johnny Ringo had noticed the thin, well-dressed man standing beside Wyatt’s chair. He swayed slightly as he held his engraved silver stirrup cup, his face shining with sweat. Pale skin and tired reddened eyes marked him as consumptive, but the guns he wore and how he wore them were enough to prove his identity to any other outlaw.
Ringo stepped up to the edge of the faro table beside Curly Bill. His voice was a lazy sneer. “You must be Doc Holliday.”
Doc inspected the level of whiskey in his cup. “That’s the rumor.”
The sneer turned sarcastic. “You retired, too?”
Doc looked up with an intense gleam in his gray-blue eyes. If this was a fresh challenger, he was eager to play. “Not me. I’m in my prime.”
“Yeah, you look it.”
“You must be Ringo.” He turned to Kate who stood beside him, pouring more liquor into a small brandy glass. “Look, darlin’, Johnny Ringo. The deadliest pistoleer since Wild Bill, they say. What do you think, darlin’? Should I hate him?”
“You don’t even know him,” she replied with a cultured smile.
“That’s true, but there’s just somethin’ about him, something around the eyes. I don’t know, he reminds me of … me. No. I’m sure of it,” he added, leaning briefly to look at Wyatt. “I hate him.”
They all knew that was enough for some men to commence shooting. Wyatt held up his hand to Ringo. “He’s drunk.”
Doc took a sip of his whiskey and quietly replied, “In vino veritas.”
Ringo was the only man in the Oriental who understood Doc’s words and when he responded in kind, the saloon went silent around them.
“Age quod agis.” The challenge was as obvious as the language was a mystery.
Doc’s eyes gained that eager gleam. “Credat Judaeus Apella, non ego.”
Ringo reached down and patted the six-shooter on his right hip. “Iuventus stultorum magister.”
A wide delighted and wicked smile spread over the doctor’s thin lips. “In pace requiescat.”
Fred White, the old town marshal, stepped up, trying to settle the men down. “Come on, boys. We don’t want any trouble here, not in any language.”
Doc switched back to English, speaking to Kate. “That’s Latin, darlin’. Evidently Mr. Ringo’s an educated man. Now I really hate him.”
Ringo held Doc’s gaze and instantly whipped out his .45. Everyone flinched, except for Doc.
“Watch it, Johnny,” Curly Bill warned, “I hear he’s real fast.”
The Cowboy aimed the gun for a moment, and then began to perform a dazzling series of twirls and tricks, his nickel-plated pistol flashing like a blaze of silver fire. He went though several intricate passes that must have taken a while to practice and perfect, before finally slapping it back into his holster with a flourish.
The astonished crowd had gone from fear to delight at the display of skill. Their cheers and hoots sounded over spontaneous applause.
Doc had studied every move the gunman made intently. The Cowboys, Curly Bill, Ike, and others, stared at Doc as Ringo did, the challenge still on. Wyatt and Morgan watched them. Wyatt had reached under the table. His fingers found the shotgun he’d had mounted there, and he swiveled it to aim at the body of Ringo.
His sense of insulting fun winning over, Doc finished his drink, hooked a finger through the handle of his silver cup, and then launched into an exact duplication of Ringo’s routine.
The mockery of using the cup cracked smiles on the Earps and Curly Bill, as the room burst into laughter. Doc shrugged as he pretended to holster his cup at his hip, next to his .45.
Curly Bill started to lead his men away, a chuckle on his lips. He threw his winnings into the air extravagantly, announcing, “Drinks are on me!”
Ringo let a strange little hint of a smile cross his face before he followed the others.
November 8, 1887: Glenwood Springs, Colorado – Wyatt
“Doc tried to find you the next day,” Kate told him. “Your wife, Mattie, said you’d gone out riding. We didn’t find you until we all arrived at the Oriental, the night they killed the Marshal.”
Memories blinded him as longing and loneliness pulled painfully in his chest. Josie had taken up with Behan but still managed to shoot him looks and smiles whenever they crossed paths in town. He’d gone riding to avoid her, only to find that she had done the same. Her taunt about running the horses had led to his stallion chasing her mare on a thrilling and risky run through woods and down hills, jumping over trees. He’d never seen the like.
They had talked, she had asked if he was happy and he had assured her she was a lady – and somehow Doc’s teasing about him being an oak of marital fortitude had faded away in Josie’s arms, in her warmth.
The memory of that comfort broke under the guilt of the fight he’d had with his wife after finding her stash of empty laudanum bottles. She had confronted him about Josephine after seeing how they looked at each other. When he insisted he could make it right, Mattie had shocked him – demanding that they go to Josephine and tell her she meant nothing, in front of Mattie. He had frozen as his blood ran cold and she had seen it in his eyes – that he couldn’t … wouldn’t, do it.
He had lost her in that moment and he hadn’t even been sure at the time how to feel about the loss. Like a ghost of a life he no longer wanted, she had remained, lurking in the shadows of their home or clinging to his brothers’ wives as a way to remain sane. He had destroyed her through silence and coldness, yet all he felt was some intangible failure.
Josephine had burned through all the pain and creeping numbness in his soul that had walled his wife out, built by the many horrors he had lived through. Yet she had remained out of his reach merely because he was afraid of her fire, of the freedom she represented from the confines of the structured life he’d always lived.
Lost on two fronts, he slowly felt the soft gaze of his companion and startled, looking up at Kate in confusion.
With a slight but knowing smile, she didn’t ask him about it. Pouring whiskey for him, she said, “Doc wasn’t well that day but he wouldn’t rest. Sometimes he was … driven, to do what he did. I would go with him to share that life but also to watch over him. You know, you did it too.”
Wyatt nodded, grateful to escape the tangled mess inside him. “As much as he’d let me.”
“The marshal, what was his name?”
“Fred White.” He drank. “That was the beginning of the end.”
“I didn’t want it to end.”
“Me, neither. Sooner or later, those Cowboys were gonna start somethin’. I knew it. All I could do was try to hold it off, keep my family out of it.”
He had failed, she knew that. He wondered if she could see the ghosts in his eyes.
Summer 1880: Tombstone, Arizona Territory – Wyatt
The night after the day spent with Josie, most of the Cowboys had left the Oriental with only a few still drinking at the bar. Doc sat at the piano. He was almost too drunk to remain on the bench but managed to play Chopin flawlessly.
Kate was perched on the other end of the bench, leaning back against the doctor. She might have been as drunk as he was and perhaps they were holding each other up as he played. She swayed slightly against him to the music, her head touching his.
Wyatt remained at the faro table but tried to split his attention and keep an eye on his friend. That eye sharpened when Cowboy Billy Clanton went reeling over to the piano, with two of his friends looking on and snickering. They’d been grousing about Kate’s choice of men, no doubt jealous of her attentions. She ran a tent full of girls but her affections and favors were for Doc only.
In a loud and gratingly drunk voice, Billy asked, “Hey, is that ‘Old Dog Tray’? Sounds like ‘Old Dog Tray’ to me.”
“Pardon?” Doc responded, his voice slurred. It seemed to be an effort to look up at the Cowboy.
“You know, Stephen Foster. ‘Oh, Susanna’, ‘Camptown Races’ – Stephen-stinkin’-Foster!”
“Yes, well, this happens to be a Nocturne.”
“You know, Frederic-fucking-Chopin.” Confounding the outlaw with that, Doc played on as Kate laughed.
They had all been interrupted by a commotion out on Allen Street – Curly Bill on opium, shooting up the street, the buildings, even the full moon. Behan had argued with the Mayor that it was a town matter, not county – the coward was willing to send old Fred White out there to face down a madman. They all watched as White walked out.
Wyatt put his cards down and looked over at Doc. “Maybe I ought to go out there.”
“You will or you won’t,” Doc muttered, slurring the words. “Don’t look to me. I’m goin’ to sleep.” He laid his head down on the piano keys and passed out.
Wyatt frowned for a moment. Finally he stood, turning to Morgan. “Go wake up Virgil.” As his brother left, Wyatt faced the bartender, Milt Joyce. “Hey Milt, lend me a sidearm, will you?”
Before Wyatt reached the street, another shot rang out and Marshal White fell at Curly Bill’s feet.
Author’s Note: Here’s the translation of the Latin duel:
Doc: In wine there is truth.
Ringo: Do what you do.
Doc: Let Apella the Jew believe, not I.
Ringo: Youth is the teacher of fools.
Doc: May he rest in peace.
Thanks for reading! – AnonGrimm (Twitter: @MET_Fic) (Tumblr: anongrimm)