Summer 1880: Tombstone, Arizona Territory – Wyatt
Wyatt rushed out and struck Curly Bill to the ground with the butt of his borrowed gun. Almost before he landed, they were surrounded by outraged miners and outlaws demanding he turn their leader loose.
Ike snarled, “Swear to God, law dog, step aside or we’ll tear you apart.”
It had been a dicey, unnerving incident. He had the overeager Ike Clanton pinned, the point of his gun pressed against his forehead when the man had advanced on him. He held Curly Bill tightly by his shirt, insisting the man stand trial for the murder. Cowboys ringed them, inching closer. Beyond them were the miners and other citizens screaming for Curly Bill to swing. Ike’s brother Billy was drunk enough to get wooly – and kept stepping nearer to Wyatt.
Threatening Ike, Wyatt spoke loud enough for all of them to hear. “You die first, get it? The others might get me in a rush but not before I turn your head into a canoe. You understand me?”
Ike stood stock still. Billy stepped forward, undaunted. “He’s bluffin’! Let’s rush him!”
“No, he ain’t bluffin’,” Ike whimpered.
“You’re not as stupid as you look, Ike,” Wyatt responded. “Now tell them to get back.”
“Get back, go on…” When Billy took another step, Ike cried out, “Billy! He’ll kill me.”
All the men on the street tensed. Then Doc’s voice rang out behind Billy, calming Wyatt’s fears. “And you – music lover – you’re next.”
A hush fell over the crowd. Doc stood on the walkway, still swaying, and drunk as a lord. His stirrup cup in his right hand, he had his .38 in his left – trained on Billy.
Billy sneered as he turned to face Doc. “Drunk piano player. You’re so drunk, you can’t hit nothin’. In fact,” he drew a long buck knife, “you’re probably seein’ double.”
With the stirrup cup still dangling from one finger, Doc pulled out his .45 and aimed it at Billy, too. “I have two guns – one for each of ya.”
Billy paused, afraid – yet it was the abrupt arrival of Virgil and Morgan, bulling through the crowd and bearing shotguns, that quelled the mounting violence.
Wyatt lowered his pistol, heaving a sigh of relief as the Cowboys moved off. He pulled the still-groggy Curly Bill to his feet and hauled him, reeling, toward the jail.
Before he turned away, he met Doc’s eyes, amazed at the poise of the man. He was the only one feeling disappointment at the peaceful outcome, but he followed with his brothers as Wyatt took Curly Bill to the jail.
Nothing came of it, of course – after everything had calmed down and the law had done nothing about Curly Bill’s murder of Marshal Fred White, Wyatt had washed his hands of the whole mess. He tried to get his brothers to drop it too, yet events in the dangerous frontier town had stacked up and gotten to Virgil. Before Wyatt could knock sense into them both, his elder brother was the new town Marshal and his younger brother was his deputy.
Their new edict of no guns carried in the town could be a blessing or a curse, but Wyatt was sure it would end up the latter before they were done. Even so, they had managed all right through the rest of that summer.
October 25, 1881: Tombstone, Arizona Territory – Wyatt
The moment he entered the Oriental, Wyatt stopped at the sight of Josephine Marcus in a white gown singing by the piano. He slowly took his hat off out of respect as she smiled at him while she sang about lovers in a valley – as they had been, that once.
Swooping in like a vulture, Behan appeared at his shoulder to ask what he thought of the singer. It was practically a taunt. Wyatt brushed it off.
Morgan stepped up to him the moment Behan slipped off. “Wyatt! Doc won’t quit, he’s been at it for thirty-six hours straight. Clanton and the McLaury brothers came in about an hour ago.”
Wyatt’s eyes had already swept the scene. Doc, looking dreadful with dark circles under his eyes, sat at the corner table playing poker with Ike Clanton and both McLaurys. Virgil was leaning on the bar nearby, watching over the game.
Morgan added, “I tried to get him to go to bed, but he just won’t let go.”
“I know – and nobody can make him.” They headed over to Doc’s table, and Wyatt stood next to his friend.
Doc gave him a bright, if sluggish, smile and spoke drunkenly, “Wyatt! Just in time. Pull up a chair.” He had lifted his head slowly to acknowledge him. Wyatt had never seen him so weak.
“Doc. Been hittin’ it awful hard, haven’t you?”
“Nonsense, I have not yet begun to defile myself.” His pale and sweating fingers held the cards steadily.
Ike Clanton was drunk, too. Doc was getting belligerent and another volatile situation unfolded.
Wyatt touched Doc’s shoulder lightly and whispered to him, trying to persuade him to give it up and go to bed. Doc was less than agreeable, though his edged charm never failed.
“I won’t be pawed at, thank you very much.”
He removed his hand. Seeing no other way to handle it, Wyatt settled for guard duty. He sat between Ike and the dentist and set out his cash to join the game. Morgan reclaimed his seat beside Kate, where he had already been trying to watch over them.
Kate was smiling at their exchange. “That’s right. Doc can go all day and all night and then some. That’s my loving man.” She didn’t notice Ike look up with jealousy at that. Kate put her arm around Doc’s shoulders and grinned as she poured more whiskey into his stirrup cup. “Have another one, my loving man.”
A carnal look passed between Doc and his woman, igniting Ike’s jealousy into frustrated anger.
“Hey,” Ike interjected, “lovin’ man – you been called.”
Wyatt shifted uneasily in his seat. The hand was down to Doc and Ike, and the pot was huge. Doc took a drink and showed his cards. It was no surprise to his friends that it was a win.
“Oops,” Doc remarked, clowning with a smirk as he began to chuckle.
Ike tossed the last of his drink down his throat as if for courage. When Doc began to take the money, he grabbed his hand. “That’s twelve hands in a row, Holliday, you son of a bitch, nobody’s that lucky.”
The Earps stiffened as an intensely focused expression came over Doc’s pale face. It gave him the appearance of a snake ready to strike. He spoke louder than necessary, a challenge riding his words.
“Why Ike, whatever do you mean?”
Doc’s eager welcome of the insult Ike implied made Wyatt wince. The threat was obvious to Ike, too; he removed his hand and sat back, afraid of Doc but still angry.
Virgil spoke a low warning neither man might heed. “Take it easy, boys.”
Doc grinned as he raked in the pot. “Maybe poker’s just not your game, Ike. I know, let’s have a spelling contest!”
Ike stood in a drunken rage. “How about I just wring your scrawny neck!”
He lunged, reaching in front of Wyatt, but Wyatt shoved him back as Doc burst out laughing.
Virgil came forward and grabbed Ike out of Wyatt’s shove, moving between him and the table. “That’s enough, Ike.”
“You takin’ his part? Huh? I’m the one got cheated. Damn pimps, you’re all in it together.”
“Nobody’s in anything, Ike, you’re drunk. Go on home and sleep it off.” Virgil stood between him and the others and put his hands on Ike’s shoulders to turn him toward the door.
“Get your damn hands off me! Don’t you ever put your hands on me, see. Don’t you ever try to man-handle a Cowboy, ‘cause we’ll cut your damn pimp’s heart out, understand me, you pimp!”
Virgil bristled. “Don’t you threaten me, you little son of a bitch –”
Violence seemed imminent and Doc was watching, hoping for it. Then Wyatt jumped in, separating them. “All right, all right! Come on, easy, Virge, easy!” Morgan stood behind the McLaurys, ready to back his brothers up as they all rose. Ike began to back off, not about to face down all of them. Wyatt held Virgil back and they began to leave the table. “Just go on home and forget about it, huh Ike?”
Ike elbowed past them. “I ain’t gonna forget nothin’,” he grumbled, as he lurched to the bar to get another drink.
Doc looked disappointed. “Well, that certainly was a bust. Come, darlin’,” he said to Kate, “let’s seek our entertainment elsewhere.” He had begun to cough, attempting as always to hide the severity of it.
Wyatt whispered to his brother, “Forget it Virge, go on – get some fresh air.” He watched him leave, glad they had avoided a fight.
Doc stood slowly and shakily to his feet, drawing a handkerchief from his pocket.
Kate had begun putting his winnings into a black leather doctor’s bag but stopped in shock when Doc’s terrible cough seemed to tear through his throat. “What’s wrong, Doc?” she asked, fear in her voice. She moved chairs out of his way and grabbed his shoulder, trying to steady him.
Shaking his head, he struggled to remain on his feet, holding the handkerchief against his lips; it was bloodied by the next cough. “Nothing, not a thing. I’m right as the mail.” He stood for a second, and then crumpled, keeling over onto the floor on his back where he passed out.
Kate and Wyatt rushed to him at the same time. “Doc? Doc!” he called out, but the dentist didn’t respond; he had passed out. Morgan was at his side in seconds. “All right,” he said to his brother, “Get him up. Let’s get him to the hotel!”
Morgan helped him lift the unconscious man off the floor by his legs as Wyatt carried his limp torso. Kate got the rest of the pot into Doc’s bag and hurried to follow them out.
~ ~ ~
Morgan left after they got Doc onto his bed. Kate had told him she could take care of him, but Wyatt was loath to leave. Fully aware Doc wouldn’t have approved, he helped her get the unconscious man out of his clothes and into a long nightshirt. He lifted the doctor himself as Kate drew down the covers.
Watching her fuss over him, tucking the blankets to his chin, Wyatt felt at a loss. He’d known for a long time that the disease that ate at his friend was killing him. This was the first time he’d seen him so bad. It was a shock how light his body was, how frail.
“He’s skilled at pretending … that nothing is wrong.” Kate’s whisper disturbed the quiet in the room. “He doesn’t like to discuss it or show what it’s doing to him.” She held herself tightly. “You’d better go. He won’t be pleased to find you here.”
“Isn’t there anything I can do?”
She looked up at him. The horror and worry he felt was reflected in her eyes. “Pretend with him. That’s what I do.”
October 26, 1881: Tombstone, Arizona Territory – Kate
“Your condition’s quite advanced,” the doctor explained, clearly choosing his words with care. “I’d say you’ve lost some sixty percent of your lung tissue, maybe more.”
Kate froze, trying to remain quiet. She stood on the balcony in her petticoat and corset, rolling a cigarette. Dr. Goodfellow’s assessment was shocking, despite what she’d told Wyatt Earp the night before.
Turning to peek inside the room, she saw Doc struggle to sit up more in bed. He looked like death, with his mouth open to gasp for air, his eyes bright with the pain of every breath. The doctor sat beside the bed, putting away his stethoscope.
She had sent for Goodfellow with Doc’s grudging consent after a racking coughing spasm had left him too weak to move. She’d seen the handkerchief before he could hide it – it had been full of blood and dark matter.
Doc’s manner was gruff in the face of the doctor’s diagnosis. He sipped tea from a china cup as if nothing was wrong. “What’s the verdict?”
“Two years, two days, hard to say. If you stop now – your smoking, drinking, gambling, your nightlife… You must have a healthy diet and most importantly, you need complete rest.”
Slow and careful, Doc set the cup and saucer on the nightstand. He fought not to cough as the doctor stood and continued speaking.
“What I mean is, you must attempt to deny your … marital impulse.”
Doc’s expression was incensed, his tone a contemptuous threat as reddened eyes narrowed. “Get out of my sight.”
Goodfellow startled, took his bag and exited in a hurry, leaving Doc alone with the abyss. Kate entered, lit the cigarette, and went to his bedside. The moment he saw her, his expression changed – hiding the pain and the hopelessness.
“How you feeling, Doc?”
“That’s good. I knew it wasn’t nothing.” She took a puff and set the cigarette to burn in the ashtray on the nightstand she sat at his side.
“We must talk, darlin’. It appears, we must … redefine the nature of our association.”
She slowly peeled off her lace robe and gave him a quizzical look before leaning over him. “I’m a good woman to you, Doc. Don’t I always take care of you? Nobody cares for you like me.” Kate stroked him through the covers, her hand touching him just right, with practiced skill. “I’m a good woman.”
“Yes, it’s true. You are a good woman.”
Kate smiled, licking the cigarette after picking it up. She leaned in to put it between his pale lips, aware that her bosom was enticingly bare over her bodice. As Doc stared at her chest something behind his eyes seemed to shut down. He took a long drag from the cigarette before taking it from her to hold it in trembling fingers.
She knew how to skirt the problem they faced. It was a trick few whores would do, and respectable women knew nothing about – but she did. Kate slipped down his body, taking the covers with her. Pushing up the cotton nightshirt, she touched him with gentle hands and a ravenous mouth.
His voice, above her, tried to take what was happening in stride with his usual caustic wit. “Then again, you may be the Antichrist.”
Kate had done this only once before, after being told how by another girl. Most men didn’t even know to ask for it, and she was sure Doc was new to the experience. Yet she refused to allow him to fall into morose melancholy over the loss of pleasures she could still provide – without him overexerting himself at all.
When she finished, he gasped out as his back arched slightly. Trying not to choke or cough, he settled back down again, panting. Handing him a glass of whiskey, she watched him drink it down like a mother caring for a sick boy.
“Have you decided, Doc?” She sat down at his side and leaned over him again. “Am I an angel or a devil?”
“You are … manna,” he whispered. Moments afterward he had passed out again, but the lines on his face were smoothed into a more peaceful sleep.
She had just taken a swig of bourbon from his bottle on the nightstand, when a soft knock sounded on the door. Moving quickly, she pulled her lover’s nightshirt down and the covers up.
When she opened the door, Wyatt stood outside of it with his hat in his hands. Kate knew Doc wouldn’t appreciate her candor but Wyatt wasn’t going to accept anything less than the truth. With a heavy heart, she told him Doctor Goodfellow’s assessment and watched him turn away with haunted eyes.
Two years, two days…
October 26, 1881: Tombstone, Arizona Territory – Wyatt
Kate had called for Doctor Goodfellow to check on Doc when he woke that morning. When Wyatt saw her again, she had told him the news wasn’t good but she’d take care of him, as always. He had gone to join his brothers, knowing there was nothing he could do.
They had survived Virgil’s mad choice to become the town marshal and Morgan’s stupidity of becoming his deputy. Wyatt hadn’t been able to convince them to change their minds but they had handled it.
That morning, as they stood on the boardwalk in front of the jail and watched more of the outlaws ride into town, Wyatt couldn’t help but wonder how long their luck would hold. Ike Clanton was leading them, a coward who loved to start fights he couldn’t win – but many of the others were not so timid. Wyatt didn’t respond to the smirks and sneers turned toward them as the riders went by.
“Now there’re six of them,” Virgil said. “This is like a bad dream.”
Wyatt drank coffee and replied, “Just stay calm and use your head, it’ll be all right. Just the same though … guess maybe you better swear me in.”
Virgil turned his head to meet his gaze. Neither of them had to say a word.
When he’d shown up at home with a badge on his chest, Mattie had been equally silent. She sat up in quiet shock from her seat at the open window and watched him fetch his gun from the box in a drawer: Colt’s Revolver-Carbine .45 Buntline Special with a twelve-inch barrel. A plate on the side of the grip read, ‘To Wyatt Earp – Peacemaker. From the Grateful People of Dodge City. April 1878’.
He returned to the jail without speaking to her and she knew him well enough to know that he couldn’t be swayed, any more than his brothers had been.
~ ~ ~
They had been discussing the Cowboys that afternoon in front of the jail on Allen Street when they were interrupted by Mayor Clum.
“Those Cowboys’re tellin’ everybody in town they’re gonna clean you out. They’re back there in that lot, behind the O.K. Corral.”
“Thank you, Mayor,” Wyatt said, watching from the rocking chair as the man passed by. He had his feet up on the railing, weighing options as he tried to consider all angles. At least Doc’s up in his room at Mrs. Fly’s – maybe he’ll sleep right through any trouble brewing.
As if conjured by the thought, they were shocked to see Doc coming down the walkway from Fly’s.
Wyatt was speechless, but Morgan called out to him, “What’re you doin’ out of bed, Doc?”
He didn’t look good; he wasn’t even dressed in his normal dapper clothes. A dark Inverness cloak hung from his shoulders over black trousers, suspenders, and a sweat-soaked gray shirt. He carried a black walking stick decorated with a heavy silver knob. His guns were the only part of his wardrobe that had been donned meticulously at all.
Wyatt stood, heart sinking, as he approached.
“What the hell’s going on?” Doc answered as he joined them. “I’ve had five people come up to my room telling me that the Clantons and McLaurys are gunning for us.”
Morgan interjected, “Are we going down there or not? What are we gonna do?”
Wyatt frowned. “Wait ‘til the liquor wears off. Once they start gettin’ headaches, they’ll lose interest.”
Virgil stood beside him holding a huge Stevens 10 gauge shotgun, and Wyatt knew it would be an ugly day. “Lose interest hell, they’re threatenin’ our lives.”
“You’ll never make that stick.”
“They’re carryin’ guns, Wyatt.”
“Virge, that’s a misdemeanor. You go down there to arrest ‘em, somethin’ goes wrong, maybe this time somebody really gets his head broke. You’ll have Cowboys comin’ around lookin’ for trouble from here to Christmas. You gonna risk all that over a misdemeanor?”
“Damn right I’ll risk it, they’re breakin’ the law.”
Hoping to keep him safe, he faced Doc. Half-dead and still drinking from a flask, his friend was sweating and unsteady on his feet. “It’s not your problem, Doc, you don’t have to mix up in this.”
An expression of genuine shock and hurt transformed Doc’s face; his red-rimmed gray-blue eyes turned hard and cold. “That is a hell of a thing for you to say to me.”
Caught by his reaction, Wyatt was stunned into silence as Doc moved to stand beside Virgil and Morgan.
Wyatt paused and looked down the street. When he turned back, he saw the resolute faces of men he loved more than life staring hard back at him. They wouldn’t be swayed. “All right, Virge, your call – but give Doc the shotgun. They’ll be less apt to get nervy if he’s on the street howitzer.”
Virgil traded the shotgun for Doc’s cane. Doc folded the shotgun under his cloak, a satisfied look in his eyes. They all stared at Wyatt, waiting for his cue.
He wanted nothing better than to turn this choice aside. “Well … come on.”
They started down Allen Street, footsteps stirring up swirling dust in an afternoon breeze. Virgil and Wyatt were out in front, Morgan and Doc in the rear. Others rushed with buckets beyond them to put out a fire that was blazing in a building before it could spread. It strengthened his impression that the whole town was slowly turning into a vision of Hell. Doc, perhaps comfortable there already, was whistling as they walked.
As they went, bystanders stepped aside, trading whispers behind them as they passed. Seeing them, Wyatt muttered, “How in the hell’d we get ourselves into this?”
From the side, Behan rushed up to them, holding up his hands. “You don’t have to worry about a thing, I just went down there and disarmed them.”
“You did?” Virgil said with disbelief. “Come on, boys.”
Behan trailed after them. “Gentlemen? I’m not going to allow any trouble!”
They ignored him as they turned onto Fourth Street. From there they entered Fremont Street, passing Fly’s studio and boarding house, to the alley and vacant lot where the Cowboys had gathered.
The lot was situated behind the O.K. Corral. Cammilius S. Fly’s Photograpic Gallery was on the left, with Harwood house and Jersey’s Livery Stable on the right. When the lot came into view, the men began fighting nerves. Their fists were clenched and they gritted their teeth, their eyes darting all over the street. Only Doc, bringing up the rear, looked like he couldn’t care less. He had even tipped his hat to his barber along the route.
Behan entered Fly’s gallery as the lawmen quickened their step. Seeing the approaching Earp party, the Cowboys glanced around at each other, setting themselves. Now at the end of the alley, the lawmen and Doc could see the Cowboys: Billy and Ike Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury, Billy Claiborne, and Wes Fuller. They were still armed.
The four men in black slowed their step, gathering themselves. The Cowboys spread out. As the Earps got closer and closer, it seemed as if the very air was electric with tension. Yet as they stepped into the alley and fanned out for their final approach, they looked more like undertakers than lawmen, four tall figures in long black coats and cloak advancing in a line, grim and unstoppable.
When they came to a halt, the two groups faced each other with only twenty feet between them. Ike Clanton, hung over, had just dunked his head into a rain barrel. He stood frozen with the rest, water dripping from his face. The others looked tense – he looked terrified.
Virgil, the highest-ranking lawman, spoke first. “We’re here to disarm you. Throw up your hands!”
A weird moment of confusion settled over all of them, and no one seemed to know what to do.
Two clicks sounded in the silence: Doc had cocked both barrels of the shotgun one-handed as it waited at his side. Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury reacted, slapping their hands to their guns. The Earps instantly tensed up, hands on their pistols.
Virgil stepped forward, his face set, holding up Doc’s cane in a fist. “Hold! That’s not what I want!”
In Wyatt’s memory, he was never sure if his brother was speaking to Doc or to the Cowboys. Doc shrugged his cloak off his shoulders as he raised the shotgun higher. His wide and wicked smile was spreading over his face.
Abruptly realizing what was happening, Wes Fuller bolted and dashed through a back gate into the livery stable. Right after him, Billy Claiborne ran away. Everyone else stood frozen, breath short, pulses pounding, each staring into the other’s wide-open eyes. Time seemed to stop.
Then Doc focused on Billy Clanton, the ‘music lover’ who had challenged him before. Between one heartbeat and the next, he winked at Billy.
Something in Billy Clanton’s eyes seemed to go dead and Wyatt groaned under his breath as the awful realization hit him. “Oh, my God…”
Billy and Frank jerked their pistols. Wyatt and Billy fired nearly at the same instant, and the narrow lot exploded in gunfire. Frank went down with a shot to his shoulder, but it wasn’t clear how badly he was hurt. Morgan fired, blowing Billy back against the wall of the Harwood house. Tom McLaury darted for cover behind his horse.
Ike ran forward when he saw his brother Billy shot. “Billy! Billy!”
Tom shot over his saddle at Doc who tried to return fire but was blocked by the horse. Doc shot one barrel into the air, the blast making the horse rear up, exposing Tom for a split second. Doc fired the other barrel, and Tom’s side exploded into red mist, the full charge of buckshot slamming him into the Harwood house. Tom dropped his gun and teetered into the street, taking eerie little mincing steps, already dead but still moving before he fell.
Ike turned away from his brother with his arms up. “Stop, no! Don’t shoot!” He rushed up to Wyatt, fell to his knees at his feet and grasped at him, shrieking, “No, no, please! I ain’t got no gun! Don’t shoot me, I ain’t got no gun!”
“Damn it, Ike, this fight’s commenced. Get to fightin’ or get away!” Wyatt hurled him aside.
Ike sprinted for the gallery, burst through the doors, and nearly fell inside.
Frank McLaury struggled back up, howling, and fired, the bullet piercing Virgil’s calf. He dropped to one knee and shot Frank, knocking him down again. Billy Clanton was wounded but back on his feet. He fired, dropping Morgan with a hole in his shoulder.
Wyatt aimed at Billy and hit him just before Doc dropped the empty shotgun and pulled his .38 Colt Lightning and began firing double-action, striking Billy three times in the abdomen. Together, they filled him with lead. He was dead before he fell.
The lot had been bathed in thick smoke in moments. Each man had jockeyed for position as gunshots rang out.
Inside the gallery, Behan had dropped out of sight but Ike Clanton had watched at the windows as his brother Billy was killed. Enraged and crazed, Ike snatched up a pistol from somewhere, probably Behan’s, and shot through the window, the bullet whizzing past Wyatt’s ear. “Billy! Billy!”
Wyatt spun around, enraged that Ike had gotten a gun, and called to Doc, “Behind us!”
In a flashing move that took less than a heartbeat, Doc pivoted with the .38 in one hand and drew his big .45 with the other before he could finish turning to face the building. He ran into the fray between Ike and Wyatt, rapid-firing fast and brutal. The bullets ripped through the gallery windows to shower Ike with splinters and broken glass.
Ike moved strangely as if someone was tugging at him. As Doc and Wyatt moved closer, Ike finally turned and dashed out a back door to run away.
Eyes wild and bulging, a bloody hand clutching the worst of his wounds, Frank McLaury staggered across the lot, bearing down on Doc through the smoke. Doc’s .45 clicked, empty.
Frank’s face turned to stone. “I got you now, you son of a bitch!”
Doc opened his arms, giving Frank a clear shot at his chest. “You’re a daisy if you do.”
Frank fired, the bullet grazing Doc’s holster, leaving a shallow wound across his upper thigh. Frank trudged closer, about to fire again, but Doc raised his .38 and fired low first at an angle – his last bullet. It struck beneath Frank’s right ear and up into his head. At nearly the same instant, Morgan fired from his prone position on the ground, the big .45 drilling Frank through the abdomen.
As the last shots echoed through the hills, Frank flopped limply to the ground like a rag doll. The fight, which seemed to last forever, was over in just under thirty seconds.
Wyatt went to his little brother. “Morgan? It’s all quiet now.”
He helped Morgan to his feet as Behan stepped through the gallery’s door and strode briskly back onto the scene. He was holding his cane, but his coat was long and Wyatt couldn’t see if he still had his gun.
“All right,” he said, addressing Wyatt, “all of you are under arrest.”
Wyatt approached, a fiercely intense expression on his sweating and dusty face. Feeling the threat, Behan tried to casually show the butt of his gun while moving a hand to his hip. Wyatt thought nothing of it – he could have picked it back up after Ike Clanton dropped it.
Did Ike take it or was it given to him? Cold disgust dusted his reply. “I don’t think I’ll let you arrest us today, Behan.”
Townspeople had run from their homes and shops to see what had happened. As more bystanders arrived, a crowd rapidly developed.
The Earp women ran up from the west end of Fremont. Josephine, in a purple dressing gown, exited the gallery and fought her way through the crowd until she and Wyatt caught sight of each other. He hadn’t known she was in there – it was a wonder she hadn’t been shot. She smiled with tears in her eyes, relieved to find him alive. He watched her with a bemused expression, unable to react.
Seeing the whole thing, Mattie turned and walked away while Allie and Louisa ran to their men, hugging them. Doc stood over Frank’s body, fingering the graze over his thigh.
Mayor Clum walked up to Wyatt with a stunned expression on his face as he surveyed the bloody scene.
“Guess we did our good deed for today, Mayor.” His voice was flat. They both knew nothing good would come of it. Clum shook his head and walked away.
His brothers’ wives and other townspeople were helping Virgil and Morgan. Doctors were called and a cart arrived to carry them home. Virgil still had Doc’s cane, now using it to walk as Allie assisted him. Behan had escorted Josephine away.
Wyatt felt the stare, glanced over at Doc, and a look passed between them: relief. With a small nod, he walked over to his friend and they left the massacre side by side, the sting of gunpowder in their nostrils.
He still held the Buntline Special at his thigh and the crowd parted wide for them both. Wyatt silently wondered what had happened and how it happened as he walked away. Keeping his family safe had just gotten a whole lot harder.
~ ~ ~
Wyatt went out onto the front porch where Morgan was sitting in one of the white wicker chairs watching as the funeral for Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury was marching into Boot Hill under a sign that read: Murdered on the streets of Tombstone.
Walking up to the railing, he drank his coffee as one of the Cowboys turned his head to look balefully across at him as they went by.
Ike Clanton, the man who had begged to him that he was unarmed and then took Behan’s gun to try to kill them from behind, was walking in the procession with a bunch of wildflowers in one hand. He had finally stopped running away long enough to remember that his brother hadn’t run.
With a sigh, Wyatt set the coffee on the small table and took the chair beside Morgan.
“You were right, it’s nothin’ like I thought,” his younger brother muttered. “I almost wish…”
“I know, Morg,” Wyatt answered, and then whispered, “I know. Me, too.”
He sat there long after the coffee was gone, the funeral was over, and Morgan had gone to bed. He sat until Doc Holliday came by, one hand on the railing. He had just begun to think about him, and so he had appeared.
“How is he?” Doc asked.
Wyatt sighed. It wasn’t in his nature to talk much, but Doc could always pull the truth out of him with barely an effort. “His eyes look like mine now. I tried to warn him killin’ would tear him up. But Virge and Morg, they love justice too much to let things be.”
“So did you, once.”
“I came here, and gathered them all here, to give up fightin’ for the law and be a family – a rich one. Now … I don’t know. The Cowboys will never leave us alone.” Wyatt watched Doc a moment, struck by his calm stillness. “It doesn’t bother you a wit, does it, killin’ a man?”
“It never would and never will. Why, Doc?”
“You wouldn’t understand, Wyatt. You’re blinded by the law, no matter how fixed on the good life you think you are. The law is in your blood. But you’ll never be free, be able to breathe, until you let it go and live for yourself.”
“I’d like to. I’d like to take my family and go, but it wouldn’t change anythin’. The Cowboys would follow.”
“And I’d be there waitin’ for them.”
A warm feeling flooded through him. He reached out to lay his hand over the other man’s, but Doc removed it from the railing. He was like that. Staring into those pale blue eyes full of chilled calm, he nodded instead, gratitude for his friend filling his throat. Echoing his simple words to Morgan, he whispered, “I know, Doc. I know.”
A tint of mischief glinted in those eyes that reminded Wyatt of the fireworks that had burst over Boot Hill throughout the funeral. That soft Georgia drawl filled the darkening sky, too.
“And I am willing to forgive your insult this morning, sir, provided you never repeat it.”
Startled, Wyatt wanted to explain: that he’d only tried to keep his friend safe, that Doc had been too ill to walk let alone to join in on an arrest bound to go bad. Yet he knew his protest would be useless. “Thanks, Doc,” he replied instead, shaking his head.
That morning, the man had been teetering on death’s doorstep. Fighting by their side, probably keeping them all from death, he had seemed immortal. Now, his cloak was draped over his thin shoulders and a wracking cough doubled him over. Doc took his flask out of his pocket and drank down a gulp of whiskey. Wyatt rose and reached down, afraid he might fall and ready to grip his arm.
Doc stepped away from his touch again, heading off down the street. “I don’t expect to see you at the Oriental tonight,” he drawled, as if they had been discussing the weather. “I’ll give the gents your apologies.”
Wyatt could do nothing but watch him leave.
January 17, 1882: Tombstone, Arizona Territory – Wyatt
Virgil, Morgan, and Wyatt walked down Allen Street together on a chilled afternoon. Wyatt reflected that the wounds were close to healed, if not the conscience. Christmas and New Years had passed peacefully but the quiet was too good to be true.
As they came level with the barber shop, Morgan saw young Deputy Breakenridge. “Hello, Billy. I say hello, Deputy.”
Breakenridge turned on them with a glare. “I don’t want to talk to you. Those
men you killed were my friends. I’m just a nothing, but if I wasn’t I’d fight you, I’d fight
you right now. So I don’t wanna talk to you.” He hurried away as the Earps looked on in amazement.
“All they ever did was make fun of him,” Wyatt observed.
Then a low and threatening voice interrupted them, punctuated by the sound of a glass bottle he’d dropped as it shattered at his feet. “Sister Boy should’ve stuck around.”
They turned to see Ringo, drunk, standing behind them on the street with murder in his eyes. His hands were poised beside the pockets of his long black buffalo coat, ivory gun butts peeking out.
Virgil spoke to the gunman in a wary voice. “What d’you want, Ringo?”
“I want your blood, I want your souls … and I want ’em both right now.”
“Don’t want any more trouble,” Wyatt said.
Ringo’s voice rose in a shout. “Well you got trouble! And it starts with you.” He stared Wyatt down.
Wyatt opened his coat, showing that he was unarmed. “I’m not gonna fight you, Ringo. There’s no money in it. Sober up. Come on, boys.” They turned toward the Oriental.
Ringo howled behind them, “Wretched slugs, don’t any of you have the guts to play for blood?”
“I’m your huckleberry.”
Doc was leaning against the white and red stripped barber pole. He must have been in the barber chair, unnoticed by any of them. One hand was held behind his back – and the handle of his .45 was not in its holster. His other hand was poised casually near the butt of the .38 that hung under his elbow. He stepped down into the street from the shaded porch in front of the barber shop, appearing like an apparition from the shadows into the light. His calm smile taunted the other man.
“That’s just my game.”
Ringo paused for a telling second, but then recovered and grinned like a wolf. “All right, lunger. You go to Hell. I’ll put you out of your misery!”
Doc in his finery, the morning sun glinting on a red vest and diamond tie tack, faced off with the disheveled sweaty Cowboy. They faced each other, eyes blazing, both of them eager to begin a dance of death.
At the last possible instant, Curly Bill, Stillwell, Spence, and Florentino rushed into the street at Ringo from behind. Alarmed, the Earps stepped in front of Doc.
Stillwell and Spence held the struggling Ringo as Curly Bill yelled over his protests. “Johnny, don’t! Come on…” As they wrestled him away down the street, the leader of the Cowboys turned to the Earps. “Never mind him. He’s just drunk, that’s all.” He laughed at that, and it sounded like a threat.
They hauled Ringo off by force as he continued to fight them. Ringo yelled out, “Get off, get off!”
“Cool down, Johnny,” Stillwell said, barely able to control him.
Ringo yanked himself away from the others, almost falling into Curly Bill, who propped him up. “No! I want them spittin’ blood!”
“Easy, son, easy,” Curly Bill admonished him, “now ain’t the time.”
Stillwell grabbed him again. “Slow down, Ringo!”
Ringo jerked away from him and fell into the caskets on display outside the undertaker’s building and knocked them over. Tears in his eyes, clawing the air, Ringo was beside himself.
As they picked him up and led him away, Curly Bill spoke to the others, “I tell you, boys, even I’m worried what’ll happen once Ringo runs this outfit! God have mercy!”
Finished with watching the spectacle, Doc nodded to the Earps. “Gentlemen.” He returned to the barber’s chair on the porch of the shop, stretched, and sat down. “Barber?”
November 8, 1887: Glenwood Springs, Colorado – Kate
Neither of them spoke for a long time, drinking in silence, lost in their own thoughts. Kate looked up and tried to give Wyatt a smile, but it was thin and brittle.
“When things calmed down after you all killed those men in that back lot, I tried to get Doc to rest more and for a while, he did. He got better again, but he was still weak. He might continue to get stronger or get sick again worse than before – I never knew which. That time, he got stronger, slowly. I heard about that morning with Ringo after. I wished Doc had killed him then – I know he could have.”
Those chilled light blue eyes warmed for a moment as the ghost of a smile seeped in only to slip away fast. “It wouldn’t have stopped them.”
“Assassination in thunder,” she whispered, catching his shudder before he could hide it. “So much grief.”
After another stretch of uneasy silence, Wyatt drank and muttered, “On Saturday, March 18, in 1882, Virgil was maimed and Morgan was killed. It was the worst day of my life – it made me not … want to live.”
Kate touched his hand and he allowed it, but his haunted gaze was looking far beyond the room they were in. “How did you?”
“Doc,” he whispered. “Half dead or on a rampage, take your pick, he wouldn’t let me just lie down and die. I had him and Virgil and the women to worry for. I had to protect what was left of my family.”
March 18, 1882: Tombstone, Arizona Territory – Wyatt
After a long day and into the night, a storm moved in over Tombstone. Thunder shook the sky as lightning turned the town into a strange and frightening landscape of flickering shadows. The Oriental was closed and Wyatt and Morgan finished a late supper at the faro table as Virgil stood at a window and watched the storm. They were all tired.
“Gonna be one of those nights,” Virgil muttered as he took off his hat to rub his head. “It’s gettin’ late, boys, I’m gonna go to bed.”
“Goodnight, Virge,” Morgan said.
“Goodnight, Morg.” He gave Wyatt’s shoulder a pat as he headed for the door.
“Bundle up, Virge, it’s gettin’ cold out.”
Morgan started feeding some of his pasta to his dog. A few booms overhead shattered the still night. “That thunder’s sure gettin’ close,” he commented.
Wyatt got up to get more beer and was surprised to see their older brother return moments later. “Virge? What’d you forget?”
He turned away to sit back down to his meal as Virgil rounded the bar.
“Wyatt…” Then his brother fell, and he and Morgan scrambled to reach his side.
Their elder brother was pale, a blank look on his face. Horrified, they saw that his left side was covered with blood, the left arm dangling unnaturally.
~ ~ ~
“Would you hurry with that water, please!” the doctor implored.
“Come on, Lou,” Wyatt hurried Louisa in to help as she carried the water bowl.
Virgil lay on the couch of his home as Doctor Goodfellow tried to patch him up. Mattie, distressed and unable to cope, sat frozen on a chair at the table. Allie, sitting in tears at her husband’s side, attempted to comfort him.
Wyatt got out of the doctor’s way when asked to and tried to wipe his brother’s blood from his hands. Buckshot had ripped into Virgil’s side and left arm, and Wyatt later learned that the arm had been fractured up the length of the humerus bone with part of it shattered beyond repair.
Morgan called Wyatt over to stand by the window and door. A few people had come by with news of other attacks in town. His younger brother was angry, boiling for action. He could barely keep his voice level.
“They hit Clum’s house too, shot up his wife – his wife! Whoever heard of that! They’re bugs, Wyatt. All that smart talk about live and let live, there ain’t no live and let live with bugs!”
“All right, you listen to me, now. We gotta get outta here.”
“Get outta here? You listen to yourself, Wyatt. Lie down and crawl or might you get hurt, what kinda talk is that?”
“Do you see what’s happening, here?”
Allie’s voice rose in response to the doctor, “What? What do you mean, what are you saying? No, please no…”
Wyatt and Morgan rushed back toward the couch. Mattie had stood but was still frozen, unsure of what to do.
When Dr. Goodfellow began to speak, his voice somber, Allie’s hands rose to cover her mouth. “I’m afraid your husband’s going to lose the use of his arm…”
“Oh, God, no!” Allie started to sob.
Effected by her pain, almost more than his own, Virgil sat up and held her in his right arm. “No… Don’t worry, Allie-girl. I still got one good arm to hold you with.”
She buried her face in his chest and sobbed. Virgil held her, rocking her back and forth. Wyatt turned away, shutting his eyes.
In an instant, Morgan whirled and opened the door, shouting curses. “Sonsabitches!” He left the door open and ran off into the storm.
“Morgan, wait a minute!” Wyatt called after him, but then turned back to Virgil at the sound of his groan, torn between them. Mattie shut the door.
Allie rounded on him. “You had to be so damn smart.”
“I’m sorry, Allie, I told you… Virge?”
“Not now, Wyatt.”
“All right… What do you want me to do?”
“Leave me alone, for God’s sake.” Virgil grimaced in hopeless agony.
Allie turned on Wyatt again, her tear-streaked face ablaze with anger. “He doesn’t want to talk now, Wyatt!” She turned away from them all, sobbing as the doctor began to cut away shattered bone.
Wyatt backed away. He looked to Mattie, standing by the door. She was out of it, high on laudanum and shaking with stress – there was no comfort for him there. Yet Morgan had run outside – into danger.
Where’s Doc? He left the Oriental before Virgil. Trying to calm his shattered nerves, he reasoned that Kate would have come to him if Doc had been hurt. He’s probably passed out in his bed and all the better for it.
Terror for Morgan drove him to act. He grabbed his hat and coat and rushed out the door. He stepped out of the house and into the street just as three men on horses rode up. Wyatt froze when he recognized Sherm McMasters, one of the Cowboys. He was flanked by Johnson and Vermillion. Their presence was the only reason he didn’t shoot the man out his saddle at first sight.
McMasters broke the stiff silence. “I heard what they did to your women. That was wrong. I’m here to let you know that it wasn’t me. I had no part of it.”
“No? Brothers to the bone, right, McMasters?”
“No. Not anymore, not after this night.”
Wyatt looked into McMasters’ eyes and saw that he meant it. The former Cowboy stripped off his red sash, dropping it on the ground.
“He’s right, Wyatt,” Johnson spoke up. “You want us for anythin’, we’re with you.”
He nodded curtly and they rode on. Wyatt picked up the sash just as the wind rose and it started to rain.
Another boom of thunder, covering what might have been a gunshot, snapped his attention toward the Oriental. It was likely where his brother had gone. Starting off for the saloon, he let the sash drop from his hand to blow curling down the street in the wind.
~ ~ ~
Morgan was placed on his side on the pool table as Dr. Goodfellow, called away after Virgil’s surgery, tried to dig the bullet out of his back with a metal probe.
“Hold him,” the doctor admonished.
Wyatt grit his teeth at the barking and howling of Morgan’s hound and desperately tried to hold his younger brother still as he writhed in agony, biting down on a bar towel.
A horrified crowd jostled outside, watching through the open doors. Louisa stood in the doorway in front of the crowd, soaked from the pouring rain and sobbing. Mattie and Milt Joyce, the Oriental’s barkeeper and owner, were holding her back as Mattie tried weakly to comfort her.
Wyatt held Morgan in his arms. The doctor probed deeper, and Morgan jerked violently. A sudden scream shocked them all. Louisa began to tear at her hair, lost in utter hysterics.
“Oh, no, get her out of here!” Wyatt shouted. “Somebody shut that dog up!”
Morgan convulsed violently again, breaking Wyatt’s grip. The doctor shouted, “I said hold him, damn it!”
Wyatt grabbed his brother again, as tightly as he could. “Somebody get that dog outta here!”
All at once, it was over. The doctor stepped away, shaking his head. “The bullet’s too deep, I can’t get it out.” He walked to Louisa. “The bullet is too deep in his back… I’m sorry.”
For the moment, Wyatt was merely relieved to allow Morgan to rest from his pain. He helped him to lie still and more comfortably. “Easy, Morg. Is that better?”
Morgan’s fingers flexed in Wyatt’s hold as his voice spoke in halting words. “You were right, Wyatt. They got me good. Don’t let ‘em get you, brother. You’re the one.”
“Easy, Morg. Don’t worry about that now.”
“Remember what I said about seein’ a light when you’re dyin’?”
“Yeah … yeah.” Wyatt stroked Morgan’s forehead with a bloody thumb.
“It ain’t true – I can’t see a damn thing.”
Tears welled up in Wyatt’s eyes. He touched his brother’s face as Morgan’s eyes fixed in a stare. Wyatt squeezed his hand. He heard the breath go out of Morgan’s body and felt his own spirit break as the dog started howling – long, loud, and pitiful.
“Morg? Morg? Morg!” He held his face and then leaned forward and kissed his temple. Almost in a panic, he got his hands free of the tangle with Morgan’s still fingers.
Wyatt held up his hands, bloody to the elbows, and stared at them. Backing away, he was passed by Louisa, who shrieked when she saw him, before running to Morgan. He paused when he saw Mattie, but she only recoiled from his bloody hands. Wyatt went out to the boardwalk and down to the street in a daze, instantly soaked in the heavy rain.
“Why?” he shouted. “Why him?”
Standing in the crowd across the street, Josephine saw Wyatt and started toward him. With the whole town watching, she ran to him in the middle of the street with her hands out, offering comfort.
Wyatt backed away from her in horror, shaking his head, his bloody hands in front of him. “No, no, get away, get away from me…”
“Wyatt,” she pleaded.
Wyatt knew she was in danger if they tried to shoot him. Panicked and desperate, he yelled at her, “Can’t you see? Get away from me!”
She paused a moment, unable to believe her ears, and then ran from him, crying. Feeling accusing eyes on him, he turned and saw Mattie standing in the rain behind him. She had witnessed the scene, too. She turned away from him to walk back into the saloon.
Wyatt trudged down the street alone. Abruptly clutching at his chest and abdomen in agony, he smeared blood on his white shirt. His pain erupted in a tortured scream, crying out his brother’s name into the storm.
November 8, 1887: Glenwood Springs, Colorado – Kate
“I was terrified when he woke, after hearing you scream your brother’s name.” Kate held herself tightly. “He had passed out in his clothes. I was too drunk to get him to bed properly, so I fell asleep beside him in my chemise. He heard you, and woke up raving about revenge. He was out the door before I knew anything was wrong in the street. When I got my dressing gown on, I found your actress on the boardwalk. She told me what had happened to Morgan, but Doc had disappeared in the storm.”
“He was breakin’ the doors of private homes near Allen Street and the surroundin’ area when I heard about him causin’ trouble. Milt Joyce told me. In some ways, I guess I didn’t need to mess with him right then – but in others, dealin’ with Doc dragged my mind out of the black pit it had been pitched into.” Wyatt shook his head. “He was a sight to see. Looked like I felt, he did. Doin’ what I had wanted to do, too: lookin’ for Cowboys to kill. If he’d found any, we’d have had a shorter hunt later on, but they’d already gotten out of town. Didn’t see another one until the next afternoon, when we left town with … with Morgan.”
Kate studied him in silence. He was still affected by it all deeply, a fact which made him seem more of a man than less of one. Doc had taught her by his actions the meaning and value of loyalty, and though she’d spent a lot of time in her life cursing Wyatt’s name, she abruptly felt a kinship with him now.
His soul shined in his eyes as he looked at her through unshed tears. “I owed Doc a lot, all my life. For that – that insane night – I might owe him the most.” He frowned then. “Maybe right behind Ringo.”
“I heard Ringo’s body was found, but no one knew who killed him. Doc told me it was you, at first.”
Wyatt shook his head. “I could never have taken Ringo. Doc knew it, so he did it.”
Kate nodded. “I know. He told me the truth one night. It was the last time I spoke to him. He told me what happened.”
“I’ve wanted to know, if you’ll tell me. On the night Morgan died – I’d have gone mad if Doc hadn’t gone there for me first. Pullin’ him back from the brink … I guess I pulled myself back, too.”
“He was drunk enough and crazy enough to kill anyone that night.”
Wyatt nodded but wouldn’t be sidetracked. “What did he do when I dumped him back in your room at Mrs. Fly’s? I heard him speak once before I went out the door, but I didn’t understand him.”
“I didn’t either, and now I can’t remember what it was. One of his fancy quotes, probably.” She sighed. “He sat in the chair you dropped him in and drank himself unconscious.”
“At least he stayed put.”
Wyatt began telling her what he knew of that night, and she discovered that his recollection of the doctor’s words had been better than hers, even if their meaning was lost to both of them.
“When I screamed Morgan’s name in the street, I imagined I heard an answering cry, though no one could have heard it. I’m not a man given to flights of fancy, but I could have sworn it was Doc.”
“He didn’t make a sound,” Kate offered, but he rose from sleep like an avenging angel. That was the only night – even with all our fights – that I was ever afraid of him.”
March 18, 1882: Tombstone, Arizona Territory – Wyatt
His cry of anguish had echoed in the heart of Doc Holliday, and no rational logic could sway him from that thought. Wyatt might have gone mad that night, if not for his friend. Yet his saving grace didn’t come in the form of comfort or the empty reassurance of hollow words. Doc had risen from sleep like the physical embodiment of Wyatt’s pain. Controlling his rages had brought Wyatt back to a sane mind, in a world gone mad.
~ ~ ~
The smash of another wooden door sounded down the street. Wyatt ran through the driving rain after the maddened Doc, hoping to catch him before he killed anyone other than a Cowboy.
A woman screamed and then a disheveled couple in night clothes fled their home through the shattered door. Before Wyatt could get there, Doc emerged with a pistol in each hand and murder in his eyes and heart. He rushed off to the next cottage without seeing Wyatt.
The marshal found him with his .45 pointed at a man’s head. He was on his knees before the doctor and looked like he’d been clubbed there. His wife, crumpled beside him and hysterically crying, held onto the sleeve of his nightgown.
“I swear, I don’t know them – we took this place when one of them moved out. Please,” he begged, “we don’t know where they are.”
“Doc!” Wyatt stood inside the hanging wreckage of the door. Doc turned instantly with both guns trained on the intruder. It wasn’t until much later that Wyatt realized how close he came to dying before his friend recognized him. “They’re gone, Doc. They’re all gone. Let these people be.”
“Wyatt…” He seemed dazed as he stared back at his friend. Both of them were soaked, and Wyatt’s white shirt was still blotched with Morgan’s blood.
Doc had endured another twenty-hour poker game and consumed more than a gallon of whiskey earlier in the evening in the Oriental. Kate had enticed him off to the boarding house while the Earps remained after the saloon closed to finish a late supper. Then Virgil had gone out into the storm.
Wyatt shook his head to chase away the horror in between that moment and this. He couldn’t afford to indulge in grief and rage with Doc on the loose terrorizing the town. If anyone else stopped him, they’d use a bullet – and if they were lucky, he might not see it coming.
That the man could stand and walk at all was a shock, but the fever inside him seemed to burn his weakness now rather than his strength.
When he took a staggering step back from the couple, Wyatt urged them away in a fierce whisper. “Run, now! I’ll deal with him.” The man grabbed his wife’s hand and they escaped in the rain.
“Wyatt … you don’t know,” Doc said between ragged breaths. “I saw one of them run this way from my window. After Morg … after Morgan…” He took another step backward, and then twitched and turned, seeing movement at his right. Whirling, he held his guns on a large mirror in the corner, where the image of him stood.
Wyatt approached carefully, mindful not to get too close too fast.
“You!” Doc challenged his reflection. “You lay in bed like a wasted slug, you fool. Wyatt could have … could have been…”
“Doc, please – you shouldn’t be out here like this.”
“Too late … for the young man, the smilin’ and lionhearted – but not too late for you,” he slurred.
Wyatt startled when the big .45 fired, shattering the mirror all over the room. Then the guns began to sink down to his sides. Doc’s reflection had a jagged wooden hole through its middle, with a bullet hole through the wood. He hadn’t even flinched when he was showered with glass. Two small cuts had nicked him, on the back of his hand and the side of his neck.
“Still you stand,” Doc whispered, staggering. “You unconscionable bastard…” He fell abruptly and crumpled to his side on a field of glass. Every fragment reflected pieces of him, like a symbol of his soul.
Wyatt rushed to Doc’s side, fell to his knees, and eased him up to lean against him.
The guns slipped from his pale fingers and clunked to the floor. For a moment, he seemed sure to pass out, but then he saw Wyatt’s blood-soaked and sodden shirt. He started to struggle against his friend’s grip, but Wyatt held him firmly.
“Be easy, Doc – I’ll get ‘em, I swear it, but they’ve all gone now.”
Doc’s strength and resistance failed him all at once. He reached out with trembling fingers to touch the bloody shirt, his palm pressing the cold cloth against Wyatt’s skin. He watched his hand rise and fall with his friend’s breath.
“You’re not shot,” he whispered.
“No. They had too many witnesses by the time I entered the street.”
“I’d kick this town to bits with you if I thought they were hidin’ here. They’ve run for it, at least for now.” Wyatt took a deep breath. “When I get ‘em, I have to do it legal, but if you don’t regain your senses, you’ll end up… I can’t lose you, too, Doc. I just can’t.” His fingers knotted into fists in Doc’s soaked suit jacket.
They sat silently in the shards of the ruined mirror. Wyatt could feel where some of the pieces had cut his knees. He welcomed the pain. It was proof that he was still alive – and hadn’t yet fallen down into the black abyss at his core.
He shook himself out of the waking nightmare of his thoughts when he felt a violent shudder tear through Doc’s thin frame. His head was on his shoulder, his hands holding the bloody shirt against Wyatt’s ribs.
Doc was already weakened and ill with consumption. If he ended up sick from sitting here cold and wet, it wouldn’t help his condition. Wyatt stirred and roused Doc out of his stupor.
“I’ll get you back to Kate,” he whispered. Wyatt struggled to his feet, and then hauled Doc up. “I’ve heard you could start a fight in an empty room,” he muttered as he bent to pick up the guns. Holstering them, he straightened Doc’s coat over them again.
“Where is he?”
Wyatt didn’t have to ask who he meant. The pain constricted his heart again. “With the undertaker.”
“I want to see him.”
“Doc, you need to be in bed.”
“Wyatt, I am going – and to Hell with you if you try to stop me.”
Arguing with Doc was useless. Wyatt helped steady him on the way, his thoughts fragmenting like the mirror. Is Louisa all right? No, her husband is dead. And Virgil – Virgil will never use that arm again.
They found the undertaker awake. He let them in to see Morgan where he’d been laid out. He was still in the ruined clothes he’d worn in the saloon. Wyatt and Doc abruptly changed roles, with Doc supporting Wyatt as the sight of his brother hit him again like a fist in the gut.
“I am so sorry, Marshal,” the tall man in black said. Wyatt knew him well, but his brain wouldn’t give up the man’s name as it dimmed in grief. “And for your brother Virgil, please offer my sympathies if you would. He is a decent man, served most foul tonight with the rest of your family.”
“Virgil?” Doc asked. “Wyatt, what happened?”
“We were ambushed. They used the thunder … to mask the sound of the bullets. One of them went to Virgil’s cottage, where our wives were; he tried to shoot them all. Josephine Marcus went there to warn them and saved Allie’s life when she opened the door. But Virgil … he left the Oriental to go home and they shot him, maimed his left arm. We were there with Dr. Goodfellow when Morgan … left.”
Wyatt dropped into a chair beside the door to the room, his head in his hands. Doc approached Morgan’s body. When he spoke, Wyatt looked up.
“The lion heart,” Doc whispered. “A prince of a boy; he should be dressed as one.” He glanced at the undertaker and then back to Morgan’s still face. “I shall have a suit brought for him.”
Doc leaned over and kissed Morgan’s brow. “You sleep now.”
Wyatt couldn’t remain in the room any longer. He lurched to his feet and went out. A moment later, Doc joined him on the walkway. They watched the rain fall beyond the cover of the building’s second story.
“They’re dead,” Doc said. His soft voice held a tone of steel. “Every one of them. They just don’t know it yet.” A coughing fit interrupted him and he pulled his flask from his coat, drinking deeply and weaving on his feet.
“One against one hundred?” Wyatt set his fist against a post on the porch and leaned his forehead against it, his eyes closing. “Vermillion and Johnson said they’d help. They had McMasters with them; he’s left the Cowboys. So that makes four.”
“When has that word ever worked on me, Wyatt?”
“This thing could kill you.”
“And you’re immortal? Are they?”
“There’s more.” Wyatt turned his head slightly and regarded his friend. “You made me remember tonight that I’m not ready to die yet. When I do this, I intend to do it legal, I told you that. So when it’s finished, I won’t swing for it myself. You’ve never wanted anything to do with the law.”
Doc approached with the deliberate steps of a predator. All appearance of drunkenness left him in an instant. The change was so startling that Wyatt reacted by turning to put his back against the post, his eyes widening.
The doctor’s free hand lifted and pressed the cold metal of the deputy marshal badge against Wyatt’s chest. Beneath it, his heart began to beat wildly.
“Feel that, Wyatt. That is ‘the law’ that I’ll risk what’s left of my life for. Tear the tin away – it’d be the same.”
He stepped back without warning and Wyatt stumbled away from the post. Lifting the flask again, Doc must have nearly emptied it in one pull. Like a mask, the air of fogged inebriation fell over his face again. Wyatt shook his head, unsure if it was real or not.
As he watched him, almost warily, Doc stepped off the boardwalk into the rain and turned to face him again, swaying alarmingly in the street.
“I’ll take that escort now,” he said with a slur. “I’d hate to add mud to the rain that’s ruining this suit.”
Wyatt was at his side instantly, giving his friend his arm. He couldn’t speak, but Doc didn’t seem to require any acknowledgement of his words or of his odd declaration.
On the way back to Mrs. Fly’s boarding house, it became obvious that Doc hadn’t faked his drunkenness. Wyatt was tempted to carry him but knew better than to court his offense at such an indignity. As it was, he nearly had to in order to get him up the stairs to his suite.
~ ~ ~
Kate stood in the dark by the bed dressed in a thin chemise and robe, silent and subdued by the frightful state of the men as they made their entrance. Wyatt helped Doc into an embroidered armchair beside the window. Facing him, he winced.
He looked dreadful – worse than he’d ever seemed before. Red-lined bloodshot eyes stared back at Wyatt until another racking cough ripped through him.
Pale, sweating, and feverish, he reached for the flask in his breast pocket. He held the cap in the fingers of one hand, the flask in the other, and emptied it in one drink.
Wyatt tried to reassure Kate, but his tongue failed him. He moved to the door as Doc began to speak in a slurred and broken voice. The words had the poetic cadence of one of the classics the doctor was known to quote from memory.
“They have circled round him thrice. ‘Close your eyes with holy dread, for he on honeydew hath fed … and drunk the milk … of paradise…’”
His head fell back against the chair as he passed out. The empty flask and cap clattered to the floor, but it didn’t rouse him.
Wyatt stared at his friend’s silhouette in the chair for a long moment. Doc had seemed to feel both Wyatt’s pain and his anger to an excess the marshal couldn’t afford to indulge in. Whether helping him walk or accepting his help, Doc had been his strength. When they took Morgan’s coffin on the train to their parents in Colton, California for his burial, he would be dressed in one of Doc Holliday’s suits.
“If you could give him your life, you would, wouldn’t you?” he asked his friend’s unconscious form. As you took the weight of my burden from me. Wyatt’s whisper had brought Kate out of the shadows. “Please take care of him.”
She nodded gravely. Wyatt turned away and closed the door.
March 19, 1882: Tombstone, Arizona Territory – Wyatt
The wagon bearing Morgan’s pine coffin waited in the street in front of the O.K. Corral, hitched and ready. It was the focus of all onlookers along both sides of the street.
Virgil held the reins of their covered wagon behind it. He sat up front with Allie, his left arm in a sling. He was pale as a ghost as he watched Wyatt checking the ropes that secured the coffin.
Observed by Kate from the balcony close by, Doc assisted Mattie up into the back bench seat beside the weeping Louisa. Mattie’s face was distant but she tried to hold the younger woman and comfort her.
Finished loading, Wyatt looked around. People lined the street everywhere, watching in silence. The air around them felt charged with paranoia and recrimination.
The bystanders stared, all eyes turning, as Josephine Marcus stepped out of the hotel. She was regal and impervious as a queen in her gray satin gown, wearing indifference like a mink coat and holding a white lace parasol. Passing Wyatt, she didn’t even glance at him or break stride as she crossed the street.
Doc stood behind Wyatt as they watched her disappear. Doc sighed, stating with somber drama, “And so she walked out of our lives forever.”
Without a word, Wyatt climbed onto the wagon and shook the reins, driving off. Doc watched him go.
A few feet down the street, he pulled up in front of the Cowboys and stopped the wagon. Virgil stopped his beside it.
Lounging in front of the Crystal Palace with their cronies, Curly Bill and Ringo were seated in white wicker chairs, watching the Earps. They all wore their guns on their hips.
Wyatt kept his eyes straight ahead. “I want you to know it’s over.”
Curly Bill managed not to smile. “Well … ‘bye.”
Beside him, Ringo sniffed the air, wrinkling his face. “You smell that, Bill? Smells like someone died.”
Stifling a laugh, he replied, “Damn, Johnny…”
Virgil’s eyes flared as Louisa sobbed behind him. The Cowboys snickered. Wyatt clenched his teeth, stared straight ahead, and drove on with Virgil following.
Doc’s words echoed in Wyatt’s head. ‘They’re dead – they just don’t know it yet.’ The words, and the plan he’d already set in motion, allowed him to leave them unharmed with their sly smiles and barely concealed hate. I won’t see your coffins, but I’ll see your blood on the ground. My boots will be caked with it.
November 8, 1887: Glenwood Springs, Colorado – Kate
“How did you hunt the Cowboys down?” Kate asked.
“It was McMasters. He knew all their haunts and hidin’ places. Without him…” Wyatt shook his head. “He broke with ‘em over what happened, over them tryin’ to shoot our wives, after they shot my friend Clum’s wife. But they got McMasters in the end. He assumed they had a shred of honor. I told him not to go…”
“You sent Mattie with your brother to California?”
“Yes. From the train station in Tucson, where it had all started – in a lot of ways.”
Kate could tell Wyatt was deciding how much he should tell her about what they did after they left Tombstone. “I didn’t want Doc to go,” Kate interrupted his thoughts.
“I know. If I’d had a choice, he wouldn’t have. I hope you know that. He didn’t give me a choice about his company anymore than he gave you a say about him leavin’.”
“I know that now, but then … I was very angry, and I hated you for a long time.”
“Hated me?” he asked, surprised. “Why?”
“For being more important to Doc than I ever was. He – loved you more than me, if he ever cared for me at all … but you, he loved.”
Wyatt seemed stunned speechless. She told him of finding Doc in the livery stable, not long after the Earps had left town. He had told her he was going, but she hadn’t believed it until she saw him saddling his horse. They had exchanged harsh words and he had thought she didn’t understand, but she did, only too well. With his leaving, she finally understood how little he really needed her. The memory of his impatient cruelty still burned.
March 20, 1882: Tombstone, Arizona Territory – Kate
Doc had been smoking as he saddled his horse. Kate entered the dim stable in a fury. “It’s Wyatt, isn’t it? It’s always Wyatt.” She stormed up to him. When he didn’t acknowledge her, she got between him and his horse, stopping him from cinching its girth tighter. “Why?” She tore his cigarette from his lips and threw it down. “Why is he so much?”
“Kate, try to understand. The man has given up everything to do what he must.” He turned to fetch his rifle. “Now if I call myself his friend, then…” He faced her again, taking in her angry and closed expression. “Oh, never mind.” Taking the rifle back to the horse, he slid it into its sheath on the horse’s other side, avoiding Kate.
He continued to pack the saddlebags, stifling a cough. For now, he was able to control it but it served to remind them both that he wasn’t up to the trek he planned to make on Wyatt’s behalf.
“I don’t understand,” Kate answered, breaking her stiff silence. She moved behind him and leaned against his back, clinging to him as he secured his packing. “I’m your woman. You get killed, where does it leave me?”
Doc turned his head to answer her over his shoulder. “Without a meal ticket, I suppose.” He dislodged her and turned away, leading the horse out.
“You bastard!” She followed him, seething with fury.
“I’m leaving now, darlin’.” Doc mounted his horse as he spoke. He managed it with his trademark grace, stifling another cough.
Kate rushed to his side, angry as a spitting cat. “You bastard! Don’t!” She was crying as she hit his leg and side hysterically with her fists, but his cultured aplomb seemed unruffled, his decision irrevocable.
He stared down at her, his gray-blue eyes shadowed under his hat. “Have you no kind word to say to me before I ride away?”
Kate turned her back on him, crossing her arms over her chest in a pout.
Doc choked with emotion, and then tried to hide it in a stifled cough. “I calculate not.”
Kate turned back to him with a fierce incredulous look. She reached out to him again, but he tipped his hat to her and rode off, making her stumble as the horse launched out from under her hands.
“Doc!” she screamed after him, her voice changing to a begging and desperate tone.
November 8, 1887: Glenwood Springs, Colorado – Kate
“He never looked back. Not once.”
“I’m sorry,” Wyatt whispered.
Kate shook her head at him. Frustration, old jealousy, and sympathy warred in her heart. “I believe what you said about not wanting him to follow you – that he refused to stay behind. But you wanted him with you, didn’t you? Even if it killed him.”
“No.” His startled expression mollified her a little. “I … always enjoyed his company. He was the only one besides Morgan who could ever make me laugh, most of my life. He not only saved my life back in Dodge City but out on the trail, too. If he hadn’t been there when Ringo challenged me, I’d be long dead. Sometimes his courage and strength were all that kept me on my feet when rage and grief left me exhausted.”
Wyatt’s fingers went still on the table where before they had tapped with nervous caged energy, even as he held his body still on the chair. When he spoke again, it was barely above a whisper.
“Doc’s loyalty was a gift, though I’ve never known how I earned … or deserved it.” He reached out to touch her hand as it lay on the table beside Doc’s stirrup cup. “But I swear to you, Kate – even though it would have meant the end of my life – if I could have made him stay in Tombstone with you, or anywhere, where he could have rested and … and lived… I would have.”
Kate turned her hand to lace her fingers in his. She sighed. “It’s just so hard to give him up. I did it often, of course, but we always ended up together again. No matter how much we fought, there were so many good times, too. Life with Doc was never boring, either way.” She held his gaze as a soft smile tugged at her lips. “But we both know you’d have had to kill him to keep him from following you.”
Wyatt’s answering smile was hesitant and died before it bloomed. He released her hand to pour more whiskey for them both. “Did you leave Tombstone the same day?”
“No.” Her fingers toyed with the silver cup. “Doc had left Mrs. Fly’s, but he’d paid up the suite for another week, for me.” She lifted the cup to her lips and for one instant she missed him more than she thought she could bear.
“He was a good man,” Wyatt answered. “Not many would say so, but I always swore on it.”
Kate nodded and finally sipped, setting the cup down again. “I stayed there for that week and then I took a stagecoach to Texas. I had to work again.” She smiled bitterly. “Doc always disapproved. He wanted me to be only his. Most of the time with him, I was. Maybe he spoiled me. When we met again here, I was ready to resume our relationship. Doc would never say if we had or not, and we barely saw each other. Then I heard about his collapse at a poker table. I thought that when he asked me to come to see him, it would be okay, but he never did.”
“I’m sorry, Kate,” Wyatt said again. “He was a very private and proud man. I wasn’t invited, either. I just went, and the nurses couldn’t throw me out.”
Kate drank down the whiskey and felt it burn her throat. Seeking a distraction from her thoughts, she asked, “Tell me what you all did after Doc left me. You were going to tell how you hunted the Cowboys.”
Wyatt put his elbows on the table and leaned his chin on his folded hands. “I had seen a few judges before I met the others. I wanted the manhunt to be legal.” He closed his eyes for a moment. “Morgan’s coffin was loaded onto the train for California, and the others came up to me after I killed Stillwell and sent Ike Clanton runnin’ like the worthless dog he was.”
March 20, 1882: Arizona Territory – Wyatt
The Tucson train station at night looked like a scene in a macabre play. The train to California poured steam onto the platform in puffs and clouds as two porters loaded Morgan’s coffin into a boxcar.
Wyatt lifted his eyes from the hellish vision to see his brother Virgil sitting in the window of the nearest passenger car. Allie sat beside him. Mattie was in the window seat behind them with the weeping Louisa at her side. No tears adorned Mattie’s face. Wyatt looked away from them to watch the platform and the surrounding darkness.
His vigilance was rewarded almost instantly as Ike Clanton emerged from the shadows near the scales with Frank Stillwell right behind him. They had exchanged nods before starting forward, cocking the shotguns held in front of them.
Stillwell squinted through the steam as they met at a lamppost. “That’s Virgil with the women.”
Ike grimaced. “He’s mine.” He raised his weapon as a man’s voice called out for all to board.
Hey, Mattie!” Stillwell called, to get their attention. “Where’s Wyatt?”
“Right behind you, Stillwell.”
They spun in time to see him behind them and Stillwell fell dead in a heap, his torso a smoking bundle of bloody rags, before Ike realized he was staring down the twin barrels of Virgil’s big 10 gauge shotgun. Screaming, Ike fell to his knees in an instant, dropping his shotgun and throwing his hands in the air.
“No!” His pathetic begging as the train began to pull out was audible to everyone around them.
Wyatt raised his hand with an uplifted index finger to Virgil, counting off one down and dead. Virgil lifted his hand in farewell and then fisted it to show he understood. Train 5150 carried them away to their parent’s farm were they could recuperate and Morgan would be laid to rest. Yet they would see to that without him. Wyatt had more to do in Arizona.
Kicking Ike’s shotgun over closer to Stillwell, Wyatt pointed his at Ike’s head where the man was groveling at his feet. Lifting the Cowboy’s chin with the toe of his boot, he turned the heel to put the spur against Ike’s mouth. With a quick jerk of his foot, he cut the side of his mouth badly, widening it by an extra inch.
Turning as Ike bled and sobbed, he heard his friends approach from the station. Doc walked up through the steam clouds like the devil, with Sherm McMasters, Texas Jack Vermillion, and Turkey Creek Jack Johnson with him in a line. Behind them was Mayor Clum, solemn and silent.
“Alright, Clanton, you called down the thunder, well now you’ve got it.” He opened the lapel of his long black coat to show the silver star. “You see that? It says United States Marshal.”
“Wyatt, please don’t kill me… Please, please!” Ike shrank away from him, rolling half onto his hip with hands still up at his chest.
Nodding to Stillwell’s corpse, he ordered, “Take a good look at him, Ike – ‘cause that’s how you’re gonna end up.” With a boot on his chest, Wyatt shoved him down onto his back. “The Cowboys are finished, you understand me? I see a red sash, I kill the man wearin’ it. So run, you cur. Run!”
Ike began to crab walk backward before he finally struggled up to his shaking legs and stumbling feet. As the pathetic coward started to run, Wyatt called after him, his voice rising into a mad howl of rage.
“Tell all the other curs the law is comin’ – you tell ‘em I’m comin’! And Hell’s comin’ with me, you hear? Hell’s comin’ with me!”
Author’s Note: History and facts clash badly with Wyatt Earp’s biographer Stuart N. Lake and dime-novelist E.Z.C. Judson, a.k.a Ned Buntline, on the subject of Wyatt’s gun. Others have stated that Wyatt used a Smith & Wesson American at the O.K. Corral. Since this story is based on the film, I’m sticking with Lake and Judson’s claim of the Buntline Special, even though I agree it was probably pure fiction to sell books.
Another area where fact and fiction clash is the exact events, wounds, and who-shot-what of the gunfight with the Cowboys, so I’m using a mix of movie canon and investigated facts. Doctors’ post-mortem reports and witness testimonies are a great source, but some of those facts are glossed over or changed in the film. Facts suggest Doc killed Frank McLaury with a shot under his ear that went up horizontally into his brain, nearly at the same time that Morgan shot him. Frank only had two major wounds, ear/head and abdomen. The movie added a shot to his shoulder. The movie sets it up to look like Morgan was the one who made the head shot. For this, since I’m writing it for Doc, I’ve stuck with fact over film. I lost count of how many times I poured over the gunfight scenes while writing. I ended up having to pick and choose what to portray and how a few times. If anyone prefers the narrative that Morgan got the head shot, feel free to stick with that.
The scenes of Wyatt and Doc on the night of Morgan’s death were part extras and part my additions. I’ve also rearranged the deleted scene of Doc reciting lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan to happen after Wyatt brings him back to Kate, instead of at the moment of Wyatt screaming Morgan’s name in the street. The scene of Doc leaving Kate on a horse was in the deleted scenes. I just added a few paragraphs to Act One to describe the fight Wyatt had with Mattie over Josephine. It is from a deleted scene and I wasn’t sure where it originally happened in the story, so I only allude to it as Wyatt is reflecting on how he felt about Mattie and Josephine in talks with Kate in Colorado. I’ve researched the film as closely as I could, so if I missed anything, historical fact, cinematic detail, or typo, I’ll fix it when I find it. Thanks for reading! – AnonGrimm (Twitter: @MET_Fic) (Tumblr: anongrimm)