©2008 The Angst Guy (

Daria and associated characters are ©2008 MTV Networks



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Synopsis: A Halloween tale about a man, a woman, and a door across time.


Author’s Notes: This story works best if the reader is familiar with the events of the Daria episode, “Depth Takes a Holiday.” It doesn’t hurt to know a little about the Old West, too.


Acknowledgements: I used Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and mined the Internet and my personal library so many times for quotes and chapter titles, I won’t even bother trying to list the sources. You can Google stuff to figure out where it came from. My thanks to Bartlett’s and the Internet, anyway. Other sources used are listed at the end of the story. My thanks to smk (as always) for finding the errors so I could correct them.












Chapter 1:

Stranger in a Stranger Land




Death twitches my ear. “Live,” he says; “I am coming.”


—Vergil, Copa

(Mors aurem vellens Vivite, ait, venio.)




       The poker game folded about nine-thirty, leaving him with just over three hundred dollars in mixed bills and a long walk across town back to his hotel room. The October night was crystal clear and the wind sharp and bitter cold, roaring around shop fronts and shaking windowpanes as if to break them. He kept his head low as he trudged over the snow and frozen earth, gloved hands jammed deep in the pockets of his dark frock coat, coughing and glancing up now and then with watery blue eyes to mark his progress along the street and scan for potential enemies. The effort was wasted; sensible folk were in bed, and the rest gambled or drank beside iron stoves, staying warm and avoiding trouble. Almost anyone who knew the man would have left him alone anyway. Those who hadn’t were either dead or still running.


       Most of South Pueblo’s electric lights had long been turned off, but he knew his way home and the waning moonlight helped. His wide-brimmed slouch hat offered poor protection from the cold, and the turned-up collar of his coat did not keep the chill from his bloodless cheeks. It was impossible not to cough as he went. The frigid wind ate into his aching lungs. Once he stopped and hacked until he was doubled over wheezing, spots swimming in his vision. He tasted blood and spat redness into the muddy snow, straightened, cleared his throat and spat again, then went on. Brilliant stars looked down from the heavens. He never looked back at them.


       Halfway to his goal he was seized with another coughing fit and felt the need for a brief rest. Squinting into the wind, he spotted an alley between a saddlemaker’s shop and a Chinese laundry and made for it at once. Wind snapped at his coat and tried to push him aside, but he only lowered his head further and continued his steady march. Behind the Chinese laundry was a woodshed. He reached for the ramshackle door, unbarred it, pulled it wide as the hinges creaked, and peered in with moonlight as his guide. Piles of split wood on one side, pile of coal on the other. Satisfied, he stepped inside the dirt-floored shed and pulled the door shut behind him, free of the gale. He kept as quiet as he could. He did not like attention unless it was on his terms only. In his weakened condition, he could ill afford otherwise.


       In the darkness he took off his black leather gloves and stuffed them in his left coat pocket. After rubbing his hands together for warmth, he felt in his right coat pocket and found the small bottle of Kentucky bourbon he had purchased earlier in the evening. He uncorked it and took a long swallow as the storm rattled the woodshed. The burning taste was sheer heaven, soothing his parched throat and restoring some of his humor. He hoped it would last. If the bourbon wore off and the coughing of his consumption prevented sleep, there was always the bottle of alcoholic laudanum in a drawer of his hotel room, but the aftereffects were unpleasant. Of late, though, his longing for the poisonous opium was more disturbing than the drink itself. Perhaps a few drops wouldn’t hurt, but only a few. He had little time left to walk the Earth. No sense wasting it.


       The bourbon bottle was empty in seconds. He set it upright on the dirt floor by his boots, coughed, and out of long habit felt through his coat at his left side and waist at back. Both weapons present and accounted for. The wind appeared to be dying. He sniffed and blinked. Odd—it was quite dark inside the shed now. No moonlight could be seen through the cracks. Even the wind had quit. He frowned and felt for the door. His cold fingers fell on a metal handle, which surprised him as there had been no handle only moments before, only the wooden door frame. Twisting the handle, he opened the door—


       —and in the process of stepping out of the shed, he froze in position with one booted foot poised in the air to step down. He blinked again, shook his head, and stared at the landscape before him.


       “What the goddamn hell?” he breathed.


       A breeze—not wintery cold, but tolerably cool—blew in his face in the night. A riot of colored lights high and low spread out before him, decorating a deserted alleyway walled like a canyon with two- and three-story stone and brick buildings. The scrub-covered ground he had expected was now a kind of dark, cracked, stained pavement over which paper litter blew. And the noise he heard—a distant, rising and falling roar that wasn’t like the wind, its source unseen. It implied activity, motion, a mechanical but alien sort of industry. He thought for a moment of the racket of the big steel mills of Pueblo, but this noise was different. It unnerved him.


       After a stunned moment, he stepped out of the shed and looked back at it. It was not now a ramshackle affair. It was a well-constructed metal structure painted white, still obviously a shed but not the one into which he had stepped barely three minutes earlier. He pushed the door shut to see the words painted on the outside.





Staff Entrance Only



       That was the name of the laundry, Good Time Chinese, but the brick-and-metal structure before him was in no way the one-story clapboard laundry where he had his suits washed and pressed. He coughed lightly, awash in shock, then opened the door again to peer inside the shed. There was a finely made door at the back, obviously leading into the building itself. No sign of coal or wood on the floor, only a broom and a few papers stuck to the walls. The shed was merely an entryway.


       “God damn my eyes,” he muttered softly. He turned to look around him again, unbuttoning his frock coat with one hand. This was the damnedest thing he had ever seen, and he thought he had seen every damned thing there was. This wasn’t South Pueblo, no sir. Inside his coat, his right hand fell upon the ivory butt of his nickel-plated sawn-off .44 Schofield, but he did not draw it from its shoulder holster. No need to show his hand in this new game. No threat was visible but for the astonishing and unfamiliar world before him. He lowered his arm but left his coat open, weapons at the ready.


       He stroked his blond handlebar mustache. Winter’s chill was already fading from his limbs. What had happened? Could this be one of those opium dreams from taking too much laudanum? He doubted it; the reality was quite powerful and un-dreamlike. On impulse, he reached again into his coat and withdrew his chained gold pocket watch, unlocking the cover with his thumb. It was exactly fifteen minutes till ten p.m. He wondered if it was still Tuesday. Snapping the watch shut and putting it back in his vest, he looked around again slowly and carefully. Could he have had a blackout from drinking and come to in another city? No city he knew looked like this, though perhaps those on the East Coast did, maybe New York or Philadelphia or Atlanta. Anything, he supposed, was possible.


       He coughed a few times, but it was not a bad cough. His chest hurt less from the ravages of consumption than from the tightness of raw nerves. Another glance inside the shed was enough to confirm that there was no visible way to get back to the South Pueblo he had obviously left far behind. One of the papers attached to the inner wall of the entryway caught his eye. He pulled it free and stood outside to read it. An electric lamp on a high pole provided illumination.


       The paper was actually a calendar. The top half showed a photograph (in color!) of a glass-walled storefront, the words GOOD TIME CHINESE in big red letters over the entrance. BEST CHINESE FOOD IN LAWNDALE, read the type below the picture. And below that, a sheet showing the month of October, the squares crossed off with red ink. His gaze went to the 31st. It was the only day not crossed off, still on a Tuesday. He looked for the year but did not immediately see it. After a long moment, he realized he’d been looking for a four-digit number that began with 18—.


       The number where the year should have been was 2000.


       He stared at the page long and hard. He was definitely in some kind of dream, drug- or whiskey-fueled or otherwise. There was no way this could be real. Could he have gone mad?


       Then it hit him. He sighed in relief. Of course. He had been a fool not to have seen it all along. He had read Washington Irving in school and remembered “Rip van Winkle.” He was imagining that he had gone into the future. All just a dream. Eventually he would wake up, probably back in the woodshed behind the laundry, and return to the hotel for a bath and a real sleep. The knotty problem was solved. Damned if his chest didn’t still hurt him like it always did, though. Weird kind of dream, feeling pain and such, and seeing in such clear detail, but a dream nonetheless. That settled it.


       He tossed the calendar back into the entryway, leaving the door ajar. He reached up and straightened his black cravat and diamond stickpin, adjusted his slouch hat, and checked the contents of his trouser pockets: hotel room key, wad of bills, assorted coins, a fresh boxed pack of poker cards, a new fountain pen, a tiny bottle of cologne, several clean and used handkerchiefs, a jackknife, a cardboard box full of new-bought .44 bullets, and a penned note with the phone number of the front desk of his hotel. He frowned. He couldn’t get used to those damned telephones. Better to look at a man when you talked to him than hear his voice from a box. What good was conversation when you couldn’t see a man’s face? A steam train was a great improvement on a horse, but a telephone was a long step backward on the road to true civilization.


       No matter. This was going to be a peach of an evening. He nodded in pleasure, then set off at a watchful pace to explore this alleged future world. He was a new van Winkle, a hundred and eighteen years out of his own time. He wondered what his imagination would devise for the evening’s entertainment. Colored photographs, that was nice for a starter. What next?


       Funny that it would have to be Halloween night for this to happen. This was the biggest trick Fate had ever pulled on him. He had a few tricks of his own though, if the need arose. They weren’t nice tricks. Not that it mattered. It was only a dream. He could do whatever he wished, and not even God could stop him.


       “Let’s get this show started,” he said with a mirthless smile. “Don’t keep a man waitin’.”






Chapter 2:

Trick or Treat




Happiness is a warm gun.


—John Lennon




       So much novelty assailed the tall man’s senses he caught himself taking half steps as he rounded the building, trying to keep mental pace with this vision of the year “2000.” The air reeked of burnt petroleum fumes, but of more familiar scents, like manure and turned earth and wood smoke, he smelled nothing. And he heard music—if that blaring, thumping cacophony could be called such—that came and went as if from many sources in constant movement.


       Then he looked down the side of the Good Time Chinese building and stopped dead. Large shiny wheeled objects whizzed by like bees on a street in front of the store, none with any visible source of propulsion—and inside those objects were people, riding face-forward as calm as you please as if nothing was amiss. What in the world?


       After a stunned moment, revelation again dawned: the horseless wagons were like small locomotives, powered by steam engines or suchlike. He recalled the news from a year earlier that a French inventor had made a three-wheeled horseless cart that ran about using electricity. These new vehicles appeared quite sophisticated in comparison, moving at breakneck speed while defying expectations they would all collide in one terrible crash and litter the street with wreckage. This was a marvel worthy of the term.


       To cap it off, not one horse was anywhere in sight. Not one. Omnia mutantur, all things change. This was a future he thought he would like, all the more so because he had dreamed it up himself. He hoped the miniature locomotives were more pleasant to travel about in than stagecoaches—the dust, the jolting rides, the overcrowding, and the unwelcome odors and attempts at conversation were more than a civilized man could bear.


       Dogged by his cough, the visitor from South Pueblo walked toward the street but stopped short before reaching a paved walkway for pedestrians. The passersby were oblivious to their proximity to the street filled with those growling, rushing locomotives. The folk were of every race and color, mingled in an ever-flowing stream. Most were white, but some were Negroes or Chinamen, and he thought a few might be Hindoos or wayfarers from Araby. Every one of them was dressed in the most outlandish manner, no rhyme or reason to a fashion having only a general resemblance to the styles of his own time. Men and women alike wore clothing of every color and cut. Propriety was clearly absent. Many men dressed like slovenly vagrants, walking about in baggy trousers with their shirttails out, not a one in a pressed suit—but the women! Every one a flower in bloom! He was well pleased that the future had such a liberal attitude toward uncovered female skin, whatever the race. The short dresses were scandalous, and it was obvious the petticoat and bustle had gone the way of those fossilized antediluvian reptiles. The very sight of those bare arms, bare legs, bare midriffs, nearly bare bosoms and rear ends—


       “Only a dream,” he reminded himself aloud. “Don’t get excited. It’s just a dream.” The reassurance, however, lacked substance. If it was only a dream, then . . . he could do as he wished.




       Several passersby glanced at him in curiosity, but none seemed particularly surprised or shocked to see him. A few even pointed at him and smiled or laughed, though not in a mocking way. All walked on. A colored man called out, “Looking good, cowboy!” and gave him a thumbs-up before leaving.


       The tall man’s mouth fell open. Cowboy? Cowboy? How could anyone possibly mistake John Henry Holliday, a D.D.S. and an educated gentleman, for worthless troublemakers like the McLowrys and Clantons? He flushed with anger. He had put a good many of the Cowboy faction of Tombstone six feet under within the last year, killing the last of them only weeks earlier in revenge for Morgan Earp’s death.


       For a moment he thought he should demand an apology—then hesitated and wisely chose to let it pass. No one here truly knew him. Perhaps it had been an honest mistake. He did not kill anyone for an insult, generally speaking, and he was true to himself, even in dreamland. If someone slighted his dear departed mother, of course, corrective action was expected—but he was big enough for a personal poke, and he could dish out as well as he got. He coughed, took a deep breath, calmed himself, and felt better.


       It was then he noticed some of the pedestrians wore what could only be party costumes, particularly but not exclusively the younger ones. Many children also carried small bags. He did not understand or recognize the gaudy outfits and masks, but it was clear that a nighttime festival was in progress. Maybe they thought he, too, was in costume and part of the general celebration. The colored man’s greeting now took on a complimentary tone.


       But why would anyone celebrate Halloween, of all days? Wasn’t that only for superstitious old women and adolescent pranksters?


       Forcing himself on, he joined the crowd on the walkway after pulling his coat shut. No need to reveal his armament to the public. Beyond that, he let himself be submerged in his surroundings. So many sights begged for immediate attention he could hardly watch where he walked. He looked through glass storefronts and saw wonders and marvels, treasures undreamed of in his time. Many things he did not recognize, but this did not upset him. This was supposed to be the future, after all, and the telegraphs and telephones of his own time would have undone a man of the Revolutionary period. What he was not prepared for was that this world was chaos incarnate, a churning sea of movement and brightness and unearthly hues, perfumes and cigarette smoke and cooking foods, music and noise interwoven with words and phrases that were clearly English but incomprehensible. Every bit of it seemed so very . . . real.


       What if this wasn’t a dream? What if he, J. H. Holliday, really had become the new Rip van Winkle? It was food for serious thought.


       He coughed heavily when petroleum fumes overwhelmed him. The stench came from the free-rolling locomotives. Clamping a handkerchief to his mouth and nose, he darted down a narrow street and shortly found himself alone in a paved back alley where a number of small locomotives were parked in neat rows below a single streetlight. Once the coughing fit had passed, he gave in to curiosity and made a close inspection of the nearest vehicle. It was green, though its paint was peeling, and it had four wheels and a small plate on one end on which appeared the word “TEXAS” with a long number below. Texas? Was he now in Texas? There had been an open warrant for his arrest in Dallas. Arizona would have been worse, but still—perhaps lingering in this town was a bad idea. He glanced around and noticed other states’ names on like plates, leaving his actual location still in doubt. Where the hell was Lawndale?


       In another minute he had finished his examination of the vehicle. Most curious of all was the word “MUSTANG” stamped on the other end of the small locomotive. Was that the locomotive’s name? He reached down and ran his long fingers over the raised silvery letters. Locomotives of his time were nicknamed “iron horses.” He had never imagined the appellation would be taken so literally.


       “Someone’s messin’ with your car, Todd!”


       “Hey, asshole! What the fuck are you doing?”


       He turned in the direction of the shouts. Four poorly dressed young men approached. Instinct suggested they were unlikely to be friendly. No one else was in view.


       “Kick his ass, Todd!” said a youth to one of their number who walked ahead of the others. “Mop the asphalt with him!”


       Todd, the one in the lead, had shaggy tan hair, spectacles with dark-tinted lenses, a thin mustache, and a skull tattoo on one thick bicep. His blue shirt had the sleeves torn off and his jeans were filthy. “You supposed to be trick-or-treatin’ or somethin’?” he said to Holliday, ignoring the urgings of his comrade.


       The three other youths laughed. One was poor white trash with a head of shaggy hair like the leader, another was a bearded Negro, and the last a huge Mexican. They radiated the arrogance of unsupervised youth. The visitor from South Pueblo let a hand slowly rise toward the inside of his unbuttoned coat.


       Todd noted the movement and stopped a few feet away as his three henchmen spread out to Holliday’s right. The man from South Pueblo found himself surrounded, backed against the locomotive called Mustang. He smiled and relaxed his manner as if greeting old friends. “Evening, boys,” he said with a soft Georgia accent. “Enjoying yourselves?”


       “More than you will be, old man,” Todd said.


       Holliday coughed, unable to resist a grin. “Given that I’m thirty-one, I don’t think I’m much older than you, son.”


       “Fuck you, bitch,” Todd said, his face stony. “I’m not your son, motherfucker, so shut the fuck up!”


       Holliday’s smile disappeared. A muscle twitched in his hollowed cheek.


       “Todd, see if Cowboy Bob’s got any candy!” said the colored youth. “Get his candy!”


       “You got some candy?” said the other white boy. “C’mon, give it to your buddy Slade. It’s Halloween, man, trick or treat.”


       “Unfortunately I’m out of sweets,” said Holliday, then added in a softer tone: “Better run along before you get hurt.”


       Todd snatched something from the back of his jeans and aimed it at Holliday’s face. It was an unlikely looking handgun, short and angular and black, held sideways in an affected manner. “You’re the one about to get hurt, cowboy,” Todd growled. “Put your hands up. I think you’re packing. Stand real still or I’ll blow your fucking head off.” The other three in the gang fell silent and eyed Holliday, suddenly wary.


       Holliday slowly raised his hands to shoulder level. He looked Todd in the eye. “I do recollect,” he said with a gentle drawl, “that our Lord and Savior once said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”


       “Shut the fuck up,” Todd replied. He approached with his left hand out, the sideways pistol held high in his right.


       Todd’s fingers touched the dark frock coat. Holliday’s left hand slammed Todd’s gun arm aside. The gun fired and missed. A blur of silver came out of Holliday’s coat in his right hand and shot Todd through the neck, then swept to the right across the semicircle of men, muzzle flaming. The Negro spun around as he fell, the boy named Slade staggered back. The Mexican tried to run but caught a slug high in the spine and was blown off his feet. Slade screamed and clutched his mangled right shoulder. The silver blur swung back, flamed and roared. The left side of Slade’s head blew away in a pink mist.


       Slade hit the pavement two seconds after Todd touched Holliday’s coat.


       The gunshots’ echoes faded. A thick cloud of blackpowder smoke hung in the night air, causing Holliday to cough and pull out a handkerchief. Pools of glittering red crept across the asphalt and enveloped scattered fragments of flesh, brains, and bone.


       Ears ringing, the visitor from South Pueblo grimaced as he surveyed the carnage, then pocketed his handkerchief and, a moment later, Todd’s pistol. He no longer believed he was dreaming. This world was the genuine article, and he was the new Rip van Winkle. Long experience with the law over similar incidents in the past said that this event would not be taken lightly, even if done in self-defense. He had no urge to spend more time in jail or in court defending himself than he already had, and God only knew what powers this future world would bring into play. It was time to go.


       He then noticed Todd was trying to crawl away. John Henry Holliday, known as Doc to his very few friends, had learned long ago it was bad policy to leave a wounded predator behind. This was especially true of one who could describe what you looked like.


       The sawn-off nickel-plated Schofield rose, one last round in its cylinder. The hammer crept back.


       “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” whispered the visitor from South Pueblo. “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”






Chapter 3:

Everybody Have Fun Tonight




A gentleman is simply a patient wolf.


—Lana Turner




       Doc reloaded the .44 as he strode through a maze of back alleys and deserted lots, pulling bullet after bullet from his pocket until he snapped the weapon shut and put it away. It was better to walk quickly than to run: it left him more time to think and raised fewer suspicions in the minds of onlookers. Buttoning up his frock coat, he considered what to do next. No telling how long these people would continue to believe he was someone just like them, only in costume, but he would have to play along until a way back to his own time could be found. Failing that, he would have to find a place to lay low for a few weeks while he adapted to this new age. Strange, he thought, that he did not greatly miss the world he had left behind only minutes ago. He had never felt welcome there.


       Voices could be heard from ahead where the alley came out at a street. Locomotives rumbled by, their electric lamps illuminating the darkness before them. He pulled out a handkerchief and mopped his face, feeling giddy and unsteady on his feet. The surge of energy he’d gained after the gunfight was gone. He still had to keep moving.


       “Damn kids with firecrackers!” a man shouted. “They’re as bad as the squirrels! There ought to be a law!”


       “There is a law, Jake,” a woman said. “Keep your voice down. I’m sure the police will handle it.”


       Doc held his breath to calm his nerves, then affected an air of relaxed indifference as he continued walking toward the voices at the alley’s end. He moved quietly, listening.


       “Maybe squirrels were throwing firecrackers,” suggested another woman. “They’re very clever, you know.”


       “Squirrels?” the man cried. “Can they do that?”


       “No, Jake, of course not! Amy, would you please not stir things up before Rita gets here?”


       “Just trying to help.”


       “No, you’re not. Jake, she was kidding you, get over it.”


       “I wouldn’t put it past those tree-dwelling rat bastards to use gunpowder! The second you turn your back on ‘em, they—GAH!”


       Doc exited the alley and saw the speaker spy him and jump, badly startled. The anxious man wore a dark suit with thin vertical stripes, shiny black shoes, and what looked like a bowler hat with a crease in the top. A woman with bobbed brown hair stood next to him, wearing a tan beret, a brown sweater, and a black skirt. She carried a paper sack and a handbag in one hand. Off to one side stood a neatly dressed second woman in a starched white blouse and knee-length black skirt. She had nice legs. Her wavy brunette hair flowed down her back like a waterfall.


       Ev’ning, ladies and gentleman,” Doc said, his Georgia accent in full bloom. He touched the brim of his hat and gave a smile. “Forgive me if I gave you a turn.”


       “Oh, don’t worry about it!” said the woman with the beret. “We’re fine.” She looked Doc over with clear admiration. “What a wonderful outfit! It looks so authentic! Are you going to a party?”


       “I . . . hadn’t thought about it, ma’am.” Doc turned his head and coughed, then resumed his smile. “Felt a need for a walk, that’s all.”


       “You normally take walks down dark alleys at night, dressed like that?” asked the wavy-haired woman, raising an eyebrow.


       “Amy,” warned the other woman.


       “No harm done,” said Doc with a pleasant nod to the sarcastic one. He liked a woman with spirit and a smart mouth. “I was enjoying the night air when I ran afoul of a gang of mischievous boys with noisemakers. I offered them my judgment on the error of their ways but lost my route thereafter.” His smile grew. “I doubt those boys’ll be any further trouble tonight.”


       “About time someone stood up to those grade-school punks!” said the man in the striped suit. He then snapped his fingers and pointing at Doc. “I got it! You’re Clint Eastwood from Unforgiven!”


       Doc blinked, unsure of what response to make. Clint who, from where?


       “No, wait!” the man amended. “John Wayne, Rio Bravo!”


       “I’m afraid not,” said Doc, genuinely puzzled. “I—”


       “No! Don’t tell me! Give me a minute! Um, what was that movie, the one with the cowboys . . .


       “My name’s Helen,” said the woman in the sweater, putting out a hand. “Helen Morgendorffer. This is my husband Jake, and that’s my younger sister, Amy Barksdale. My older sister’s supposed to come by with her new boyfriend and pick us up to go to a costume party at the Lawndale Art Museum.”


       “Sounds like a peach of an evening,” said Doc. “Pleased to meet you all.” He shook hands with Helen and Jake, then turned to Amy. She had her arms crossed in front of her as she studied at him skeptically. He lowered his hand but was well content. He had her undivided curiosity. It might turn out to be a good night after all.


       “What manner of costume are you wearing?” Doc asked Amy.


       “I dressed as Amy Barksdale,” she said, “who got off from work and drove here without changing clothes because her two siblings talked her into sharing a night of sisterly bonding when I could have stayed home with a bottle of Old Grand-Dad and had more fun.”


       Single, available, in need of a drink, and letting the world know, thought Doc. She might be just the thing to take the edge off the evening. It was damned good to know Old Grand-Dad was still around, too.


       “Are you supposed to be Clint Eastwood from that other movie, the one made in Italy after the other two?” asked Jake. “Wait! I got it! You’re Wyatt Earp, from that other movie!”


       Doc shook his head no, but felt very odd. It took him aback to hear Wyatt’s name come up in this context. Wyatt Earp had been his only close friend, even if they had parted a few weeks earlier on poor terms. How did these people know about Wyatt? And what in hell’s name was a movie?


       “Are you supposed to be a riverboat gambler?” asked Amy, arms still folded. “You kind of look like one. Not that I would know.”


       Doc gave a short laugh. “I don’t work the riverboats, but I am a gambler at that,” he said, then coughed. He fished in a pocket for a clean handkerchief, just in case it got worse.


       “Hmmm, you’re going to play this out in character,” she said in a flat voice. “What luck, a historical re-enactor. Better than a street mime, I guess. Okay, I’ll bite. By any chance, are you supposed to be a dentist?”


       A shiver went through him, but he kept smiling. “Right as rain, ma’am.” How could she possibly know that?


       “Don’t tell me!” Jake cried. “I’m still guessing!”


       Amy rubbed her mouth with her fingers, trying to hide her smirk.


       “We’re dressed like Bonnie and Clyde,” said Helen, indicating her husband. “We have to carry our guns in a bag so no one gets the wrong idea.”


       “You carry guns?” Doc repeated, glancing down at the sack in Helen’s hand. He didn’t care who Bonnie and Clyde were. That was the future’s problem, not his.


       “Toy guns, of course,” she said. “We’ll take them out when we get to the party. I’m actually a lawyer.” She pointed to the building beside which they all stood. “I work here with Vitale, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter, and Schrecter. I’m going to make partner next year. I’m not sure how they’re going to fit my name in the title, though. Morgendorffer is a bit long.”


       “Maybe our gambler can shoot one of the Schrecters,” said Amy. “There’re so many, they’d never miss one.”


       “You’ll have to forgive my sister’s sense of humor,” said Helen with a glare at her sibling. “Not many people find it funny.”


       “Are you Bart Maverick?” asked Jake, thinking hard. “Brett Maverick? That cousin of theirs, what’s-his-name, the one who also played James Bond?”


       Doc sighed and shook his head. Jake groaned in exasperation. “Damn it!” he snapped, “I’m no good at this guessing stuff! Who are you, anyway?”


       “Yeah,” said Amy with a crooked smile. “What’s up, Doc?”


       She knows me, thought Holliday in astonishment. Am I really that famous here? He recovered just in time. “John Henry Holliday, at your service,” he said with a gentle flourish of a hand. “A traveler from an antique land, a sower of the wind and reaper of the whirlwind. Folks usually call me Doc.”


       “You’re Doc Holliday?” cried Jake, stunned. “You don’t look like Val Kilmer!”


       “What’s your real name?” said Helen, ignoring her husband.


       For a moment Doc wasn’t sure what response to make. He would have to make up a name as his “real” one. Luckily, he had such a pseudonym in stock, one he had used when he’d lived in Denver a few years earlier after he got in trouble in Texas. His confidence returned, if not all his energy.


       “Tom McKey, ma’am,” he said. “I’m new in town, just in from Colorado.” True enough. He hoped Colorado was still around so his story would hold together.


       “Long way from Baltimore,” said Amy. “What brings you here, business or pleasure?”


       Doc could not keep the surprise out of his face. Baltimore? Baltimore? That couldn’t be! How did he cross the United States from South Pueblo, much less cross time itself, through the back of a Chinese laundry? To cover his astonishment, he turned his head to cough hard and long into his handkerchief. He had been fighting an ache in his lungs and throat for several minutes, and this was a good time to give in to it.


       “Are you all right?” asked Helen with concern.


       “It’s probably allergies,” said Jake knowingly. “I had a client last week who sneezed until he—”


       “Not that story!” Helen snapped.


       “Uh, oh, right.”


       Blood stained the handkerchief when Doc finished. He concealed it as he carefully wiped his mouth. “It’s just a cough,” he said hoarsely. “Allergies, as you say.” He flashed a smile at Amy, feeling lightheaded again. “Sorry, ma’am. I was going to tell you I came in on vacation. Seemed like a good idea to hike around, see the town, stretch the leg muscles. That’s all.”


       Amy looked at him speculatively, then shrugged and turned away. “Whatever floats your riverboat.


       “Is that a real diamond?” asked Jake in wide-eyed wonder, pointing at the gold stickpin in Doc’s cravat.


       “Indeed it is,” said Doc. He sensed it was time to cut bait or catch something. Someone was going to find those bodies and soon, given all the noise involved in creating them. “Ladies,” he began, doffing his hat, “and you too sir, it’s late and I bid you good evening. Thank you for your kindness to a wayfarer in your city.”


       “Wait!” said Helen. “Just a moment!” She looked at Amy and quickly cocked her head toward Doc.


       Amy looked at Helen with a frown. “What?” she asked.


       Helen again jerked her head toward Doc while looking at her sister. Amy glanced at Doc, looked back at Helen, then her eyes grew wide with understanding. “Oh, no!” she started, putting up her hands to ward away the suggestion. “Don’t you dare try to—


       Helen turned to Doc and plunged in. “If you don’t have anywhere else to go this evening, Mister McKey, why don’t you come with us to the party? My sister Rita said her boyfriend rented a limousine—”


       Helen!” Amy hissed through her teeth.


       “—and there should be plenty of room for all of us in the back. Oh, come on, Amy! He’s come all the way from Colorado and he has such a great costume! What do you think, Jake, should he come with us?”


       “I was certain he was Wyatt Earp,” Jake grumbled.


       “Then it’s settled,” said Helen smoothly, turning back to Doc. “You—my, what is going on there?”


       A peculiar howling rose and fell in the night. A prickling sensation ran down Doc’s spine. This is not good.


       There’s the police!” said Jake with deep satisfaction. “Those little hoodlums will get what’s coming to them.”


       “Perhaps they already have,” murmured Doc, seeing blue and red lights flashing madly far down the busy street. The howling and the lights seemed to be approaching. He was not afraid of being arrested. He had no doubt he would be able to defend himself as ably as he always had when pulled in for shooting someone in self-defense. He simply didn’t want the bother of it all, especially now with such an outlandish world to explore.


       And so little time left to enjoy it.


       “Mister McKey?” said Helen, interrupting his reverie. “Won’t you join us this evening?”


       Doc looked from Helen to Jake to the smoldering Amy (he had her full attention now, by God), then back to Helen. He weighed his options. The howling and flashing lights drew closer.


       “Kill you,” Amy snarled under her breath at Helen.


       “A date wouldn’t kill you,” Helen retorted, heedless that Doc stood right before them. “Weren’t you complaining to me this afternoon how you never meet any good men in D.C.?”


       “If he’s a serial killer, you’ll pay dearly.” Amy glared at Doc. “Are you a serial killer?”


       After a beat, he raised his right hand and spoke with great solemnity: “God as my witness, I have never harmed a serial in my life.”


       “This is not a date, understand?” Amy said to him with narrow eyes. Helen and Jake gasped. “Don’t talk to me and don’t look at me. If you so much as touch me, I’ll break your arm in three places. You got that?”


       She was beautiful when she was angry, more beautiful even than Kate, the off-and-on bed partner whom he had left behind when he and the surviving Earps left Tombstone to avenge Morgan Earp’s death a few months earlier. Amy was good looking by most standards, but it was her fury—and her unspoken loneliness and need—that made her irresistible. He had no doubt that at the moment she hated him through and through with blackest intensity. And he had no doubt she was as good as his. What she really hated was going home alone. Even without the jump into the future and the gunfight, this was going to be a night to remember.


       “Your terms are more than fair,” he replied softly, then turned to Helen and Jake and bowed. “It would be an honor to enjoy your gracious company this Halloween evening. ‘Pomp, and feast, and revelry, with mask, and ancient pageantry, such sights as youthful poets dream on summer eves by haunted stream. . . .’”


       His three new companions stared at him with open mouths.


       “Milton,” he added with an apologetic cough. “I was carried away by the moment. Lead on.”






Chapter 4:

Skirmish Lines




I often say a great doctor kills more people than a great general.


—Gottfried Leibniz




       “There goes another police car!” said Jake, peering out a heavily tinted limousine window. “Helen, that’s six of them!”


       “I can’t imagine they intend to investigate a few boys with noisemakers,” said Doc. “There must be other business pressing.” He lounged comfortably on a long sofa with his long legs stretched out, dusty leather boots crossed at the ankles. He was positioned between an animated Helen Morgendorffer and a glowering Amy Barksdale. The latter sat as far from him as possible with her arms and legs crossed, trapped in a rear corner of the limousine’s interior. She looked steadily out the back window, her lips pressed together in a thin line.


       “Probably a robbery,” said Helen. “Someone at work might have heard about it. I could call Eric and see if—”


       “Jesus, not again,” said a platinum blonde woman in a sequined gown, sitting across from Helen. She put out a hand, palm up. “Give me that damn cell phone.”


       “Rita, I wasn’t going to use it!” Helen exclaimed, pulling her purse close to her chest. “I was just saying if anyone wanted to know, I could—”


       “There goes an ambulance!” cried Jake, still looking out the window. Flashing red lights and a muffled wailing came and went.


       Doc surveyed the interior of the “limo,” as everyone called it, and sighed in wonder. It was enormous in comparison to the smaller vehicles he’d seen so far, as big as a Union Pacific ten-wheeler steam locomotive was to a farm wagon. He understood now that the vehicles he’d been seeing were called “cars,” not “locomotives.” The limo’s long interior was decorated like a clearing in a wild jungle, with thick beige carpeting and tropical flowers and vines hanging from the ceiling and walls. Doc touched a leaf behind one shoulder. It did not feel like a real leaf. Manufactured, perhaps? Was everything in this vehicle artificial?


       The balding, barrel-chested man who sat across from Doc laughed as he held a telephone to his ear. It was not like any telephone Doc remembered seeing, as it had no wires and fit into the palm of one’s hand. The man wore a peculiar mottled uniform with a military air, the khaki shirt and pants spotted with brown and gray. His heavy brown boots bore a high shine. One of the man’s muscular arms was draped around blonde Rita’s shoulders. His eyes protruded slightly from their sockets, giving him a goggle-eyed look one usually associated with madmen. He reeked of bourbon.


       “Over and out!” he bellowed into the phone, which he then dropped into a shirt pocket. “Got my men another contract!” he announced in a baritone roar. “I can’t tell you about it, ‘cause then I’d have to kill ya, but it looks like we might be heading overseas!


       “What kind of contract?” asked Helen with a forced smile.


       “Why, merc work!” said the man, patting the medals over his heart with a thick hand. “War’s a damn good business these days! This job alone’s worth seven figures!”


       “You didn’t tell me you were leaving again, Buck!” said the blonde with a politely stricken look. “How long will you be gone this time?”


       “I’m not leaving yet, baby,” said Buck. He gave Rita’s shoulders a hearty squeeze. “We’ve got plenty of time till we ship out. Our contract doesn’t begin until February when the Saudis—ah, hell, I almost let the cat out of the ammo dump! Better stop before I have to kill everyone!” He laughed long and hard. “Can’t keep a secret to save my life, and it’s all your fault, Rita my sweet-a!”


       Helen made a sour face. “You’re kidding,” she said. “You’re not a real mercenary, are you?”


       Buck’s grin revealed an amazing number of large pearly teeth. “I sure as hell am! Excuse me for not properly introducing myself, but that phone call couldn’t wait. I’m General Buck Conroy, founder and publisher of Brutal Mercenary Magazine, and commander-in-chief of the Spartan Wardogs, the best fighting men that money can buy!” Buck threw back his head and howled like a baying dog, then shouted, “Chew ‘em up, Wardogs!


       “Buck, please,” groaned Rita, rubbing her ears. “Not in the limo.”


       “My old man would have loved it if I’d been a mercenary,” grumbled Jake. “‘Kill some people, son, and make me proud!’ Well, sorry to disappoint you while you’re roasting in hell, Dad, but—”


       “You don’t actually go out and shoot people for money, do you?” Helen interrupted with a glare at Buck. Her face tightened with rising fury.


       “I couldn’t very well call myself a mercenary if I didn’t!” said Buck with a sly wink. “I’ve got bills to pay like everyone else, and a fine, sexy woman who demands the very best!” He gave Rita another squeeze, but she grimaced and pushed his beefy hand away.


       Amy muttered something that sounded to Doc like: “Sure knows how to pick ‘em.”


       Doc coughed, trying not to laugh. “A mercenary general,” he said in a soft voice that carried through the limo compartment, and he gave Buck Conroy an easy grin. “A modern Xenophon if you will, a condottiero, landsknecht Hauptmann, captain of the Gardes Suisses.”


       Silence reigned. Everyone looked at Doc in astonishment.


       “Dam-nation!” cried Buck at last. “I can tell you spent way too much time in college, boy. You probably never even came out of the library. You’d have done better to get your higher education on the battlefield, the way I did!”


       Rita frowned at him. “I thought you were a supply clerk in Saigoow!


       “Sorry, baby!” said Buck. “Didn’t mean to pinch. Every square inch of ‘Nam was a battlefield! We were fightin’ in the streets during Tet in sixty-eight!”


       “But you weren’t in . . .” Rita stopped as Buck fixed his madman’s gaze upon her. “Never mind, forget it,” she said and looked away.


       “Who exactly are you pretending to be?” said Doc in amusement, still looking at Buck.


       “Marilyn Monroe,” said Rita, glad for the change in topic. She patted her bobbed hairdo. “I’m dressed the way she was when she sang that birthday song to President Kennedy. You remember that, right?”


       “Of course,” said Doc blandly. “However, I was actually asking our Hessian-for-hire what he was pretending to be.”


       “Me?” Buck looked surprised—and mildly annoyed at Doc’s slight. “Can’t you tell? Jesus Krispy Kritters Christ, you really didn’t get out of that library, did you?” He thumped his broad chest. “I’m Stormin’ Norman, the man who whipped the ass of every mother’s son in Eye-rack! A general’s got to look like a general, even at a costume party!” He slapped his knee as he laughed at his bon mot. “Your daddy should’ve taught you something about the fighting spirit instead of letting you fill your head with that college bullcrap, boy.”


       Doc’s smile faded, and his gaze turned cold. His slow Georgia drawl was barely above a whisper. “My father served honorably in three wars, sir. He was a volunteer and never turned from a fight, but when he came home the final time, he was sick, bankrupt, and weary of battle’s stench. Everything I know about ‘fighting spirit’ came from him, and hard learned those lessons were.” He coughed several times before continuing. “War is regretfully necessary,” he finished, “but it is never good.”


       “We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one, cowboy,” said Buck. His mad eyes gleamed. “This great country was made great by men who weren’t afraid to look their enemies in the face and get their bayonets bloody. Our young people are sucking at the tit of bleeding-heart liberalism. They need to see the world the way it really is, the naked dog-eat-dog truth: war is good, peace is for cowards, and red-blooded Americans know how to make war best.”


       “You don’t say.”


       “Oh, now, wait a minute!” Helen began, indignant. “That’s—”


       “Let me tell you something more, smart ass,” Conroy interrupted, poking a thick finger in Doc’s direction. “A great American general named Patton once said to his troops, ‘Americans love to fight. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle.’ He was goddamn right! All I’m doing is channeling that blood instinct where it ought to go, and letting those young men pick up a little spending money for stereos and new cars while they’re at it!”


       Amy, Helen, and Jake stared at Buck with appalled faces. Rita rolled her eyes and sighed.


       “I recall an American general who expressed different sentiments,” Doc murmured, stroking his mustache. He never took his eyes off Conroy. “He is not a gentleman I am especially fond of, and in fact I hold him in the lowest possible regard, yet I am forced to admit his words were worth marking.” Doc’s voice rose and became more animated. “‘I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting. Its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands, and fathers. It is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.’”


       Buck’s face began to color. “Who the hell said that crap?” he growled. Couldn’t’ve been an American.”


       “General William Tecumseh Sherman, United States Army,” said Doc. “I trust you’ve heard of him, sir.”


       “Now, that’s plain bullshit!” Buck shouted. “General Sherman loved war! He invented total war, the only kind of war there is! I know he once said that war was hell, but he meant—”


       “Buck?” Rita said loudly, putting a bare arm around him. “Buck, please!”


       “What, goddamn it?” he snapped. “I’m trying to talk sense into this—”


       “You’re the host, remember?” Rita said with little-girl eyes. She ran a silver fingernail down his cheek. “Let’s have drinks and save the arguing for later, okay? We’re going to a party, right? Come on, for me? For your Marilyn?”


       Buck inhaled deeply. For a moment Doc thought the mercenary would strike the blonde, but after a pause Buck let out his breath and waved a tired hand. “What the hell,” he said, not meeting Doc’s gaze. “You can lead a man to water, but you sure as shit can’t make him drink it.” He got to his feet and walked crouched over to the front of the limo compartment, where he opened a cabinet filled with various liquors. “What’ll you have?” he said with false cheer, looking back at his guests. He gave Doc a longer look than the others.


       “Old Grand-Dad, if you have it, sir,” Doc said at once, “but you may serve the ladies first.”


       Buck mechanically filled a tumbler with ice, opened a bottle and poured amber fluid into the glass, and wordlessly handed it to Doc. Doc gave him a nod and a brittle smile, mindful of the insult, then offered the glass to Amy, who took it and murmured her thanks. She had long ago stopped looking out the back window.


       After serving everyone else, General Conroy gave Doc a tumbler with far more ice than whiskey, then got himself a mixed drink and sat down again, red faced. Doc swirled the liquid, admiring the ice cubes. He had never imagined drinking whiskey cold. Unable to resist a parting shot, he quoted Caesar— “Homines libenter quod volunt credunt” —then drank the whiskey down in one swallow. It was better than excellent, even in such a miserly portion. He badly needed that shot. A pity the “general” was unlikely to offer him more.


       Absentem laedit, cum ebrio qui litigat,” said Amy in the silence that followed. She looked into her own empty glass as she spoke, but her voice had a playful quality to it.


       Heads turned. Eyes stared.


       Doc raised an eyebrow but did not face Amy directly. “Forsan miseros meliora sequentur,” he said in low voice, looking over Buck’s head.


       Amy gave Doc a startled glance. After a beat her expression cooled. She looked out the back window again, still holding her glass. “Video barbam et pallium, philosophum nondum video,” she said in a sultry tone.


       Fallaces sunt rerum species,” he replied at once.


       She sniffed and looked at him boldly. “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.”


       Non est ad astra mollis e terris via.” After a moment, Doc raised his head and returned her gaze. Her eyes were the ever-changing color of hazel: rich brown near the pupil, then honey-hued farther out, finally green and gray on the borders. Eyes beautiful and vulnerable. He did not remember seeing eyes like that before.


       She stared back at him without speaking. The silence in the limousine was absolute as every passenger looked dumbfounded from Amy to Doc and back.


       “You’re not from around here, are you?” Amy whispered.


       “No, ma’am,” Doc said.


       Amy suddenly turned to Buck, all business. “Would you freshen my drink, please?” she asked. “And Mister . . . McKey’s drink too, if you would.”


       With a glare at Doc, Buck got to his feet and stomped away to comply.


       “What the hell were you two saying?” hissed Rita, a delighted look on her face. “Was that Italian or what?”


       “Latin, the mother tongue of all Western languages,” said Doc. “It still has its uses.”


       “He’s not going to tell you what he and Amy were saying,” Helen said knowingly to Rita. “Neither will Amy. You can forget about asking.”


       Amy turned to face Doc on the sofa, legs crossed in his direction. “Do you have any bad habits I should know about, Mister McKey?” she said, looking at him anew.


       “I have nothing but bad habits,” he replied. He took two drinks from a subdued General Conroy and passed one to Amy.


       “I can believe that,” Amy said thoughtfully. She lifted her glass to him in a toast. “I’ve heard it said that the prince of darkness is a gentleman.”


       “He is indeed,” said Doc, lifting his glass to Amy. “He is indeed.”






Chapter 5:

Bad Habits




Art is long, life is short.


—Hippocrates, Aphorisms

βίος βραχύς, δ τέχνη μακρή




       John Henry Holliday regarded the painting on the wall before him with a curled lip. “Does the artist ever intend to finish this,” he said aloud, “or did he pass on, and they’ve hung this up in his perpetual memory?”


       It’s minimalist art,” said Amy Barksdale with a faint slur to her words. “It’s a comment on the paucity of imagination in the world.” She stood at his side, a half-finished whiskey-and-soda in her hand from the free liquor bar set up for the Lawndale Art Museum’s Halloween party. It was her fourth drink of the evening.


       Doc looked down at Amy with a bland, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me gaze.


       Whaaat?” she said. “That’s what it is. Read the little card. ‘Paucity of imagination,’ right there.” She smirked in triumph and took another sip.


       He sighed and took a healthy swig from his sixth whiskey-straight-on-the-rocks. “You had me worried that I’d missed something,” he said. “Have all the arts decayed like this in so little a time?”


       Amy raised an eyebrow. “Say what?”


       He gestured around the sparsely attended museum galley with his glass. “All this . . . minimalist art, as you call it, making so much of nothing—no, that’s wrong, it makes nothing of so much, reducing the immortal Muse to a splatter of paint on a piece of canvas. I can’t believe that in a hundred y—” He caught himself “—that people think this, this sorry excuse for bull excrement is fine art.” He coughed, but his lungs hurt less than usual and he was in a good mood.


       “Hmmm.” Amy turned and scanned the gallery, idly swishing the contents of her glass as she did. “I have to admit I like a couple of pieces here, but on the whole I’d have to agree. I live near D.C. and can go to the National Gallery and the Smithsonian any time I like. This stuff doesn’t hold a candle to that, but the Lawndale Art Museum can’t really afford the big stuff. Say, aren’t you ever going to take off your coat? You could have left it in the limo with your hat.”


       My weapons— “I . . . there’s a chill in the air.”


       “That’s air conditioning for you.” Amy shrugged. “The coat check’s over there if you change your mind.”


       “Thank you.” He felt strange asking his next question, as until this point he had asked it only of other men. “What kind of work do you do, Miss Barksdale?”


       “Well, chivalrous, aren’t we? I’m an editor for a small-press publisher, but I also write a column under a pseudonym for a literary magazine, Musings. I read all sorts of fiction, then tell people what I think of it. Most of it is garbage, but people seem to like reading cruel, scathing reviews—everyone but the authors, that is—so I’m in demand. Only a little demand, but I like it. It’s like a hobby that pays.” She pointed her little finger at Doc while still holding the whiskey glass. “How about you? What do you do when you’re not pretending to be Doc Holliday?”


       He coughed into his sleeve, trying not to smile. “I gamble,” he said, feeling odd to be telling her the truth. “I move from town to town, try my luck. So far luck has been mighty good to me, at least where cards are concerned. I prefer working as a faro dealer when there’s a call for it.”


       “Faro?” Amy looked puzzled. “Never heard of it.”


       Doc barely concealed his surprise. Amy was quite intelligent, so if she hadn’t heard of faro, then— “I thought everyone had,” he said, recovering. “It’s a card game, used to be quite popular.”


       “Did you ever get into one of those poker tournaments?”


       “Tournaments? Uh, no, just private games. Poker is my recreation. Faro is for work.”


       “Huh. I’ll have to look that game—hic!—up!” Amy looked annoyed. “Shit, I always do that when I’ve had too much to drink. Excuse me for swearing.”


       “The lady is hereby pardoned for every offense. Swear to your heart’s content.”


       “Thank you. I usually don’t drink a lot, except at home. I live by myself in an apartment.” She cleared her throat and pointed again at Doc. “You know, you’re really—hic—interesting. Excuse me. I’ve met a lot of strange—I mean, interesting people in my life, most of them writers and they’re pretty weird, but I never met anyone like you. I—hic—hope I’m not being too talkative. I’m normally not.”


       “No harm done. Go on.”


       Amy tossed her long mane of undulating hair. “I came by here this week because Rita and Helen wanted to have a sisterly bonding experience, thanks t—hic—thanks to my nieces. I mean Helen’s girls, not Rita’s airhead kid. Daria and Quinn started all this. I used to think Quinn was an airhead, too, but she surprised me. Smart girls, both of them. Helen’s damn lucky. Hic.


       “They talked you and your sisters into—”


       “Bonding, yeah. See, we used to fight all the time when we were kids, Rita and Helen and me. D—hic—’cuse me. Do you mind me telling you this? I talk more when I’ve had a lot to drink. Okay, so, um—oh, right. Anyway, we—hic—used to fight a lot as kids, and after my big sisters went to college I didn’t even see either of them much until Rita’s airhead—I mean, her daughter Erin—got married a few years ago. Then I saw my other nieces for the first time in ages, and—whew! The girls were almost grown up! I—hic—I missed out on everything that went on with them. Helen sent me pictures, of course, but it—it was different after I met them again, my nieces. Daria and Quinn worked on me and finally got me to open up, a little, and now Rita or Helen call me up every few months and we get together, like this. That’s why I’m here. Bonding. If you can’t beat ‘em—” She sighed and, after a beat, hiccupped again.


       Doc smiled, mildly bored but still agreeable to her company and her marvelous legs. She had a nice body, too, just the right amount of everything. Her perfume was intoxicating. Or maybe it was the whiskey. “An admirable endeavor, getting closer to family,” he said. He raised his glass. “Here’s to bonding.”


       Amy missed the double entendre and didn’t return the gesture. “Yeah. I dunno. I’m not used to it. I’m kind of a loner. I don’t like people. They piss me off too much. I like—hic—being alone, most of the time.”


       “I consider that a refreshing outlook. I don’t happen to like people greatly, either.”


       “Hey, there you go. Hic. You’re the first person who’s ever said that to me. Except for Daria. I think Daria’s kind of like me, only better, I think. She’s not going to be as screwed up as . . . um . . .” Amy hiccupped and cleared her throat again, looking embarrassed. “Sorry, I’ve been rambling,” she mumbled, then eyed her unfinished drink and walked away to put it on a cloth-covered folding table. “That’s enough for me,” she said upon her return. “You look like you’re doing well, at least. You sthic—still look sober.”


       “Practice makes perfect.”


       “You must drink a lot.” Amy’s eyes grew wide and she covered her mouth. “Oh, shit, I didn’t mean—”


       “No offense taken. You’re right, I drink a lot. It soothes the throat. It’s the fault of the damnable— allergies.”


       Amy flushed red. “You know—hic!—I should really learn when to shut up. I’m—”


       One of Doc’s pale, long-fingered hands rose to her face and gently stroked her cheek. Amy stopped breathing. Her eyes closed as she leaned into his touch. Her skin was soft and warm.


       “You are as sweet as a honeysuckle blossom,” he said. He was glad he didn’t cough when he said it. That always made things awkward.


       “Oh.” Amy’s eyes opened. She looked as if she were half sleep. “Greeks bearing gifts,” she murmured. “I’m not used to this. I don’t get out much. You’re really . . . very different.” Her hand came up and caught his, carefully pulling it from her face. “Please, not yet. Wait a little.”


       “I would wait forever if you asked,” he said. Women liked to hear that.


       “So chivalrous. I need to get my head together.” Amy swallowed and exhaled with a long breath, not meeting his gaze. “Uh, conversation, talk about something, pick a topic. Um, when did you fly in from Colorado?”


       His eyes opened wide. Fly in? Great God! “When did I—uh, no, I didn’t fly.”


       “You drove? That’s a long way.”


       Out of his depth, he improvised and hoped for the best. “I took a train.”


       Amy smiled. “Oh! All the way from Colorado? That must have been scenic. I haven’t taken trains before, except for the Metro, of course.”


       Metro? He shrugged and moved on. “Of course. I prefer trains. They’re . . . comfortable.”

       “Old fashioned, some would say.”


       “Yes, I suppose they would.”


       “Oh!” Amy looked startled. “Hey, I’m not hiccuping! I must have stopped when you, um, laid on hands!” She tried to keep a straight face as she said, “Is that one of your bad habits, laying hands on tipsy women?”


       He returned the smile. “Oh, no. I have far worse habits than that.”


       “Name one.”




       “I knew that already.”




       “Try again, Doc. I mean, Tom. Come on.”




       Amy waved it away. “I started smoking in college, but I don’t do it anymore. Not much. Not even Rita and Helen know. Not even Daria. I stop for a year or two, then I smoke a few when I’m around another smoker, then stop again. Keep going. Bad habits.”


       “I . . . do have a weakness for women who make intelligent conversation.”


       Amy’s smile faded. She looked uncertain and began to blush. “That . . . that’s good. I . . . I like—”


       His hand came up to her cheek again. She grasped his fingers—but then pressed them to her cheek and closed her eyes. She was quiet for several long seconds before she spoke again in a low voice.


       “Look, Doc or Tom or whatever your name is, let’s be frank.” She opened her hazel eyes to stare into his blue ones. “You’ve hooked me. I only get laid when I get drunk, and right now I am fucking ripped. I’m too nervous to do it otherwise, too uptight. Sober won’t do it. You can have your way with me, as the bodice-rippers put it, but please don’t—I mean, if we could—I don’t want to—”


       “You won’t be disgraced,” he said softly. “You won’t be ashamed or hurt.”


       She gave him a look of gratitude and relief. “Okay,” she said softly. “Thank you for that. You don’t have to tell me you love me, either. I’m way beyond that sort of thing. It is what it is. It’s okay.”


       “It is what it is.” He liked that phrase. “It is what it is.”


       She kissed his fingers, then let go of his hand. “I can get us a cab back to my hotel room, if you want, when this is over. I’m staying in Lawndale for the week. All that bonding.” She then gave him a narrow-eyed look with mock intensity. “Swear to me you aren’t an axe murderer.”


       “On my honor, ma’am, I would never use an axe.”


       “Thanks, Mister Goodbar. Can we use protection? I’m on the pill, but—I want to be careful, if that’s—”


       He wasn’t sure what she was talking about, but he was interested in finding out. “Whatever the lady wishes.”


       “Thank God, a real gentleman. About time. Did you bring any with you?”


       His look of confusion answered the question. “Never mind,” she said. “I have some in my purse. Be prepared, I always say.” She straightened, brushed her hair back with her hands, and looked around. “We should see what everyone else is doing,” she said. “Don’t want the older sibs to spread rumors in our absence.”


       “That would be dreadful.”


       “Hmmm, maybe not. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a bad reputation. No time like the present to find out.”


       Piano music could now be heard from the main hall of the art museum. They walked together out of the gallery, her arm in his. Perhaps two hundred people were present in the large circular hall, almost all in costume and most gathered around the hors d’oeuvres and dessert tables. A man in a clown suit sat at a grand piano, playing a slow, unfamiliar tune. Doc saw Rita, the blonde, look up from a table of chocolates and do a double-take when she spotted Amy with him. Rita elbowed the woman next to her—Helen—and pointed them out. Oh my God, he thought he heard Helen gasp.


       “Ladies,” said Doc as they came up. “I hope you’re enjoying this lovely soiree.”


       “Not as much as you are, obviously,” said Rita, looking from Amy to Doc. “Buck went off to talk man stuff and ‘network,’ as he calls it. I don’t know where the hell he is.”


       “Jake’s over there talking with Andrew,” said Helen. She indicated her husband near the free bar, talking with a black man in a fine suit. Doc felt that was going to take some time getting used to, seeing Negroes going around acting as if they were white people, and no one seeming to give a damn about it. That more than anything told him that time had indeed moved onward and far from his own age. Sic transit gloria mundi. The Old South was gone. The old ways were dead. He coughed, then raised his empty glass in a farewell toast. Long live this strange new world and its strange new ways. Omnia mutantur.


       “Tom?” Someone tugged on his arm. “Tom?”


       He turned to Amy, recovering. “My apologies, dear. I was distracted.”


       “‘Dear’?” said Rita, starting to grin.


       Shh!” said Helen, elbowing her sister back. “Amy, try one of these truffles. They’re incredible.” She raised her martini glass for a sip.


       “Mmm, chocolate,” said Amy, looking the offerings over. “I’ll have one. Which kind goes best with sex?”


       Helen choked on her drink. Rita’s mouth fell open as she stared at her sister with white showing all around her eyes.


       “Well said, my dear,” said Doc approvingly. “Live for today. Carpe diem. Ars longa, vita . . .


       He stopped and lifted his chin, seeing someone approach from behind Rita. The newcomer was dead drunk, to judge from his weaving gait, and his madman’s gaze burned like a midnight bonfire.


       Buck Conroy.






Chapter 6:

The Devil’s Due




May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I won’t.


—General George S. Patton, Jr.




       “Good gracious,” said Doc. He slowly undid the top buttons of his coat as he spoke. “It’s our old friend, the general. What news is there from the front lines, Xenophon?”


       “Go fuck yourself, asshole,” growled Buck, his words slurred. He was red-faced and breathing heavily.


       “Why, same to you, Buck,” Doc said cheerily. “You are a daisy tonight.”


       “Piss off before I kill you.” Buck turned to Rita. “Fucking Saudis cancelled the contract, took back the earnest money too. Goddamn towel-head camel jockeys. Well, screw ‘em, I don’t need their money. I got plenty of my own. They can go fuck themselves.”


       “Buck, honey, please don’t swear so loud,” Rita admonished. “People can—”


       Shut your fucking hole!” Buck roared back.


       Less than a second passed between the moment he said “hole” and the loud SMACK as Rita slapped him across the face with a roundhouse swing. The noise level around the room faded, though the clown at the piano continued to play.


       Stunned, Buck felt his injured cheek, groggy from both the alcohol and the sudden blow. Then his eyes focused on the blonde in the sequined gown. Rita turned pale and took an apprehensive step back.


       “You—” Buck said deep in his throat.


       He stopped when he felt something touch the back of his head. It was hard and about the diameter of a gun muzzle.


       “Don’t move,” said a voice with a Southern drawl, from behind him. “At this range I never miss, even when greatly under the influence. You have my word on it.”


       Dead silence swept the room. The piano music stopped. Goggle-eyed, Buck started to turn his head. The object against the back of his head pressed in harder. The general froze. Sweat beaded on his forehead.


       “My advice to you, sir,” continued the voice behind him, “is to remember the words of our Lord and Savior: ‘All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.’ You might reflect on His wisdom on your way home. I suggest you start your journey immediately.”


       White-faced, Buck swallowed. The pressure against his skull increased sharply, forcing him forward.


       “Get movin’ or die,” Doc whispered.


       Thus encouraged, Buck took a handful of unsteady steps in the direction of the museum’s main doors, then hesitated and looked back.


       Doc held a black fountain pen in his right hand. One flattened end was aimed at Buck’s face. Doc did not smile or blink as he stared back at Buck.


       A uniformed man with a badge and a hand on a holstered weapon appeared from the side, looking from one man to the other. “What’s going on here?” he said.


       Doc relaxed and lowered his arm. The fountain pen dangled in his fingers. “Why, nothing at all,” he said, staring at Buck. “Our good friend the general had a little too much to drink this evening, and now he’s on his way home to recuperate. Aren’t you, General?”


       Buck Conroy’s face flushed red and his neck muscles tightened. He opened his mouth.


       “He’s right,” said the security guard to Buck. “Go sleep it off. Don’t make things worse.” He unsnapped the holster cover and put his hand on the pistol butt.


       Buck’s mouth slowly closed. His mad eyes moved and burned into Doc.


       “Be seein’ you,” said Doc softly.


       After a glance around the room, Buck drew himself up and staggered toward the front doors of the museum.


       The guard turned to Doc with a hard face. “What’s that in your hand?” he said.


       Doc smiled as he held up the black pen. “You may borrow it if you wish, sir. I refilled it this morning.”


       “Just stay here until this other guy leaves,” the guard snapped. “Don’t make any more trouble or I’ll throw you out, too.” He then left to follow Buck Conroy to the exit.


       An excited buzz ran through the room. A few people clapped, but the applause quickly ended. Doc lost his smile as he put away his pen and buttoned up his coat. His fingers trembled from rage and tension.


       Someone touched his arm.


       “I just want to thank you,” said Rita in his ear. She then slipped a folded card into his coat pocket. “If you get the time, call me and I’ll thank you in a more personal way.” She patted his pocket, then left for the free bar.


       “That was great!” crowed Jake as he walked up and vigorously shook Doc’s hand. “That’s showing him who’s boss!” He lifted his gaze to the ceiling and shouted, “See that, Dad? You know where to stick it!”


       “Thank you, Mister McKey!” said Helen, brown eyes aglow. “Well done, and all within the law, as far as I know! What did you think, Amy?” Helen looked around. “Amy?”


       Doc turned. Amy stood a short distance behind him, arms down at her sides. She wore a strange expression of loss, hurt, and uncertainty.


       Of course. With full understanding, Doc walked over to her as he fished Rita’s card from its hiding place. Without a glance at it, he crumpled it into a wad and held it out. “Be a dear and toss this out with the other trash,” he said. “I have no use for it.”


       Amy stared at his offering. “Are you sure?” she said in a low voice. “She’s probably a lot more fun than I am.”


       “I doubt that,” said Doc. “I would say more, but decency forbids it. She is your sister.”


       Visibly relieved, Amy gave a short laugh. “‘Tis pity she’s a whore,’” she said as she took the paper wad. “Guess the others will have to find their own way back, if Buck takes the limo. I’m paying for our cab, by the way. You’ve earned it.”


       Doc started to object—then realized he was over a century out of his own time. Was his money any good here? He had the usual sawbucks and U.S. Notes, but also gold and silver certificates, National Bank Notes, some Treasury Notes for four bits each, and a few silver coins. None of it was minted later than 1882. God only knew what paper money looked like now, if there was such a thing.


       Perhaps, however, his money would be valuable to a local collector in exchange for current currency. Some of his bills were crisp and almost unused.


       “I will repay the generous lady in full,” he replied with a bow.


       “I bet you will,” murmured Amy. “You should take it easy, though, or I might not get to collect. That little scene you had with Buck almost did me in.”


       “‘A soft answer turneth away wrath.’”


       “Is that another Bible quotation?”


       “Proverbs, my dear. My beloved mother made sure I knew the Good Book forward and back.”


       Amy raised an eyebrow and gave him a wary look. “Are you . . . very Christian?”


       “In name only. My mother did her best, bless her soul, but quoting the Word is as close as I come to obeying it.”


       Amy smiled. “The devil can quote Scripture for his own purposes.”


       “The devil is not so black as painted. Do you play the piano, my dear?”


       “Uh, no, and I can’t sing, dance, or play water polo, either. Is that the end of our evening?”


       His laugh ended in a cough. “I thought you didn’t want to be near me. You threatened to break my arm in three places if I touched you.”


       “I may yet, if you stop touching me. Why did you ask? Do you play piano, Tom?”


       “Come with me.” He offered his arm. She took it, and he led her across the room to the grand piano. The clown was standing by the piano and having a drink.


       “May I?” asked Doc, gesturing at the bench.


       “It’s all yours,” said the clown.


       “Thank you.” Doc took a seat as Amy stood by his side. He inhaled, thought for a moment, let his gaze rise to an undefined point over the piano and far away, then put his fingers to the keys.


       Perfect notes flowed from his fingers like water in a brook, rising and falling, gentle and low. The music whispered of a quiet place far away, a place that existed only in the mind. He played through the first movement, then took his hands from the keys. It seemed no time at all had passed since he took his seat.


       Applause broke out around him and brought him out of his reverie. The clown shook his head, picked up his glass, and left.


       “What was that?” Amy breathed.


       Liebesträume,” said Doc. He got up from the bench and coughed. “A nocturne by Franz Liszt.”


       “Where did you learn it?”


       “Back in school, in Georgia.”


       “Which school was that?”


       “Doesn’t matter. It’s long gone.” He unbuttoned the top button of his coat and reached in, pulling out a small orange pouch from a vest pocket. He had forgotten he had it until he felt the need for a smoke. “Care for a cigarette?”


       “That’s not pot, is it?”


       Pot? What was that? The future was one strange thing after another. “Uh, no, just fine burley tobacco from Carolina.”


       Amy squinted at the pouch. “You roll your own? Where’d you get that?”


       “Pueblo, Colorado. I hope they still sell them.”


       “Bull Durham,” she said, reading the pouch label. She shook her head. “I’ve never seen that before. Unfiltered ones aren’t for me anyway. Just as well. You’ll have to smoke outside, though. They don’t allow smoking in the museum. That’ll bring security over faster than a full riot.”


       “They don’t allow it?” Puzzled, Doc looked around and in moments saw a sign that clearly stated smoking was not permitted. “How things do change,” he said. “Do you mind if I go outside for a few minutes, then?”


       “As long as you don’t run off before I’m ready to leave.” Amy tried to sound uncaring, but a tremor in her voice gave her away.


       Doc hesitated, then reached up and carefully removed the diamond stickpin from his black cravat. He then fastened it to Amy’s white blouse. His long fingers slipped inside her blouse to ensure the pin did not stick her. She did not stop him. The view was exceptionally agreeable.


       “There,” he said, stepping back to inspect his work. “Keep that for me while I’m gone. My uncle gave it to me, more or less an heirloom. It’s all I have left to remember my family.”


       Amy looked down at the diamond. “All right,” she said softly. “I need to go powder my nose. Take your time.”


       He nodded, then left for the front doors of the museum. The security guard was not in sight. Doc wondered if the Pinkertons were still in business after all these years, and if they were as much a bother as they were in his own time.


       The air outside was cooler than before, but still tolerable. Doc pulled rolling papers from a vest pocket, selected one, and set about pouring tobacco and rolling his cigarette. Amy had said something about cigarettes with filters. Why would a cigarette need a filter? Once the cigarette was licked, sealed, and ready, he struck a match on a stone post, lit up, then strolled off in the direction of the parking lot where he last remembered the limo being parked.


       The long dark limousine was still there. The area was not well illuminated, but even at a distance Doc could see a figure standing by the side of the vehicle. Moments later he heard the unmistakable sound of vomiting. No one else seemed to be around, not even the limo driver. As he walked he began to unbutton his coat.


       General Conroy was leaning against the side of the limo, supporting himself with his outstretched arms. It was clear from the smell that he had overindulged in drink and was paying for it in the most direct and brutal way possible.


       After a brief inspection, Doc figured out how to open the limo door, then retrieved his slouch hat and put it on. He closed the door, finished his cigarette and ground it out, then walked toward the general at a slow pace. His right hand reached inside his frock coat and vest, moving behind his back.


       “‘The drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty,’” he said as he approached, “‘and drowsiness shall clothe a man in rags.’ Proverbs, chapter twenty-three, verse twenty-one.”


       Buck coughed and spat at the vomit-stained pavement, then said something unintelligible. Doc stopped and checked his boots, then continued to close the distance between them, mindful of the mess. “Never tell a man you’re going to kill him, then fail to do so. It makes you a liar, and it makes the other man lose respect for you. The Old Testament is most definite about this.”


       “Fuck off,” mumbled the general to the ground.


       “Perhaps a selection from the New Testament would be more apt.” Doc’s right hand came out of his coat. “The words of our Savior are ever timely. The Book of Matthew, chapter ten, verse thirty-four.”


       Breathing audibly, Buck looked up with dull, glazed eyes. He did not react when he saw Doc. Then his mad gaze lowered to the gleaming thing in Doc’s right hand.


       “‘Think not that I am come to send peace on earth,’” said Doc steadily. “‘I came not to send peace, but a sword.’ Thus spoke our Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be His name.” The fine-honed edge of the thirteen-inch Bowie knife glittered in the night. “Glory, hallelujah, amen.”


       The glittering blade became a blur.






Chapter 7:

On the Road Again




The descent to Hell is easy.


—Vergil, Aeneid

(Facilis descensus Averno.)




       Amy Barksdale was at the beverages table, holding a cup of black coffee under her nose, when Doc walked back into the museum. She saw him and smiled.


       “Glad to see you finally took off that coat,” she said, looking him over. As alert as she looked, her words were still slurred and she wobbled on her high heels. “I like that vest. When you dress the part, you pull out all the stops.”


       “I do my best.” He coughed and adjusted the folded up coat that hung over his left arm. Only the inside lining of the coat was visible. The bloodstained outside and his assorted weapons were carefully hidden within.


       “I see you got your hat back, too.” Amy looked from the slouch hat in Doc’s left hand to his face. “Did you get it out of the general’s limo?”


       Doc shrugged. “He didn’t object.”


       “What, did the two of you bury the hatchet?”


       “Yes, but not with a hatchet.”


       “You’re incredible. You went out there and made peace with that drunken jerk?”


       “I took a stab at it.”


       Amy shook her head, then downed the rest of her coffee. “It must be a guy thing,” she said as she put the cup down. “You want me to call a cab now so we can ditch this place?”


       Doc looked around the room and noted the security guard was talking with two others. They did not seem alarmed—yet. “Should we say goodbye to your family first?”


       “Isn’t necessary. Rita’s found a new boyfriend, some balloonist from Denmark, and Jake and Helen are getting drunk as skunks. They’ll figure it all out later.”


       Doc put on his hat with care. “Then lead us into temptation, Miss Barksdale.”


       “It would be my pleasure.”






Chapter 8:

No Mask Like Open Truth




No mask like open truth to cover lies,

As to go naked is the best disguise.


—William Congreve, The Double Dealer




       He stood alone at the long window clothed only in darkness, radiating heat like a coal stove. A cool breeze from a hidden vent blew over his damp skin and soothed the fever running through him. Through the narrow space between the heavy curtains he gazed down in wordless awe upon a brilliant starry sea, a galaxy of artificial lights that reached to all horizons. He forgot everything else.


       She stirred in the bed behind him, then flipped aside the sheet and stretched.


       “Oh,” she mumbled in a sleepy voice. “I thought you were already gone.”


       “No,” he whispered. He did not look away from the window.


       “Something wrong?” she asked.


       He hesitated. “No.”


       She sighed and moved in the bed. “It’s eleven thirty-ish,” she said, then lay back. “That was good.”


       He nodded. It had been good. When they entered her hotel room she had started to explain what she had meant earlier by “protection,” then said forget it, she didn’t care, just do it and do it now. She had been more than willing to let him take her exactly as he wanted.


       And he had.


       “What are you thinking?” she asked. She didn’t sound as drunk as she had earlier.


       “Nothing.” After a pause, he added, “It’s beautiful, the city.”


       “I guess. It’s just Lawndale. D.C. is prettier at night. I like New York City at night the best.”


       New York. That place must be huge nowadays, he thought. He could not imagine it.


       More movement on the bed. “Your side is wet,” she said. “It’s wet all over. Are you okay?”


       “I sweat at night,” he said. “I can’t help it. It just happens.”


       “That’s weird.”


       He made no response. He knew why he had night sweats but wasn’t in the mood to discuss it.


       “Can I ask you a question?”


       “I can’t stop you.”


       “What do you tell people when . . . when you’re doing that reenacting thing, pretending to be Doc Holliday. What do you do exactly?”


       He exhaled heavily and looked back. Her pale form was barely visible on the bed. She lay open and waiting. He looked out the window again.


       “I . . . play cards, for the most part.” He coughed. “Travel around. Not much else.”


       “Do you work at casinos?”


       “Uh . . . yeah, I have. I forget which ones. They all look alike.”


       “Mmm. Tell me about Doc Holliday.”


       He snorted, stifling a laugh. “Doc Holliday,” he said. “Doctor John Henry Holliday.” He smiled at the irony of the moment and reminisced. “Let’s see. I shot a gentleman when I was in Arizona a while ago. Didn’t kill him, so they fined me twenty dollars plus court costs of eleven more. He left town after that, which I appreciated as it saved me another fine for shooting him again.”


       Amy laughed. He knew she thought he was joking.


       “I saw Wyatt last a few months ago.” His smile faded but did not disappear. “Wyatt Earp. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, but—”


       “He was a lawman, wasn’t he?”


       “He was, off and on. He was a lot of things. When I last saw him, he and his brother Warren were trying to figure out what to do. They wanted to lay low until Arizona stopped looking for us, but that wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon. We had a little falling out, nothing serious, so he and Warren took off to somewhere in Colorado. Me, I settled down in South Pueblo and began to enjoy life for a while. Then—” he waved a hand in disgust “—that damn son-of-a-bitch Mallan got me arrested in Denver, made up a huge pile of shit about me robbing a stagecoach, but that blew over back in May. They tried to have me extradited back to Arizona and everyone had to get involved, even the governor. The judge finally threw it out.” He rubbed his chin. “People will believe what they want to believe, though. One paper wrote that I made Jesse James look like an upstanding citizen. That gave me a laugh. Me, worse than Jesse James.”


       He turned away from the window. She lay motionless in the darkness. “When I left South Pueblo I was under indictment for larceny,” he said. “Nothing worth talking about. It worked in my favor, as being under indictment kept anyone from taking me back to Arizona. Living under the thumb of the law has its useful side.”


       “Why did they want you in Arizona?”


       He looked away. “Because I killed Tom and Frank McLaury in Tombstone, a year ago this month. Was a year ago. Longer time than that now, I reckon.”


       “A year ago? Oh, right, you’re reenacting the O.K. Corral. Sorry.”


       “Reenacting.” He chuckled briefly as he watched bright streams of diamond and ruby lights cross the highways below. “Reenacting.”


       “Wasn’t Doc Holliday sick? I thought he had a lung disease, like emphysema.”


       The smile froze and lost its humor. “Consumption. Tuberculosis. He was a dying man, but it took forever for God or Satan to claim him. Forever and a god-damned day. He coughed out his blood and his lungs and his decency and morals and ethics and all of his fear of death, coughed it out and it was gone. Forever and a god-damned day, walking and dying and waiting for someone to collect his soul and the bony remains.”


       He left the window and made his way through the cluttered hotel room, seeing by the distant light coming in between the curtains. Clothing was everywhere underfoot. He had torn her blouse apart, as well as the rest of her fine things, but she hadn’t cared. She had liked that. Certain women did, if you did it right.


       “When I woke up this morning,” he said as he walked, “I was in the Gold Mountain Hotel in South Pueblo, second floor, room two twenty-nine. It was Tuesday, October thirty-first, eighteen eighty-two. I got up at about half past ten, cleaned myself up, got dressed, and went downstairs to get a whiskey and my usual copies of the Pueblo Chieftain and Denver Republican. I met a few friends, ate breakfast about, oh, two o’clock, down in the hotel dining room, then went to Charlie’s and dealt faro there from three till eight. Then I sat in on a poker game until nine thirty, started back to the hotel, got sidetracked and stopped off in a shed behind the Good Time Chinese Laundry, and—” He turned to face the long white shape on the bed “—and here I am.”


       A pause. “I don’t understand that,” she said. “You did what?”


       He found his pants and belt on the floor, picked them up, carefully folded them. “I somehow crossed time and the length of this country in a single moment. I don’t understand it, either. I got into the woodshed to get out of the cold, but when I opened the door again, I was walking out of the back of the Good Time Chinese Restaurant in this city. Over a hundred years had gone by in a second, Halloween to Halloween, like Rip van Winkle. I don’t understand any of it.” He put the pants over the back of a chair. “All I know is that I’m here. Everything I did and know about is past, long gone. It’s like a dream, but I don’t believe I’m sleeping. I think this is real. I cannot explain it better than that.”


       He wondered if she thought he was insane. He stepped on his vest and bent to pick it up.


       “That was good,” she said at last. “I like how you make it sound so much like you’re really him. I don’t know about that part with the laundry, though. It’s a little too Twilight Zone-ish for me. Maybe the kids like that, but older people don’t usually go for it. Just be yourself when you’re reenacting. Tell them you’re Doc Holliday, don’t explain how you got here. Screw ‘em if they can’t take a joke.”


       He stroked his mustache. She held her liquor better than he had expected. “Just tell everyone who I really am, you say.”


       “Well, I mean, when you’re playing Doc.”


       “Oh.” He coughed and cleared his throat. “Miss Barksdale,” he said, “I am the real, one and only, true blue Doctor John Henry Holliday, known to the world as Doc.”


       “Yeah, like that. Exactly like that.”


       “Hmmm.” He started to fold his shirt, then stopped and looked around. “Is that an insect?” he asked, hearing a faint buzzing noise. He had heard it a few times earlier but had ignored it.


       “Oh, that, no. That’s my cell phone. It’s on vibrate. Let it ring.”


       He shrugged and put his shirt on the back of the chair over his vest and pants. “As the lady pleases.”


       “Mind another question?”


       “No. Go on.”


       “Did you ever do anything . . . anything you . . . no, forget it.”


       He stopped and thought. “Anything I’ve regretted, you mean. Anything wicked, evil, or perhaps moderately illegal.”


       “No, that wasn’t it. Sorry.”


       Liar. He smiled again. “I don’t regret much that I’ve done. It isn’t worth the trouble. It can’t be changed, so I don’t worry over it. As for having done anything a body would consider wicked, now . . . hmmm.” He stroked his mustache, then spoke in a theatrical voice: “‘I have done a thousand dreadful things as willingly as one would kill a fly.’” He hesitated, then added, “Shakespeare.”


       Titus Andronicus, I know. That’s a good one.”


       “Ah,” he said, pleased. Amy was damn smart. He gave it more thought as he set his boots upright below the chair. His cough did not bother him at all, for some reason. “‘Time travels in divers paces with divers persons,’” he quoted. “‘I’ll tell you whom Time ambles withal, who Time trots withal, who Time gallops withal, and who he stands still withal.’”


       As You Like It.” She was good at this.


       “‘What should such fellows as I do, crawling between heaven and earth?’” he said with sweeping gestures. “‘We are arrant knaves, all.’”




       “‘Tis now the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out contagion to this world.’”


       “Too easy. Hamlet again.”


       “‘I am a man whom Fortune hath cruelly scratched.’”


       All’s Well That Ends Well.”


       “‘The bright day is done, and we are for the dark.’”


       “Oh, uh, Anthony and Cleopatra.”


       He lowered his arms and stared at the space between the curtains, where the stars below looked up. “‘Oftentimes,’” he said in a softer voice, “‘to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray ‘s in deepest consequence.’”


       “Uh . . .” Then silence.


       Macbeth,” he said at last.


       “Yeah,” she said after a moment. “I couldn’t think of the name.”


       Her voice was different. She had listened to what he had said. She was afraid of him.


       He ran a hand through his tangled hair and sighed. He had meant to scare her, but he didn’t know why. “My apologies,” he murmured. “I should get dressed and go.”


       No answer.


       “Don’t worry,” he said, not looking at her. “I can find my things. I’ve gotten dressed in the dark before.”


       “I’m not worried,” she said, but her voice caught and she had to repeat herself.


       “It’s the Bard’s fault,” he said, locating his woolen socks. “I let myself be caught up in it. An uncommon fault. So few care anymore about the old masters.”


       “Tell me another one,” she said. She was still nervous, but he couldn’t determine whether she was afraid of him or afraid he was about to leave.


       “It’s late. I should go.”


       “Tom?” He saw a white shape rise from the bed. “Tom, wait.”


       He stopped searching the floor for his cravat and stood naked in the dark.


       “Don’t get dressed yet,” she said, standing by the unmade bed. “Please stay.”


       “My dear miss—”


       “Don’t leave.”


       He looked at her indefinite form and made a decision. “I am not so much of a gentleman as I pretend, Amy,” he said.


       She made a sound as if she wanted to laugh and had tried very hard to do it. “Oh, really? You? It’s not like I couldn’t tell or anything. I probably have bruises all over my—”


       “I am not play-acting,” he interrupted. “If there is a Hell, I will burn in its lowest fiery crater for eternity. You have no notion of the things—”


       “No!” she cried, raising her hands to ward the words away. “No, don’t tell me! I don’t want to know! Don’t talk anymore. Just stop.”


       They looked at each other the darkness of the room.


       “Just be . . . just stay with me a little longer,” she said, her voice thick. “That’s all I want. Just stay here. Don’t go yet.”




       “You know, it’s funny,” she said. “Um, when I first saw you, on the sidewalk there, I thought . . . I thought you looked a little bit like . . . a vampire. You looked like a vampire in Wild West clothing.”


       His mouth fell open. A vampire? One like Lord Ruthven from that old Byron story? “My admiration for your creativity knows no bounds. Why would you say such a thing?”


       “Well, you’re tall and . . . well, pale and thin, and . . . you just have this look like you . . . like you’ve come back from the dead.”




       Amy clapped a hand over her face. “That didn’t come out right. God, that didn’t come out right at all.”


       As much to his surprise as hers, Doc began to laugh. He roared with mirth, coughing and laughing in alternation.


       Amy sat down naked on the edge of the mattress. Her hands covered her head. “I can’t believe I said that,” she muttered. “God damn it.”


       Still laughing, he walked toward her. When he was close enough, he reached out and caressed her cheek with his bare hand, then kissed her perfumed hair. “Dearest Amy,” he said, getting control of himself at last. “Dearest sweet Amy.”


       His hand hesitated—then moved swiftly and grasped a thick handful of her long brunette hair. She gasped as he forced her head back until her white face was turned to the ceiling. He towered over her as she shook and said things like no no please and I’m sorry I’m sorry in a high voice.


       He bent down until his lips brushed against her ear.


       “You are a whore,” he said hoarsely. “You are a filthy whore with a filthy little whore mouth.”


       Her breath came shallow and fast. Even in the dark, he saw primal fear in her wide, staring eyes.


       With her terror, he also saw that she wanted it.


       “Say it,” he hissed through his teeth. “Say you’re a whore.”


       “Ah . . . I . . . I’m a . . . h-whore.”


       “A whore who will sleep with any man for nothing.”


       “Ah—ah—I’m a whore . . . who will sleep with anyone for nothing.”


       “A whore with a filthy little whore mouth.”


       “Yes, yes, I’m a—”


       “And you were right,” he said. “You were right about me.”


       Her face turned to his, the white visible all around her eyes. By degrees his hair-filled fist pulled her down to the bed until he covered her completely.


       “Dear Amy,” he said. “My dearest sweet Amy, I am back from the dead.”






Chapter 9:

Come Like Shadows, So Depart




All farewells should be sudden.


—Lord Byron, Sardanapalus




       He lay awake as she slept curled up in bed at his side, her back to him. The crimson numbers of the digital clock by the bed ticked by, an eternity in each minute. All was silent.


       If I did come back from the dead, that would be a cosmic jest only God and the Devil would appreciate, he thought. The barbaric Gaels preached that on Halloween night, Samhain, the dead crossed over into the world of the living. After midnight, the dead returned to their nothingness, their lightless world. Am I one of the late lamented? How could I be dead if I don’t even remember dying? Perhaps I fell asleep and died in that woodshed, frozen or choked by consumption, yet here I am alive, breathing and coughing and drinking and cursing and riding a willing woman until we are both spent and exhausted, in a mad world that purports to be the future. Could a dead man do this? What else besides magic or insanity could explain this fantastic journey?


       The numbers ticked closer to midnight.


       At 11:59 PM, Doc reached to his side, his fingers a fraction of an inch from Amy’s hips, and waited without breathing.


       At 12:00 AM . . . nothing changed. He waited until 12:02, then soundlessly got out of bed.


       No one has come to collect me. I still roam the earth. So be it.


       He dressed as Amy’s slow breathing filled the room. His frock coat, soaked with the drying blood of the mercenary general with the careless tongue, was beginning to stink. He draped it over the back of a chair and left it behind. It was no longer of use. On impulse, he reached into a pocket, pulled out a crisp, fresh fifty-dollar gold certificate, and put it on the pillow behind Amy’s head. She would understand. A gentleman always tips a good whore. She might even be able to sell the bill, if it was worth anything these days. If not . . . it wasn’t his problem.


       That done, he left the room in silence, went down a stairwell to the first floor, and left the hotel by a side entrance, striding quickly across a parking lot into darkness. He encountered no one who did more than glance at him.


       In the darkened room where Amy slept, the cell phone in her purse buzzed on and on.






Chapter 10:

Because I Could Not Stop for Death




Doctors cure the more serious diseases with harsh remedies.


—Quintus Curtius Rufus, The Life of Alexander

(Medici graviores morbos asperis remediis curant.)




       “I do want you to know that I greatly appreciate your cooperation,” Doc told the vehicle’s frightened driver. He ran a hand over the leather passenger seat. “This is the most comfortable ride I believe I’ve ever had in my life.”


       The driver, bug-eyed and sweating streams, mumbled a response as he negotiated the nighttime traffic.


       “Are you a’right there, my friend?” Doc asked after a cough.


       The driver nodded.


       “Is my gun making you nervous?”


       “Uh . . . yeah, a little.” The driver could not avoid a glance at Doc’s weapon—kept low and partially covered—then wiped his face with his jacket sleeve. His damp brown hair stuck to his forehead.


       Doc sighed as he watched the street scene pass by. “My apologies,” he said. “The pressure of time was great, and uncommon measures were required.” His mouth twitched as he frowned. Since he had left Amy’s hotel room he had been plagued with the nagging sense that something was not right. He could not peg what it was. “Where are we now?” he asked, hoping to take his mind off it.


       “It’s, uh, it’s, it’s a block over, that way.” The driver cleared his throat, not daring to look at his passenger. “M-m-my name’s Timothy, by the way. Timothy O’Neill. I’m a teacher, high school.” He swallowed. “Ah-are you from around here? I mean of course if you don’t mind saying so. It’s not like I’m trying to find out anything, so if you don’t want to tell me, that’s okay. I was just, you know, making—”


       “No, Mister Timothy,” drawled Doc. “I am not from around here.”


       “Uh . . . okay,” said Timothy after a pause. “Uh, well, I am. It’s a nice town, Lawndale.” He cleared his throat again. “You know, I was just saying the other day to someone, my fiancée, that, um, violence, you know, is not the answer to the world’s—”


       “I believe that my attempt to make conversation with you was in error, Timothy,” said Doc in a pleasant tone. “Please continue to drive, but . . . don’t talk unless I ask you to.”


       “Uh—” White-faced, Timothy cut himself off and nodded, gaze glued to the road ahead.


       Doc smiled. “You are most accommodating.”


       The street scene soon looked familiar. “It should be around here,” said Doc. “Ah, there it is. The Good Time. Let me get out around back, if you would, then you may go your merry way.”


       “Around back?” Timothy glanced down again at the .44 Schofield.


       “Yes, behind that . . . restaurant, or whatever it is, the Chinese place on the left. Do you see it?”


       “Yes, right. Sure, okay, sure.”


       “Thank you, Timothy. You are almost free to go.”


       The driver stopped on the street until the traffic cleared, then made the turn into the alley leading past the restaurant. Doc glanced in the building’s large windows. Numerous people were inside, sitting at tables, eating under Chinese party lanterns. He had never tried Chinese food. Pity it would have to wait for another time. Would the back door take him home, or somewhere else? He supposed it didn’t matter. The future would not be welcoming for much longer. It was time to travel elsewhere.


       “I’ll miss this place,” said Doc as the car entered the back parking lot.


       “You what?”


       “I’ve gotten to like it here in the future. Wasn’t what I had expected, but I guess the future never is. Stop here.”


       The car lurched to a sudden, tire-squealing halt. Doc blinked as he recovered from being thrown forward in his seat. “Well,” he said, making sure his pistol hadn’t accidentally gone off and killed the driver, “I’ve had worse on stagecoaches. It’ll do.”


       “I’m sorry!” cried Timothy. “You told me to stop, so—”


       “Just show me how to get out of this . . . whatever you call it.”


       “Seat belt—and, ah, shoulder harness.”


       “Just get me out of it. Ah, there. And, um, this is the door handle?”


       “Yes, just pull on it like—”


       Doctor John Henry Holliday got out of the car, leaving the passenger side door open. He holstered his pistol, put his slouch hat on with great care, and reached up to adjust his cravat.


       Something is wrong. The stickpin. He groaned. The diamond stickpin was with Amy, probably still stuck in her blouse. That was the most expensive little whoring out he had ever had. Damn and double damn. Now he knew why he had felt things were not right. He briefly considered whether to go back for it, then sighed. It was too late. Any change of plans now would risk an unfriendly encounter with the law, and he was not willing to find out how such a future went about arresting murder suspects. The past had been bad enough. No telling what people did now, and with what weaponry.


       He was murmuring an apology to the shade of the uncle who had given him the stickpin when he heard Timothy call a name. He looked around. Someone had walked out of the back door of the Good Time Chinese restaurant and was now stopped, staring at the car, the driver, and Doc. It was a young man with a mop of pale blond hair and staring eyes, dressed in the motley style of the time. There was something in the boy’s eyes that Doc did not like, something about the way they—


       “Brian!” cried Timothy through a lowered window. “Brian, run!


       Doc looked down at Timothy. The driver did something with a sticklike device on the steering wheel. The car’s engine roared as it shot backwards. Too later, Doc realized his vulnerable position. The open passenger door struck him and threw him flat against the pavement. He was almost knocked senseless when his head hit the hard ground and then was struck by the bottom of the car door. Through a maddening haze of pain Doc was felt a tire pass inches from his face. The rumble of the car’s engine faded, then paused.


       It took him a moment to realize what might happen next. The car


       With a gasp he rolled on his stomach, fearing the worst. The vehicle’s headlights glared in his face a short distance away. The car then started forward at a quick clip—but turned toward the back door of the restaurant, where it came to another squealing stop.


       “Brian Taylor!” shouted Timothy from the car. “Get in quickly! That man has a gun! Brian! Get in the car!


       Doc’s right hand reached down for his Schofield. He had to roll on his left side to get at it. He ached abominably everywhere, but self-preservation always came first.


       Then he discovered that the holster was empty.


       Brian!” shrieked Timothy, in a much different tone of voice.


       Doc looked up. There was a reddish flash of light. Windows on all sides of the car blew out as gouts of flame burst from the vehicle. His shut his eyes as glass fragments and impossible heat stung his face. He did not recall if the explosion had a sound. Shuddering, hardly aware of his injuries, he waited a long moment, then slowly raised his head.


       Timothy O’Neill’s car was in flames from one end to the other. The air stank of burning petroleum and seared flesh. Doc almost gagged on the stench. I need a weapon, he thought dully. He then remembered the weapon he had taken off that other young man, Todd. He reached behind him with nerveless fingers.


       A figure walked around the side of the burning car in the darkness. It took Doc a second to recognize the young man he had seen moments before, the one Timothy had called Brian. Brian was grinning with delight at the roaring pyre. His mouth was open in awe, and one hand was raised to shield his face from the heat.


       The boy had something in his right hand. It looked like an odd, bulbous pistol, shiny like a new toy.


       He used the doorway. He knows it goes through time, knows how it works. And he’s brought something with him . . . from the future.


       Doc gritted his teeth and with a supreme effort pulled the black handgun from the back of his belt. Brian heard and spun around, startled. The shiny toy came up as he focused on Doc. The black gun swung out. Doc squeezed the trigger. The gun kicked and jerked to the right as if alive. Staccato thunderclaps beyond counting stabbed his ears—then stopped.


       He opened his eyes, unaware he had closed them. He was barely able to see through the pain. The soles of the boy’s shoes faced him from thirty feet away, next to the burning car. The boy did not move.


       Dropping the empty black gun, Doc got to his knees. Blood ran down his face and stung his eyes. His right shin bone was broken, and a few of his ribs cracked. It wasn’t the time to find out what else was wrong with him. He heard shouts: people were coming. He saw the Schofield a few feet away but only stared at it. He was very tired. It seemed like it would be a good idea to lie down and rest for a while and let everyone find him and maybe die.


       “I’m not ready,” he whispered hoarsely, almost angry. “I’m not ready to go. Not yet.”


       Inhaling deeply, he crawled to the Schofield, dragging his right leg, and picked the weapon up. New shouts rang out. He knew the growing crowd would stay back as long as he had a weapon. He continued to crawl, waving the gun to keep the faceless mob away, pausing only once near the boy’s body. The burning car was so hot the tires were beginning to smolder. Paint peeled away as the metal beneath glowed cherry red. He did not remember getting to the back door of the restaurant, or how he opened it, or how he closed it behind him. He did not remember what happened next, except that after a very long time, perhaps eons, he blinked against a dim light.


       Still alive. By God, he was still alive. He hardly believed it. Dried blood was caked over his face, his body was a mangled mess, and he had never ached as he did now, but he was alive.


       Raising his head, he looked about to discover where he was. The small dark room was not in the slightest familiar. It wasn’t the coal shed to the laundry, and it wasn’t the back entrance to the restaurant. The door out wasn’t the same, either. A faint glow came from the crack below the door, revealing little else about his surroundings. Was this the future of the future? Or another time and place altogether? What a crazy Halloween night it had become. He snorted, bemused, then looked down at his hands. He could tell the right one gripped the Schofield. The left—he peered closer and saw he held the fire-breathing bulblike weapon the boy had used.


       Amazing what they could do, those future people. A thin smile came to his lips. Could be worse, things could be worse. Too bad that smart gal Amy wasn’t around. She’d have been a lot of help about now. Better not to have mixed her up in this insane mess, but still. . . . He looked at the door, gauged what it would take to get up and open it, but gave it up. He was too tired. One more nap, he decided, and he would find out what was on the other side. He hoped there would be water. He hoped it would be warm. He hoped someone there knew how to play poker and wouldn’t kill him before he could get a shot back.


       He lowered his head and relaxed against the cool floor. One more little rest, then he’d see where he was.


       He hoped it wasn’t Arizona.






Chapter 11:

The Kingdom of Perpetual Night




There was the Door to which I found no Key;

There was the Veil through which I might not see.
Some little talk awhile of Me and Thee
There was—and then no more of Thee and Me.


—Edward FitzGerald, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, XXXII




       “It wouldn’t have killed you to tell us which hotel room you were staying in! Or to have answered your damn cell phone even once! I was worried sick about you!”


       “Christ, Helen, get off my back already. You’ve run it into—”


       “Get off your back? Get off your back? You were screwing a serial killer and you want me to—”


       You were the one who set me up with the serial killer, God damn it! You told me I should go out with him! You don’t have any right to blame me for—for—”


       Amy Barksdale shivered, covered her eyes with a hand for several seconds, then exhaled as she turned away from her sister. “Just let it go, all right?” she said in exhaustion. “He didn’t kill me, I’m fine, I’ve been up for hours with the police, I feel like shit, so please let it go. I just want to go home.”


       Helen Morgendorffer threw up her hands and made an exasperated noise. “I just didn’t want to see you hurt!” she shouted. “When they found Buck, Jake and I were beside ourselves! I thought the next time I saw you would be in a police morgue on a slab! I thought you—” Helen teared up. Her voice broke. “I thought—”


       Damn, I know what she’s going to do next, Amy thought, and sure enough Helen ran forward, threw her arms around her younger sister, and began to cry. Yup, that was it. God damn it.


       Jake wandered out of the hotel room’s bathroom, zipping up his pants, then spotted his wife and Amy and stopped dead. Amy stuck her arms out to the sides, gesturing as if to say, I can’t do anything about it. Then she hugged Helen while Jake retreated back into the bathroom and locked the door.


       “Please come and stay with us for the rest of your vacation!” sobbed Helen. “You’ll be safe with us while they’re looking for that terrible man! I don’t want to lose you and I was so afraid that I had!”


       Amy considered the offer for half a second. “I really need to go home,” she said, trying to be gentle. “I’ll come back another time, I promise. It’s just that I need a rest from this nutty vacation. I’ll be safe. For God’s sake, I live only a block from a police station. You and I can get together and bond again in a couple weeks, after I get over this. Just let me have my space. I’ll come back.”


       “And we’ll get Rita, too!” Helen sniffed.


       Amy rolled her eyes. Rita had run off hours ago with the Danish balloonist from the art museum party and probably wasn’t yet aware that her former beau had been sliced up like raw steak in a food processor. Amy thanked God she didn’t have to go identify the remains. “Rita, too,” she muttered. “Sure, why not.”


       The Morgendorffers helped Amy pack and cart all her belongings down to the front desk. Wearing casual clothes for driving, Amy gave the clock behind the counter a weary look: 4:49 a.m. The sun wasn’t even up. Some trick-or-treat surprise this Halloween had turned out to be.


       “Are you sure you won’t stay with us? Please, Amy, you’ve got such a long drive back. You—”


       Desperate, Amy played her last card. Without warning she leaned close and hugged her startled older sister. “I love you,” she whispered, forced to play dirty. “I will always love you, Big Sis, but I need some time to be alone. I really need it. I promise to call you if anything comes up. Promise.”


       “Okay,” Helen sniffed, then Amy winced as her sister began to bawl so loudly that everyone in the lobby found somewhere else to look or hide. Soon, however, Amy was able to get the valet to bring her sporty red Triumph up from the hotel’s parking garage, trade last hugs and kisses with Helen, get a handshake from a stressed-out Jake, wave goodbye to both, and pull away from the curb. Only a few cars passed down the dark street, but it wouldn’t be long before the morning rush hour was in full swing. Amy was free to go home to sleep and drink away the rest of her vacation week if she chose.


       She drove down the street for a minute, then pulled over to the side, parked in an empty space, and turned off the engine. There she sat for a few minutes, resting her head on her crossed arms on the steering wheel.


       “I don’t know what to think,” she mumbled. “I don’t know what’s going on or anything. This is nuts.”


       She sat in her car for a while longer, then straightened and prepared to turn the ignition key. She hesitated, then let go of the key and pulled her cell phone out of her purse. Flipping it open, she thumbed in a three-digit number. “Yes,” she said, “I’d like the phone number for the Good Time Chinese restaurant. In Lawndale.” She began to hunt through her purse for a pen or pencil, then stopped when directory assistance connected her call directly. A recorded voice gave her the operating hours and address of the restaurant. She repeated the address to herself a few times, fixing it in her mind. She thought she remembered seeing a Marcil Boulevard last night as she was driving in. “I shouldn’t do this,” she said. “This is just stupid.” Starting the engine, she put the car in gear and set out.


       Marcil turned up after fifteen minutes, right as she was ready to call it quits and go home. She turned down the boulevard and cruised along looking for a Chinese restaurant called Good Time and wondering how crazy this would sound if she ever told anyone about it. To her surprise it took only four minutes to find the place. Coming up on the left were the words GOOD TIME in huge red letters over the restaurant entrance. She wondered if Tom worked at the restaurant and had just made up that stuff about coming in by train from Colorado, then realized the police would surely know if he had, so he hadn’t. They had been quite puzzled about his real identity and were having trouble placing him. None of the mug shots they’d had had been him. She was positive of that.


       Across from the restaurant she pulled over, parked, got out, shouldered her purse, and locked up her car before striding across the deserted street. The eastern sky was brightening. Dawn was not far away.


       The restaurant doors were locked, as she had expected. She peered in the black windows and chewed her lower lip.


       “He said—” she started, then on impulse she walked around toward the rear of the building. At the alley entrance she found her way blocked by yellow crime-scene tape put up by the police. No one was around, so she slipped under the tape and a minute later was in the back lot, looking at the place on the pavement where that car had burned up with that unfortunate man inside it. A chalk outline on the asphalt showed where that teenager had been shot. And behind it all was a door on a white metal shed set against the back wall of the restaurant itself. On the door was a sign: LAWNDALE POLICE DEPARTMENT CRIME SCENE—KEEP BACK. The only thing missing was the police.


       “This is too weird,” she said to the scene around her. “This is way, way too weird.” Making sure that no one else was around, she took a deep breath and walked up to the door and put one hand on the handle.


       And stopped.


       She stood in thought, then took her hand off the handle and stepped back to rummage through her purse. “This is really stupid,” she muttered. “I should go home and get plastered. I will go home and get plastered right after this, I swear it.”


       Her fingers found what she was seeking and she pulled it out. Shouldering her purse again, she carefully stuck the diamond stickpin to her sweater. She could not explain why she felt she had to do that, but she did not question the impulse too closely. Once more she placed a hand on the door handle. He could be on the other side of the door, she thought. He could be waiting to kill me. He could have a knife and be standing right behind me this very instant, about to—


       She turned the handle and opened the door without a single look back.


       Beyond was a small entryway with a locked door on the opposite wall, a broom in one corner, and a few papers stuck to the bare walls. One of the papers was a calendar for October, all the days crossed off but the last.


       Nothing else.


       Of course the police would have searched the restaurant and everything around it very thoroughly. Of course there was nothing to see here. Tom McKey, or whatever his name was, was probably at this moment driving a stolen car to get as far from this place as possible. Of course he was. She had been very lucky indeed that he hadn’t killed her.


       Yet . . . he had described this very spot to her. He had apparently come back here and then, in full view of dozens of witnesses, disappeared.


       And he could have killed her, but he didn’t. She gazed into the diamond on the gold stickpin. She didn’t believe he would kill her. She couldn’t say why, but she felt he wouldn’t. He had instead paid her with an uncirculated bill over a century old. It was probably worth a fortune. She was determined to never part with it.


       After peeking into the entryway, she took a deep breath, then stepped through the door and went inside. She was peering at the calendar when a breeze stirred. The outer door slowly swung shut. The door clicked.


       An hour later after the sun was up, a restaurant employee walked out of the back door with two flattened cardboard boxes in his hands. The boxes were labeled with pictures of eggrolls. He grimaced at the mess left at the crime scene, shook his head, and threw the boxes in a nearby dumpster before heading back. “Crazy people,” he muttered. He stopped by the calendar, crossed off the last day of October, and turned the page to November. He then closed the door behind him and began preparing the restaurant for the lunchtime crowd.


       The red Triumph sat across the street until the police searched it and took it away. That night the sky was crystal clear and the wind sharp and bitter cold, roaring around store fronts and shaking the windows as if to break them all. Brilliant stars looked down from the heavens. No one looked back at them.












Author’s Notes II: A number of books on the life of Dr. John Henry Holliday proved invaluable in writing this story. Any fault in portraying him accurately is my own, as I wasn’t trying for complete accuracy as much as for storytelling effect. The books marked with asterisks (*) are the best.


·         Jahns, Pat. The Frontier World of Doc Holliday. New York: Indian Head Books, (1957) 1993.

·         Myers, John Myers. Doc Holliday. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, (1955) 1973.

·         Roberts, Gary L. Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006. *

·         Tanner, Karen Holliday. Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001. *

·         Tefertiller, Casey. Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997. *


Todd Ianuzzi and his gang (and the green Mustang) came from Beavis and Butt-head, which featured Daria and is thus linked to this story universe. General Conroy came from the Daria episode “This Year’s Model.” The unseen Danish balloonist was, of course, Arno from “Of Human Bonding.”


The exchange in Latin between Doc and Amy Barksdale in chapter 4 came, of course, from a similar scene in the 1993 movie Tombstone, brilliantly played out by Val Kilmer (Doc Holliday) and Michael Biehn (Johnny Ringo). A sourced translation of Doc and Amy’s conversation follows, courtesy of Derek, who has my gratitude. I lost my own copy of the sources somewhere on my computer.



Homines libenter quod volunt credunt.
Men readily believe what they want to believe. —Julius Caesar

Absentem laedit, cum ebrio qui litigat.
To quarrel with a drunk is to wrong a man who isn’t really there. Publilius Syrus

Forsan miseros meliora sequentur.

For those in misery, perhaps better things will follow. —Virgil

Video barbam et pallium, philosophum nondum video.
I see the beard and the cloak; I have yet to see the philosopher. Aulus Gellius

Fallaces sunt rerum species.

The appearances of things are deceptive. —Seneca

Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.
I distrust the Greeks, even when they are generous. —Virgil

Non est ad astra mollis e terris via.
There is no easy way to the stars from earth. —Seneca



Richard Lobinske suggested having Doc’s tuberculosis germs spread like ebola around the world, and I love and admire that idea so much I could almost pass out, but it will have to wait for another story. Thank you for thinking of me, though. I also had fun playing off on the idea of Amy as being like an older Daria, then having her go out with a guy named “Tom.” Tradition mandates that someone always say “She sure knows how to pick ‘em” in any discussion of the Barksdale sisters’ relationships, and having Amy inadvertently quote Daria from “I Don’t” (in chapter 4) was also too good to pass up.




Original: 08/09/08, modified 10/22/08, 03/26/09