Chapter 2: The Perils of Dolly Madison

Parables of the Beautiful Country

by Jack E’Dalgo

Chapter 2: The Perils of Dolly Madison

“Doc’s vocabulary of profanity and obscene language was monumental and he worked it proficiently.” – Fred Dodge

Masterson stirred his coffee. It was proper coffee, strong enough to float a six-shooter, but there was nothing in it and no reason to stir it. Still, stirring it gave Masterson an excuse to look Holliday over without being too overt.

The restaurant wasn’t crowded this morning so the two men had been able to choose a corner table where they could both sit with their backs to a wall. The decision was purely instinctive, done without either of them noticing. They’d ordered their meals and received their prerequisite mugs of coffee. However, now that Masterson had Holliday where he wanted him, he’d begun to second guess his entire reason for being there.

For a man just out of bed, the walk across the street to Beatty and Kelley’s had Holliday awfully winded. Even now, seated, Holliday was breathing a bit too heavily for Masterson’s liking. Holliday’s consumption flared hard at the damnedest times.

Holliday, as usual, was oblivious to Masterson’s dilemma. He was busy communicating by comic faces and hand signals to a child at the next table.

Masterson shook his head. The things a grown man would do to entertain some silly little girl. The youngster was possibly six or seven, dressed like a miniature version of what Masterson assumed was her mother. The dresses the two females wore were of the same bolt of floral fabric and trimmed in identical grosgrain ribbon. The woman sat beside the child, her own back turned to Holliday and Masterson, oblivious to their presence.

The girl had dropped her rag doll as the two men had taken their table. Masterson congratulated himself that he had managed to step over the doll, rather than on it, but Holliday had retrieved the toy and handed it to the wide-eyed child with a silent, solemn bow.

The girl’s mother, intent on her cup of tea and an article in The Delineator, noticed none of this. Indeed, she paid the child little heed other than to periodically remind her to eat her toast. The girl had dutifully finished the toast a quarter of an hour ago, but the doting mother kept reminding her all the same. Meanwhile, Holliday had made a boon companion in the person of the daughter. He returned her smiles and mouthed silent words Masterson could make no sense of but that seemed to delight the child to no end.

So far the obliging young lady had demonstrated to Holliday her masterful ability to tie her own shoe and was now demonstrating how she could plait her dolly’s yarn pigtails. Holliday pantomimed his astonishment and his pride in these accomplishments. He was frightfully genuine in his assessment as far as Masterson could tell.

“Where you been, Doc?” Masterson wasn’t above competing for a man’s attention despite the presence of a determined female. He was here on business, after all. The girl could have Holliday to herself once she got another ten years on her. “I looked for you in Trinidad but they told me you went somewheres else.”

“New Mexico.” Holliday’s voice was its usual gravelly hiss, possibly quieter in an attempt to carry on a private conversation with women near at hand.

This morning the gambler was dressed in subdued tones, brown corduroy coat and trousers, green brocade waistcoat, white lawn shirt, wing-tip collar and standard collar stud. There was no watch chain, no ring, no diamond stick pin, no cravat. He was even down to just one nickel-plated Colt, no scabbard, the .38 tucked into the waistband of his trousers, covered by his coat. Holliday had prominently worn both Colts and his jewelry last night as Bat recalled, so it couldn’t be that Holliday had run into some sudden run of misfortune and put his reserves in soak for some ready cash. Holliday simply wasn’t wearing any of it this morning. That wasn’t like him.

Maybe Masterson was being finical, but Holliday’s hair was entirely too long, as well. For as long as Masterson had known him, Doc’s hair had often grazed his collar but now it was curling at his shoulders. Masterson had never known Holliday, who spent most of his life within two blocks of a barber, to be unkempt.

Holliday must have noticed Masterson’s stare. He ran his right hand through his hair, another uncharacteristic motion for him. Holliday never fidgeted, primped or preened in public. He was not given to broad gestures even when speaking, content to sit quietly with his hands on his thighs or along the arms of his chair. The movement of his hand in his hair had the sleeve of his coat rising up his forearm a few inches. Holliday was not even wearing cuffs this morning. That realization had Masterson’s alarm level rising. Holliday dressed as a dandy for work, but even during the day, he was never, but never, seen in public without being impeccably attired. Something was definitely wrong.

The motion of Holliday’s hand had also exposed his inner wrist and had Masterson squinting to identify the shape of fading ink mingled with the blue of blood vessels too prominent on his thin wrist.

“Doc. Since when did you get a tat?” Masterson demanded. Holliday looked confused. “The ace of spades on your wrist. That had to hurt like he–,” Masterson recalled the proximity of the woman at the next table. “Well. That had to hurt, anyway.”

Holliday pulled his sleeve back and looked at the ink like he hadn’t noticed it before. “Oh. I’ve had that for years. Got drun– ah, a bit under the weather one night in Deadwood with John Shanssey. Woke up and there it ’twas. Good times,” he said without conviction.

The ace up the sleeve would be popular with gamblers, Masterson supposed. But the spade was associated with death. Masterson would have chosen a heart. If he believed in marking himself up like a map.

“Very tasteful,” he lied. “So you were in New Mexico? What’s in New Mexico?”

“New Mexicans, apparently.”

“Huh. Wondered where they kept ’em. Business not good there?”

“Outlawed for the entire territory. The–” Holliday caught himself and smiled at the girl. “– evil so and so’s,” he substituted in lieu of his preferred profanity.

“Damn. Don’t ya hate it when that happens?”

Holliday frowned at Masterson’s use of the word damn which Masterson thought was pretty rich, considering. Holliday had worked the gambling circuit of mining camps and Hell on Wheels camps across the West for years and there was not one obscenity he was not comfortable in using when he chose to. Meanwhile, Holliday rolled his eyes at the youngster by way of an apology for Bat’s minor infraction. The child giggled. Masterson almost joined her.

“The legislation of gambl– my business,” Holliday admitted, “happens so often these days I’m startin’ ta take it personal. I mean the Territorial Legislature actually waited ta pass the law until after I was there and paid my fees. Just so they could nail me on it retroactively.”

Masterson nodded. Civilization was hard on their heels these days. First things they’d come for were the brothels, driving them underground so it was difficult to distinguish a legitimate boarding house from a bawdy house without an insider tip. Now the legal eagles had their sights set on the gaming houses. Next they’d be closing saloons, if men weren’t careful. “One of these days, Doc, some legislature is going to at least have the decency to name one of these laws after you. Then you’ll be immortalized.”

“I don’t wanna be immortalized,” Doc sighed. “I just wanna be left alone to do my dam– ah, demanding job.” He smiled sweetly at the little one next to his elbow.

By this time Mrs. Oblivious had completed her article and stood. Holliday rose to his feet with the abruptness of a Jack in the box and stood there as mother collected child, and child collected doll. Which, of course, morally obligated Bat to stand even though the woman did not even acknowledge his existence. He did so begrudgingly, waiting with Holliday while the trio of females – mother, daughter, and Dolly Madison — headed out the door. The daughter waved goodbye to Holliday’s gentlemanly bow.

The men regained their seats as their orders arrived. The waiter refilled their coffee and Holliday sipped his, then blotted his sandy mustache with his napkin. It was one of those genteel mannerisms that propped up the illusion that Holliday had once been civilized.

His ash blonde hair was almost white in the morning light, and his pallor and leanness lent his classically handsome face a harshness and a solemnity that shouldn’t have been there yet. Now that the young heart-breaker-in-training had left with her mother in one hand and her dolly in the other, Holliday had stopped smiling. He looked frail and tired.

Masterson peppered his eggs and took a moment to consider his tactics. He had business in mind and that business needed guns. Men good with guns. Men that could be counted on to fire when needed and question the reasons later, if at all. Wyatt Earp wasn’t able to leave Dodge with re-election coming up. Wyatt had said, “Get Holliday, Bat. He’ll see you right. He’ll make certain you get all the men you need.” Every other man Masterson had asked had said the same. Every man that knew Holliday, including Masterson himself, knew the value of his loyalty and cool-headedness when the fight commenced.

Holliday had been unwell, however. He’d even left Kansas for some health resort or other further south. So Masterson had been expecting everyone else to talk him out of it. No one had. And so here Masterson sat. And, as usual, here was that enigma, Doc Holliday, oblivious to all Masterson’s machinations or, worse, supremely disinterested.

Masterson tucked into his plate of steak and eggs, and watched as Holliday contemplated his plate of something similar. Holliday picked up his fork finally and made a good show of pushing the egg around on his plate.

Holliday was distracted, no surprise given Kate’s breakdown at the Long Branch. Masterson had asked the city marshal about any further disturbances involving the Hollidays last night, but Charlie Bassett said there was nothing on report. If Kate had tried to kill Holliday again, Doc had managed to keep it schtum. Still, he didn’t look like he’d slept. His pupils were normal, though. That was something Virgil Earp had taught Masterson to check for when dealing with suspects. Holliday’s eyes, large and widely set, were their usual bright blue, even if they were slightly bloodshot.

“Doc, why aren’t you in California like everyone else? Out of this heat?”

“I can’t breathe in all that humidity. If I could do that I’d go back to Georgia, an’ the klan be damned. Besides they locked faro outta California seven years ago so it’s poker there or nothin’.”

“Poker’s not bad.”

Holliday sipped his coffee again. “I like poker. It’s an honest trade, if you’re not a cheatin’ bastard about it. But poker’s what I do to relax. The steady money is in faro, workin’ for the house. It’s regular hours. Dependable.”

Masterson hesitated. He’d started to remind Holliday that faro was steady work as long as you were healthy enough to show up to work every night, which lately, Holliday wasn’t. But Masterson saw no need to kick the man when he was down, and it was certainly no way to get Holliday to agree to Masterson’s current venture.

“Poker and relaxing just don’t figure at my level, Doc. I lose too often. I can’t hold that many cards in my head and calculate those odds. I guess I just don’t have the head for it.”

“It’s not all head-work, Bat. You have good instincts when it comes ta readin’ people. You know when someone tells ya the truth. You feel it in your gut. It aches in your bones.” He frowned as Masterson shook his head. “Bat, you’re a natural risk-taker. Look at your life. Buffalo hunter, army scout, hero of Adobe Walls, and now you’re a lawman. What’s a damn card game compared ta all that?”

“I could control most of the other stuff, Doc. You know, a gat in the hand and the world by the tail.” He’d started to tap a hand against his holstered Colt when he mentioned gat but thought better of it. Holliday could outdraw him regardless of where Bat’s hand might be and he didn’t want him nervous.

Holliday grunted, swallowing a bit of egg. “If all I need to win a hand of poker is a six-shooter, someone’s dealt a pretty piss-poor game.” He seemed to consider a moment. “Which, of course, does happen from time to time.” He corralled another bite of egg. “Well,” he said without looking up from his plate. “None of it amounts to a hill of beans, Bat. That’s why we don’t take it with us when we go, I guess.”

Masterson chuckled. “I’m guess I’m just tired of lawin’, Doc. There’s no money in it. I thought I’d try my hand at gambling for a while, see if I can make myself a stack of cash and float for a bit.”

“You’ve been hangin’ ’round Wyatt too long. He wants ta be rich.”

Masterson bristled at the implied criticism of Earp. “Who doesn’t? I’m starting to think it might be a fine idea. Don’t you want to be rich?”

“Oh, I like money well enough,” Holliday admitted. “It’s nice ta not worry about food and drink and a half decent roof over your head. It’s nice bein’ able ta help friends and treat your woman right. It don’t guarantee you’ll survive the day. Hell, money don’t guarantee it’ll survive the day.” He seemed to be unwilling to look Masterson in the eye, scanning the restaurant for something, then peering out the window into the glare. His voice was very soft suddenly, almost as though he were talking to himself. “I’ve been so poor and low down hungry, I’ve dug through clay and eaten crawfish raw like an animal. Damned sonofabitch carpetbaggers.”

He seemed suddenly exhausted from all the unaccustomed talking. He blushed heavily, only now realizing he had revealed so much. “Money,” he said, voice stronger, “is unreliable at any rate. No matter how long your winnin’ streak, money is guaranteed not ta be there at the worst possible time.”

Masterson admitted, “I suppose so. It’s not so much that I’m scared of being broke, I just don’t like it much.”

“Well, I’ll tell you what I told Wyatt. You may make a living at it, but you’ll never get rich gambling. The point is, money goes like water. You have a good stake, you can lose it overnight. At least if you’re honest. If you’re a cheating bastard, maybe not.” Holliday sighed. “Bat, All I know is God hates cowards, liars and card cheats. But you ain’t none of those things. You’ll do alright.”

“You live in the best hotels, Doc. You’re generous to your friends. You have investments–“

“I have a woman and a bar tab, I ain’t never gonna have jack shit.” Holliday laughed without much mirth. “My investments go up in smoke even if they’re built with brick. I keep the rails hot movin’ from mining camp ta railroad camp ta cowtown. Unless I’m actually knockin’ on ol’ Death’s door, I gamble most every night even when I’m sick, and still I’m broke with nothing ta show for it at least once every couple a’ years.” He waved a dismissive hand. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away and all that. If you’re just looking for encouragement, Bat, ya have mine. By all means, try it if you want, and God bless ya. Maybe you can find the secret ta it. Long as you’re not sellin’ out a friend or sellin’ your soul, none of it matters, anyhow. When Lady Luck leaves ya to flirt with someone else for a while — and she will — look me up and I’ll stake ya if I’m able.”

Holliday finally picked up his knife and cut into his elk steak. Masterson tried to look away and not dwell on the amount of blood staining the plate. Doc liked game and he liked it rare. This one had spent so little time in the skillet he could have tossed it out the back door and it would run off bellowing into the timberline.

“How is Kate this morning, Doc?” Masterson flattered himself that Holliday would assume he’d just asked the question to be polite. Kate was a topic Holliday often refused to discuss and sometimes violently so but Masterson had to know what he was up against.

Holliday did not even look up from his cutlery. “Oh, she’s fine today,” he said. “And she’ll probably be fine tomorrow. Hell’s bells, she was fine yesterday mornin’. She may go the rest of her life bein’ fine. Or–” He didn’t finish the sentence, poking his chosen slice of elk in his mouth and chewing.

“Have you ever thought about, I dunno, getting the woman some help?”

“Trust me, anythin’ Kate wants to do, she generally accomplishes without help.”

“No, I mean–“

“I know what you mean. Forgive my facetiousness on such a topic.” Holliday dropped his fork and blotted his mustache again. “On point of fact, I have subjected Kate ta several so-called specialists. They want ta lock her away in one of those piss-holes they call a lunatic asylum. I would not subject my worst enemy’s mongrel dog ta such a place. I’ll certainly not surrender Kate ta one.”

Masterson nodded. He knew he was walking eggshells at this point, but he was always one to press an advantage if he felt he had one. “You do understand,” he said, “that after last night, most of Dodge blames you for her condition.”

“I am aware. But what can I do?” Holliday looked closely at Masterson. “Kate,” he said solemnly, “ran from her foster home when she was fifteen. Whatever it was she ran from, she is still runnin’. Whatever she ran to, she is still runnin’ from. She was ruined and fairly inhuman by the time she came to me. You can ask Shanssey.” Holliday continued, “I’m hell to live with, I grant you, but I can’t take all the credit for Kate.” He pulled his whiskey flask from an interior coat pocket and lifted it in salute. “To my sweet Kate. For my sins.” He downed a generous gulp.

“Who could have destroyed another human being so completely?” Masterson hadn’t meant to ask the question aloud, but apparently, he had.

“I’ve asked her,” Holliday admitted, “but she can’t give me names. It’s not that she won’t. She can’t.”

Masterson sighed. “Maybe it’s just as well, Doc. Depending on how long she’s been this way, the statute of limitations may be run–“

“I am not an Earp,” Holliday growled. “I don’t need statutes or warrants. I just need names, goddammit.”

Masterson kept his mouth shut.

“Why are we discussin’ Kate, anyhow?” Holliday demanded.

“I was just wondering– Ah. Don’t take this wrong, Doc, but can you get rid of Kate for a bit?”

Holliday set his fork down again. Masterson noted he held onto the knife. Holliday looked like he was waiting for an explanation.

“I mean, I have a business proposition I think you might like, but I don’t think Kate would appreciate joining us. Unless you’d prefer she did, of course. Maybe a month or so. That’s all I meant.” Masterson’s voice had wound down to a near squeak at the end and he cleared his throat to recover.

Holliday picked his fork back up and began slicing again. “Dependin’ on what the proposition is, she can be busy elsewhere, if necessary,” he conceded. “She runs a house–,” he said the word like it was more than passingly significant and Masterson understood he meant bordello, “–in Globe. She could also be prevailed upon ta check on my saloon in Las Vegas in New Mexico Territory. Quite the business woman is our Kate.”

“Well, that’s fine, then,” Masterson cleared his throat again and bathed it with some coffee. “I was looking for you across three states because I have a commission. And I’m cutting you in, Doc.”

Holliday peered at him but said nothing.

“How would you like to make a thousand a month for a couple of months for a few hours work a day?”

Bat had re-run his calculations on paper the evening before and had decided to up his commission for Holliday. In an age where most men were riding hard every day for thirty dollars a month, Holliday was pulling in over a hundred a week just for wages running the faro table, not to mention his take of the faro, his take of the bar, and regardless of his winnings at poker and High Dice. He usually brought in so much money to the house his employers did not only not begrudge him his wages or his winnings, they provided room and board and sincere respect.

Given a cash incentive, Holliday could be charming, witty, and amiable, and unless a customer was just cussedly determined to be an ass, Holliday seemed to be able to get along with anyone at a gaming table. He was too slick sometimes for his own good, but his customers expected that from a professional gambler who was rumored to operate a relatively clean game. Holliday was so good at computing odds and remembering the cards played that he didn’t need to cheat. And he could recognize quickly anyone that did, thus protecting the house’s interests.

When sober, Holliday often managed to make any man feel right at home and among friends. If trouble was brewing in a patron’s heart and Holliday felt so inclined, he could deal the cards to spin the man’s luck and ensure he enjoyed a pleasant evening, or at least leave the poor slob enough money for breakfast. Sometimes, of course, the good doctor had no such inclination. You had to pick your night.

City ordinance stipulated all businesses in the tenderloin were obligated to regulate their own establishments. When Holliday was working the gaming room, it was also his duty to police the saloon. Charm and luck aside, it is a fact that no one can make everyone happy and Holliday was occasionally forced to defend himself and his customers from the terminally dissatisfied. Six times in the past four months, in fact. As Ford County sheriff it was Masterson’s job to keep track. Most of the offenders had survived, of course. Holliday usually had enough self control not to shoot to kill. Not the paying customers, anyway.

Once, after Holliday’s third shooting incident, the city council issued an order for no firearms in the gaming rooms. But, again, the same city ordinance ensured no law enforcement would be provided. What was to prevent the patrons from being murdered by outlaws who didn’t give a rip about city ordinance wasn’t clarified. But there was to be no defense for the law abiding. That night Holliday, by necessity, had resorted to his poniard, the one he secreted in his coat collar along the back of his neck. Its five-inch long double-edge blade was sharp as a straight razor and usually got a man’s attention. When an irate tin-horn had pulled his illegal forty-four and shot Holliday in the thigh, Holliday had gotten the tin-horn’s attention and the tin-horn had gotten his throat cut. The city council promptly issued Holliday a special license for his Colts. Meanwhile, Holliday’s silver-headed cane lay next to Masterson’s gold-headed cane on the edge of the table.

“A thousand, huh?” Holliday paused with his next bite on his fork. “Legal currency? Who do you need rubbed out, Bat?”

Masterson shook his head. “Follow me here, a minute, Doc. You’ve heard, no doubt, of William Barstow Strong.” He waited as Holliday chewed and swallowed.

“Sounds familiar,” Holliday answered finally. “Somethin’ ta do with the Santy Fee Railway, if memory serves.” His Georgian piney-woods was crucifying the words Santa Fe and he hadn’t even noticed. “Head honcho ain’t he? What’d he do ta ya that ya want him dead for?”

Masterson was convinced Holliday was messing with him at this point, but he would not be deterred. He had been working on this speech for a couple of weeks now. “W B Strong,” he nodded, “builder of the mighty Santa Fe. The man doesn’t just build railroads. He builds empires. And he does it by being the smartest and meanest son of a bitch in the room.”

“Well,” Holliday drawled. “He seems to have you convinced.”

“You interested or not, Doc?”

“How in hell do I know? You ain’t actually said anythin’ yet, Bat.”

“All right, then, picture this: William Jackson Palmer, owner of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. Thinks he’s gonna lay lines across interior Colorado and beat the Santa Fe to California.”

“Through the Rockies?”


“Well, more power to him. Kate and I hired transport on a freight wagon from Trinidad through Raton Pass this past December. Pass my ass. Eight thousand foot elevation with no oxygen, a grade so steep the wagons had ta be anchored with ropes to rings hammered inta the mountain. Five damned days and nights of that, starin’ down inta a ravine full of broken stagecoaches and dead horses. Eight inches of snow, me with the pneumonia. Four below zero. I told Kate she might as well just push me over the ravine and be done with it. She threatened to tie me ta the goddamned wagon. But I digress. Please continue your most interestin’ story, Bat.”

Holliday poured two fingers of his whiskey into Masterson’s coffee as an oblation. Holliday was rarely a whiner and Masterson was willing to let the interruption pass. Holliday poured a generous amount of whiskey into his own mug and drank it down.

“You rather make my point for me, Doc. There’s got to be a better way through the mountains. Especially with Leadville finding silver like that. And there is. Palmer found it and he’s determined to push his line through. But Strong’s spies got to the pass first.”

“So they’re wakin’ snakes and gettin’ up ta mischief,” Holliday speared another bite.

Masterson continued, “In the railroad game, there’s an axiom: possession is nine-tenths of the law. Basically, whoever gets to the ground first and takes control has the first right to build.”

“So, whoever sticks it in first –the pickax, I mean,” Holliday clarified, “beats the competition.”

“Succinctly put, Doctor Holliday.”

“Succinctly, no less. Well, well. you are full of surprises today, Sheriff Masterson.” He was pouring himself yet another drink. Masterson forced himself to remember his speech and stop looking too closely at the man opposite him. If he could get Holliday on board with this thing, he’d have time to deal with him later.

Masterson said, “Santa Fe have already stuck it in, as you say. At Royal Gorge. I’ve got a handful of men, mostly from Dodge. They’ve been at the Gorge for about a month now, getting the lay of the land. A few more signed up last night. With your help, I think we could wrangle about seventy or eighty of us buscaderos, altogether.”

Masterson didn’t tell him that some had refused to sign up until Masterson indicated that Holliday might get involved. Masterson wasn’t certain what to make of that, he was just glad it had worked. He said, “Honestly, it’s now just a matter of holding the ground against Palmer and his cut-throats, spies and thieves.”

“As opposed to Strong’s cut-throats, spies and thieves.”

“You understand perfectly, Doc. I knew you would.”

“Uh huh. So which am I, Bat? Cut-throat, spy or thief?”

“Hum. I’d say I’m the thief, so I guess that makes you the cut-throat.”

“I’ll be sure to bring my knifes. Should I accept your offer.”

“It’ll be guerrilla warfare, Doc. I figured as a Southerner, you’d appreciate the niceties of the situation. The Rio will be waylaying us bushwhacking-style from the woods and rocks. No middle of the street, thousand-yard stares from these boys. You’ll need to be alert.”

Holliday shrugged, chewing.

Masterson would not be denied. He’d come too far. “Wasn’t it guerrilla tactics that helped the South hold out so long, Doc? Did I mention the Rio Grande’s president was a Union brigadier general in the War and actively hounded Jefferson Davis after Johnston’s surrender?”

“Damnation, Bat. Keep twistin’ that blade, and we’ll be makin’ you the cut-throat.” Holliday pushed his plate aside and worked on lighting a panatella. He puffed it a moment, his eyes scanning the room again. “So Palmer currently has the right of way, ‘cept for the pass. Santy Fee has nothing but the pass–“

“And more money and political clout, not to mention the best lawyers. Probably. We’ve only got to hold the Royal Gorge until the lawyers duke it out in court.”

“Court? Good God, Bat, I’ve a court case that’s been continued now for two years and it’s just a $25 fine for having a faro table in my possession. This Royal Gorge thing could go on for decades–“

“Twenty-five dollars for the faro table and three-hundred-thirty-five for Assault with a Deadly Weapon with Murderous Intent, Doc. I know the case.”

“Well, as ya say,” Holliday shrugged again. “In my defense, if I’d wanted the swindlin’ rascal dead, he’d be dead. At any rate, according to the latest injunction, I kin scarcely leave the state–“

“You can at the behest of a federal marshal.” Masterson flipped open his lapel and tapped his badge. He didn’t mention the fact that Holliday had already confessed to being out of the state at least twice in violation of his indictment.

Holliday sighed. “Who do I have to screw to get one of those handy little bits o’ tin?”

“Wyatt’s already saying he owes you one, Doc. It’s coming.”

“Sure. Sure. Well, I don’t care what he’s payin’, I ain’t screwin’ him.” Holliday tapped a bit of ash from his smoke onto his plate. “I should be checkin’ on Kate,” he said, distracted again. “When do ya need an answer, Bat?”

“As soon as you can, Doc. Like I say, it’s decent money. Railroad money. Good as in your pocket. Oh, and there’ll be a bonus once it’s done. We’re gonna make out like bandits.”

“Hangin’ from a cottonwood, no doubt.”

“Not for actions sanctioned by the Santa Fe, Doc. Backed by Congressional appointment. Funded by federal bonds and land grants.”

Holliday looked doubtful. “So why does the Santa Fe not send in the military? How does any of this sound rational to you, Bat?”

“You know the Santa Fe has their own police force. As does the Union Pacific–“

“Exactly my point, Bat. If they’re not usin’ ’em, there’s a damned good reason. I’d like ta know what that reason is.”

“They can’t legally use federal police or military because both claims are supported by the same federal mandates. Look, Doc, we’re not being asked to murder anybody. We’re just protecting a claim. Just like sittin’ a miner’s claim. Runnin’ off the claim jumpers.” Masterson couldn’t believe he was toning down the necessity of slapping leather in order to attract a gunman. Especially a proven man-killer like Holliday. It just seemed necessary, suddenly. Masterson hoped it was like Holliday had said about instincts and reading people. He hoped, but had no faith in it.

“Just, think about it, Doc. I really need you there or I wouldn’t be asking.”

Holliday turned those cold blue eyes and looked at Masterson then. Really looked. It was one of those penetrating gazes he was infamous for and Masterson realized suddenly that was what had seemed the most odd about Holliday the past two days. The overwhelming sense that the man was just not there even though he was sitting right in front of him. Holliday was suddenly there now. Looking into Masterson and trying to locate something Masterson had no clue about. Holliday seemed to have found it, however.

“Hell, Bat. That’s all ya had to say,” Holliday said abruptly, stubbing out his smoke on his plate. “I don’t need to be bribed. If ya need me, I’ll be there.”

The announcement was so unexpected Masterson swore in surprise. “I mean, thank you, Doc–“

“I’ll hafta get Kate settled. I’ll be on the train tonight.”

“I have a train leaving in the morning, Doc. It’s a special. Our own private passenger and freight straight to Canyon City–”

“Nope. It’s tonight or not at all. I need to see Kate ta Globe. Then I’ll meet up with ya in Canyon City.”

“Well– If that’s the way you gotta do it, Doc, I won’t tell you your business.”

“That’s the way I gotta do it, Bat. We square?”

Masterson’s instincts were screaming but damned if he could make any sense out of it. “Sure, Doc. We’re square. I’ll see you when you get to Colorado. Is there anything I can do meanwhile to help you out?”

Holliday was suddenly staring at him just a bit too intently. “Do I look like I need help, Bat?”

Oh, hell, yes, Masterson thought. He said, “No, Doc. But when a man is upending his life at the drop of a hat just because I’ve asked him to, I tend to try to lend a hand if he thinks he needs it.”

Holliday seemed to be considering the answer. He said, “I appreciate that. But I’ll be there. I shan’t let ya down.”

“I know that. You’re a good man, Doc.”

Holliday downed the last of his mug of whiskey and stood. “Well, for God’s sake, don’t tell anybody,” he said.


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