Chapter 19: Continental Divide

Parables of the Beautiful Country

by Jack E’Dalgo

Chapter 19: Continental Divide

“In the old days neither Doc nor I bothered to make explanations.” – Wyatt Earp

The Continental Hotel was not the closest hotel to the rail station. It wasn’t even the fourth closest. Which is why its size surprised Masterson. Most hotels gained the heft of their clientele from their proximity to rail or stage stations. Perhaps the Continental wasn’t trying for quantity via the usual route, but they had enough rooms and enough people in the lobby to prove they were providing something worth riding the extra mile into town for.

The building so resembled an old Spanish mission that Masterson stepped back to re-read the bronze plate next to the door. It read ‘Continental Hotel’, sure enough. The entrance of the hotel was a long, vaulted hall of white-washed adobe that opened into an atrium the size of a small park. The atrium was buttressed by multiple flights of stairs to an additional balcony of suites and finally a third open balcony serving as an observation deck. The third floor windows were filled with stained glass. The glass cut the glare and tinted the morning sunlight with an explosion of color that dripped down the blazingly white walls and across the worn terracotta tile.

Just to satisfy his curiosity, Masterson checked the register for a Mackey, which was the name Shanssey had divulged during his inebriation, or it was as least as well as Masterson could translate the drunken disclosure. He recalled the name having been on some of the correspondence in Holliday’s tin box, as well. Masterson was assured there was no Mackey of any kind of spelling.

He next asked for a Holliday of any kind of spelling. He was informed that there was indeed a JA Holliday. Masterson flashed his marshal’s badge and was promptly handed the register to check for himself. Someone had mistaken Holliday’s flowing and perfectly formed H for an A. Masterson didn’t correct the clerk, but he noted the room number and was not prevented from climbing the stairs to locate the room on his own.

As Masterson made his way across the landing, he heard women’s voices, the softest trills and titters. Two young women turned from a hall onto the landing and walked toward him, heading toward the nearest set of stairs.

They were fair, well-formed, generous in the bosom and slender in the waist, dressed for town in bustled walking dresses, dainty velvet shoes, matching gloves and acres of pastel. They ceased their chatter and dropped their eyes, abruptly aware of Masterson’s presence, and there was only the discreet swishing of fabric and tapping of parasols into carpet.

The ladies kept their heads down, demure beneath brimmed hats, as Masterson stood aside for them, his own hat respectfully in hand. They smelled like violets and just a hint of roses and every fine and worthwhile thing Masterson could contemplate. After the roughness of the women of the Hell on Wheels camp, they were as pleasant as mountain air in spring.

Having basked in the moment, Masterson took another moment to recall the room number he was seeking. He was facing the hall the women had emerged from. The room to his right was one number too small, the first room to his left, past the hall, was one number too high. He turned into the anteroom the women had just left.

Their fragrance, violets and rose, still lingered there. The alcove held one door, as one would find in a corner suite. It had the appropriate number on it. Leave it to Holliday to go first class. Masterson raised a hand to knock and paused as the realization hit him. The two lovely ladies emerging from a hall with access to only one door–

The whore mongering bastard. Masterson didn’t know why he was so angry. Everyone knew consumptives possessed remarkable sexual prowess. Perhaps necessary due to their shortened lives, he supposed. It was in all the medical literature, he’d been told. Still. A little self-control might be in order.

Masterson knocked. It sounded like rifle fire in the little segment of hall.

“Yes, darhlin’s–” Holliday’s voice was light and ingratiating as he opened the door mid-sentence. Seeing Masterson, he choked the rest into silence.

“Why, Bat. Fancy meetin’ ya here.” His voice was suddenly its usual husky growl.

He was shaved and bathed and smelled of verbena and lavender although he wore the same clothes he’d been wearing when Masterson had seen him in the previous evening: well-tailored, knee-length, double-breasted frock coat and trousers all in a blue so deep it might just as well have been black. Black riding boots of Spanish leather, and nubuck waistcoat, polka-dot cravat, diamond stickpin in the lapel of his coat. Everything had been nicely brushed and pressed and the boots shone like new money. All part of the civilized amenities of a good hotel.

“You not receiving this morning, Doc?”

Holliday stood aside and allowed him into the suite. Masterson recalled that he had already admitted to Holliday he had spies in town, and Holliday wisely did not bother to feign surprise that Masterson had located his hotel.

Masterson took in the sitting room he found himself in: rich dark fabrics and flocked wallpaper with threads of gilt, fine art on the walls and carpet deep enough to drown in. After having been a month in a tent, it was nothing short of a culture shock. Masterson had to admit that he had lost his taste for the barbarous life he once led, living on frijoles and jerky while hunting buffalo, fighting Kiowa and Cherokee for stinking hides and bits of scrub land he would never own.

Holliday’s room held the faint, familiar scent of violets and the stronger scent of an immense vase of white roses on the table next to the settee. Masterson identified both fragrances and he could have spat on Holliday at that moment, thinking of those two beautiful women he’d passed in the hall.

Instead, he settled his cane and bowler hat on a table, sat in the wing chair beside it and crossed his legs like any gentleman would. If one wished to be in a civilized society, after all, one must himself be civilized. Even if his first impulse was to knock his host into the middle of next week.

Still, he didn’t have to like it.

“Doc, we need to talk.”

“Well. Hell,” Holliday answered. “The last time I heard that phrase was from Kate, right before she left. You’ll pardon me if I have a drink. Care for a bourbon, Bat?”

Even if it hadn’t been no more than eight in the morning, Masterson would have been damned if he’d share a drink with Holliday at this particular moment. Masterson worked at removing his gloves. He said, “It’s a bit early for me, thank you.”

“Amateur,” Holliday growled and poured himself a tumbler of Overholt. He took the second wing chair and swallowed a mouthful of his rye before setting his glass on the table nearest him. He leaned back, hands loose on the arms of his chair. He said, “I am ready for my scoldin’, now. Please proceed.”

Masterson suddenly wasn’t certain what he had expected himself to say. He could only hear Kate’s harsh whispers about a morning with daylight shining in the windows of a beautiful room. And here he sat with Holliday in a beautiful room flooded with morning sunlight. Once again, he felt that he was seeing one thing while another thing was actually in progress right in front of his eyes. He wasn’t certain what to make of it, or even if there was anything to be made.

Holliday waited for Masterson to speak, as impassive as the Sphinx. Looking into those ice blue eyes, Masterson reconsidered. Holliday occasionally led his life as though he had all the soul-searching instinct of an animal. But, as with so many things about Holliday, it was an illusion. Despite his lapses into what society might deem moral turpitude, Holliday wasn’t immoral. He was too cold-blooded for such notions of conventional morality. Holliday was amoral. He didn’t sin against humanity or his conscience or even against God. He just took life as it came to him. In Holliday’s mind, everything was a gift to be accepted, good, bad, or indifferent.

Both men were relieved of the silence as a woman stepped out of the interior door of the suite. A door, Masterson was reasonably certain, that would lead to a bedroom. The lady was a beauty by any measure of the word. Very well-dressed, perhaps in her mid-thirties, as shapely and demure and as pastel as the two younger women Masterson had passed in the hall. Holliday stood as she entered, and Masterson did the same, early childhood training kicking in despite his surprise.

“I’m terribly sorry to interrupt, John,” she said. Her voice was refined and soft, just short of down-right musical, “but I really shouldn’t miss my train.”

Holliday crossed the room and took her gloved hand, “Shall I drive ya ta the station?”

“I wouldn’t hear of it. My steward is downstairs and has everything well in hand, I’m sure.”

The rebuff was a tender one and Holliday escorting her gently to the door. In a voice just above a whisper he assured her, “I do appreciate your sparin’ me your time.”

She brushed Holliday’s upper arm with her shoulder, an intimate gesture done so quickly Masterson was left to doubt his own eyes. “I’ll tell Jennie and Dora you said thank you, as well,” she promised softly.

“Please do so,” Holliday agreed. “It was marvelous ta see y’all.”

“Anything for you, John, you know that.” Holliday opened the door to the hall a few inches, an offer to release her or a request that she linger, perhaps both. The lady’s gloved hand remained another moment on Holliday’s forearm. She said, “Now, you will call us if you need anything, won’t you?” She held Holliday’s gaze with a Mona Lisa smile.

“Most assuredly I shall.” Holliday said the words with a quiet emphasis bordering on appreciation. He lowered his head over her hand, two fingertips of the longest fingers of his hand sliding up her palm to the barest bit of skin exposed at her wrist between sleeve and glove. Holliday raised his eyes to mirror her smile. His intimate gesture was not as subtle as the lady’s, Masterson mused, but then why should it be? What did Doc Holliday have to lose in a gun fight with another woman’s husband? Or three?

Her answering look was all honey and offer, but she left without so much as a glance at Masterson. Holliday remained staring at the closed door for a moment.

Masterson demanded, “What’s all this in aide of, then? Am I expected to believe you had three going at one time? And you with bruised ribs.”

Holliday slowly turned from the door. There it was again, that sudden flash of radiant heat that hadn’t been there mere seconds before. Holliday’s voice was light, however. “Are you actually askin’?”

“Would you tell me the truth if I did?” As he made the challenge, Masterson realized what had caused Holliday’s undercurrent of anger to flare. Masterson wasn’t supposed to know about Holliday’s injured ribs.


“Why would I lie ta ya?” Holliday flipped open a humidor and offered a cigar to Masterson. A real cigar, not one of those thin panatella Holliday usually favored. Holliday’s hands were perfectly steady. His voice calm and almost playful, his movements measured, a mask for his tension.

Masterson decided to play for the surface of the situation since Holliday seemed to prefer that at the moment. “Why would you lie to me?” Masterson repeated Holliday’s question, scanning the selection of cigars. “A full on lie?” He chose a particularly fat maduro. “Like you’ve ever spoken the whole truth in your life, Doc.”

“Well, there is that,” Holliday conceded. He selected his own smoke but graciously lit Masterson’s first. His eyes were just that much darker than a few moments before.

Masterson regained his seat. His .38 was holstered on his left thigh and he would have to stand to pull it from its scabbard. Holliday would not draw on him with such an unfair advantage. He wondered where Holliday’s own Colt was, knowing there was a reason Holliday preferred double-breasted coats. Even unbuttoned, they could hide a world of hardware. Masterson had no illusions that Holliday wasn’t well-armed even if Masterson still held the majority of Holliday’s weapons.

Masterson puffed, sending the smoke toward Holliday, a cloaked insult, maybe even a challenge. The maduro was surprisingly satisfying, however. Masterson puffed again, simply enjoying the smoke. It was all rich cocoa and coffee and sweet as sin.

Holliday eased himself back into his chair. He was watching Masterson while working to get his own cigar lit. The hand holding the match didn’t seem to be quite as in control as it should have been, but perhaps it was a distortion due to the smoke between them.

Masterson mumbled. “Perhaps I have my Methodism confused with my sentimentalism, Doc, but it seems to me that Kate’s not been gone a full day. Day and a half, maybe. And here you are, so devoted to her, you can’t wait to get another woman in your bed and yourself into more trouble.”

Holliday dropped his still lit match in an ashtray. He checked the burn on his cigar then puffed, watching the match sputter itself out. “Well, apparently I’m expected ta defend myself on an entirely personal decision.” He held up his hand as Masterson opened his mouth to retort. Masterson stuck his cigar back into his mouth instead.

Holliday said, “Despite what you may believe, I remain devoted to Kate. When she gets back — if she gets back– I’ll welcome her home with open arms and open pocketbook. No matter how many men she’ll have ‘tumbled,’ as she calls it, while she’s been gone.” Holliday didn’t look Masterson in the eye as he made that announcement, and his jaw worked as though he were choking down something particularly bitter.

Holliday swallowed whatever it was and continued, “As far as trouble goes, what trouble am I in? The ladies who left here are all business women. They were all very well paid. No one complained, as far as I can recall.” He took several more puffs, his head wreathed in smoke. “Besides I thought ya were glad to see the back of Kate.”

Masterson ignored the jibe about his attitude regarding Kate for the moment, but wondered why he was even continuing this conversation. Baiting Holliday and avoiding his actual reason for coming to confront him, he supposed. “I will admit to having done two in one night, Doc, but what the hell, three? At once?”

“Hum,” Holliday was preoccupied with building his screen of smoke. “I’ll grant ya there is a bit of effort involved,” he admitted. “I’ll also grant that there are some activities for which each must await her turn, but most women are quite patient, given the proper incentive.”

“That a fact?” Masterson refused to be rattled.

Holliday blew at his cloud of smoke. “It is astonishin’ what an imaginative woman can find ta do while she waits. Some of them even like ya ta watch.”

Masterson could tell that Holliday was enjoying seeing how deeply he could make him blush.

“Of course,” Holliday mused, “it can interrupt a man’s concentration. Some of them expect ya to participate, even while you’re obviously otherwise occupied. It can be most taxin’.”

“Oh the burdens you do bear, Doc,” Masterson chaffed.

“Well. It is best not to be too drunk,” Holliday admitted. “Otherwise it can all get a bit confusin’ as who is who and what is–“

“All right. I’m convinced you’re a complete reprobate. You don’t have to mail off for a certificate.”

“Ya did ask.”

“Lesson learned.”

Holliday had managed to waft a bit of his smoke over to Masterson’s chair. Masterson detected almond, cocoa and honey.

Masterson said, “One question and we’re done with this conversation.”

“Say on.”

“Where did you find these… ladies?”

“Oh. I did not summon them. I certainly did not relieve them of their husbands. No one has been cuckolded or taken advantage of.”

Masterson received the information, wondering that Holliday had seemed to have read his mind so easily.

Holliday seemed to acknowledge that thought as well, proffering a raised brow, then looking away. He said, “I was in the hotel restaurant havin’ a late supper and they asked ta join me. We had an enjoyable discussion involvin’ the weather, variant views of the Lockwood Bill and their thoughts on the Whiskey Ring scandal and its impact on the dissolution of Reconstruction.”

Holliday glanced back at Masterson and tilted his chin at Bat’s amazement. “By that time they were orderin’ dessert and were kindly straightforward in their joint offer to provide a night’s companionship for my lonely soul.”

“They solicited you. All three of them. In a public restaurant. In your demented dreams.”

Holliday opened his arms, inviting examination of his person. “A bevy of lovely ladies enters the practically empty eatery of a good hotel late in the evenin’ and come upon a well-dressed gentleman who appears to be headin’ into the latter stages of his prime–“

“You and I both know you’re only twenty-seven, Doc.”

“Point is, they don’t know that. And I sure as hell don’t look it.” Holliday took a puff on his cigar and watched the smoke drift. “At any rate, they see a cadaverous, gray-haired man, obviously unwell, scarcely able to harm a fly.” His voice was easy enough, but there was the barest hint of bitterness. “Given my choice of hostelry and my wardrobe, I am probably a man of some means. And I am eatin’ alone, more’s the pity. For women seekin’ gainful employment that promises not ta be too arduous, I believe the term is ‘easy pickin’s.'”

Masterson sighed. “Only you, Doc.”

“‘Tis a gift, I claim no credit.” His tone held not a hint of levity. Holliday again contemplated the thin thread of smoke rising from the cigar he held. It was in danger of going out. He puffed it a moment and sighed in resignation. His tone was deadly earnest. “I do hate bein’ alone, Bat. Especially at night.”

Unbidden, Masterson again heard Kate’s voice. He’s always alone. And there is a sudden intense pain in his chest and then nothing but all that daylight flooding the world. And then he laughs, like it’s just the funniest thing.

Holliday was still speaking. “I do not sleep well or for very long. And I do love the company of women. These are my excuses for bein’ a womanizer, a disgrace which I confess in all humiliation. My further excuse is that for now the chemical changes that accompany the physical act of concubitus help ta control pain, at least for a few hours. I am told that will change for me some day. Until then, God forgive me, I allow myself to do that which is most convenient and then repent. God will deal with me on the issue, I am certain. Meanwhile, I hope that you will not judge me too harshly nor withdraw your friendship.”

Masterson was at a loss for words for a moment. The man was truly baffling. Holliday was so many of the same things that Wyatt Earp was. Well, not merely Wyatt. A more highly educated combination of Wyatt and Virgil, perhaps, with some of the light-hearted ease of young Morgan. Holliday possessed the Earp’s stubborn unwillingness to bend, the reticence that kept their thoughts and emotions private, the guardedness that kept a man from stepping too close to the ground they held by their mere presence. Not to mention their coolness under fire, or their loyalty and that maddening inability to yield when common sense decreed they simply step back.

The fact that Holliday was suddenly so willing to make confession to him, threw Masterson completely off-guard. This was beyond simple fellowship based on their mutual respect of Wyatt Earp. A man didn’t acknowledge this level of internal grief with the friend of a friend. He doubted Holliday would have confessed this much to Wyatt himself. It was as if Holliday had anointed Masterson his dearest friend somewhere along the way and Masterson hadn’t even noticed.

“Doc. Is there anything that I can say that will disabuse you of the notion that I consider myself your judge and jury?”

Holliday seemed to be considering the question with great seriousness. “Probably not,” he said, finally. “But thank you for the grace it took to say so.”

Masterson watched Holliday smoke for a full minute. The Georgian was too pale, as always, far too thin, and it wasn’t just the result of all that dark blue he’d draped himself in. Holliday probably hadn’t eaten this morning. Certainly, he hadn’t slept. Masterson had come through the door ready to engage Holliday as he merely imagined him to be. Sitting here now, however, he finally saw John Henry Holliday as he was. Hopeless while refusing to be helpless, but dying all the same. And all too aware of his dying, rail against it as he might. Masterson, for all his health, vigor and bravado, could afford to be magnanimous. He could be this man’s friend. For his own sake, if not for Holliday’s.

Again, Kate Elder’s voice interrupted Masterson’s reverie. He sees what happens before the beautiful room, but he won’t say that part out loud.

She was getting annoying.

“I’ve found Kate,” Masterson admitted.

Holliday looked askance. “Quelle surprise,” he said. “I wasn’t aware she was missin’.”

“She’s not on her way to Globe. She is heading to San Francisco. She hit Denver last night about the time you, Webb and Short hit Spike Buck. She headed north to the Union Pacific and bought a ticket through. I’ve made arrangements to have her picked up when she hits Ogden.”



“She’s free. She’s of age. She’s not stolen anythin’. I handed her the ten thousand dollars and told her ta go ta hell. If she decided that San Francisco defined the term, then more power ta her.”

“So you bought her the ticket?”


“You know a woman can’t buy a train or stagecoach ticket on her own, Doc. You didn’t buy it. John Shanssey says he didn’t buy it. I sure as hell didn’t buy it.”

Holliday was staring into the corner of the room. He shrugged. “The country is drowning with men. Whoever she conned into purchasing the ticket, Kate’ll make sure he got his money’s worth.”

“Jesus, Doc. Do you even hear yourself?”

Holliday sat straighter as if he was pulling his spine from some form of pain. “I hear myself, Bat. I even hear the part I’m not saying out loud.”

“So…” Masterson was thinking of what Holliday had been saying and what he then might not be saying, and realized he had no idea where to start. He finally asked softly, “Do you just not care what Kate is doing to you?”

Holliday glanced at him then quickly away. “She’s my wife, Bat, not my hostage.”

“Your wife. That’s getting old, Holliday–“

“There was a minister. We even had cake.”

Masterson didn’t care what Holliday said. No man of God was going to wed a man to a whore. “Hell, Doc,” he smirked. “If cake was involved then I guess it must be binding.”

“Damned straight.”

Masterson blinked to clear his vision enough to catch some hint of humor in Holliday’s eyes. There was none.

“Alright,” Masterson tried another tactic. “You’re married. I’ll concede the point. She’s a… termagant. Willful and down-right hateful. Doesn’t she owe it to you to at least be obedient? Love, honor and obey, right?”

“She’s not a puppy piddling on the floor. I am not a severe man. I do not give her orders. She is not obligated ta obey an order that is not given.”

Masterson’s head was beginning to ache and it had nothing to do with all the smoke they were fumigating the room with. He snapped, “She’s unfaithful by your own admission, Doc. That’s grounds for divorce in any court. You need to divorce her, doncha think?”

Holliday removed his cigar. “Now you sound like Wyatt. I will tell you what I told him. I may very well give my life ta protect yours or Wyatt’s, but I will not surrender my life ta either of ya. Kate is my wife. She will remain my wife, wherever she is, until the day I die, even if she doesn’t like it, and ta hell with ya.”

Masterson, again, had to take a moment. He had understood Holliday had often pledged to die for Wyatt’s sake. It had never occured to Masterson that Holliday had placed Masterson at the same level. He said, finally. “That’s fine, Doc. I don’t understand your life with Kate, and I grant you that it is not my place to do so. But you’re actually telling me you don’t want her arrested?”

“Arrested for what?”

“For what? Attempted murder. Several counts.”

“Attempted on?”

“You, dammit.”

“Since when?”

“Since yesterday. I’ve read Fox’s medical report.”

“And this lists Kate as the culprit of some kind of an attack? Where, may I ask, did he get his information?”

Masterson was almost growling himself. He had sworn to John Shanssey to keep his name out of it as much as possible, however. “Kate has fled,” he said. “That smacks of guilt.”

“She’s left. Smacks of being fed up with livin’ in a tent.”

“You’re saying someone else bashed you in the head?”

“I’m not saying anyone bashed me anywhere. I am sayin’ I will not collaborate in your sophistic scheme.”

“I do not comprehend you, Holliday. I could try for a month of Sundays but it’s just not possible–“

“Then let me be clear. Kate is my wife, I am contractually responsible for her.”

“I cannot fathom what that even means. What the hell does she hold over you, Holliday? What are you so guilty of–“

“I said I was responsible. Guilt has nothing to do with it. But I will not press charges against my own flesh.”

“Then I’ll have Fox to press them.”

“Fox?” Holliday seemed momentarily nonplussed. “Fox’s so-called evidence is hear-say. And not from me. He can go ta hell along with ya. The same goes for John Shanssey and his presumed powers of deduction.”


“Spousal privilege says I cannot be compelled to testify against my wife. In point of fact, I will testify on Kate’s behalf. The entire charade will be laughed out of the district attorney’s office before a grand jury is even convened.”

Masterson couldn’t fault Holliday for his knowledge of criminal law. God knows he’d had enough opportunity to educate himself by simply paying attention in a courtroom. The reference to John Shanssey was insightful, however. Holliday certainly had no compunction against calling out the disloyalties of his friends. Masterson was beginning to wonder just how involved all of this got.

“Is that why you married her? To keep her from testifying against you for some crime?”

“The law says a spouse cannot be compelled. It doesn’t say they can’t volunteer ta testify, so that’s a moot point, I would say.”

Masterson nodded. “I stand corrected. But, it’s all right with you that the woman tries to kill you, three times that I personally know of. You and God only know how many times more, and you insist that she gets away with it. You want to die, is that it?”

That finally got a reaction. The knuckles whitened on Holliday’s hand where he held the arm of his chair. “We’ve already discussed this asinine notion that I have a death wish for cryin’ out loud. I’ve practiced with my weapons until I am proficient in my sleep or even in a flat-on-my-ass drunken stupor. God’s damnation, what else do I have to submit to?”

“Let me arrest the woman, Holliday. That’s what you have to submit to. Let me just once get it on her record–“

“She already has a record, Bat. Kate Earp. Whore.”

“You know she wasn’t an Earp, she just worked in the house–“

“James and Bessie Earp’s whorehouse. With Wyatt and Morgan serving as shoulder hitters. In the eyes of the law she’s branded with the name of her pimps. I know better than you how it works. I’ve been held under law in more states and territories than you’ve even visited.”

“You are not running me down that rabbit hole, Doc. I’m having the woman arrested.”

“Do it and you’ll be lookin’ over your shoulder for the rest of your short, god-forsaken life, William Masterson, Wyatt be damned. Let him make his play on your behalf. I may even let him walk away. But only one of us will and you’ll still be dead.”

Holliday never raised his voice. He didn’t even look perturbed. He just sat there, sure and steady, eyes intently focused, certainly, but as calm a blue as they ever were. He took an indolent puff of his cigar and watched as Masterson took his measure.

“It really means that much to you?” Masterson asked, finally.

“She does.”

“You just admitted you paid her off and threw her out.”

“I did.”

“You’re having sex with other women.”

“Which is simply sex. Kate does it and gets paid for it. It doesn’t bother her, it shouldn’t bother you.”

“And yet you’d still kill to defend her.”

“I have and I will.”


“It’s a man’s divine mandate to defend his home. No matter where the deuce she is.”

Masterson’s response stuttered and died on that bit of revelation. As he’d always suspected, Holliday inhabited an eccentric and fantastical world all his own.

Masterson clarified finally, “Even if she kills you.”

“Mary Kate is not goin’ ta kill me. Hell, you’re not going ta kill me. In spite of yourself. God damn all of you unreliable, gutless, chicken-shit chiselers. And that includes Kate.”

“Who you’ve declared you’d kill for and possibly die for.”

“Which does not preclude my marital right ta bad-mouth her under limited circumstances.”

“You–” Masterson held his breath until he could trust himself not to shout. “You make me tired, Doc.”

“That’s the nicest thing you’ve said ta me all mornin’.”

Masterson just breathed a full minute. Meanwhile Holliday poured himself another whiskey.

Masterson said, “Back to who is or isn’t going to kill you, Doc.”

“All right.” Holliday lifted his glass in salute.

“You seem awfully sure of your facts.”

“I am.”

“Care to say why you’re so certain?”

Holliday swallowed. “Other than this annoyingly universal unwillingness of any of you to actually do the deed?” He shook his head. “I cannot imagine.”

“Just because it’s not part of this vision of some beautiful room–“

Holliday damned near dropped his glass. “What did you say to me?”

“Oh, Kate told us all about your beautiful room, Doc. Me, Fox, Pickett, Shanssey–“

“The hell you say.”

“Does anyone else know? Who else would have told me?”

Holliday seemed to have stopped breathing. He closed his eyes and flexed the tension from his shoulders. He then spoke quite clearly and slowly. “Only women and fools live in dreams, Bat.” He opened his eyes. They were still their familiar steady blue. “This has nothing ta do with any so-called visions or ramblin’s of Kate’s. The woman plans her calendar usin’ an old faro deck she found in a steamer trunk. It’s missin’ two aces, three sixes and all four nines, for Chrissake. Some days she does well ta remember ta feed herself–“

“So why keep her so close?”

“Because I love her.” Holliday snapped. “God damn your impertinence.”

Masterson let that lay there a moment. He’d had a woman he felt like that about once, he supposed. She’d slowed a bullet that would have killed him. Had she lived, she could just as easily have been his own Kate.

Holliday meanwhile, was back to giving nothing away. He puffed his cigar, apparently without tasting it, intent on creating another veil of smoke.

“She’s going to destroy you, Doc.”

Holliday said evenly. “Hell’s bells, Bat. I’m already destroyed. I just ain’t laid down yet.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *