Chapter 18: Damage Estimate

Parables of the Beautiful Country

by Jack E’Dalgo

Chapter 18: Damage Estimate

I’m gonna get myself in fighting trim

Scope out every angle of unfair advantage

I’m gonna bribe the officials, I’m gonna kill all the judges

It’s gonna take you people years to recover from all of the damage

Our mother has been absent

Ever since we founded Rome

But there’s gonna be a party when the wolf comes home,”– John S Darnielle. “Up the Wolves.”

The pause in the day’s work caused by the payroll run had to be made up, so the workmen were toiling late into the evening. They worked until well past nightfall, wearing miners caps and helmets adorned with carbide and oil-wick lamps. The open flames produced by the lamps could be seen bobbing like fireflies throughout the area, marking the positions of graders, scrapers, and diggers in the distance of the gorge, and machinists, carpenters and welders nearer to hand in the workshops.

Holliday wished the Dodge City Gang was as easily discoverable amongst the layout of the camp. He was already short of breath from fetching his horse.

His gut was too full and it was pressing into his thoracic cavity. He had eaten more than he was comfortable doing just to put Shanssey at his ease and to satisfy Fox. He should have said to hell with the both of them. He could eat his horse and the consumption would assure he gained no weight. Meanwhile, people who had no difficulty breathing didn’t understand that too full a gut compromised the diaphragm.

Holliday didn’t need a damned nursemaid, and now he had two of them, apparently. He was beginning to feel smothered in more ways than one, and was ready to put some distance between himself and all this nonsense. Cheyenne should be thawed by now. But, no, Holliday reminded himself. He had given his word to remain for the duration of Masterson’s sanitized approximation of war and there was no way in hell he’d violate that.

Meantime, he’d found it vaguely amusing that he was expected to believe that Fox had merely popped in at random just as Shanssey arrived with luncheon. Holliday had dutifully endured the lie of how the old doctor had been making his rounds and decided to check on Holliday today of all days.

Shanssey, the weasel, hadn’t looked Holliday in the eye throughout all of that claptrap and the more cooperative Holliday had been, the more nervous Shanssey had grown. Shanssey obviously realized that Holliday had not been fooled and that Shanssey was overdue for a profound ass-kicking for all his humbuggery. Holliday had specific ideas about that, but he’d let Shanssey stew a bit longer. It would serve him right to sweat it out.

Holliday could not abide treachery in a man. Eve had believed the first lie ever told and her daughters, weak and full of foolishness, fared no better. As a result, a woman’s deceit had to be overlooked from time to time. Deception was part and parcel of their nature and must be endured as far as a husband was able. Adam’s treason, however, had brought the wrath of God onto the world and it was not to be borne. John Shanssey might very well be the better man between the two of them, but Holliday could not let the matter lapse forever. It would just fester until it burst. And Holliday would prefer not to actually kill the man if he could avoid it. For all his foibles, Shanssey was still a friend, in spite of himself.

Thankfully, Shanssey had left for his shift as barman for the Buckhorn and Fox had gone off to tend an ax victim. Left to his own devices, Holliday had promptly risen and tested his reflexes. Then he’d changed his clothes.

He had a leather waistcoat he’d kept since he’d been nineteen and not as well filled-out through the upper body. Although now looser in the waist, the garment was also tighter-fitting across the chest. It provided a bit of compression for his ribs and the support helped to ease that particular pain. It seemed to be helping his back as well, which was a pleasant surprise. Holliday completed his attire with the darkest shades of clothing he still possessed that weren’t currently at the haberdasher’s.

Meanwhile, Holliday had drowned his headache with as much whiskey as he thought advisable while still remaining in command of his faculties. Fox and Shanssey had been right about his having a concussion, but Holliday hadn’t needed to be told. He had been horse-kicked and pistol-whipped in four different territories so it wasn’t the first time he’d been concussed. He was dizzy and nauseous, but also rather pleasantly and contentedly numb, all down to the concussion. Holliday had been more impaired from simply being drunk any number of times in his life and he’d be burning in hell dead before he’d let such things slow him down. Such as it was, he had a life to live, dammit.

Holliday had truly not been able to get himself off the floor before Shanssey had found him. But he was better now, having sat up a while and being allowed to breath cooler air. And now he’d had Cy’s package, hand delivered to his tent by the Santa Fe. That managed to put a bit of starch in his resolve.

Being on horseback allowed Holliday to remain relatively sedentary and prevented him from becoming short-winded. It also gave him the advantage of height in his search for members of the Dodge City corps. He spotted Dutch Henry Borne across the camp but Dutch was chatting up one of the doves at Lena’s Ladies and Holliday didn’t disturb him. There were some activities a man engaged in that were sacrosanct, after all.

Moving further north west, he found JJ Webb chatting with Luke Short outside one of the new gaming tents. They stood under a lamp posted to provide some illumination for the hastily painted board above the tent door: The Texas Exchange. Holliday wondered vaguely what they were expecting to exchange Texas for but quickly dismissed the thought. He had business to attend to and neither the patience nor the energy for foolishness. Both Webb and Short appeared reasonably sober. Holliday dismounted and led his horse over to sound out the situation.

Both men were indeed sober. Holliday thought Webb started guiltily when he realized who was approaching them. Surely not. Holliday remonstrated himself for being too self-involved and projecting his insecurities on the innocent. Illness might excuse him, but Holliday wasn’t looking for excuses for himself and he currently needed no alibis.

Webb’s smile was certainly genuine enough after the initial shock of seeing Holliday.

“Doc! I haven’t seen you all day. And I damn near didn’t see you in all that black you’re wearin’.” Webb laughed with no hint of nervousness or subterfuge. After Holliday’s afternoon, it was refreshing. “How’d you do at the gamin’ tables last night?”

Holliday shrugged. “You know me, Webb. If I’m not winnin’, I’m on the floor sleepin’ it off.”

Both men laughed and Short pointed out the package under Holliday’s arm. A bit of bright red paper had escaped from the edge of the box’s lid. “Somebody send you a birthday gift or somethig’, Doc? Happy returns of the day to you.”

Holliday smiled. “Oh, no, it’s not my birthday, but thank ya for the thought. My cousin Cy sent me a care package, ya might say.”

“I get one of them from time to time,” Webb admitted, “from my mother’s baby sister. She’s sixty if she’s a day but she’s the baby sister all the same. I get jam and stale tea cakes. She seems to think it only takes a couple a’ days to get a package clear to Dodge from Ohio.” He chuckled. “She’s a good’un, though.”

“Well,” Holliday grinned, “I got somethin’ a bit more interestin’ than jam and cake.” He tugged the lid from the box and the men eyed the goods within.

“Is that dynamite? I ain’t never seen black dynamite.” Short marveled, stroking the sticks like he thought they might pop if he jostled them.

“That’s the point,” Holliday explained. “Cy had it wrapped in black wax to keep it hidden when it’s attached to, I dunno, the locomotive of Spike Buck’s supply train, say.”

Short squinted. Webb’s eyes got wide.

“The hell you say, Doc,” Webb cautioned.

“We’ll make sure no one is aboard before she blows, of course,” Holliday insisted. “Masterson’s runnin’ a clean war here, ya know. Whatever the hell he thinks that is. Spike Buck is bedded down for the night. They’re not workin’ late, like our bunch, so they should be safe as houses.”

Both men looked at Holliday like he’d lost his last marble. Then they looked at one another and grinned.

“Gentlemen,” Holliday put the lid back on his box. “Let’s saddle up and have some fun.”

The blast, some three hours later, was heard as far away as Pueblo. Spike Buck’s supply train was torn off its wheels and the massive two-hundred-ten-thousand-pound locomotive shot a good seven feet into the air. The wheels themselves fled north and south. Bits and pieces of them would be found for weeks to come, having chopped through brush and embedded into rock. The track’s creosote timbers burned for hours, spewing the noxious odor into the atmosphere along with black fumes. Rails were mangled in what was left of the rail bed, bolts welded by flash waves of heat into the cracked fish-plates. The rail bed ballast had given up the ghost, powdered to sand or fused into fine bits of glass.

The locomotive’s boiler had been set to maintain a nominal pressure throughout the night in order to making the stoking of the engine more convenient for the fireman to begin the locomotive’s run the next morning. The flash wave of the blast sent the two hundred degree water up to a super-heated three hundred ninety degrees compressed in the confinement of the boiler. The boiler’s temperature soared to twenty-two hundred degrees, melting the boiler’s crownplate. Within seconds the captive steam ripped the boiler open with the howl of the damned. Scalding white-hot steam mingled with black fumes and blasted every tree, every bush and every blade of grass within thirty feet of the explosion. There was no fire; anything that could burn was merely vaporized out of existence.

Amazingly no one was injured, just as Holliday had predicted. Aside from the Rio’s bottom line, that is. The work at Spike Buck would have to come to a screeching halt as engineers disassembled the crippled train so they could remove the brittle rails, regrade the cratered rail bed and replace the track.

Several of Masterson’s Dodge City men rode out to investigate the hubbub. They met up with the returning trio of Holliday, Short and Webb and brought word of the damage along with the obvious suspects back to camp. Masterson met them near the Grape Creek end of the gorge.

He listened to the damage report and glanced at the team responsible. Holliday sat his horse, the picture of innocence in unabridged dark blue and black, boots, gloves, hat. Against all that darkness, the single Colt holstered at his shoulder seemed to float in the night air along with his ashen face. Webb and Short, in the spirit of loyalty, were alternating between pride in their work, and trying to offer explanations without actually naming Holliday as chief instigator.

Masterson shook his head. “I might have known,” was all he said. He dismissed the group, Webb and Short, included. The latter two seemed to be grateful to go.

“I think you and I need to have a talk, Doc,” Masterson said around his unlit cigar.

Holliday said something that sounded suspiciously like “yes, father,” and Webb and Short snickered before gigging their horses into a quick retreat.

“You wanna discuss Kate, Doc?”

Holliday, still astride his mare, seemed surprised by the topic. And Masterson wondered what else Holliday had expected Masterson to be concerned about.

Other than the explosion of a locomotive and five boxcars of Rio freight, of course. There was that, Masterson supposed.

Holliday, his initial surprise abated, shrugged a levity he probably did not feel. “Do I wanna discuss my wife with ya? Not particularly,” he said.

“Was her leaving a mutual decision between you two?”

“Not particularly,” Holliday said again.

“Did she leave because of me?” Masterson demanded.

Holliday’s brow furrowed. “Why in hell would you have any bearin’ on that decision, Bat?”

Holliday was wearing his poker face but Masterson could feel a heat emanating from him that hadn’t been there mere seconds before. Holliday’s eyes had already begun to darken, pupils dilating despite his having to look almost level into the kerosene lamp from the height of his horse.

The mare shied, sensing the sudden tension in her rider. Holliday separated the reins he’d held threaded through the fingers of his left hand and used both hands to back her a few steps from Masterson. The horse snorted in Masterson’s direction, regardless. Masterson remained still, trying not to further antagonize either horse or rider.

Masterson’s animosity toward Kate had colored his vision to the point that Bat had forgotten that Holliday did not share it. Not in the least. Thus Masterson hadn’t reckoned on Holliday’s jealous husband reaction. Bat stuttered guiltily in spite of his innocence. “No particular reason, Doc. I just– I apologize if I’ve made things difficult for the two of you.”

Masterson wasn’t certain which way to dodge or even if he needed to. Holliday could easily release the horse’s leads, draw the .38 from its scabbard next to his heart and fire in one smooth motion. That draw was the stuff of legend. He had never seen Holliday do it, but Wyatt had, and Wyatt had bragged about it often enough to make it gospel.

Holliday, however, retained the reins and quieted his mount. He seemed to be weighing his words. He spoke in a quiet, neutral tone, the grullo swiveling her right ear to better hear the sound of Holliday’s voice.

“I told you she’d be leavin’ me, Bat, and I told you why. She’s gone and I will not be discussin’ it further.”

“Fair enough.”

“You’ve spoken to John Shanssey, then,” Holliday said.

It wasn’t exactly a non sequitur and it wasn’t exactly a question, but Masterson answered. “He said he had your permission to tell me about Kate.”

“He did. Did he say anythin’ else?” The horse tried to edge to the left. Holliday laid a soft hand along her neck just beneath her crest and she stilled, ears forward.

“About what?” Masterson was seriously becoming concerned. “About the dynamite? No. I’m just surprised he didn’t go with you. Hell, I’da liked to have seen that myself.”

Holliday tilted his head as though listening to something distant and complex. Masterson got the feeling Holliday was working through a conversation only he and his mare could hear. Holliday opened his mouth to speak again but closed it without doing so. After a moment, he looked away down toward the Arkansas River rushing past at a dead run. Holliday’s eyes were blocked by the brim of his hat, but his jaw seemed to unclench. The mare shook her head once from side to side and resettled her off front leg.

Holliday said finally. “It is frighteningly beautiful, this country. I shall miss it.”

“You goin’ somewhere, Doc?”

Holliday’s voice was a whisper. “We all will, eventually, Bat.” He turned back to Masterson, the brim of his hat lifted. His eyes were their usual blue and draining to gray now and his mare’s head was high and alert.

Masterson asked, “Regretting you signed on, Doc?”

“Naw, Bat. I got peace about that.”

Masterson thought that was an odd way to phrase it, but he didn’t say so.

Holliday said, “If it’s all the same ta you, though, I think I’ll be spendin’ the night in town. I’ll be back in the mornin’.”

“A decent night in a good hotel can do wonders for a man,” Masterson agreed. “I hear the Metropolitan Theater is presenting “The Robbers” this week. Want some company?”

“Not particularly.”

Holliday turned his mount and Masterson watched him ride through the camp, back straight, shoulders relaxed, the mare moving daintily in its smooth walking gait. Holliday’s coat had been a dark blue in the lamplight. Now it merely blended into the darkness, the pale horse the only indication of Holliday’s progress. After a few moments, Masterson prepared to light his evening cigar finally. He let the match burn out in his hand, however.

Holliday did not turn toward his tent, as Masterson had expected. It was reasonable, after all, that the man would need a change of clothes, at least. Instead, the grullo broke into her peculiar smooth foxtrot. She cleared the length of the Twelve Mile Bridge in moments and horse and rider were both lost in the gathering gloom of twilight.

And Masterson suddenly had a bad feeling about all this.


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