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20 October 2009 @ 12:29 am
FIC: "Dime Novel"  
FIC: "Dime Novel" (1/1)
AUTHOR: mistressmarilyn
DATE: October 12-19, 2009
FANDOM: 3:10 To Yuma (2007) crossed w/ Tombstone (1993)
CHARACTERS: William Evans and Doc Holliday (Logan Lerman and Val Kilmer)
DISCLAIMER: I don't own 'em. They're characters belonging to Elmore Leonard and Columbia Pictures ~ and to Kevin Jarre and Hollywood Pictures, respectively ~ not to mention the actors of the movie(s), and to the ages. This is a work of a fan, done for no remuneration save the satisfaction of the work.
WARNINGS/RATING: Slash references, but not between the two primary subjects.
SUMMARY: William Evans, now 17, travels the West in search of a story as sensational as the one he lived himself. He finds himself in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, where he encounters more than one living legend.
WORD COUNT: 6,750
AUTHOR NOTES: I couldn't resist cramming a lot of my favorite Western references into this story, including Jesse James and Allan Pinkerton (I'm picturing Colin Farrell and Timothy Dalton from American Outlaws), Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett (Emilio Estevez and William Petersen in Young Guns II), and my favorite Big Valley guest star, Scott Breckenridge (as portrayed by the unforgettable Thomas Tryon). The timeline is based on a deleted scene from 3:10 to Yuma that identifies the date of that movie as 1884, the year Pinkerton died. The story is movie canon with slash overtones; I won't even bother going into any historical inaccuracies, since they belong to someone else.
BANNER: Thank you, charliemc for the beautiful banner!



"So why do they call you 'Doc Holliday'?" William asked, peering over his cards at the pale man across the table.

"It is a title I've earned," was the answer.

William tossed two chips in the pot; they landed with a satisfying clack on the small pile. "You were a doctor?"

"I am a dentist, William, a graduate of the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery. Back in my day I won more than one award for my skills in making molds and fashioning teeth made of gold."

A few years earlier the talkative outlaw Ben Wade had made an impression on a 14-year-old William Evans, but this was a voice he knew he'd never forget, that of the loquacious John Henry Holliday, the gambler and gunfighter who was rumored to have bested the infamous Johnny Ringo and known to have stood with the Earps at the OK Corral. Holliday's speech held the lilt of the South and a cadence characteristic of gentility, with the halt of debilitation and the slur of dissipation. It was a voice William had come to know during his two weeks in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

"He's a lunger," said a drunk coal miner sitting to William's right, a man who evidently chewed garlic in place of tobacco and wore a shirt that had never known a washboard, a man out of place in the Hotel Glenwood, a three-story edifice that boasted electric lights and hot and cold running water, as well as the toniest gambling palace in the recently incorporated town. There were plenty of saloons and whore houses within walking distance where he would have been at home, establishments with walls of clapboard or canvas, better suited to the town's former name, 'Defiance.'

The miner glanced at his hand and threw it down with disgust.

Unsure of the reference, William said, "Lung . . . er?"

"He's rudely referring to my health," explained Holliday.

William glanced at his grimy neighbor, his youthful face wearing a grimace and a glare. "My brother had consumption," he said in an icy voice.

"Whatta ya' want, flowers?" said the man, leaning back in his chair. Out of the corner of his eye William watched Holliday's right hand dart under the table; William knew the renowned gunman was wary enough to carry a weapon concealed under his coat, a nickle-plated .38 caliber Colt 'Lightning' with an ivory handle.

"He died last year, you bastard!"

"Settle down boys," said the fourth player, a well-dressed man in his early 40s with a thick head of dark hair and a long cigar balanced between the two first fingers of his right hand. He had been nursing the same stack of chips and glass of whiskey for more than an hour, attentive to his cards and the conversation between William and Doc Holliday. "We don't need any trouble," he said in a deep, even voice.

"Mr. Breckenridge knows whereof he speaks," said Holliday, his remark referring to the fourth player while his attention never veered from the third. "He's used to getting his own way. He has a whole town named after him not 100 miles east of here."

"The town was named for the Vice President, Mr. Holliday. Not for me."

"Just the gold mine, then, I assume."

The man smiled. "Well . . ."

"You can all get boned by a goat," said the odiferous miner, pushing away from the table, oblivious to the tension in Holliday's shoulder or the glint in his grey eyes. "I'm tired of bein' cheated." He got unsteadily to his feet.

Holliday pitched a silver dollar his way. "Get yourself a bath, my good man. Just in case I ever have the misfortune of sitting downwind of you again."

The man muttered an obscenity while he scrambled for the coin. William's breath came easier as he watched the miner's back disappear through the gambling palace's double doors of frosted glass.

"I think this calls for another round of drinks," said Holliday, raising a hand to signal the barkeep. "I assume you're buying." The last remark was directed at the man named Breckenridge.

"Of course. It's my pleasure. But maybe you've had enough, Mr. Holliday. You look a little worse for wear."

Holliday snorted. "That is an understatement, sir. I am about done in altogether, which is why I find myself here in this dreadful mountain air. I came for the healing powers of the springs, but I fear I came too late."

Holliday did, indeed, look exhausted and emaciated. But despite his obvious illness, he held his well-coiffed head high; he had a perfectly groomed mustache and imperial beard and wore a gold lame' vest and stiff, clean collar, a diamond stick pin in his red cravat.

"Leave the bottle," Breckenridge instructed as their glasses were refilled. He didn't give a second glance to the brightly dressed woman who served them, but William's eyes lingered on the snowy decolletage below a long neck and elaborately coiled black hair.

"What brings a wealthy man like yourself to a place like this?" asked Holliday, picking up the deck and shuffling expertly. "Draw or stud?"

"Draw," said Breckenridge, ignoring the first question.

Holliday flicked the cards around the table, counting out fifteen in three stacks of five. "Let's try to avoid aces and eights," he said. "That hand was unlucky for Wild Bill."

"I'm headin' to Deadwood, myself," William said, referring to the infamous Dakota town where Bill Hickok had been shot and killed. "I read about Wild Bill when I was a boy."

"Those dime novels don't tell everything," Holliday said. "Keep your back to the wall if you get into a game. That's always a good practice. Don't you agree, Mr. B?"

"I'm not much of a card player myself," said Breckenridge, taking a long drag on his cigar.

Holliday nodded. "You gamble with other things, with money and men's lives, correct?"

"I prefer to say I speculate. Someday someone is going to profit from the sulfur springs in this area, and I'm afraid if I don't act soon, it will be Walter Devereux."

"Is he a rival magnate?" Holliday looked somewhat amused.

Breckenridge nodded. "Walter made his fortune in silver, and it seems his heart is set on settling here. He's the one who built the hydro-electric plant last year."

"Miraculous," Doc said.
"Imagine living with this stink for the rest of your life," said William, no fan of the sulfur fumes.

After a cursory glance at his cards, Holliday tossed them all away. He lifted his jigger and proffered it toward his two gambling companions. "So, we know Mr. Breckenridge has come to Defiance to try to make some money, and I have come . . . to die." The smile on his dewy face was ironic. "And that leaves you, young William. You've spent these last weeks playing poker in this establishment and listening to me talk, talk of Tombstone and Dodge City and the likes of the Clantons and the Earps. And you've hardly said a word about yourself." He paused to take a long, gurgling breath followed by a swig of whiskey that drained his glass. "The Church of Rome doesn't have a monopoly on confession," he continued. "It's your turn now, William."

William's face colored, but not from the sight of the three jacks hidden in his hand. He was a damn good poker player, but not much of a talker. And he hardly wanted to admit that he had decided to stay in Glenwood Springs when he learned Doc Holliday was there.

"My life ain't that interesting," he said, carefully selecting two chips from his stack and pushing them forward.

"I don't believe you," Holliday said. "That's the most expressive you've been in a fortnight, so you must have some sort of dark secret." His tone was lightly teasing, but William could feel the steely edge, like the tip of the honed blade Holliday wore in his boot. "You mentioned your brother a while back."

Breckenridge called and raised, and William raised again, two more chips. The pot stood at near $50.

"My brother Mark was diagnosed with tuberculosis when he was two," William said, casually studying Breckenridge's impassive face as the man raised again. William's hand hadn't really improved, but he had a king with the jacks, and he hoped his opponent held a pair or smaller trips. Pushing two more chips in the pot, he said, "So my family moved from Massachusetts to this shit-hole ranch near Bisbee. The dry air was supposed to do him good." The last sentence was spoken with some sarcasm.

Breckenridge called.

"They pronounced my death sentence when I turned 21," Holliday said, watching William reveal his winning jacks. "And here I am more than 20 years later, still living on borrowed time."

Hesitating, Breckenridge glanced over at Holliday. "A borrower always has to repay with interest," he commented, arching his eyebrows. "Normally I wouldn't show a losing hand, but I thought you should see this."

He turned over his five cards and spread them out on the table, revealing two black eights and two black aces, Hickok's so-called 'dead man's hand.'

"And you even have the five of diamonds kicker," Holliday said. "Imagine that."

William reached to scrape in his winnings. "I thought it was the nine."

"Depends on whom you ask, I suppose," said Holliday, his eyes darkening. "History belongs to the victors, and Hickok cannot speak for himself." He shuddered. "I feel like a goose has walked across my grave."

"I write novels," William blurted out, staring at Holliday's pale face. "I wrote one about Jesse James and one about Billy the Kid."

A smile broke over Holliday's thin face. "And now you want to write one about me?"

William nodded. "Or maybe about Wyatt Earp."

"Wyatt's life would make a better 'penny dreadful,' as they call them in England. He's still around to continue his exploits."

"Of course your death would sell a lot of books," said Breckenridge. "William's publisher would profit."

"Good point," Holliday agreed.

"I used to read the stories to Mark. Especially when he got real sick. And when I ran out of books, I made 'em up myself. Later I decided to write 'em down."

"Where did you learn to write?" Breckenridge asked, passing the deck to William for the deal.

"From reading. I never had much schoolin', but we had lots of books around the house, and both Ma and Pa read to us and forced us to learn our letters. She brought a lot of her things west when we moved, and I remember thinkin' it was silly to make room for all those books. But later I was glad." William's eyes fixed on the felt of the table as his focus returned to the ranch house in Arizona. "Ma used to work with me on my hand, tracing lines on paper. When I was old enough they let me save up and buy a few dime novels and I read them over and over."

"That's the most you've said in two weeks," Holliday remarked. He learned forward and leveled his gunfighter's gaze at William. "Do you write the truth, or do you make it up?"

William cut the cards and started to shuffle, showing the same talent with his hands that Holliday had exhibited earlier. "I went to Lincoln County and talked to Pat Garrett myself. He wrote his own book, but nobody much wanted to read what he had to say, since he shot the Kid in the dark."

"And what did you write about Billy Bonney that hadn't already been said?" Holliday asked.

"I wrote that the Kid got away, and that Pat Garrett shot somebody else and buried him in a hurry, pretending it was Billy."

"A popular sentiment, I'm sure," mused Holliday.

"Well, they sold a lot of copies, and they asked me to write another. That's when I went to Missouri to learn more about Jesse James."

"I hope you didn't claim Jesse James escaped the assassin's bullet," said Holliday. "That back-shooting bastard Bob Ford wouldn't appreciate it much."

"I talked to him, too," William said. "I asked him exactly what it felt like to shoot Jesse. He claimed he didn't remember."

The large player piano across the room came noisily to life and Holliday shuddered again. "It's been years since I heard decent music," he complained. "I used to play myself."

"I wonder what Pat Garrett thought about your story," Breckenridge said, picking up his cards and fanning them out in one hand.

William shrugged. "I just had a feeling that Garrett couldn't have killed the Kid. There was somethin' between those two." He faced Holliday with the deck. "Your bet," he reminded him.

"Ah. The dynamic tension that sometimes builds between two men, that kinship closer than blood and more intimate than marriage," said Holliday, sifting several chips between his fingers before nimbly tossing one in the pot. "They say Pinkerton felt the same for Jesse James, that he actually let him escape from that prison train. The old man didn't last long after Jesse died." He sighed. "It's a thing most common folk can never understand."

"How about you, Mr. Holliday? Do you understand it?" Breckenridge asked, matching Holliday's bet.

Holliday smiled. "You'd have to ask Wyatt Earp that question. Although I doubt you'd get an honest answer. Wyatt sometimes prefers to deny himself that which he wants most, to try to be something he thinks he should be, not what he really is."

William offered cards around the table, taking one himself to try to finish an open-ended straight. "I've seen it. What you're talkin' about."

"Have you?"

Sticking the unseen fifth card in the middle of his four, William rearranged them slowly, face down, until the draw card was on the top of the stack. Then he turned his hand and opened it, one card at a time, watching the five, six, seven and eight appear. And then the final card, the new card, a nine.

"Yes. Ben Wade. I saw it with him," William said.

Holliday threw away his hand. He had also drawn one, but had clearly gone wanting. "Yes, you're talking about Charlie Prince. I met him in Dodge City some years back. He was already attached to Wade then. An excellent shot and an infamous bum-boy."

William shook his head, calling and raising Breckenridge's bet. "I wasn't talking about Charlie. I watched Wade kill him. I was talkin' about my pa."

Breckenridge put down his cigar and took another sip of whiskey. "This boy is cleaning me out," he said.

Showing his surprise, Holliday said, "Your father rode with Ben Wade?"

"My pa put Wade on the train from Contention to Yuma Prison back in '84. He was workin' for the railroad. Charlie Prince gunned Pa down in the train yard, and Wade shot up his whole outfit. Then he got on the 3:10, but he escaped before the train got to Yuma."

"What was your father's name?" Breckenridge asked.

"Dan Evans."

"I remember reading about him in the San Francisco Chronicle," Breckenridge said. "The one-legged rancher from Arizona."

"That was Pa. He lost part of his leg in the war. Then he married my mother and they got a farm in Massachusetts. We came west because of Mark."

Studying his hand, Breckenridge said, "I'll check. I have a feeling you've gotten lucky again."

William laid down his straight and Breckenridge gave a small snort.

"Had Ben Wade made it to jail, your father would have been a hero," Holliday said. "Although I have to admit, Wade's a popular fellow."

"My pa was a hero," William insisted, emphasizing the 'was.' "He was on his own with Wade. Everyone else gave up. It was the whole damn town against him, with Wade's gang shootin' up the streets."

"Maybe you should write a book about him," said Holliday quietly, tapping the deck with one finger. "Make him famous."

"He wouldn't want that," William said.

Holliday's eyes looked rheumy. "It must have been quite a trick, getting Wade on that train, if he felt the way you say. Perhaps that's a better story, even if it can never be told."

Standing up and stretching, William said, "I need a piss."

"I think I'm finished for the night," Breckenridge said. "Perhaps we can reconvene tomorrow."

"I believe I'm finished forever," said Holliday, holding a hand with a hanky over his mouth as he coughed up a clot of blood. Drops of perspiration appeared on his forehead as he fumbled for his cane. "Could one of you help me to my room?"

William and the tall financier got Holliday to his feet, dragged him out of the gambling parlor and nearly carried him up the two flights of stairs to his corner room in the large hotel. William helped Holliday undress, staring in familiar horror at the skeletal sight of the gambler's chest, alarmed by the sores that stood out on the pale skin. They pulled a freshly laundered nightshirt over the frail man's head and made him as comfortable as they could. Breckenridge found the laudanum Holliday said was secreted in the drawer by the bed. Holliday swigged the medicine straight out of the bottle, then sighed.

"That's better," he said hoarsely. "Thanks."

"I'll get a doctor," William said.

"Will you send a wire for me? I think my lady friend, Kate Horony, is in Leadville or perhaps in Redstone. And Wyatt might be in Denver. I saw him there last year."

William nodded. "I'll be back with the doctor, and I'll telegraph anyone you say."

Breckenridge followed William out of the bedroom. He reached in his jacket pocket and took out a long leather wallet. "Here," he said, pulling free several bills. "You should see about the Sanitorium. It's up from the river, just outside town where it's quiet. This will pay for his care."

"Why would you pay?"

"Why not? I have the money. Just tell him his friends sent it."

"Thanks, mister."

"And write that book."

"About Doc?"

"No. About your father."

The tall man walked away, and William went to search for a physician. He knew he'd have to offer some of his poker winnings or some of Breckenridge's folding money to get a doctor out of bed in the middle of the night, but he didn't care. He had ample funds, some left over from the reward his father had received from the railroad three years earlier, some earned from his writing, some from his gambling. And he had the means to make more, maybe from writing about the dying Doc Holliday.

Later, a yawning surgeon confirmed what Holliday already seemed to know, that the man didn't have long left to live.

"I think he's heard that his whole life," William said.

"Well, get him to the Sanitorium," ordered the doctor, pushing his spectacles up the arched bridge of his thin nose. "They'll make him comfortable and keep him away from smoke and alcohol. The man has acute phthisis pulmonalis, what you'd probably call 'galloping consumption'."

William thanked the doctor and paid him before stretching out on the small settee in Holliday's sitting area. He needed sleep, and he was loathe to share the bed of another victim of the condition that had finally claimed his little brother, a boy weakened by worry and ultimately by grief over the death of the father he loved. For too many nights of his life William had lain side-by-side with Mark, forced to listen helplessly to his struggles to find sufficient air. Watching his brother's suffering was just part of what had frustrated and hardened William as a young man; hunger and hopelessness had also taken their toll.

And in his search for someone to blame, William had found Dan Evans. He had shown his father the face of scorn, and only in their last few hours together had he come to realize the depths of courage and resilience in the man he had come to regard as weak and easily intimidated. At the end he had finally recognized the mettle in his father's steely face and in its reflection in the appreciative eyes of the outlaw Ben Wade. When he saw the two together in the bridal suite in Contention City, William felt like the fifth wheel on a wagon, an outsider in whatever was between them.

Still, he had watched in disbelief as Wade took revenge on the members of his own gang for the death of his father. And for a brief moment after the echo of gunfire died out across the Contention train yard, he had briefly considered taking Wade's life himself.

But he had been unable to pull the trigger. If there was something between Dan Evans and Ben Wade, wasn't there something between Wade and William, as well? Hadn't he actually once admired Wade more than his own father? Hadn't he dreamed of what it might be like to ride beside him and share his adventures?

And now the same imagination that fueled his juvenile fantasies helped William afford long rides on trains and stagecoaches, pay the rent on fine hotel rooms and furnish him plenty of good food and whiskey--and even an occasional fancy woman, which would have horrified his proper mother had she known. In less than three years he had visited many of the places he had once known only as names, places like Las Vegas, New Mexico; Tombstone, Arizona; and Dodge City, Kansas.

And it led him to men like Doc Holliday, to try to understand and to put into words what made these men worth remembering.

William slept fitfully on the small couch, dreaming of his father. He woke to a fine day, bright light bathing the modern bedroom, but he found Doc Holliday looking shrunken under his sheets. He went to his own room and quickly changed clothes, deciding he should make the arrangements for the man's care as quickly as he could. He walked to the nearby livery and hired a horse and buggy after stopping briefly to chat with the hotel manager and leave instructions to send soup and tea up to Holliday's room. Armed with earnest intentions and directions supplied by the farrier, William headed south on Grand Avenue, expertly navigating the crowded dirt streets of Glenwood Springs; he turned opposite the Roaring Fork River and started climbing the eastern slope.

It was late summer in the Rockies, and the aspen interspersed with the pine had already started to turn yellow despite the warm afternoon temperatures. William saw several deer feeding near the road, and caught a glimpse of a herd of Bighorn sheep clinging to a rock shelf higher up the mountain. His mind wandered to images of the book he wanted to write, and he was so engrossed in scenery both real and imagined that he had almost forgotten the sober reason for his trip when he turned past a copse of trees and saw the white stucco building looming ahead. A sign announced it was the Glenwood Sanitorium.

William found the office of the facility's director and relayed his mission to the middle-aged nurse who sat at the desk outside. At first the director balked at the thought of harboring the notorious gambler, but when William explained his intention of paying in advance for Holliday's care, he found that Breckenridge's bankroll proved a strong inducement to rediscovering the man's Christian charity. Ultimately it was determined that Holliday could move in whenever he needed to, assured of a corner bed in the ward that held the male consumptives, victims of the coal mines and sulfuric fumes.

The director showed William the spot, next to a sunny window and only a few feet from a stove. It was probably a good enough place to die.

Before he returned to the hotel, William stopped at the telegraph office to send messages to Holliday's friends, first the female companion with the uncomplimentary moniker 'Big Nosed Kate,' then the man whose close association with Holliday had assured the gambler's place in history, Wyatt Earp.

He tried to imagine what it would be like to meet the legendary lawman, figuring he might find out soon enough. In the meantime, William needed to make sure Holliday was comfortable and had enough medicine until someone else could take responsibility for his care.

Holliday lapsed in and out of consciousness, eating very little, greeting the frightened hotel attendants who brought his trays by drawing down his pistols, the revolver and a shiny Derringer; he survived mostly on laudanum and water. Occasionally he was delirious or just drunk from the medicine, believing William to be one of the Earps, calling him Morgan or Wyatt, asking about people William didn't know. When Holliday was sleeping soundly, William sat and scribbled at a small desk in the same room, writing from memory the tales the man had recounted during their time together, filling page after page with colorful anecdotes. When Hollilday woke, William found himself a barely adequate nursemaid, able to do little more than hold the sick man's teacup, plump his pillows, wipe the perspiration off his face and empty his bedpan. With the help of an accommodating hotel maid he was able to change Holliday's sheets and nightshirt.

After a few days William worried he wouldn't be able to wait for someone else to make the decision about sending Holliday to the hospital. He hadn't received an answer to any of his wires.

When Holliday was lucid he asked William if he could dictate a letter to his cousin Mattie, the one relation that still seemed to matter to the Georgia native. Martha Anne Holliday was now Mary Melanie of the Sisters of Mercy in Atlanta. "I promised her I would turn to the Church of Rome before the end of my days," Holliday said, "so I suppose I must find a priest somewhere in this benighted town."

The correspondence was almost painfully personal and insightful, though it meandered and wavered as did the sick man's thoughts and voice. Holliday was preparing himself for death and saying goodbye to one of the few people he loved, and William felt like a trespasser in the true life of someone he planned to novelize.

One evening in mid-September William had fallen asleep at the desk, his face resting on the paper, smudging his cheek with black ink. The sound of Doc Holliday's voice woke him; the man was talking normally.

William turned quickly to see a tall figure at the side of Holliday's bed. "You look good, Doc," he said, "for a dead man."

"I look terrible, and I smell worse. I don't believe I've had a bath in a week."

"I hope you're not asking me to give you a bath, Doc. You know how I hate that fancy soap you use."

At William's noisy intake of breath, the man glanced his way. He had a strong face, smooth and tanned, with fine features and a sweeping mustache; he was smiling, but his clear blue eyes were narrow with concern.

Of course it was Wyatt Earp.

"This must be the young man who wired," Earp said. "W. Evans?"

"William."

"You've done a good job watching after Doc, William. I'm sure he appreciates it."

"Oh, William's a good lad, and an excellent poker player. You should give him a game, Wyatt." Holliday said, adding, "Hand me my medicine, will you?" William pointed to the bottle near the bed, and Earp picked it up and pulled out the stopper.

"Here, Doc. There's plenty."

Earp's face was grave as he watched Holliday struggle to swallow the laudanum; William could only imagine the change in the man since Earp had last seen him, remembering what it had been like to watch his brother Mark slowly waste away.

When Holliday had drifted off, Wyatt Earp picked up his hat and pointed to the door, indicating William should follow him out.

"I watched a woman kill herself with that poison," he said.

"Was she his woman?" William asked, wondering what had become of Kate.

"No. Mine. I drove her to it, I suppose."

"This is the first time he's spoken today," William reported. "Sometimes he doesn't know me."

"He's been worse off before and come back," Earp said. "Don't count Doc out yet."

William didn't answer, wondering if the will of Wyatt Earp would work a miracle on John Henry Holliday.

"I think I'll go to my own room and leave you alone with him. You must have a lot to talk about."

"Did he tell you we argued?"

"No."

"He's a stubborn man. He made himself sicker helping me out after Morgan was killed."

Pausing, William said, "I'd like to hear about it. Can we have dinner tomorrow?"

"By then I'll be hungry enough to eat a horse! I'll meet you downstairs at noon."

When Earp walked into the noisy dining room the next day, the curious diners craned their necks and hushed their conversations. In his tall hat and long jacket, he was an imposing enough figure to get attention, even without a badge or gun belt. The writer in William instantly imagined the man on the streets of Tombstone, flanked by three equally impressive gunmen, one of whom was a dangerously healthy Doc Holliday.

Earp removed his hat and took a seat near William, nodding at a waitress holding a decanter of thick, black coffee. He sighed. "I was hoping to get Doc out of bed today, but I don't think that's going to happen."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. You did me a big favor sending me word in Denver. I owe Doc my life, more than once. I want to be here for him."

After ordering steak and eggs, the two talked about the best course of care for Holliday. Earp was resistant to moving his friend to the hospital, worried it would undermine his spirit. William tried to reassure him about the clean, airy condition of the ward he had seen, but Earp wasn't convinced.

"You don't know Doc like I do. He'll give up in a place like that."

William suppressed the urge to say it might be time for Holliday to give up. He knew what Mark had suffered near the end.

Launching into a story about the first time Holliday had intervened in one of his deadly encounters, Earp managed to instantly captivate the young author. William wished he had a tablet for scribbling notes as Earp talked, and he couldn't help noticing that several nearby diners seemed equally interested.

"William! How is everything?"

The voice was deep and familiar, and William wrested his attention from Wyatt Earp to look up at his recent gambling companion, the man named Breckenridge.

William scrambled to his feet. "It's good to see you, sir. Might I introduce Mr. Wyatt Earp?"

Earp also rose, standing eye to eye with the tall financier.

William watched as Breckenridge sized up the frontier lawman. "Scott Breckenridge, Mr. Earp," he said, extending his hand. "It's a pleasure."

"Mr. Breckenridge. Can you join us?"

Breckenridge, impeccably dressed in a black suit and brocade vest, shook his head. "I'm sorry, no. I'm on my way to a meeting at the bank." He glanced at William. "I've decided to help finance Walter Devereux's venture. Together we'll make Glenwood Springs the 'hot springs of the Rockies.'"

"Good for you, sir."

"Watch what you tell our young novelist, Mr. Earp. He says he writes the truth." After a few words of good wishes for the health of Doc Holliday, Breckenridge smiled at William and exited the dining room.

"Novelist?" said Earp, cocking a brow at William.

"Yessir. I write dime novels."

"Are you writing one about Doc?"

William nodded. "I guess I am."

"Then I guess you and I have a lot to talk about."

On October 5, 1887, three weeks after Earp's appearance, Glenwood Springs celebrated the arrival of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. William and Earp walked the three blocks to the new depot, nodding at familiar faces as they went, nearby shopkeepers they had both come to know, dealers from several of the town's gambling establishments, and the manager of the Hotel Glenwood, a Mr. Cutter, who had been solicitous in Holliday's constant care. At the station they nodded across the crowded street at Scott Breckenridge who stood next to a serious looking, bearded man that could only have been Walter Devereux. The assemblage let out a cheer as the first train pulled into sight.

Glenwood Springs, Colorado would never be the same.

William found it ironic that this was the same railroad Doc Holliday sided against some years before, when he had joined legendary Dodge City sheriff Bat Masterson and a group of other gunfighters on the side of the Santa Fe Railroad in a territorial 'frog war' against the D&RG. The railroad companies' competition for real estate was something William understood only too well; his family's ranch near Bisbee had been targeted by the Southern Pacific as it stretched it's iron tentacles across Arizona, and it was the same story he heard again and again when he was traveling through Clay County, Missouri, talking to the farmers about their homegrown vigilante-turned-outlaw, Jesse James.

Nonetheless, rail travel was serving the West, making it less wild and more worthwhile, both as a center of commerce and a potential place to settle. William's mother was doing well with the Evans' family ranch now that the Southern Pacific served the area, having hired a foreman and another hand to help with the work. And although he couldn't ever imagine returning to ranch life, William finally appreciated the sacrifices his father had made to keep from losing his land.

After hours of standing drinks for several of the town's leading citizens, a slightly tipsy William Evans rejoined Wyatt Earp in the room the man now shared with Doc Holliday. He carried with him a thick sheaf of papers, the results of his weeks of work--pages of adventurous tales of the dentist-turned-gambler, colored by Earp's own fond recollections of the complicated man. Earp sat on the sofa outside Holliday's bedroom, hungrily devouring William's story. When he finished more than an hour later, he looked at William with earnest eyes.

"If only I could write like this!" he said in an enthusiastic whisper. "I'd give the story to Doc as my gift. We have to move him to the hospital soon, and I'm afraid it will kill him."

William nodded. "I want you to do just that. Give Doc the story. Put your name on it."

"Really?"

"Yes. With your name on the book, everyone will want to buy it. They'll know the truth--your truth--about Doc Holliday."

Earp's eyes bore into William--the clearest, most forthright eyes he had ever seen, eyes that had stared down the barrels of dozens of deadly firearms during countless confrontations--and it was difficult not to shrink from them and look away. The tall man stuck out his hand, taking William's and shaking it firmly. "It's a bargain, William. I'm in your debt, and it's one I can't pay. I'm completely tapped out."

"That doesn't matter, Mr. Earp. I've got all I need. The book will make you enough money to go wherever you want once . . . once he's gone."

"I wish we could get it published while Doc can see it."

William picked up the pages and started to arrange them. "Now that the train is running, I'm going to Denver. My publisher has an office there. I bet they can have it typeset and ready by the end of the month."

The next day William said goodbye to Doc Holliday, knowing there was a good chance the man would be dead by the time he returned; Wyatt Earp was preparing to transport Holliday to the Sanitorium, and the invalid was uncharacteristically reticent, seemingly resigned to his fate.

As William turned to leave, his packed bag in hand, Holliday said, "I won't forget you William. You're a daisy." William smiled and took his hand, knowing Holliday had paid him a real compliment. Then the sick man started to cough and Earp reached for the laudanum, shooing William out of the room.

William's mission took longer than expected. Even though the publisher loved the story, there were complications both legal and technical with printing the book; for a while it looked as if Wyatt Earp's name would not end up on the frontispiece. After several telegrams between Denver and Glenwood Springs and subsequent days of negotiations, the paper was loaded in the press, which promptly broke down. The young author paced the streets and haunted the saloons of Denver, fighting his frustration.

It was early November when William finally faced the circuitous 150-mile train trip back to Glenwood Springs with the first copies of a new novel safely shut inside his valise. His heart started to pound when he caught sight of the sprawling town nestled in the confluence between two rivers.

William pulled his hat down tight and ran from the station to the hotel, clutching his bag, anxious for news about Holliday and Earp, unsure if the former was still alive and the latter was still in town. The weather had changed in his absence; the air had a brisk bite, and William was happy to hurry inside when he reached 7th and Grand. Entering the cheerful lobby he caught sight of a copy of Glenwood Springs' newspaper, the 'Ute Chief,' lying open on the counter; he grabbed it up and scanned the front page while he waited for the hotel manager, Mr. Cutter, to finish with a customer.

Cutter discreetly ignored William's florid cheeks and assured him that Holliday was reportedly still hanging on in the Glenwood Sanitorium; Wyatt Earp had returned from his daily visit up the mountain a few hours earlier and was taking supper in the dining room. William didn't wait to register and unpack; he pulled the novel out of his suitcase and hurried to find Earp, threading his way through the tables in the crowded room.

Earp was finished eating, enjoying a cup of coffee and picking at a piece of apple pie. Without ceremony William dropped the small publication next to Earp's plate, unaware of the flush on his face or the satisfied grin splitting his usually serious expression.

Wyatt Earp sat speechless, picked up the novel and thumbed through it. He looked up at William. "I could kiss you, boy!" he said. "You got here just in time. I don't know if Doc can last another day."

"He has to now. So he can see the book."

Earp placed the publication back on the table and stared at the cover. It read, 'My Friend Doc Holliday by Wyatt Earp.'

"This is a very special thing you've done, William. I won't forget it," Earp said.

The pleasure on Wyatt Earp's face was William's payment for his work. The thought that no one would ever know of his involvement in the project didn't matter a damn; he hadn't felt as satisfied since he joined his father and that fateful posse on the road to Contention City in 1884, getting the drop on Ben Wade himself.

"Be sure you give it to him tomorrow," William told Earp. Then he picked up his bag and went out to the front desk to register.

"We're glad to have you back, Mr. Evans," Cutter said as William wrote his practiced, sweeping signature in the hotel ledger.

"Thank you, sir. I'm glad to be back."

He hurried upstairs to his own room on the back side of the hotel, oblivious to the fact he hadn't eaten in hours, driven by youthful intensity and nervous energy.

Entering the quiet bedroom, William illuminated the lamp over the small desk and unpacked his paper, pen and inkwell; from his valise he pulled out a tablet that held the outline of his next novel, something he had started working on in Denver while he waited for the Holliday book to be printed. Then he tossed his hat on the bed and kicked off his boots, sitting down on the straight-backed chair, opening the tablet and dipping his pen in the dark ink.

He started to write.

"Dan Evans knew it was only ten more miles to Contention City, but it seemed more like a hundred."

{fini}


EPILOGUE: John Henry Holliday died on Tuesday, November 8, 1887. In the movie Tombstone, Wyatt Earp put the novel 'My Friend Doc Holliday' in his hand on the day of his death. In the story, William manages to give it to Earp the day before. In reality, there was no such book.

Most accounts say Wyatt Earp was nowhere near Glenwood Springs the day Doc died; he was living in San Diego, California. Josephine, Wyatt's wife, wrote that she and Wyatt visited Doc on the day before he died, but most discount her claim. Some say Big Nosed Kate was with Doc when he died; others say she wasn't. In the movie, we don't see her there, and since Wyatt supposedly didn't like her much (jealous, perhaps?), that makes sense.

The character Scott Breckenridge would probably have been in his mid-to-late 40s by 1887, but since there's nothing to really say how old he was when he was on Big Valley, it doesn't seem to matter much. I've always wanted to set him in a story near Breckenridge, Colorado, so this is it.

With a story this long, it's hard to believe that there were details I wanted to include but left out, but there were. I'll save them for another time, hopefully.
 
 
 
M'lyn: 310 to Yuma Benmlyn on October 25th, 2009 08:07 pm (UTC)
Fantastic story. I love the historical details and the richness of the world around the characters. Thanks for a good read.
Mistress Marilyn: Doc-novelmistressmarilyn on October 31st, 2009 10:55 am (UTC)
Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.