Wild Bill Hickok was the most recognized celebrity in the West. A gunslinger for hire who took the jobs most reputable lawmen wouldn’t go near, his exploits became the stuff of dime store novels, newspaper articles, and tall tales told around a campfire.
He was a tall man who wore a long, grey coat over his fancy suit. His prized possession was his hair. It too, was long and it flowed far past his shoulders. No pony tail. He just let it hang naturally. A compliment might have been that it made him look like a noble lord, though his personality did not reflect that premise. An insult might of been that it was a womanly style, but no one in their right mind ever insulted Wild Bill.
There are many theories on why he wore such a large, wide-brimmed hat. Some say that he was so hot that his head needed the extra shade. Others opined that he was so quick on the draw that it was only sporting to make himself more visible to his opponents.
Or, maybe he just really liked enormous hats. Whatever it was, it was a secret he kept to himself.
Like any celebrity, he had his own entourage. These men weren’t just hangers-on. They were the gunmen that Bill had long trusted to watch his back.
On Bill’s right was Jack Vermillion. He preferred to be called “Texas Jack” but some called him “Shoot Your Eye Out Jack.” That nickname was self-explanatory. He had a penchant for shooting the eyes of bad men out. He felt it sent a message to evildoers across the West that he was looking for them.
Jack never smiled. His face was one of perpetual anger. All day long. Night too. Too much time spent thinking about the gruesome acts he had to commit during the Civil War. He’d been a cavalry man, and though he wore plain, grungy clothes, he still wore his saber on his hip to prove that he’d once been somebody.
The man to Bill’s left was John “Turkey Creek” Johnson. His friends just called him Crick. Earlier in his life, he’d been a lawyer and an accountant but found that shooting men for a living was a more respectable and less stressful career. His mustache was pencil thin and he always wore a snappy suit.
Wild Bill was more than just a celebrity. He was, in fact, a superhero. He had the power to bullet anywhere. He did it with a pair of 1851 Colt Navy Model revolvers. Custom made, they featured ivory grips and had his name etched onto each handle.
Like any superhero, he had his fans. As he and his compadres walked through Deadwood, a ten-year old mop topped boy ran up to him.
“Will you do it, Bill?” the boy asked. “Huh? Will you, will you, will you?”
Bill smirked. The boy tossed his apple into the air. In a flash, Bill pulled his revolvers and obliterated the piece of fruit before it hit the ground.
“Wow,” the boy said.
Bill tussled the kid’s hair, then moved on down the road with his posse.
Sure, every hero has admirers, but they also have more than their fair share of detractors. There’s just something about power that makes people want to challenge it.
“You ‘aint shit, Bill Hickok!”
Bill sighed. When he stopped, Jack and Crick stopped. The trio looked to the street, where lecherous drunk Morris Ashby was slandering Bill’s good name in between belts from the bottle of bourbon in his hand.
“Killing Bill Hickok don’t make you Bill Hickok, shit for brains,” Jack shouted.
“We’ll see about that!” Morris yelled.
“How many times do we have to go through this, Morris?” Crick inquired.
Morris hiccuped. “As many times as I damn well please.”
The drunk reached for a piece strapped to his hip. He pulled it out but Bill shot it out of his hand, then shot the booze bottle, smashing it to pieces.
Morris belched. “Same time tomorrow, then?”
Bill tipped his hat and the crew was on the move once more.
“You’re going soft, Bill,” Jack said.
“Yeah well,” Bill said. “I’ve got a lot of bad to make up for and if I shoot every asshole I come across, I’ll never be let through the pearly gates, will I?”
Fans. Check. Detractors? Check. There’s one more type of person any superhero inevitably encounters on a regular basis – someone in desperate need of the hero’s special power.
A sobbing woman ran out of ramshackle house. A gruff, bearded man chased after her with his belt in his hand.
“Bitch, how many times do I have to tell you to have my breakfast waiting for me before I wake up?” the man asked.
“I’m sorry,” the woman replied.
“I’ll make you sorry.” The man raised his belt high in the air and was about to bring it down when Bill fired, opening a hole up right in the middle of his hand.
The sorry excuse for a husband dropped to the ground, screaming and clutching his wounded hand as blood sprayed all over.
Bill looked down on the man. “Next one will be through your pecker.”
Despite the excruciating pain he was in, the man felt the need to nod to Bill, thus indicating he got the message.
“God Bless you, Bill Hickok,” the woman said.
“Ma’am,” Bill said as he tipped his hat.
The trio marched onward.
“See what I mean?” Jack asked. “Soft.”
“The old Wild Bill would have at least fucked her,” Crick noted.
“You mean the young Wild Bill,” Bill said. “The old Wild Bill doesn’t have time for such distractions.”
The trio reached the Grand Central Hotel. It was a large brick building with a luxurious facade, home to many of Deadwood’s most infamous citizens.
“Who are you meeting, Bill?” Crick asked.
Bill reached into his pocket and retrieved a handful of bullets. Their tips were so shiny that they gleamed in the sunlight. He loaded them into his revolver, then holstered his weapons.
“Someone you’re better off not knowing,” Bill said.
“That narrows it down to just about everyone,” Crick said.
“I’ll need you boys to sit a spell,” Bill said.
Crick and Jack looked confused.
“You going in alone?” Crick asked.
“As I said, this is someone you shouldn’t know.”
“I don’t like it,” Jack said.
“You don’t like anything, Jack,” Bill replied.
“That’s true,” Jack said.
Crick and Jack found themselves a spot on a bench on the front porch as Bill stepped inside.
In the lobby, guests walked about, lost in their conversations. They weren’t the sort of high faluting hoi poloi one would have found in the lobby of a big city hotel. Rather, they were unwashed, unhappy, and prone to arguing with one another over the most minor of insults.
Off to the left, there was Aunt Lu’s Cafe. Freed slave Lucretia Marchbanks was Deadwood’s best cook, and even people who weren’t guests of the hotel often popped in for a bite of one of her succulent dishes.
Wack. Wack. Wack. Lu stood behind the counter, bringing down a humongous butcher knife onto a slab off beef over and over again.
A surly looking customer walked past the counter and headed for the lobby.
“Sir!” Lu called out. “You forgot to pay.”
Bill didn’t like the looks of the man and put his right hand on the handle of his left revolver just in case.
“Fuck you nigger bitch,” was the customer’s response.
The man pulled out a cigar, put it into his mouth and was about to light it up when Lu’s butcher knife came sailing through the air, slicing the cigar in half before finally chopping its way into the wall.
The customer, his face filled with fright, plunked a few coins down on a table and ran for the lobby.
Lu stepped around the counter to retrieve her knife.
“Howdy Bill,” Lu said.
“Lu,” Bill replied.
Lu pulled the knife out of the wall. She counted the notches in the wood. “Shit. Fifth asshole this month to try to take advantage of my delightful nature.”
“No man can resist your cooking, Lu,” Bill said.
Lu smiled. Luckily for her, all those years over a hot stove hadn’t affected her beauty one iota. She drummed her fingers over Bill’s chest.
“That what brings you here, Bill?” Lu asked. “To get things cooking?”
Bill grinned. “Would that it were, but duty calls.”
Lu pouted and walked back around the counter. “You’re no fun, Bill Hickok.”
Bill surveyed the room. All the customers seemed happy. Normal. Then Bill noticed him. In the back corner, a timid man with a face full of pock mark scars sat alone, staring off into nothingness.
“He been here long?” Bill asked.
“Him?” Lu asked as she pointed at the man with her knife. “Creepy little man. Came in before dawn.”
Bill knocked his knuckles down on Lu’s counter. “You’re a peach.”
“About time someone realized it,” Lu replied.
Bill swaggered to the back of the room and stood over the man’s table.
“Jericho?” Bill asked.
“Mr. Hickok,” the man said. His voice was soft and sullen.
“Let’s move,” Bill said.