Tag Archives: wild west

BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – The Wild Bunch (1969)

Guns, titties, and the most gruesome Wild West shootout to ever be caught on film.

BQB here with a review of “The Wild Bunch.”

The Old American West was a villain’s paradise.  There were trains to rob and banks to stick up but little to no law enforcement presence to get in the way.  The Feds just had not invested enough to bring law and order to a lawless land.

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By the early 1900s, that all changes.  The West has become more established.  The government has put up the money and built up enough infrastructure to keep hoodlums at bay.

That’s good news for the Godfearing folk but bad news for Pike (William Holden) and his sidekick Dutch (Ernest Borgnine) who head up a murderous band of cutthroat killers known as “The Wild Bunch.”

These aging gunslingers are relics.  Dinosaurs even by early 1900s standards.  Cars are replacing horses.  Railroads are given more protection and a gunslinger with a six-shooter is no match for an Army man with a machine gun.

In short, the black hat Old West villains are being put out of business but as Pike and Dutch hope, not before they make off with one last score.

These crooks have one in mind.  They hope to rob a train load of guns to sell to a corrupt Mexican general.  However, there are tensions between the gang and Mexican forces that look like they might turn bloody.

Meanwhile, Harrington, a railroad company boss, has sprung Pike’s ex-gang member Thornton (Robert Ryan) to lead a band of yahoos that have dispatched to hunt Pike and his cronies down.  The stakes are high for Thornton as he has been told in no uncertain terms that if he fails to catch or kill Pike, he’ll be sent back to prison.

I have to be honest, I’ve heard about this movie for years and finally found the time to watch it.  I didn’t like, not because it’s a poorly made film.  The action scenes are very well choreographed and the overall message is clear – this is a time when the gunslinger’s days were numbered.

It’s never quite said outright but it is said symbolically.  Pike is a coldblooded killer who lives only for money and is willing to murder to get it.  Gunslingers looked their victims in the eye and knew it was highly possible that their victims might get the drop on them, shooting them before they can get a shot off.

Meanwhile, as Pike and his boys rob a bank, there are a group of kids having a good laugh as they watch a scorpion being devoured by ants and later, they set a fire that burns the ants and the scorpion.  What’s the interpretation?  Men like Pike looked their victims in the eye and watched them die.  Hard but at least there was that buffer – i.e. a man had to be a real son of a bitch to be a killer so hopefully more moral minds would prevail to keep the whole word from erupting into chaos.

However, these bug burning kids would go on to become the World War II generation, inventing contraptions and weapons of mass murder that could be dropped with the flick of a button without having to look a victim in the eye.

When you have to look that victim in the eye, you must really want to kill them.  If you don’t have to look them in the eye, mass killing on an epic scale becomes easier and that’s no good for the fate of the world.

I lost my point.  So while the film carries that important message, I didn’t like it because the characters just were not likable at all.  Pike and Dutch are miserable pricks who’d kill their mother if she swallowed a nickel.  They’re old buzzards with no redeeming qualities and there’s nothing to hope for in them.  You can’t root for them because you know if they win  they aren’t going to become nice people.  They’ll just continue to be miserable, booze soaked, prostitute banging pricks.

Worse, the final scene is, as far as I know, considered to be the must violent in Western history, perhaps even in movie history.  In the midst of it all, Pike calls a woman a bitch and shoots her dead.  Dutch grabs a prostitute and uses her as a human shield, allowing her to take bullets meant for him.  Both men prove themselves to be utterly horrible and you just hope that the Mexican Army takes them out quick and puts them out of their misery.

I do think that was the point of director Sam Peckinpah.  If the early 1900s meant the end of the gunslinger era, then the late 1960s meant the end of the whitewashed, happy go lucky cowboy films of the 1950s.  No more John Wayne saying “Howdy pilgrim.”  No more Gene Autry singing songs and playing the guitar.  No more shoot-outs were everyone misses because here, shots cause bodies to gush blood.  The Old West villains were bad people who took advantage of a bad situation to do bad things and Peckinpah is showing them in all of their terrible glory, warts and all.  They were not to be revered but rather, to be reviled.

Also, and perhaps this is a spoiler but so be it, throughout the film, the idea of a final showdown between Thornton and Pike, i.e. a grudge match between two ex-gang members, is built up and then it never happens.  Seems kind of lame.

STATUS:  Shelf-worthy because it shows the grittier side of the Old West.  Technically not shelf-worthy because I didn’t like the main characters although I believe that was the director’s point.

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Remember the Zombamo – Chapter 12

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In the middle of the Mississippi River, a sandbar arose from the water. It wasn’t quite large enough to be considered an island, but it formed a long, straight line and thus had been the spot of choice for southern duelists for over a century.

Bowie stood on the bar and pulled a rowboat ashore. Dr. Maddox squinted as the sun beat down upon him. The old man poked his cane into the sand and once he was assured of steady ground, he stepped out of the boat and onto shore.

“An obvious trap,” Dr. Maddox said. “This far out of the public eye, Wright will be free to engage in all manner of chicanery and yet still proudly proclaim himself the unsullied victor.”

Wright and the Blanchard brothers, Marvin and Chester, walked over to greet the new arrivals.

“I’m surprised you showed, Mister Bowie,” Wright said.

“I was hoping you wouldn’t, Wright,” Bowie replied as he chewed on a wad of tobacco. “Shame to have another dead man on my conscience. I get so little sleep as it is.”

The Blanchards were a pair of skinny looking reprobates. Dirt beards. Missing teeth. Though they looked as though they had forgotten to bathe for years, they did remember to bring their pistols.

“What’s the deal with these two snakes?” Bowie said. “I only brought a second because I didn’t know there would be thirds.”

Wright slapped Marvin on the back. “Mister Marvin Blanchard shall be my second. He and his brother are inseparable and Chester is here merely to observe.”

“The whole point of a second is to observe,” Bowie said. “You get two men to make sure shit is fair and I only get one?”

The sheriff snickered. “I’m sure Dr. Maddox makes up for this discrepancy with the vast experience he has incurred through his advanced age.”

Maddox smiled and nodded, then put his arm around Bowie. “Yes, yes. Let us make fun of the old man. Pardon me sheriff, a moment with my colleague if you will.”

“Take your time,” Wright said. “I dare say Mister Bowie doesn’t have much of it left.”

Wright and the Blanchards laughed as Maddox prodded Bowie to step out of Wright’s earshot.

“Walk away from this,” Maddox said.

“Don’t start that bullshit again,” Bowie replied.
“Tell me, do the Blanchards strike you as proper gentlemen?” Wright asked.

Bowie looked dumbfounded, as though he’d just been told a joke but missed the punchline. “No?”

“Of course they do not,” Maddox said. “Then why are they strutting about with canes?”

“I don’t know,” Bowie said. “They’re putting on airs.”

“My boy,” Maddox said as he rested his hands on the knifeman’s shoulders. “I implore you to apologize to the sheriff, leave immediately and purge this incident from your mind as though it never happened.”

Bowie shook the old man’s hands off and marched towards Wright. “Let’s get this over with.”

Wright snapped his fingers, prompting Marvin to open up the lid of a velvet lined wooden case. Inside the box was a set of pearl handled dueling pistols.

“Heirlooms that have been in my family for quite some time,” Wright said. “Cleaned, loaded and ready for your inspection, doctor.”

Doctor Maddox took a pistol out of the box and squinted through his spectacles at it. He stretched out his arm and took aim at the water. Once satisfied, he lowered the weapon and handed it to Bowie.

“It is in proper order,” Maddox said.

“Mister Bowie,” Wright said. “I assure you that the shot I too last night was a rare fluke. I am an accomplished marskman.”

“Really?” Bowie asked. “Because I got the impression that you can’t shoot for shit.”

Wright leered at Bowie. Clearly, the titled gentleman was holding back an urge to strangle the commoner.

“Yes, well,” Wright said. “It would be unsporting of me to not offer you one last chance to rectify this matter with words instead of pistols. Will you apologize to me for your vile remarks?”

Bowie made a look as though he were deep in thought. He chewed on his tobacco, then spit an odious, disgustingly brown loogie that landed at Wright’s feet.

“Can’t say that I will.”

Doctor Maddox sighed.

“Very well,” Wright said. “Shall we say, back to back, ten paces, turn and fire?”

“If you say so,” Bowie replied.

With pistols in hand, Bowie and Wright arranged themselves back to back.

Doctor Maddox stood alone. The Blanchard brothers watched from the other side.

“Count us off,” Wright commanded.

Dutiful lackey that he was, Marvin began counting. “One…two…three…”

Each man remained straight shouldered, their chests puffed out as they stepped away from one another in time.

“…four….five…six…seven…eight…”

To Doctor Maddox’s great dismay, Wright turned before the count reached nine.

“James!” the old man cried.

Bowie turned. Wright fired.

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Remember the Zombamo – Chapter 8

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Travis rode all night and all morning. By afternoon, he was thirsty, hungry, and exhausted.

None of that mattered to him. All he wanted to do was to put as much distance between himself and Claremont as possible.

Whack! Travis slapped his horse’s backside with a riding crop.

“I’m sorry, old friend,” Travis said. “But desperate times and so forth.”

Whack! Travis’ horse whinnied.

A third whack. After this one, the horse reared, kicked his front legs up into the air and bucked his rider off of his back and onto the ground.

“Damn it, Montague!” Travis cried as he dusted himself off. “What’s gotten into you?”

Montague was a beige horse with a black mane. As Travis continued to shout various unpleasantries, the beast reared up a second time and persisted in kicking his two front legs into the air.

When the animal did so, Travis caught a glimpse of something shiny sticking in Montague’s horseshoe.

“You’ve stepped in something, boy,” Travis said as stepped over to the horse.

Montague reared up and kicked his front legs up a third time. Whatever was stuck in Montague’s shoe, it was bright and sparkly because it caught Travis’ eye a second time.

“Will you stand still?” Travis asked. “You’re being ridiculous.”

The horse whinnied. One could only assume it was horse talk for a suggestion that Travis perform an unsavory act upon himself.

Travis took out a pocket knife and unfolded it. The horse reared up again when he heard the blade snap into position.

“Oh stop it,” Travis said. “You know full well I’m not going to hurt you, you big baby.”

A different set of hooves clip clopped down the dusty trial. Travis turned his head to see a stone faced lawman with a U.S. Marshall’s star pinned to his shirt riding atop a dark colored steed.

Travis stepped towards Montague only for the horse to kick his legs up into the air again.

“Oh Lord,” Travis said as he closed his eyes and dropped to his knees. “The people of my hometown don’t believe in me. My one and only law client didn’t believe in me. My newspaper readers didn’t believe in me. In fact, between you and I, Lord, I’m not sure I ever had more than three or four readers if that.”

The marshall drew closer.

“My wife doesn’t believe in me,” Travis said. “If my children were of age I have no doubt they would not believe in me but please Lord, is it too much to ask that my horse believe in me?”

Montague whinnied.

“I guess it is,” Travis said.

Or was it? Immediately, it dawned on Travis that he’d been kneeling on the ground next to Montague for several seconds and had not taken a hoof to the face.

Slowly, Travis lifted the horse’s hoof up. Montague complied and bent his leg at the knee at an angle that allowed his owner to see what was the matter.

There it was. The shiny piece of metal jammed into Montague’s shoe. Ever so carefully, Travis dug the piece out with his knife. Once it was removed, he gently returned Montague’s foot to the ground.

“Howdy pardnah,” the Marshall said.

Travis stood up and turned around to find the lawman trotting his own horse over.

“Howdy,” Travis replied.

Travis and the marshall looked each other over for a spell, each man sizing the other up.

“Horse giving you trouble?” the marshall asked as he brought his steed to a stop.

“Eh,” Travis said. “Horses and women. Always complaining about something.”

“Ha,” the marshall said. “You’re alright.”

The lawman kicked his horse with his spurs and galloped away. “Take ‘er easy, pardnah.”

“I will,” Travis said.

Travis opened up his hand and examined the piece of metal. It was, in fact, a scuffed up silver ring with an “I” etched into it.

“Huh,” Travis said as he slid the ring onto his finger. “Perhaps my luck has changed for the better.”

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Remember the Zombamo – Chapter 5

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1831 – Alabama

William Baret “Buck” Travis was a tall, skinny string bean of a man. By the age of twenty-two, he’d worked as a teacher, a lawyer, and a newspaperman. Although these were noble professions, the young man had accumulated so much debt in pursuing these trades that he had been called into court and forced to endure the disapproving glare of the Right Honorable Judge Eugene T. Harlow.

“Goddamn it boy,” the judge said from the bench as he looked down at Travis. “You are one special kind of fuck up.”

Travis’ hair was a long, shaggy mop. His suit was a hand me down from his father and was two sizes too large, so he practically swam in it as it hanged off him.

Harlow put on his spectacles and examined a pile of paperwork. “Rent for law office space in arrears. Rent for newspaper office space in arrears.”

The judge looked at Travis. “It never occurred to you that you could be a lawyer and a newsman in the same office?”

Travis cleared his throat. He trembled as he nervously replied, “I prefer to keep my business affairs separate.”

“You took out a line of credit to start your law office,” Harlow said as he reviewed a bill. “How many clients do you have presently?”

The young man cleared his throat again. “None, sir.”

“What?” the judge asked. “Did you say ‘none’ or ‘one?’”

“I had one client,” Travis said. “He left. Now I have no clients.”

“Do I dare even inquire?” the judge asked.

“There was a difference of opinion, sir,” Travis said.

“You fucked up your client’s affairs?” the judge asked.

“More or less,” Travis replied.

“Sounds like more,” the judge said as he picked up another bill. “You took out a second line of credit to start the Claremont Beacon. I see here bills for a printing press, ink barrels, and the services of a professional typesetter.”

“It was a worthwhile endeavor, your honor,” Travis said. “The public must be informed.”

“Boy,” the judge said. “I picked up a copy of your useless rag the other day. It was one page long and didn’t inform me of a Goddamn thing I didn’t already know. You lost a ridiculous sum at that enterprise.”

“They say you have to spend money to make money,” Travis said.

“Well shit,” the judge said. “Let me know if you ever make a dime and I’ll skip to my lou.”

The courtroom was filled with lawyers, citizens, and other onlookers. They all laughed at the judge’s remark.

“You purchased slaves?” the judge asked

“Yes,” Travis replied.

“Why in God’s name would you do that, jackass?”

“Why, sir?” Travis asked.

“Boy, did I stutter?” the Judge asked. “You got a law office and a newspaper office. You don’t got any bales of cotton to pick or beans to plant and the last time I checked there aren’t any niggers who got the brains necessary to write a writ of mandamus or to pen an eloquent editorial on the political issues of the day so why would you spend money to acquire, board, and feed three slaves?”

Travis cleared his throat yet again. “A man of my high social standing should own slaves. Its customary.”

The onlookers erupted in teary eyed laughter.

“Your…” The judge paused to reflect then started again. “Your high social standing? Son, you look like you barely have hair on your pecker.”

More laughter in the courtroom.

Judge Harlow shuffled the papers, then arranged them into a neat stack. “You have incurred an outrageous amount of debt, young man. A sum so astronomical I dread to even say it out loud.”

Travis gulped.

“Eight hundred…”

The onlookers gasped.

“…and thirty four dollars.”

The onlookers gasped louder. One of them feinted.

“In all my years on the bench I have never seen someone so young bury themselves under a mountain of bills so high,” the judge said. “What disturbs me the most is at no time did you exercise a modicum of common sense and take any kind of action to reduce your expenses. You just kept borrowing and borrowing.”

Travis stood there quietly, accepting the verbal abuse.

“What do you have to say for yourself, you ignoramus?” the judge asked.

“In my defense,” Travis said. “Does it say much for the character of men who would loan an alleged ignoramus so much money?”

Laughter. Even the judge was tickled.

“I suppose not,” the judge said with a grin. “But at the end of the day, you’re the one holding the bag, boy.”

Boy.” That word stuck in Travis’ mind. “Your honor.”

“Yes?”

“I move that all of this debt be set aside based upon an argument of infancy,” Travis said.

The judge’s face turned red. “You what?”

“Infancy, sir,” Travis said. “I was so young when I incurred all this debt that I had no idea what I was doing. I…I…”

Travis looked around the room. So many eyes were staring at him. “I make the utmost proofest of this infant!”

Judge Harlow stared at Travis with a stern gaze, then laughed. Once again, the rest of the court’s inhabitants joined in.

“Oh shit,” the Judge said. “Did you just say, ‘proofest’? That isn’t even a word.”

“It is!” Travis said.

“It is not,” the Judge said.

“It most certainly is,” Travis said. “There’s an entire chapter on ‘proofest’ or the art of exhibiting proof of a claim in the eighteenth volume of Lord Barnaby Fitzwater’s Treatise on the State of Colonial Law which, as we all know, fully applies to the common law of today and I can assure you that at the time when I entered into these contracts, I was much too young to understand the severity of the consequences I was agreeing to and therefore…”

Bang. Bang. Bang. The judge slammed his gavel down until Travis shut up.

“Let me stop you right there, son,” the judge said. “Look, I understand what you were up to. Hell, there’s even a part of me that even admires your spunk. You’re a social climber and you obviously want to live some kind of well-to-do, high falutin’ high society life. Only problem is, boy, that a life like that isn’t handed to you overnight. You got to work for it. Struggle for it. Take small steps every day that eventually get you up that hill.”

Travis hanged his head low.

“You thought that by borrowing a shit ton of cash up front you’d be able to buy the respect of a forty year old man who has toiled and suffered for years while you were still in your early twenties,” the judge said.

Travis remained silent.

“I sympathize, son,” the judge said. “I damn near reckon there isn’t a man in this courtroom who didn’t bite off more than he could chew when he was young. You just bit off more than most.”

Travis cleared his throat. “Your honor, if I could make one more argument…”

The judge banged his gavel. “You may not. And that’s your problem, Travis. You’ve spent so much time with your nose in a book, learning all kinds of fancy words and ideas that you never gained any kind of experience to back up your snooty disposition. In short, you’re all hat and no saddle.”

Laughter.

Travis adjusted his collar. “I throw myself at the mercy of the court.”

The judge nodded. “And the court does have mercy. I will give you three months to collaborate with your creditors. If, by then, you have not satisfied your debts, a warrant shall be issued for your arrest.”

All the hope emptied out of Travis’ eyes as the judge banged his gavel. “Court is adjourned.”

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Remember the Zombamo – Chapter 1

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1829

Tampico, Mexico

The Spaniards had returned for what they deemed was rightfully theirs. An army of nearly three thousand men loyal to King Ferdinand approached with rifles at the ready.

Sitting atop his horse, the middle-aged Colonel Javier Arroyo peaked at the uninvited guests through a spy glass.

“Madness,” the Colonel said. “General, we have no choice but to…”

Before Arroyo could say “surrender,” his commander, the brash, young General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was off, charging his steed towards the invaders with his saber drawn, a battle cry pouring out of his lungs, and a thousand of his own men in tow.

“Dios mio,” Colonel Arroyo said as he drew his sword and pointed it at the Spaniards. “Attack!”

The air grew thick with the scent of gunpowder as shots rang out from both sides. Swords clanged. Blood was spilled, staining the soil crimson.

Before long, the Colonel and the General found themselves fighting in close proximity to one another.

“I find myself questioning your sanity, Antonio!” the Colonel cried as ran his sword through a Spaniard’s gut.

Santa Anna fired his pistol at one Spanish soldier, then, lacking sufficient time to reload, socked another square in the jaw with his bare fist.

“And I question your intestinal fortitude, Javier,” Santa Anna replied.

“My…”

The general’s sword clanged against a Spanish rapier. Parry…parry…thrust! Another Spaniard down.

“Your guts!” Santa Anna said.

“There are too many of them!” Arroyo shouted. “There’s cowardice and then there’s using the head that God gave you!”

Pow! A Spanish cannonball emerged from a cannon perched on a hilltop, tore through the air, and landed twenty feet away, causing a contingent of Mexican soldiers to erupt in an explosion of blood and viscera.

Santa Anna picked up a dead Spaniard’s rifle and fired a shot, opening up a giant hole in the middle of a Spanish officer’s head.

“Fighting to keep what is yours?” Santa Anna asked. “If you think that’s a bad idea, then you’re the one who has something wrong his head, amigo.”

Pow! A second cannonball landed. It was closer this time. Ten feet away. More blood. More guts.

Arroyo ducked just in time to avoid getting his faced smashed in with the butt of a rifle. He returned the favor by jamming his sword through his opponent’s stomach.

“I think its a good idea to live,” Arroyo said.

“And you will,” Santa Anna said. “Trust me, tonight we will celebrate by…”

Pow! A third cannonball landed less than a foot away. It exploded.

The general was on the ground. His ears were ringing. His sight was blurry.

“Antonio!” Arroyo shouted as he fought his way to his fallen leader’s side.

Santa Anna looked to his left. A bloody, shredded leg laid in the dirt. Even with all the pain and confusion, he could tell the limb looked all too familiar.

The general looked down. His right leg was still there. His left leg was not. Scraps of flesh and bone jutted out of the left side of his pelvis where his leg once was.

“Antonio?” the Colonel asked. “Antonio!”

Santa Anna’s eyes closed and he slipped into a deep, dark state of unconsciousness.

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A Note on Remember the Zombamo

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Hey 3.5 readers.

Well, I’ve done it again.

I’ve started a new story before finishing my other open stories.

Oh well.  I’ve been thinking about Zombie Western for months now, how to tie it all together and I finally decided I need to go way, way, way back in time to the early 1800s, to the Battle of the Alamo to get things started.

One thing I want to make clear – I’m lying…a lot.

You should take nothing I say in these books as historical fact.

If you read these Zombie Westerns and are inspired to look up the actual history in books written by actual historians then I’m glad.

But I am doing a whole helluvalot of fibbing just to fit everything together in a tale that is interesting to the reader.

Santa Anna, for example, is getting lied about a lot:

  • He did fend off a Spaniard invasion at Tampico but he did not lose his leg until long after the Battle of the Alamo.  He lost his real leg in a battle against the French.  He then lost his prosthetic leg while trying to retake Texas in the 1840s.
  • However, for purposes of this story, him dying in the beginning and then being brought back by a vampire seemed like a good way to begin and to introduce the readers to, “The Legion” the evil organization that commits heinous acts throughout the series.  So I rewrote history to make him lose his leg much earlier.
  • He didn’t kill Guerrero or Bustamante.  He did engage in dictatorish activity, but the scene where he kills these two didn’t happen.  I figured the presence of werewolves and vampires would have caused you to draw that conclusion but just making sure.
  • He did have a General Urrea who was a good soldier but stood up against bad things, i.e. saved some Texans from Santa Anna’s execution orders as he thought they was a violation of basic rules of war to execute opponents who have given up.  So at the start of this story I had a fiction General Arroyo and then I changed it to Urrea.  My plan is this is a human who remains loyal to Santa Anna until he can’t bring himself to support him anymore. Not sure if I’ll keep him as Urrea or perhaps I’ll avoid maligning Urrea by reverting to the fictional Arroyo.  Also, Urrea sounds like a penile disease.
  • Going forward, we’ll see the lives of Jim Bowie, William Travis, Sam Houston and Davy Crockett, what they were all doing pre-Alamo and what events led them to end up in Texas.  There will be a lot of grabbing at history and/or mythology interspersed with made up stuff to keep the story going.
  • If (when?) I publish this book I’ll make a series of posts sharing the real history and how I made it fake history so hopefully people won’t believe the parts I made up, except for the shit about zombies, because that totally happened and your history teacher was probably working for the Legion when he didn’t tell you about the zombies at the Alamo.

 

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Remember the Zombamo – Chapter 4

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December 1829

The Palacio Nacional was an astounding piece of architecture. Though by the 1800s it featured balconies, columns, porticos and other European style features, there were parts of the structure that dated back to the Aztec King Montezuma II.

But at this particular moment of history, there was no time to appreciate a fine building. Rival factions had gathered outside and violence was underway.

“Guerrero is the rightful ruler of Mexico!” cried one of the president’s supporters. “Down with the traitors!”

“Fool!” shouted a supporter of the vice-president. “Bustamante will lead us into prosperity!”

Torches were brandished. Rocks and bricks were thrown. Heads were busted. Fists flew.

A shot was fired.

“Insolent rabble!” shouted Colonel Urrea as he stepped down from his horse. “Cease this disruption of the peace and make way for the general so that he may sort out this matter at once!”

The opposing sides were ready to tear each others’ throats out over their disagreements, but they were united in their respect for Santa Anna. As the general marched up the steps in his dress uniform, the crowd gazed upon him in sheer reverence.

The general, the colonel, and Isadora entered the palace in lockstep with a dozen soldiers trailing them.

“General,” the Colonel said. “These past few months in your service have certainly been an adjustment. Your foray into the, well, for lack of a better word, ‘the occult,’ has certainly taught me many dark secrets about our world.”

“Your loyalty is has always been your greatest virtue, Colonel,” Santa Anna replied.

“Yes,” the Colonel said. “And I must admit, it has taken me some time to get used to your new ‘advisor.’”

“Isadora’s advice has proven invaluable,” Santa Anna said.

“Right,” Colonel Urrea said. “But general, you are about to walk down a path from which you will never be able to come back from.”

The general placed his hand on a doorknob. “My dear friend, why would I ever want to come back from this?”

Santa Anna opened the door and entered the presidential library, a large room with walls lined with bookshelves holding ancient volumes and dusty old tomes.

On one side of an old oak conference table sat Vincente Guerrero, the tall, dark, brooding president. Two guards stood to his left. Two more stood to his right. All four men were loyal to the smug, smarmy looking vice-president Anastasio Bustamante, who was sitting across the table.

“You have signed your own death warrant, Bustamante,” Guerrero said. “I will enjoy seeing you swing from the end of a rope.”

“Oh come now, Vincente,” Bustamante said. “You’re in no position to make threats.”

Santa Anna’s troops spread out throughout the room.

“What is the meaning of this?” the general asked.

“Ahh,” Guerrero said with a grin. “Thank God! Santa Anna, this vile dog has dared to betray the will of the people.”

“Such drama,” Bustamante said.

“I won the election,” Guerrero said as he thumped his chest with his fist. “I chose you as Vice-President to make peace with your supporters and you reward me with a treacherous coup.”

“OK,” Bustamante said. “Yes, I’ll admit you make a good case that this isn’t very democratic but sometimes in a democracy the people must be prodded in the right direction and if they’re incapable of realizing that you’re little more than a common street charlatan…”

“Enough!” Santa Anna shouted.

The general looked to the guards. “You men. You are soldiers of the Mexican Army. I gave no order for an insurrection.”

The soldiers stayed quiet. Bustamante answered for them.

“Obviously I didn’t tell you that I was planning to overthrow this gorilla stuffed in a suit…

Upon hearing that remark, Guerrero attempted to stand up but was immediately shoved back down back the guards.

“…because you might have warned him. But now that the deed is done, Antonio, you’ll have to make a choice. Him or me.”

“Yes, mi amor,” Isadora said. “Who will it be?”

Santa Anna withdrew his pistol and aimed it at Guerrero. After a few seconds of hesitation, the general moved his weapon and pointed it at Bustamante.

“Oh, fuck it,” Santa Anna said as he held out his free hand. “Colonel, your sidearm.”

Urrea was perplexed but good solider that he was, he followed orders and placed his pistol in the general’s hand.

“Stop toying with us!” Guerrero hollered.

“Yes,” Bustamante said as he pounded his fist on the table. “Who will you side with?”

Santa Anna pulled both triggers. Holes opened in the heads of both men. Their bodies slumped forward in spent heaps.

“Neither of you,” Santa Anna said as he handed the pistol he borrowed back to the colonel.

The guards who had been loyal to Bustamante drew their swords. Santa Anna looked to his troops.

“Dispatch them.”

To the great horror of Bustamante’s men, the twelve soldiers that Santa Anna had brought with them flexed their muscles and burst out of their clothing. Fur sprang out of their bodies as they grew to well over seven feet tall. Snouts, long, sharp teeth, black noses, long claws.

The vice-president’s men were instantly ripped to shreds. One of the werewolves looked towards Santa Anna.

“Search the palace,” Santa Anna said. “Round up all who sided with the vice-president. Those unwilling to pledge their allegiance to me shall be executed.”

The werewolf nodded and he and his furry brethren were off.

“I must say, Isadora,” Santa Anna said. “Had your new werewolf recruits been in my service years ago, so many battles could have been won low these many years.”

“Yes,” Isadora said. “But do not forget they are only as loyal as your pockets are deep so never neglect to pay them and you’ll find they’re worth their weight in gold.”

The she-vamp caressed the cheek of a very frightened looking Colonel Urrea. “It’s the loyalty of this one that I worry about.”

“Is she right?” Santa Anna asked.

“No,” the Colonel said. “I serve Mexico and whoever happens to be in charge of it at the moment, in good times and in bad.”

Urrea looked around the room and grimaced at the multitude of dead bodies. “I just wish there was more good.”

Santa Anna rested his hand on the Colonel’s shoulder. “That’s good enough for me, General.”

“I’ve been promoted?” Urrea asked.

“We both have,” Santa Anna said.

The trio of Santa Anna, Isadora, and Urrea left the library and exited the palace. Outside, the rabble was just as rambunctious as ever, but they quieted down for Santa Anna.

“Good people of Mexico,” Santa Anna said. “After a thorough investigation, I determined that the president and the vice-president were a duo of filthy corrupt criminals whose misdeeds are far too voluminous too mention at this time. Therefore, I was left with no choice but to pass summary judgement upon them and execute them both on the spot so that they may never trespass against this great nation again.”

Hushed whispers could be heard throughout the crowd.

“As the nation’s chief military officer, I must, though it brings me no joy and is a terrible burden, assume the position of president,” Santa Anna said. “Further, in order to bring about order in the wake of this chaotic ordeal, I am left with no choice but to dissolve the Constitution of 1824 as well as all rights and privileges listed therein until such time as I determine that order has been restored.”

Urrea leaned into Isadora’s ear and whispered. “They’ll never go for it.”

“Oh ye of little faith,” Isadora whispered back.

“I realize this will result in a great deal of power being given to one and one man alone,” Santa Anna said. “But do not fear, my friends, for I have always served with honesty and dignity and will do so as your new president. From hereon, Santa Anna is Mexico and Mexico is Santa Anna!”

The rabble was silent and then…they cheered. Claps. Hoots. Hollers. Cheers. Chants of, “Santa Anna! Santa Anna! Santa Anna!”

“Dios mio,” Urrea said.

“Tell a confused mass that you’ll solve all their problems and punish the idiots who caused them and they’ll applaud you all day,” Isadora replied.

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Undead Man’s Hand – Chapter 44

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Charlie gently patted Jane’s back as she heaved, heaved and heaved some more.

“Jane,” Charlie said, attempting to get a word in edgewise between the hurls.

“Huah…huah….bleah….ack…”

“I’m not a doctor…”

“Then shut the fuck uh…ughhhhh!”

“…but I’m pretty sure that when you throw up, its your body’s way of telling you that you’ve had enough liquor.”

“Oh, what do you know you uptight son of uh…uh….bleah!!!”

Perfect gentleman that he was, Charlie sat there, accepting Jane’s verbal abuse as she puked into the dirt.

Jane’s heavy breathing subsided. A cool sweat broke out all over her face. She sat back on the bench, sighing with relief.

“That all?” Charlie asked.

“I think so,” Jane replied. “Jesus H. Christ, a girl can’t get a little under the weather without getting a Sunday sermon around here.”

“This is more than just being a little under the weather and you know it,” Charlie scolded. “You need to drop the bottle and never pick it up again.”

Jane blew Charlie an impassioned raspberry. “Pbbbbhhht! Now you’re just talking crazy tah…ugh….ughhhhh!”

The cowgirl clutched her stomach and barfed all over the ground once again.

Charlie started rubbing Jane’s back again, only to have his hand slapped away.

“Hands off, pervert!” Jane cried.

Jane sat back and closed her eyes. “You love this, don’t you?”

“What are you on about?” Charlie asked.

“You love it when you can act all high and mighty,” Jane said.

Charlie rolled his eyes. “You know what? I’ll just leave then.”

“Oh shut the fuck up,” Jane said as she laid down on the bench. She let her hat hang down her back from the cord around her neck and crushed it with her back as she snuggled her head down on Charlie’s lap.

The businessman was pleasantly shocked.

“Don’t get any ideas,” Jane said.

“I won’t,” Charlie said. He stared down at Jane’s face. Her eyes were closed. She looked so peaceful until she spoiled it by talking.

“I mean it,” Jane said. “Keep your hands to yourself, Utter.”

“I will,” Charlie said.

“Just because in my temporarily ill state I require your doughy lap as a makeshift pillow does not mean that I am inviting you to have your way with me.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Charlie said.

“Good,” Jane said. “Because I’m not some kind of shameless hussy. And besides, you’re a married man.”

“Apparently not anymore,” Charlie replied.

Jane opened one eye. “The fuck’s that supposed to mean?”

“Louise,” Charlie replied. “She’s filed for divorce.”

Jane laughed and laughed until she grabbed her stomach to hold off the pain.

Charlie was chagrined. “Fine friend you are.”

“Well I don’t know, Charlie,” Jane said. “Here you are, poking your nose around in my personal business when you can’t even keep your missus happy.”

“‘Poking around in your business?’” Charlie asked. “That’s what you think I’m doing?”

“I do,” Jane said as she closed her open eye.

“I’m trying to keep you from killing yourself,” Charlie said. “It’s a tiresome burden that I wouldn’t wish on a dog if we’re laying our cards out on the table.

Jane’s voice grew weaker as she grew sleepier. “Land sakes alive, Charlie, you worry more than a ninety year old grandmother. ‘Granny Utter’ I ought to call you.”

Torn between his desire to dispense advice and to not get rebuked, Charlie sat there quietly for a while, enjoying Jane’s head in his lap as much as he could, given the circumstances.

“Why do you smell like a French hooker?” Jane asked.

“I beg your pardon?”

“You smell like a cat house on payday,” Jane said.

“Its cologne,” Charlie said.

“Smells like perfume,” Jane replied. “Unmanly if you ask me.”

“I didn’t ask you,” Charlie said. “And its better than smelling like…”

The mixed aroma of Jane’s festering puke pile on the ground, combined with her stank breath wafted into Charlie’s nostrils, but he caught himself before he could say anything unkind.”

“…I just like the way it smells.”

“You would you dandy,” Jane said.

Slowly but surely, Charlie reached his trembling hand down until it landed on Jane’s head. Hearing no protest from a woman who was never shy about offering it, he began to stroke his hand through Jane’s hair.

“The fuck you doing?” Jane asked.

“Oh, sorry,” Charlie said as he pulled his hand away. “My mother used to do that for me when I was sick. I thought it would help.”

“I didn’t say stop, dumb ass,” Jane said.

A thoroughly enthused Charlie continued to stroke Jane’s hair.

“But don’t get any ideas,” Jane added.

“Of course not,” Charlie said.

After awhile, Charlie asked, “Why do you do this to yourself?”

“Shut up,” Jane said.

“You have a job that you do well,” Charlie said. “You’ve got your beauty. You’ve got business partners that care about you. You’ve got your health if you’ll vow to put the cork in the bottle once and for all.”

“And I’ve got assholes,” Jane said.

“What?” Charlie asked.

“Assholes,” Jane said. “The world is full of them and they all stink. No pun intended. Wherever I go, whatever I do, there’s never a shortage of assholes waiting to tell me what to do, how to act, what to think and how to live my life. I can’t even rest on a goddamn bench without an asshole giving me his unwanted opinion about my affairs.”

Charlie sat there for a minute then perked up. “Oh, wait a minute. So you’re saying I’m an…”

Jane finished Charlie’s sentence. “…asshole. Yes.”

“Some of these um…uh…”

“‘Asshole,’ Charlie,” Jane said. “Jesus, you wouldn’t say ‘shit’ if you had a mouth full of it, would you?”

“Probably not,” Charlie said. “But anyway, some of these folks offering you their advice may have the best of intentions.”

“And some of them are just pieces of shit trying to overcome for their flaws by pointing out mine,” Jane said.

“I just don’t want you to die, Jane,” Charlie blurted out.

Jane opened her eyes and stared up at Charlie’s face, which, from her vantage point, was staring down at her more lovingly that she was used to.

“Appreciated,” Jane said. “But unnecessary. I can handle my liquor.”

“Clearly,” Charlie said.

“Well, Mr. High Horse,” Jane said. “Tell you what. If you can rid the world of every asshole in existence, then I won’t have to drink in order to avoid thinking about them.”

“That’s a tall order,” Charlie said. “Can’t you just ignore them?”

“Would that I could, Charlie,” Jane replied. “Would that I…”

Jane fell fast asleep. Charlie closed his eyes for a spell, until he remembered Bill’s request.

He nudged his compatriot.

“Jane,” Charlie said.

“Huh?” the sleepy cowgirl asked.

“We need to get you a cup of coffee because Bill wants us to meet him,” Charlie said.

Jane’s head shot up. “Bill? Bill needs me?”

“Yeah,” Charlie said. “But maybe you ought to take it slowly and…”

Jane sprang to her feet, puked once more, then collapsed on the ground.

“Oh Lord,” Charlie said.

The businessman dropped to his knees, lightly slapping Jane’s cheek to see if she was alright. “Jane? Jane?”

“Ughhh,” Jane groaned.

“Come on,” Charlie said. “Let’s get you to bed.”

“But,” Jane protested. “Bill…Bill needs me…”

“He’ll get along without you just this once,” Charlie said.

The familiar voice of the Reverend Weston Smith pierced the air as he made his way down the street.

“Sinners! Repent! Repent lest ye be judged unworthy in the eyes of God!”

“Say Reverend…”

“End your sinful ways! Reject gambling, drinking, fornication, wine, women, and song!”

“Reverend!” Charlie shouted.

The Reverend turned and saw Charlie kneeling over Jane.

“Oh Heavens,” the Reverend said. “Is Miss Jane alright?”

“Well,” Charlie said. “That question has a long answer but for now, nothing that a good night’s sleep probably wouldn’t cure. Help me get her to her room?”

“Of course,” the Reverend said.

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Undead Man’s Hand – Chapter 43

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Bill sat on a bench in front of the Grand Central Hotel, puffing away on a long pipe. He watched as the rings of smoke rose up into the night.

A friendly voice broke his concentration.

“Well, hello there,” Charlie said. “I’m sorry to stare. Can I pull up a chair?”

“Howdy Charlie,” Bill said. “Be my guest.”

“I’m glad you didn’t protest,” Charlie said as he took a spot on the bench next to his old friend.

Bill smiled. “Your mockery I detest.”

“I’m sorry,” Charlie said. “It was meant only in…”

The two compadres looked at one another then laughed. “In…in jest!”

Charlie slapped his knee and chuckled. Bill shook his head.

“Money is money, Charles,” Bill said. “There are worse ways to make it than by putting on a show.”

“Save more and you wouldn’t have to demean yourself,” Charlie said.

Bill pulled a small pouch out of his pocket. He took a few sprigs of tobacco out of the pouch, dumped them into his pipe, then struck a match to reinvigorate his smoke.

“Don’t start that, Charlie,” Bill said. “You’re not my mother.”

“I know, I know,” Charlie said. “Jane said the same thing to me this morning.”

The businessman pulled out a few bills and handed them over to Hickok.

“Speaking of, your pay for the latest ride, plus some extra because your name saved the day.”

“It did?” Bill asked as he took the money.

“Bandits,” Charlie said. “They tried to have their way with my brother and I…”

Bill raised an eyebrow. “Their way?”

Charlie nodded.

“Shit,” Bill said.

“Tell me about it,” Charlie said.

“Criminals just don’t have half the respect they used to,” Bill said.

“I blame the dime store novels,” Charlie said. “I really do. Filling their heads with all sorts of unsavory ideas.”

“I take it Jane saved you and Stephen from a terrible fate?” Bill asked.

“She did,” Charlie said. “That woman is worth her weight in gold.”

Charlie sat back and stared up at the stars.

“Something on your mind?” Bill asked.

“Huh?” Charlie replied. “No.”

“Cut the horse shit, Utter,” Bill said. “I’ve known you too long to not recognize when you’re worried about something.”

Charlie sighed. “Jane’s drinking. It’s getting worse. She’s going to kill herself if she’s not careful.”

Bill puffed on his pipe. “Then she kills herself.”

Charlie recoiled. “That’s it?”

“That’s it,” Bill replied.

“So you don’t care?”

“Of course I do,” Bill said. “But what am I supposed to do about it?”

“I don’t know,” Charlie said. “Talk to her. Make her stop!”

“I can’t make her stop drinking no more than I can make a wild mustang stop running across the plain,” Bill said. “She’s a grown woman. Smart. Resourceful. She knows what she’s doing. I dare say she even understands that for the sake of her health, she needs to stop. But she won’t until she wants to.”

“I don’t think she could if she wanted to,” Charlie said.

“Even so,” Bill said. “She’s such a free spirit that she’ll look at us as a couple of men trying to boss her around.”

“Not with you, Bill,” Charlie said. “She worships the ground you walk on. Me? She’d spit at me as soon as look at me.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” Bill said. “I doubt she’d of saved your hide as much as she has if she didn’t care about it, Charlie.”

Bill sat quietly for awhile and puffed. “Do I detect that you seem to be interested in Ms. Cannary’s well-being a bit more than usual as of late?”

Charlie blushed. “What? No.”

“Shit,” Bill said. “You’re smitten.”

“I am not.”

“Bury those feelings deep, Charlie,” Bill said. “You’re a married man.”

Charlie retrieved the divorce papers Louise had sent him from his pocket and handed them over to Bill, who perused them.

“Petition for divorce?” Bill asked.

“Yup,” Charlie said.

“What kind of an incompetent judge would go and let a woman do such a fool thing?” Bill asked.

“I’m telling you,” Charlie said. “It’s the dime store novels. They’re turning people crazy.”

“Its her loss,” Bill said as he handed the papers back to Charlie.

“No,” Charlie said. “Its mine.”

Charlie tucked the papers back into his pocket. “I don’t blame her. A husband should be there for his wife. I am not.”

“Because you’re earning a living,” Bill said.

“Because I like to pretend I’m a frontiersman while paying other people to do my dirty work,” Charlie said.

“Works for me,” Bill said as he held up the bills in his hand.

“Apparently not for Jane,” Charlie said. “She let me have it about that.”

“She doesn’t mean it,” Bill said. “She wouldn’t keep riding with you if she did.”

Charlie spent a few seconds admiring his finely manicured nails.

“We seem to be talking a lot about Jane,” Bill noted.

“Yes,” Charlie said. “Say, Bill…”

Charlie hesitated and scratched the back of his neck to buy himself some time.

“Spill it,” Bill said.

“Suppose I…that is to say…”

“You’ve got it bad for Jane,” Bill said. “And now that your wife has cast you aside like a pile of rancid garbage, you’d like to know if I’d have any qualms about you pursuing our dear colleague in arms?”

Charlie grinned. “Well…do you?”

Bill scoffed. “I’m a married man, Charles. Why would I?”

“I don’t know,” Charlie said. “I’ve always sensed that she’s sweet on you. You probably could have her if you wanted to.”

“‘Wanted’ being the operative word,” Bill said. “I don’t mix business with pleasure. If you want to, be my guest, though I doubt…”

“Oh,” Charlie interrupted. “She’d never go for me I suppose.”

“Don’t take it personally, Charlie,” Bill said. “Like I said, ‘Jane’s a mustang.’ I’m not sure any man could ever tame her, so to speak.”

“And if someone ever did tame her then she wouldn’t be her,” Charlie said.

“You got it,” Bill said.

Bill puffed for awhile longer. “Charlie, if you can win the heart of one Miss Jane Cannary, I’ll be the first to congratulate. Personally, while she’s a fine gunslinger and there’s no one I’d trust more to watch my back, she’s the last woman I’d ever want as a wife.”

Charlie nodded.

Bill checked his pocket watch, then stood up. “And now, my friend, the hour is late, there is money burning a hole in my pocket, and my poker game awaits.”

“Just can’t wait to lose it all, can you?” Charlie asked.

“You’ll never take my advice about women,” Bill said. “And I’ll never take your advice about money. How we’ve stayed friends all these years I’ll never know.”

“No one else will have us I suppose,” Charlie said as he stood up.

Bill put his hand on Charlie’s shoulder. The gunslinger’s face grew grim.

“Listen…Charles. Find Jane and meet me at Nuttall and Mann’s Saloon, will you?”

“Eh,” Charlie said. “I’ll tell Jane but you know I have no interest in poker, Bill.”

“This isn’t about poker,” Bill said. “I have very important business to discuss with both of you.”

“Business?” Charlie asked.

“A grave matter that I must share with the two of you,” Bill said. “And I need to bring Jack and Crick in on it. I need to discuss it with all of you at once.”

“Is everything ok, Bill?” Charlie asked.

“I’ll explain it all tonight,” Bill said. “One hour. Don’t be late.”

Bill left and Charlie spent some time sitting on the bench, his mind lost in his woes.

Soon enough, Charlie’s thoughts were interrupted by an obnoxious lady belch.

“Brap! Well, well, well,” Jane said as she stumbled her way toward the hotel. “If it isn’t good ole Charlie Utter, sitting around like a bump on a…

Before she could finish that thought, Jane doubled over and vomited profusely, emptying the contents of her stomach all over the ground.

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Undead Man’s Hand – Chapter 42

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“Step right up,” Mortimer shouted. “Step right up and obtain an autograph from Mr. Wild Bill Hickok for the low, low price of twenty cents! All proceeds shall be split between the Vagabond Players and Mr. Hickok himself.”

A table had been brought outside and Bill wiled away an hour schmoozing with his fans, signing his John Hancock on pieces of paper.

Jack McCall tossed back his flask and sipped some scotch as he waited in line. He looked terrible. He smelled worse. There was a voice in his head telling him that he should just go home and go to bed in order to put the miserable day he’d experienced behind him.

But he wanted his hero to sign his book first. So he waited…and waited…and waited.

Texas Jack (not to be confused with Jack McCall) and Crick stood behind Bill, their arms folded, doing their best impressions of security agents.

Merrick plunked down his twenty cents and presented Bill with an old, yellowed copy of the Deadwood Dispatch. It featured the headline, “Wild Bill Hickok Captures the Kincaid Gang.”

“A real pleasure, Mr. Hickok” Merrick said as he outstretched his head.

Bill shook it, then scrawled his name across the newspaper page with a charcoal pencil. “Uh uh.”

People young and old took their turns, meeting Hickok and getting his signature. A few ladies even propositioned him but as he’d explained to Jack and Crick earlier, he just didn’t have the time for such distractions.

Jack McCall was next. He waited as the old lady in front of him droned on and on, boring Hickok about how they were both from Illinois, peppering him with dull questions. “Have you met so-and-so? Did you know this person or that person?”

As the old gal shuffled away, Texas Jack leaned into Bill’s ear.

“You know, if you don’t cut this off, they’ll just keep coming all night…”

“I don’t want to disappoint anyone,” Bill replied.

“Up to you,” Texas Jack said. “If you want to skip poker…”

Those words got Bill. He never skipped poker. He nodded at Texas Jack.

As Jack McCall slapped his copy of “The Life and Times of J.B. ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok down on the table, Texas Jack looked over to Mortimer.

“End it,” Texas Jack said.

Mortimer nodded. “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you, thank you! It has been a lovely evening, but as you all know, Mr. Hickok is a very busy man. If you did not get a chance to meet him, he shall return to the stage next month!”

Jack McCall felt a queasiness in his stomach as if he’d just been slugged.

Throughout the course of one day, Jack McCall had been belittled by his own father, beaten to the ground in a match that ended his boxing career, and been assured in no uncertain times by the girl he loved that she’d never have anything to do with him.

And now, after waiting an hour in line, his hero was about to take a walk without signing his book.

Bill stood up. As he was about to walk away, McCall tapped him on the shoulder.

“Bill!” McCall shouted, trying desperately to get Bill’s attention. “Hey, Bill!”

“Whoa, whoa!” Texas Jack said as he slapped McCall’s hand away. “Hands off.”

“Mr. Hickok’s done for the evening,” Crick added.

“Aw come on,” McCall said. “Bill!”

Bill turned around and looked at McCall. The gunslinger grinned, stretched out his hand and then…tussled McCall’s hair as if he were a boy.

“Nice to meet you, kid.”

“Kid.” The word tore its way into McCall’s soul. He was a man, damn it. A young man, but still a man.

Bill and his boys departed. The line of people behind McCall dispersed.

And McCall just stood there, struggling to hold back unmanly tears as he watched his hero, the man whose life’s story had filled him so often with much needed hope, walked away.

“Bullshit,” McCall said as he unscrewed the top of his flask and took another drink.

McCall yanked on the front and back covers of the book until it was split in two, the binding destroyed, pages soaring in the wind as he tossed his once prized possession into the dirt.

“You ‘aint shit, Bill Hickok,” McCall mumbled under his breath.

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