Read The Doctor and the Rough Rider Online
Authors: Mike Resnick
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Westerns, #Historical, #Steampunk, #Alternative History
HEY TRUDGED ACROSS THE FLAT
, barren, featureless desert, where even the snakes and scorpions waited until dark
to come out.
“Let's stop for a rest,” said Holliday, reining his horse in.
“It's got to be a hundred and twenty degrees, Doc,” said Roosevelt. “The sooner we
get there, the sooner we can find some shade.”
“I'm a sick man, Theodore,” said Holliday. “Either I climb down for a few minutes
now, or I fall off in the next mile.”
“All right,” said Roosevelt. He pointed at a shaded outcrop a few hundred yards away.
“But let's stop
, so we can enjoy what little shade there is.”
Holliday nodded and steered his horse toward the outcrop, dismounting and immediately
sitting down on the ground with his back against a tree. Roosevelt considered hobbling
the horses, decided they were too hot to run off, then squatted down, stood up, and
repeated the process half a dozen times.
“What the hell's wrong with you?” asked Holliday, frowning.
“Nothing,” replied Roosevelt. “But I didn't get my running in this morning, and a
man's got to keep fit.”
“Just surviving in this heat ought to be enough,” said Holliday, pulling out a flask
and taking a drink.
Roosevelt shook his head. “A fit mind and a sloppy body are no better than a fit body
and a sloppy mind.”
Holliday stared at him for a long moment. “I'm surprised you didn't
here from the Badlands.”
“If we weren't operating on such a tight schedule, I might have run part of it,” admitted
Roosevelt with a grin. “How long a rest do you think you'll need?”
Holliday shrugged. “I don't know. Until I feel stronger. Why?”
“Well, I thought if it would be more than ten or fifteen minutes, I'd pull a book
out of my saddlebag and read a chapter or two.”
“Damn!” said Holliday, shaking his head in wonderment. “You are the most remarkable
young man I've ever met.”
“Surely you're not going to tell me you never read,” said Roosevelt. “Bat told me
you minored in classical literature.”
“I did,” agreed Holliday. “But I know better than to take a book along when it's a
million degrees and we're on our way to visit Geronimo in his own lodge.”
“Are you expecting trouble?” asked Roosevelt curiously. “After all, he
to see me.”
“He's seeing you in the one place he feels protected,” noted Holliday. “Remember,
he told me that the other medicine men aren't ready to lift the spell yet. They don't
figure to be too thrilled with this meeting.”
“They don't know who I am or what I'm doing here.”
“Damn it, Theodore, they're
. They can hold an entire nation on one side of the Mississippi when it wants to expand.
Believe me, they know what you're here for.”
“Tell me about them,” said Roosevelt, taking a sip of water from his canteen. “What
they do besides keeping most of us—not
, I must point out—east of the river?”
“You ever hear of Johnny Ringo?”
“Yes,” said Roosevelt. “I think he was killed about four or five years ago in Texas.”
“He was,” agreed Holliday. “The first time.”
Roosevelt frowned. “The
Holliday nodded. “A medicine man named Hook Nose brought him back from the dead, bullet
holes and all, and sent him to kill Tom Edison.”
“He obviously didn't succeed.”
“Tom had an equalizer.”
“You?” asked Roosevelt.
Holliday smiled. “He invented the equalizer.
“I'm glad I hit it off with him and Ned last night,” said Roosevelt. “I have a feeling
we may need his help.”
“That's what he's here for,” said Holliday. “The government sent him West to study
the medicine men and try to invent something to counter their magic.”
“He's turned Tombstone into a more futuristic town than Manhattan,” noted Roosevelt.
“Has he had any luck with the medicine men?”
“Minimal,” answered Holliday. “Little bits here and there, against Hook Nose and others.
But he hasn't been able to lift the spell. Hopefully Geronimo will do it for him.”
“Geronimo's the most powerful of them?”
“He'd better be, because he's going to have fifty or sixty of them opposing him.”
Suddenly Holliday smiled. “And you.”
,” Roosevelt corrected him.
“Not me. I'm just an onlooker.”
“Sure,” said Roosevelt with his characteristic grin. “That's why you contacted me
and why you're riding across the desert to Geronimo's lodge.”
“Circumstance,” said Holliday.
“We'll see,” said Roosevelt.
“A month from now I'll be checking into a sanitarium in Colorado, and living out what
remains of my life as comfortably as possible,” said Holliday.
“I don't think so,” said Roosevelt.
“Why the hell not?” demanded Holliday pugnaciously.
“Because exceptional men are few and far between. You happen to be one, John Henry
Holliday. You are capable of remarkable feats, some of them distasteful, all of them
exceptional—and it's my observation that Fate usually has plans for exceptional men.”
Holliday pulled out a fresh handkerchief and coughed into it. It came away bloody.
“Fate's played enough tricks on me already,” he said, pocketing the handkerchief.
“All I want it to do is leave me alone.” He paused. “All I ever wanted to be was a
dentist and a loving husband. I didn't plan to be a shootist, or spend most of my
adult life living with a hard-drinking madam. I could tell five minutes after I met
you that you
to be something special, that you revel in your exceptionalism.” A bitter smile.
“Not all of us do, Theodore. You want to be a mayor or a governor? More power to you.
I just want to lie in a bed and have a little less trouble breathing.”
“I hope you get your wish, Doc, truly I do,” said Roosevelt.
“But?” said Holliday. “Sure sounds like there's a ‘but’ in there somewhere.”
“But you and I are riding to meet the most powerful medicine man on the continent.
If we don't make a deal, America's stuck on the other side of the Mississippi for
God knows how many years and decades, or even centuries. And if we
make a deal, you assure me that every
other medicine man will be out to kill us.” An amused smile crossed his face. “I just
don't see how that leads to a bed in a sanitarium. An earlier grave than you anticipate,
perhaps—but not one near a sanitarium in the Rockies.”
Holliday took another swallow from his flask. “I wish you didn't sound so goddamned
sensible,” he growled, and Roosevelt chuckled.
“Have we rested long enough?” asked the younger man.
Holliday grimaced and got to his feet. “I'm tireder now than when we sat down. Might
as well try to rest on the horse.”
They mounted up and began heading south again, Roosevelt identifying every bird, insect,
and snake they saw by their scientific names. “When this is all over,” he said, “I've
love to come back and collect some specimens for the Smithsonian and the American
“They're just birds and flies, and the occasional rattler,” replied Holliday in bored
tones. “Wouldn't be the most exciting hunt you've ever been on.”
“I'm not looking for excitement,” said Roosevelt. “I've hunted grizzlies for that,
and someday I hope to go to Africa after really
game. But many of these species aren't in the museums back East, and the ones that
are have been carelessly mounted.”
“That's right. Bat said you were a taxidermist too.”
“I dabble in it.”
Holliday smiled. “No false modesty. He said you were considered one of the country's
top ornithologists and taxidermists while you were still in your teens.”
“He's being too generous,” said Roosevelt.
“Probably,” agreed Holliday, and was pleased to see a little tightening of Roosevelt's
expression when he agreed with him.
“Have you ever been to the Smithsonian?” asked Roosevelt. “I'm told you didn't grow
up all that far from it.”
“I grew up in Georgia,” replied Holliday, “and we were fighting a war with the people
who ran the Smithsonian.”
“Not by the time you got to college.”
Holliday shrugged. “I was busy learning to be a dentist, and then I was busy coughing
on all my patients, so I moved West where the air was dryer.” He snorted. “You can
see how much it helped.”
“It helped get rid of a lot of desperados,” remarked Roosevelt.
“A lot of people think
“I'd heard of you and read about your exploits,” said Roosevelt. “You've been arrested
your fair share of times, but as far as I can tell, you've never been convicted of
“True enough,” agreed Holliday.
They rode for two more hours, with Roosevelt finding fascinating things all over the
barren landscape, and then Holliday brought his horse to a stop.
“What is it?” asked Roosevelt.
“We're getting close,” replied Holliday. “I don't see them yet, but I can't imagine
he hasn't got some warriors watching us.”
“He does,” said Roosevelt. “I've seen them for the last mile. I thought you'd seen
Holliday peered into the distance. “By that boulder off to the left,” he said.
“Right. And a couple in the gully over there.”
“Damn! For a man with spectacles, you've got damned good eyesight, Theodore.”
“Comes from being a hunter,” answered Roosevelt. “You get an instinct for things that
don't seem quite right, even before you can spot what's wrong with them.” He looked
ahead again. “I assume they're just making sure we're not coming with what I think
you call a posse.”
“Yeah,” said Holliday. “When we get a little closer to the lodge,
they'll ride out and accompany us. They'll probably take our weapons, too. I'd advise
you not to make a fuss about it.”
the greatest of the medicine men be hurt by a bullet?” asked Roosevelt curiously.
“Probably not,” said Holliday. “But any member of his tribe can.”
“Ah!” said Roosevelt, nodding his head. “I hadn't even considered that.”
“That's because you've never been to his camp before.”
“How did Bat kill a warrior if he was unarmed?”
“Man pulled a knife on him,” replied Holliday. “I think he was just trying to scare
him. Bat took the knife away from him and stabbed him.” He looked off to his right.
“Six more, and they're not making any effort to hide themselves.”
A moment later they were surrounded by Apache warriors, who offered no word of greeting
or sign of recognition to Holliday as they rode along. After another mile the party
came to a stop.
One of the warriors rode up to Holliday and held out his hand, and Holliday carefully
withdrew his pistol and handed it to him. The warrior gave it to another, and held
out his hand again.
“Damn!” muttered Holliday, pulling out a Derringer he kept tucked in a pocket in his
Roosevelt followed suit, handing over his rifle and his pistol. The warrior held out
his hand for more.
“That's all I've got,” said Roosevelt.
The warrior gestured again.
“Here,” said Roosevelt, removing his coat and handing it to the warrior. “See for
The warrior examined the coat, handed it back, hopped down from his horse, and ran
his hands over Roosevelt's pants, then nodded his head. He climbed back onto his horse,
and the little party began moving forward again.
“How's that for irony?” said Roosevelt. “I just started carrying a six-gun today,
and I've already lost it.”
“They'll return it later,” Holliday assured him.
Five minutes later Geronimo's lodge came into view.
“It's smaller than I imagined,” remarked Roosevelt. “This can't be the headquarters
of the whole Apache nation.”
“It's just where he stays when he's in this area,” explained Holliday. “No one knows
where the bulk of his people live, which is probably why they're still a large and
When they reached the first of the structures, they stopped, and Roosevelt and Holliday
dismounted. One of the warriors took their reins and led their horses off.
Roosevelt frowned. “I hope they don't intend on keeping them,” he said. “I don't relish
a walk all the way back to Tombstone.”
“I thought you'd relish a run to it,” said Holliday with a smile. “Don't worry. They're
just making sure we don't leave before the negotiations are over.”
“Where is he?” asked Roosevelt, looking around.
“Who knows?” replied Holliday. “He could be one of the birds in that tree, or a snake,
or even one of the horses. He'll be Geronimo when he's convinced himself you're the
man he sent for.”
A mangy dog sauntered up, wagging its tail and panting heavily.
“Geronimo?” Roosevelt asked Holliday.
Holliday shrugged. “Who knows?”
Roosevelt squatted down and petted the dog. As he did so, he saw a burly shadow fall
across the dog. He looked up and found himself facing an imposing figure of a man,
stern and dignified.