Read The Doctor and the Rough Rider Online
Authors: Mike Resnick
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Westerns, #Historical, #Steampunk, #Alternative History
OLLIDAY AWOKE TO A COUGHING FIT
, thoroughly bloodied a fresh handkerchief before he was done, and painfully climbed
into his clothes, then walked down the corridor to the floor's only bathroom.
As he was washing his hands, he saw a bird perched on the windowsill, staring at him.
“I hope you're enjoying yourself,” he muttered.
The bird watched him silently for another few seconds, then flew off.
“OK, so you were just a bird,” said Holliday. He stared into the mirror and decided
that he needed a shave. He had gone to the local barber for a shave every day the
last time he'd lived in Tombstone, but he'd been living with Kate Elder then, and
she complained when his face had a two- or three-day growth on it. Since they'd been
living apart, he'd fallen into the habit of getting a shave only when he could see
the shadow of his beard on his cheeks.
He returned to his room, strapped on his holster, inserted his gun into it, put the
Derringer in his vest pocket, donned his hat, and walked out of his room and down
the steps to the lobby. He looked
around for Roosevelt or Masterson, didn't see them, and decided to visit the barber
before he faced any food.
He walked out into the street, decided that it was every bit as hot here as it had
been in Leadville, with the added disadvantage that the wind constantly blew clouds
of dust through the air. He began making his way down the raised wooden sidewalk,
came to a corner, crossed the street, walked another half block, and finally stopped
at the barber shop.
“Good morning, Doc,” said the barber, dusting off a chair for him. “You're up early
“Morning, Sam,” replied Holliday, sitting in the chair.
“Same as usual? Shave the face, don't touch the mustache?”
Holliday grunted an affirmative.
“You're going to need a haircut pretty soon,” continued the barber. “This'd be a bad
day for it, though. We want to get you out of here fast.”
“Why?” asked Holliday.
“Johnny Behan's due to come by in about twenty minutes, and I know you and him ain't
exactly what they call bosom buddies.”
“I've got nothing against him these days,” said Holliday. “It was Wyatt who stole
his woman, not me. And I've never minded if a man was a lying, backstabbing, black-hearted
bastard, as long as he didn't display those traits while holding elected office…and
Johnny's been forcibly retired for two or three years.”
“Well, I'm sure glad you ain't got anything against him,” replied the barber with
an amused smile as he lathered Holliday's face. “I think I'll get you out of here
before he comes anyway.”
“Suits me fine,” said Holliday. “I hate to have to look at an ugly son of a bitch
like that right before I eat.”
“Doc, if you make me laugh while I'm shaving you, I'm liable to cut your nose off.”
“This is the day to do it, Sam. I'm fresh out of blood.”
The barber held his blade at arm's length while he chuckled, and then, when Holliday
closed his eyes and leaned back, he began shaving the emaciated man, marveling that
a man in such obviously poor health could grow anything, even hair.
Holliday awoke to a finger being prodded into his shoulder.
“What is it?” he asked.
“You fell asleep.”
“Oh. Are you done?”
“Behan's early,” said the barber, pointing out the front window at the figure that
was approaching the shop. He lowered his voice. “If you're going to kill him, please
don't do it so that your bullet goes through him and shatters a mirror or he falls
through my window.”
“I'm not killing anyone,” responded Holliday. He paused briefly. “Probably,” he added.
The door opened and John Behan entered the shop.
“Well, well, look who's here,” he said, staring at Holliday. “They let just anyone
come into town these days.”
“True,” agreed Holliday. “Still, you were the sheriff until the people wised up to
you, so I suppose you might as well hang around to remind them to be a little more
careful when they go to the polls.”
“Very funny,” said Behan, who obviously was not amused.
“I'm known far and wide for my sense of humor,” said Holliday,
“Is your friend Wyatt with you?” asked Behan.
“No. He spends all his time in bed with his wife.” Holliday paused and frowned. “Come
to think of it, I believe you used to know the lady.”
“You're treading on dangerous ground, Holliday,” said Behan, pushing his coat back
and exposing his gun and holster.
“Not as dangerous as someone else in here,” replied Holliday. “I've had you covered
since you walked in here.” The cloth over his gun hand wiggled as if for emphasis.
“That's just your finger you're pointing at me.”
“If you really believe that, then you should go for your gun,” said Holliday. “Sam,
you're a witness that he was warned, and thought he was drawing on an unarmed man.”
“I don't believe you,” said Behan nervously.
“That's your right,” said Holliday easily. “A man's got to disbelieve in
Behan seemed to struggle briefly with himself, then spat on the floor. “Fuck it! What's
one more lunger in the world? You'll be dead soon enough anyway.” And with that, he
opened the door and stalked off down the street.
“Thanks for not shooting him, Doc.”
“Pull the cloth off,” said Holliday.
The barber did so, revealing Holliday's forefinger pointing at the place where Behan
had been, his pistol still securely in its holster.
The barber emitted a hearty laugh. “By God, wait'll I tell this story around town.”
“I'd be very careful about that, Sam,” said Holliday. “You're not as likely to scare
him off as I was.”
“What would you have done if he'd actually gone for his gun?”
“Killed him,” said Holliday seriously.
Suddenly the barber found his client less amusing, and went to work finishing his
“What do I owe you?” asked Holliday.
Holliday tossed him a dime. “When Behan comes back, tell him his shave's on me, and
I just wish I was holding the razor.”
Then he was out onto the arid Tombstone street. He wandered past a pair of restaurants,
wishing he could work up an appetite, finally realized he was headed toward the Oriental
and that he was going to drink his breakfast, as usual.
As he crossed an alley, he saw a squirrel standing a few feet into it, just out of
the glare of the sunlight. There weren't any squirrels in Tombstone.
” he muttered.
He considered walking straight ahead, but the squirrel knew he'd seen it, and would
just keep appearing in various guises until he stopped and found out what it wanted.
He walked into the alley, and continued walking well past the squirrel until he was
totally in the shade. At least it was minimally cooler here.
The squirrel turned and walked after him, then came to a stop when it was five feet
away and stared at him.
“You'd better not be a goddamned real squirrel,” muttered Holliday.
As the words left his mouth, the squirrel morphed into a tall, well-muscled Apache
“What does he want this time?” said Holliday irritably.
“He says if what he thinks will happen does happen, it is essential that you remain
“Here in the alley, or here in Tombstone?”
“Here. Not in Leadville.”
“You tell him that Mr. Roosevelt is singularly equipped to take care of himself, and
is younger and healthier than I am.”
The warrior closed his eyes for a moment, and Holliday got the distinct impression
that he was speaking silently with Geronimo.
“He says this has nothing to do with Roosevelt.”
“Oh, shit,” said Holliday.
But he found he was speaking only to a rapidly retreating squirrel.
OLLIDAY WAS SITTING ALONE
in the elegant bar of the Grand Hotel, drinking his lunch and playing a game of solitaire,
when Masterson approached him.
“Mind if I join you?” he asked.
Holliday didn't look up from his card. “Have a seat.”
“Ask the bartender for a glass,” said Holliday. “Unless you want to drink from the
Masterson shook his head. “Too early in the day for me, Doc.”
Holliday shrugged. “Good. There'll be more for me.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, Holliday continuing his solitaire game, Masterson
looking more and more uncomfortable. Finally he cleared his throat and spoke up. “Doc,
I have to talk to you.”
“I'm right here,” said Holliday.
“I'm thinking of going back to New York.”
Now Holliday looked up. “Why?”
“He doesn't need me. He's the most self-sufficient man I've ever
met. He's always
something. If he's not figuring out how Edison invents things, he's jogging around
the city, or reading books, or sketching birds, or practicing with his pistol, or…hell,
it makes me tired just describing it.”
Holliday smiled. “Yeah, I've noticed that about him.”
“He talks to me, because he's well mannered…but all he wants to talk about are sporting
events I've seen and shootists I've known. I doubt that he thinks of me again the
second I'm out of sight.” He sighed deeply. “He's got you riding shotgun for him now,
and I've got a job back East. I gave all this up a couple of years ago.”
“Geronimo's not going to turn you into a bat again,” said Holliday.
“I know,” replied Masterson. “That's got nothing to do with it. I made a decision
to walk out on this life, and I can feel myself getting sucked back in.”
Suddenly Holliday grinned. “Now I understand.”
“What's so funny?”
“You heard him talking about War Bonnet,” said Holliday. “And you're afraid if you
stick around a couple more days, your curiosity won't let you leave until you face
him or whatever the hell it is.”
“I repeat: everything I told you about Roosevelt is true.”
A guilty smile crossed Masterson's face. “But yeah, I'm dying to see War Bonnet.”
“I'm kind of curious myself.”
“I'm a writer now, Doc,” said Masterson. “I choose my words with a little care. And
I'm not willing to die to see War Bonnet.”
“How much worse can he be than some of the men you faced in Dodge or back in Texas?”
, Doc—and I'm still not through having nightmares about my last experience with Indian
magic.” An involuntary shudder
ran through him. “You don't know what it was like to turn into a giant bat—a giant
bat—every night at sundown, and wake up naked on some roof or balcony every morning.”
He paused again, and Holliday could see the torment on his face. “I'm torn, Doc. Part
of me wants to see this War Bonnet thing, maybe even face him, but part of me says
to leave him to Geronimo's magic and go home while I can.”
“Geronimo's magic won't work against him,” said Holliday.
“What makes you think that?”
“He said so.”
“Damn!” muttered Masterson. Then: “Well, hell, if Geronimo can't kill him, Theodore
sure as blazes can't.”
“Theodore won't be unarmed,” said Holliday.
“From what he's described, bullets, even a shotgun, would just annoy War Bonnet.”
“He won't face War Bonnet armed with just a pistol or a shotgun.”
he be carrying?” asked Masterson.
Holliday shrugged. “Whatever Tom and Ned can create for him. Geronimo's magic won't
work, but maybe Tom's will.”
“And if not?”
“Then I guess it's going to be a century or two before anyone plants the American
flag on the Pacific shore.”
“Well, at least he'll have you standing with him,” said Masterson.
Holliday shook his head. “Geronimo tells me he's got something special planned for
“What is it?”
“I don't know, but he seemed to imply that it was as deadly as War Bonnet, and more
to the point, that no one else could face it.”
“What the hell have we gotten ourselves into, Doc?” asked Masterson, frowning.
“I'm going to die soon anyway, so it doesn't make much difference
to me. But I think you've got the right idea: go back East and be a sportswriter.”
“Oh, shut up,” said Masterson. “You don't think I can leave him to face War Bonnet
alone now that I know he won't have Geronimo or you by his side, do you?”
Masterson signaled for a glass, then filled it when the bartender brought it over,
took a quick swallow, and made a face. “God, that's horrible stuff! How can you drink
it this early in the day?”
“My taste buds don't wake up 'til sunset,” answered Holliday.
“That stuff'll kill you,” said Masterson.
“It's better than what's killing me right now. Besides, I thought you were more worried
about what might kill our Mr. Roosevelt.”
“He's a very special young man, Doc. He'll never leave himself an escape route, because
it'll never occur to him that he could fail at anything he tries to do.” A wry smile.
“After all, he never has yet.”
“What the hell was he doing in the Badlands anyway?” asked Holliday. “What makes a
man with his credentials just walk away after he's not only been elected to office
but risen right to the top so fast?”
“His wife and his mother had died, and he wanted to get away from all the memories.”
“What did they die of?”
“I don't know about the mother,” replied Masterson, “but his wife died in childbirth.”
Masterson shook his head sadly. “He must have loved her very much. He won't allow
anyone to talk about her or even mention her name in his presence.”
“Lost the baby too, did he?” said Holliday, taking another drink. “Now I can understand
why he left. Hell, that's three generations in one day.”
“No, I gather she's still alive.”
Holliday frowned. “He just walked out on her?”
Masterson shook his head. “Doc, it was a newborn baby. There was no way he could take
her out to the Badlands alone. He hired a wet nurse, and people to watch her, and
when she can manage it I'm sure he'll send for her.” He paused thoughtfully. “Or maybe
by then he'll be through playing at being a cowboy and writing this history of the
West he's working on, and be ready to go back to New York. One or the other.”
Holliday picked up the cards, shuffled them, and dealt himself another hand of solitaire.
“Well, have a nice safe trip back East, Bat,” he said, staring at the cards and starting
to manipulate them around the table.
“Oh, hell, I'm not going anywhere,” muttered Masterson with a sigh.
“I thought you just said—?”
“That was before you told me you won't be backing him up.” Masterson cursed under
his breath. “That little girl has already lost a mother. I don't aim to let her lose
a father too.”
Holliday looked across the table at him for a long moment.
“What are you staring at?” demanded Masterson.
“You're a good man,” said Holliday. “We haven't always seen eye to eye, but you're
a good man.”
“Thanks,” replied Masterson. “I guess.”
“Of course, you understand that all I'm really good at evaluating is teeth,” said
Holliday with a sudden smile.
Masterson laughed at that, and was still laughing when John Behan entered the bar,
accompanied by three hard-looking men, all of them armed.
“They let just anybody into the Grand these days,” said Holliday, staring at them.
“The barber's been talking about what happened between us all over town,” said Behan
“Nothing happened between us,” replied Holliday. “If it had, they'd be planting you
in Boot Hill right about now.”
“You've made me a laughing stock for the last time!” yelled Behan.
“You're leaving town?” asked Holliday wryly. “Have a nice trip.”
“I've had just about enough of you! You haven't got the Earps to protect you now.”
“You've got it all wrong, Johnny,” said Holliday. “
“But if it'll make any difference to you,” interjected Masterson, “
protecting him today.”
Behan stared at him. “I know you.”
“I'm flattered beyond belief,” replied Masterson.
“You ran out of Tombstone with your tail between your legs once before,” said Behan.
“We can make you do it again.”
Masterson tensed, and his hand edged down below the table top toward his gun.
“Johnny, go home and sleep it off before you do something even stupider than usual,”
“I'm not drunk!” bellowed Behan. “I'm mad!”
“For saying that,” answered Holliday. “Personally I could never tell the difference.”
“You'll never change!” snapped Behan.
“Don't say that too loud,” said Holliday. “You'll ruin Charlie Ho's day down at the
“I've had it with you and what you think is funny,” said Behan. “I want an apology
for what happened in the barber shop, and while I'm
thinking of it, I want another one for your behavior right here and now.”
“That's a small enough thing to want,” replied Holliday. “Me, I'd like a million dollars,
one of those robot chippies that used to work at Kate's place, and thirty years of
“Are you going to apologize or not?” demanded Behan.
“Not, I think.”
Behan stepped off to a side and nodded to the three men. “He's all yours.”
The three of them tensed and faced the table.
“I'll take the three on the left,” said Holliday in conversational tones. “You take
“No,” replied Masterson. “I've already spotted two I don't like much.”
“I'll bet they never thought when they woke up today that they'd be facing Doc Holliday
and Bat Masterson,” said Holliday. “If they had any brains, they'd just shoot Johnny
Behan for getting them into this fix and then turn around and walk out. I'll swear
it was self-defense if you will.”
“Oh, I don't know,” said Masterson. “I think it might be more fun to kill them. I
haven't appeared in one of those dime novels for almost a year.”
“That's because everyone you've faced has been dead for over a year. Come to think
of it, I suppose you could use the practice.”
As they spoke, the three men were getting visibly nervous. Finally one of them turned
“You just said you wanted us to put a scare into someone,” he said accusingly. “You
never said we'd be facing Doc Holliday.”
“And Bat Masterson,” said Masterson. “Don't forget Bat Masterson.”
“Just shoot them, for Christ's sake!” screamed Behan.
“An extra hundred apiece,” said another.
“Go for it, Johnny,” said Holliday easily. “They're not going to live long enough
to collect it.”
“Fuck it!” said the first of the men. He turned to Behan. “Fuck it and fuck you!”
He held his arms out so they could see he wasn't reaching for his gun, and walked
out into the lobby. The other two men followed him.
“Nice try, Johnny,” said Holliday. Suddenly his smile vanished. “Next time I'll kill
you, and that's a promise.”
Behan glared at him for a moment, then turned and walked out of the bar.
“Keep an eye on them, Bat,” said Holliday as the four men walked out into the street.
“They don't look like they care whether they draw on our fronts or our backs.”
Two of the men and Behan immediately crossed the dusty street, but the third lingered
outside the hotel. Finally he began walking by the bar's window, then turned and drew
his pistol—but before he could fire a shot, and before Holliday or Masterson had fired
their own weapons, a lean, muscular body hurled itself upon the gunman, knocking him
down. He got to his feet just in time to be on the receiving end of a left hook that
put him back down on the wooden sidewalk, this time for the count.
“Well, I'll be!” exclaimed Roosevelt as Holliday and Masterson rushed out of the hotel.
“I knew this blaggard was going to backshoot somebody, but I had no idea it was you
“What the hell were you doing here?” asked Holliday.
“I've been jogging at noontime,” answered Roosevelt. “The morning bird-watching is
too good to skip.”
“I see you're growing a mustache,” noted Holliday.
“Might as well,” replied Roosevelt. “I've got no one to kiss out here.”
Holliday looked across the street and saw Behan glaring at him from perhaps fifty
yards away. The other two gunmen were nowhere to be seen.
“So, shall we carry this fellow off to the jailhouse?” asked Roosevelt.
Holliday shook his head. “No.”
“He just tried to kill you, Doc!”
“He has friends, and even an employer of sorts,” answered Holliday. “Someone would
make his bail before nightfall.”
“Do you just propose to leave him lying here until he wakes up?” asked Roosevelt disapprovingly.