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DEADWOOD, DAKOTA TERRITORIES, 1876: Legendary gunman Wild Bill Hickcock and his friend Charlie Utter have come to the Black Hills town of Deadwood fresh from Cheyenne, fleeing an ungrateful populace. Bill, aging and sick but still able to best any man in a fair gunfight, just wants to be left alone to drink and play cards. But in this town of played-out miners, bounty hunters, upstairs girls, Chinese immigrants, and various other entrepeneurs and miscreants, he finds himself pursued by a vicious sheriff, a perverse whore man bent on revenge, and a besotted Calamity Jane. Fueled by liquor, sex, and violence, this is the real wild west, unlike anything portrayed in the dime novels that first told its story.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Pete Dexter is the author of the National Book Award winner Paris Trout and of God's Pocket, Deadwood, Brotherly Love, The Paperboy and Train. He was born in Michigan and raised in Georgia, Illinois, and eastern South Dakota. He lives on Puget Sound, Washington.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
The boy shot Wild Bill's horse at dusk, while Bill was off in the bushes to relieve himself. It was lucky for everybody but the horse that it happened when it did, but not so lucky it had to be God's hand in it. It always took Bill a while in the bushes--it wasn't dusk when he'd gone in there--and things have to happen sometime.
The boy's name was Malcolm Nash. He was the younger brother of Charley Utter's wife, and had ridden with Charley and thirty-six mules up from their home in Empire, Colorado, first to Cheyenne, where they met Bill, and then east and north toward the Black Hills.
Charley always had a hard time saying no to his wife.
The boy tried to be helpful, but anything he couldn't break, he lost. The more Charley studied his awkward deportment, the more he wondered at the unreliable nature of human jizzom. The boy and Charley's wife didn't look like each other, even the coloring, and the boy hardly spoke. It was something Charley wouldn't have minded studying, the contrary results of spilled seed. The boy was a strong back, though, and he was polite. He addressed Bill as Mr. Hickok and called everybody else by the same names that Bill did, and he carried a broken-handled old Smith & Wesson in a sash around his waist, butt-first, the way Bill carried his Colts.
Charley had been against bringing the boy from the first suggestion. In his wife's eyes, that amounted to a confession of all the unsafe and unfaithful behavior he and Bill got into when he was away from home. It was peculiar, the way her feelings about Bill had changed. She'd spoken well of him before they were married, and once told Charley he was half famous just for being his friend. Of course, Bill had seen her compromised since.
The boy had no such reservations. Bill had made four visits to Colorado in the last ten years, to hunt bear or watch Charley get married or just get drunk, and Bill was always good to him, keeping the whores and whiskey out of his gunfight stories so he'd grow up right. Bill did not recognize the boy when they all met in Cheyenne, but said it was because Malcolm had become a man.
The boy would have worn carrots in his hat if Bill did.
They'd left Colorado late in the spring, Charley and Malcolm and the mules, and met Bill in Cheyenne, where he was organizing a wagon train. They got to his rooming house at seven o'clock in the morning, June 22. The lady superintendent reported Bill had already combed his hair and walked up the street to the Republican Hotel for cocktails, which she implied was his morning habit. "I expect he'll be back in half an hour, walk through the door carrying a full glass of whiskey, and finish his toilet," she said.
Charley wasn't surprised. It was the history of things that Bill would wear out his welcome.
Charley saw the lady was not going to invite them in to wait, and so he and the boy walked down the street too, and found Bill standing at the far end of the Republican Hotel bar, squinting into the light from the doorway as they came in, trying to decide if it was trouble.
Charley had been to Cheyenne in March, when Bill had married the famous circus performer Agnes Lake, and even getting married, Bill had been in a brighter mood than he was now.
"Did you know they held elections last week?" he said when he saw who it was.
Charley said, "Where?"
"Right here. Cheyenne." Bill was a good American but he never liked elections. It was like the railroads, an unrefutable sign that things were going to hell. "The new city officers have published a list of fifty men they charged with vagrancy," he said. "Put it up all over town, issued warrants for the arrests."
Charley waited. Bill pulled a piece of paper out of his sash and unfolded it on the bar. Charley bent over and looked. The boy stood still, watching everything they did. The list was alphabetical, and most of the names on it Charley recognized for thieves or killers of one sort or another. The twenty-seventh name was James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok.
"Well," Charley said, "it's the price of fame."
"Look down there at the bottom," Bill said.
Charley's finger went to the bottom of the list and started up. The fifth name he touched was his own, only they'd misspelled it. Charles "Colorado Charley" Udder. Charley hated it when they spelled him like that.
'What kind of slander is this?" he said, "I am a respectable businessman from Empire, Colorado."
Bill picked the paper up off the bar, folded it, and put it back in his sash. "Nobody from the police department has been by to arrest me," he said. "I gave them a few days to make up their mind if they were going to."
That night at the hotel bar, Bill laid down the rules of his wagon train. He would take only seventy wagons to Deadwood, nobody who was sick, no firebugs, no whores. Seventy wagons was enough to be safe from any party of Indians, but more than that and you couldn't be safe from yourself. Bill didn't want any bad apples. The trip would take two weeks, and each man, woman, and child had to carry a firearm, and pay him fifty dollars.
None of this discouraged the assembly at the Republican bar, which applauded him. The Black Hills was the wildest and the richest place on earth, and no man into his cups would admit things were wild enough for him right there in the hotel. Wagons on the way to the Hills had already come through from California, where the gold had begun to peter out, and pilgrims were headed there from the other direction too. Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa--for three years the grasshoppers in the States had come in over the crops like black clouds, and when they left, they'd taken it all with them. Bill had seen that with his own eyes in Iowa after he'd taken Agnes Lake home to St. Louis to wait for him until he got back on his feet.
It wasn't the way Bill would have put it to Agnes Lake, but some time had passed since he'd had a pot to piss in. Charley couldn't see him telling her about that at all. There was a respect between Bill and Agnes that did not invite inspection of the parties.
Bill and Charley and Malcolm and the mules waited four days, until Bill was satisfied nobody was coming to arrest them, and then he set a time to leave. Daybreak, June 27.
By nine o'clock Bill saw none of the boys from the Republican were going to show up. What had shown up was a Jew that wanted to set up a hardware store, and two peddlers. Four wagons, if you counted Bill and Charley's. Bill collected fifty dollars from each of them, and they started east, Charley driving the wagon, Bill sitting on his horse, a handsome old gelding he'd named Peerless, drinking cocktails.
The boy rode one of the mules.
Anyone but Bill would have rethought it right there. He had it in his head there was something waiting for him in the Hills, though. Charley couldn't get him to say exactly what; he thought Bill might not know either.
They met another wagon train at Fort Laramie, five days out of Cheyenne. Twenty-eight wagons, most of them full of whores. Some Chinese, some American. The filthiest whores Charley had seen up to then, here is what the Americans had for names: Dirty Emma, Tit Bit, Smooth Bones, and Sizzling Kate. The Chinese had little feet. They couldn't walk more than a few steps and stayed close to their whore man.
Bill joined wagons. He didn't like it, but the Indians were a fact. Once the whores heard who it was, they came after Bill's person night and day. Bill never gave them a look, and in the end he went to one of their wagons and talked to a whore man named Al Swearingen, who was importing a fresh load of girls for his place in Deadwood, and they didn't come by again.
The boy went to the wagon with him, carrying that old Smith & Wesson in his sash, and came back with a new purpose in life. Charley didn't see what it hurt, and didn't stop the boy when he went back to the wagon later, after sunset. He went that night and the night after, and the night after that. That's where he was before he shot Bill's horse.
They'd stopped early in the afternoon, in sight of the Hills. On that day, in that light, the Hills were as black as the Devil's dreams. It looked to Charley like once you got inside you might lose the sun's light forever. Charley put it out of his head.
The boy tethered and fed the mules, washed his face, and headed over into the whores' wagons. Al Swearingen, the man that Bill had spoken to about his whores, came over a little later carrying a bottle and three glasses, and offered up a drink of whiskey to celebrate finding the Hills. He was pale-eyed and bearded, the kind that was planning ten days ahead every day of his life. Bill took the drink, Charley didn't. The whore man's fingers had been all over the insides of the glasses.
Bill drank half of what the whore man poured him and waited to see what it would do. The man said, "This is a historic day, pards," and threw his down. Bill looked at him. The man said, "I mean, finding the Hills."
Bill studied his glass. He put his finger in the whiskey and came out with a speck of a gnat and rolled it off his fingers. Charley said, "Did you think we were going to miss the Black Hills?" North to south, they ran a hundred miles.
"No," he said, "I certainly didn't mean nothin' like that." And Bill laid his eyes on him again, calm and cold, until he went away. That was the way Bill handled annoyances when he could. He never threatened a soul unless he meant it.
The whore man went back to his own wagon. It was bigger than the others and brand new. The boy had been inside it, and said it looked like the finest hotel. The boy had never been in a hotel room in his life. Charley saw them then, the boy and the whore man, climbing into the back with two of the girls.
"Malcolm's back with the whores," he said. Bill smiled and shook his head. He couldn't see that far himself.
"It's a sign of health, knowing what you want," Bill said.
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Book Description Random House. Hardcover. Condition: New. 039453669X. Seller Inventory # A1-303F
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