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Vignette #9 - Apology

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Author’s note: Whilst this vignette is set very firmly in the fictional world of Wild West Exodus, it is nonetheless loosely based on a real local Tombstone story. You’d do yourselves a favour if you go read up on Nellie Cashman and just what she accomplished in her lifetime, too.

Doc Holliday has a secret addiction. A problem, even.

Now, that seems very likely, given how quickly he has worked his way down the bottle of bourbon sitting on the table in front of him. Although you’d be forgiven for guessing alcohol as your answer, you’ll not hit the mark on this occasion. Try again.

Maybe it’s tobacco, you might think. Well, again, close. But – and you’ll forgive, I’m sure, the pun – no cigar.

Gambling. Gambling is his big weakness. It’s obvious now that you think of it. This irascible man is often at the tables until the small hours, staking everything he owns on the turn of a card. Yes. That’s it. Poker, Faro, Blackjack – there it is. Doc Holliday’s vice is gambling.

Alright. Doc Holliday has a number of vices, but let me draw your attention to one of the more unlikely ones. There it is, right there his hands. A slightly dogeared book, tatty at the corners and obviously much-loved. A slim volume, with an artist’s rendition of a man in a long, black overcoat on its cover. Look more closely at the way the hat is tipped over the eyes, the way the artist has captured the curling of smoke from the ends of the pistols. The title of the book was once bright yellow, but time has faded it to a more subtle shade. From this angle, it’s impossible to make out the full title, but “Adventures”, “Stormin’” and “Lawman” are definitely in there.

And this is one of two unfathomable truths. Doc Holliday is addicted to dime store novels. The trashier the better. A bizarre anomaly in such an educated man, but it is what it is.

(You are, of course, correct about the alcohol, the tobacco and the gambling, but nigh on everyone in Tombstone has those issues. You get no prizes for those guesses).

The final addiction isn’t even something he can ever hope to control. No, that is something intangible, but is still very evident. Wherever John Henry Holliday goes, trouble rides in a step or two behind him.

Today, the deputy is having one of his better, more peaceable days. Lately, things have been uncomfortable in the more popular establishments in town. The taxidermy that is on display in Hafford’s has started to give him nightmares, the presence of the cowboys at the Grand Hotel have made that a no-go zone (but only because Wyatt said so – Doc is more than up for facing them down if they make trouble). And then, of course, the ongoing disagreements he has with the bartenders at both the Oriental and Crystal Palace Saloons mean that even what is widely acknowledged as the most dangerous corner in Tombstone isn’t an option.

Just once. I tried to shoot him once and he won’t let me forget it.

A flicker of guilt at his appalling behaviour when he was drunk and out of control right before… well, about eight months ago. When he lost his temper and lashed out in rage. Doc’s temper ebbs and flows as predictably as the tides. These days, he has a better handle on it, but there is still the air of a hunted animal about him. A man ready to spring into action at the click of a pistol hammer. But since his illness all but killed him…

Since he has been forced to wear that curious face mask just to give his tortured lungs a rest…

Well, much of his former affability has been replaced by a cynicism that is hard to reconcile with a man so young. He is still pleasant, still friendly, but there is an edge to him now. He has always chosen to sit facing the door – as so many gambling men often do – but now he always takes a corner seat as well. Not for Doc Holliday the sneaky knife between the shoulder blades. If he died, why, Wyatt Earp would never shut up about it.

His choice of restaurant today is something far simpler than the grandiose places touting their wares on Allen Street. He has retreated to Nellie Cashman’s place. Russ House, out on South Street is a homely sort of eatery, but right now, that is just what the man needs. He is tired after a sleepless night and he is a little irritable to boot. Nellie’s good, solid cooking is a tiny taste of home. And more than anything, he adores that she always, always keeps a can of tinned peaches for him. If there is anything more Georgian than peaches, well, he’d thank you to tell him what it is. As far as Doc Holliday is concerned, Nellie is an angel.

Yes, Nellie is a good girl; one of the best. More strength in her spine than most men he knows, more than capable of standing up for herself and well-liked by all who know her. She is the kind of woman who could quite easily lead a revolution if given half the chance. Doc is extraordinarily fond of her, but she never stands for his flirtations.

Doc has been well-behaved for days, now. Not one altercation, not one argument, hell, not even raising his voice more than half a decibel above normal. This is not a natural state of affairs for the tempestuous deputy. Something has got to give and it’s got to give soon.

In about four minutes, in fact.

He is scooping up what remains of his peaches and cream and experiencing the pleasant buzz that comes with finishing the better part of half a bottle of good bourbon when he overhears the Texan at the table next to him.

“That weren’t no beef stew. Ain’t got no idea what the hell meat that was meant to be, but damn if it weren’t an insult to whatever animal it came from.”

In order to appreciate what ensues in the wake of this ill-considered review of Nellie Cashman’s cooking, it is important to consider the following factors.

Doc Holliday has lived in this town long enough to consider it home. He holds Nellie very dear to his heart, because she is nice to him. He is more than a little drunk right now, he considers the Texan an intruder on his territory, he has a hair-trigger temper and he is, with very good reason, considered one of the fastest draws in the West.

Like a stretched thread, his self-control is pulled too hard. Finally, the tension cannot cope.

The thread snaps.

There is the distinct hum of a Juiced pistol as it begins its power cycle. The Texan hears it very clearly because he has gone, in the blink of an eye, from being an ungrateful, vociferous complainant to being a man with a ridiculously powerful weapon held right up against his temple.

He swallows.

He looks up into the steel trap stare of Doc Holliday’s thin face which is pinched in an expression of extreme dissatisfaction.

“What did you say, sir? I did not quite catch that. Louder, if you would be so kind.”

The Texan considers his immediate life choices.

“Why, that’s the best cookin’ I ever had?”

There is an anxious pause as the deputy considers the unfortunate and bad-mannered diner. The rise in his voice at the end, the inflection that turned a statement into a question, almost results in the permanent estrangement of the Texan’s head and body, but it’s good enough. Doc backs down and the pistol is back in its holster before the Texan has even blinked. He never even saw the reed-thin figure move.

Doc turns away, picking up his book and the remainder of his bottle of bourbon. He fixes his respirator back in place and tosses his money down on the table, Tipping his hat courteously to Miss Nellie, he departs with the self-satisfied air of a man who feels that he has achieved something good today.

 

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