Nowadays US Army Major Luther “Yellowstone” Kelly isn’t the young lively man he once was. He’s cantankerous, stubborn, and his nagging illnesses are exacerbated by the slightest provocation. Still, Kelly is called back into action by his most irritating boss yet: a young assistant secretary of the navy by the name of Theodore “Teethadore” Roosevelt. The future president needs a crew of toughs to join his Rough Riders outfit, and he correctly reckons that Kelly has an inside track on some of the nastiest ones. Kelly enlists a rascally crew, including his friends Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and helps Roosevelt win the Spanish-American War. Next an impressive piece of jade leads him over the Pacific, before he’s summoned to observe the outbreak of the Boer War. While sailing to southern Africa, he runs into Winston Churchill in Mozambique . . . and on Kelly stumbles into other areas of the history books. Whether he’s being chased by Boers or Igorote tribesmen, Kelly always maintains his trademark cynicism and resourcefulness, somehow finding a way to always land on his feet—even if Teethadore is determined to take credit for it.
About the Author
Following time at the University of Michigan and the University of Montana, he published his first novel, Yellowstone Kelly, in 1987. After two more novels featuring the real-life western hero, Bowen published Coyote Wind (1994), which introduced Gabriel Du Pré, a mixed-race lawman living in fictional Toussaint, Montana. He has written fifteen novels in the series, in which Du Pré gets tangled up in everything from cold-blooded murder to the hunt for rare fossils. Bowen continues to live and write in Livingston, Montana.
Peter Bowen (b. 1945) is an author best known for mystery novels set in the modern American West. When he was ten, Bowen’s family moved to Bozeman, Montana, where a paper route introduced him to the grizzled old cowboys who frequented a bar called The Oaks. Listening to their stories, some of which stretched back to the 1870s, Bowen found inspiration for his later fiction. Following time at the University of Michigan and the University of Montana, Bowen published his first novel, Yellowstone Kelly, in 1987. After two more novels featuring the real-life Western hero, Bowen published Coyote Wind (1994), which introduced Gabriel Du Pré, a mixed-race lawman living in fictional Toussaint, Montana. Bowen has written fourteen novels in the series, in which Du Pré gets tangled up in everything from cold-blooded murder to the hunt for rare fossils. Bowen continues to live and write in Livingston, Montana.
Read an Excerpt
A Yellowstone Kelly Novel
By Peter Bowen
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1992 Peter Bowen
All rights reserved.
I COULD HAVE SHOT Theodore Roosevelt any number of times. I could have sawed through ropes he was hanging on to, I could have let a couple grizzlies chaw him to death. I didn't take any of the chances I had. Just folding my arms or pulling a trigger or not pulling a trigger would have saved tens of thousands of lives and me several attacks of gout and them wim-wams you get when you are sliding down the front wave of history in a very small boat.
Someone should have shot him long ago, anyway, and I suppose I was waiting for someone even more exasperated than I to shoot him, but they never showed up and there I was, waffling like the stripe-ass poltroon I am. Well, it's a job.
I did try to brain him with one of his damned Indian clubs—he used to exercise with them, shattering busts of the dignified dead and ship's models in his office. He was Assistant Secretary of the Navy and a rising young sawlog of presidential timber, a clear danger to all about him.
America had imperial ambitions—all done for the moral improvement of whoever's land we wanted, mind you—and so it seemed that Cuba and the Philippines was in need of us. We were in a hot fighting mood and the poor sorry Spaniards was about all we could bully into going to war with us. The Maine had been blowed up in Havana harbor and fingers were pointing at the sneaky Dons, but my experience with the military had been such I thought it likeliest that an admiral had been inspecting the magazines by matchlight. I could name several admirals.
My luck is as sour as a Baptist's love life, always has been, and so of course I was right there with Teethadore when he commenced in playing with the fleet like a damn kid in a bathtub.
'Twas a Friday forenoon and I had stopped off to see my good old friend Gen. Nelson Miles, who had found out somehow I was in the city. I hate Washington, D.C., even more than most cities. I was there because I had been ordered to be there by Gen. Nelson A. Miles.
"So good to see you again, Kelly," says Miles, twinkling. If I'm near, there is always a hope in the bastard's manly breast that he'll finally have the happy job of hanging me. We go back a lot of years, and we know far too much about each other.
Miles wanted to know what I thought of the Spaniards invading Alaska. I told him it was a fine idea, they'd just vanish into the place, where the Alaskan mosquitoes would finish them off in jig time. We jawed back and forth for a while and then Miles threw me out of his office, like he always does, and some little snip of a naval lieutenant caught me the second bounce from the door and allowed as how the Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt would very much like to see me.
"Tell that four-eyed barnacle-brained socialite," I began, warming up to be unpleasant. The lieutenant was waving his hand at me.
"If you're too rushed, the Assistant Secretary understands and will merely have you clapped in irons in the basement until he finds time to see you."
I nodded. The little shit. I got far, far too many friends.
The War Department was overheated to the point of folks wheezing when they breathed. The pup lieutenant was soaked clear through his dress uniform and pale as a fish's belly. He ushered me through some corridors and up a flight of stairs and into Teethadore's squat presence. Teddy and I shook hands warmly and the lieutenant fell on his face, making a wet sound as he laid upon the grizzly bear-skin rug Teethadore had spread out in front of his hand-carved desk.
"Zounds!" said Teddy, leaping from his chair onto and over the desk. He commenced helping the poor kid breathe with terrible thrusts of his powerful hands against the lower part of the back. I thought the kid's lungs and kidneys would come out his mouth.
"Call the guard," bellered Teddy.
I went out in the hall and called the guard.
They come on the run—bayonets fixed and six of them at that, all firebellied in case the sneaky Spaniards decided to assassinate Teethadore. They made a circle, bayonets out, around Teethadore and the prone pup in the gold braid. Made me think of musk ox when they smell wolves. I leaned back on the doorjamb, chuckling at the sheer dignity of it all. Teddy, with his collar awry, the soldiers, the passed-out navy kid. If the might of America responded this way to a fainting spell, why, whatever would it do in war?
A shadow fell upon me and the shadow had a seegar sticking out of the top end of it.
"John Long, Secretary of the Navy," said the gent, holding out a paw. I shook it. "Kelly," I said.
The passed-out lieutenant sat up before Teddy crushed his chest flat and coughed becomingly. The soldiers jumped to attention—they was Marines, actually—only slightly damaging a few of the game heads with which Teethadore had adorned every flat vertical surface. Teddy had fogged up his glasses with the heat and exertion and was grinning blind and waving his hand out.
"God's libeled balls," said Long. "What on earth are you doing now, Theodore?"
"Oh, oh, oh, oh," said Teddy. He grabbed for a handkerchief to wipe his glasses with and settled for the lieutenant's sash.
"I will leave this all to you," said Long. "I'm off for a week to my country place. Can you manage not to start a war in my absence?"
Teddy allowed as how he could easy manage that.
My scalp began to prickle uncomfortable-like.
"Things are extremely ... ah ... um ... delicate in the matter of the Spanish," said Long. "They are trying wildly to avoid war."
"Just like them," said Teddy. He looked like a kid with a baseball glove on staring out at the rain.
"And who in the hell are you, anyway," says Long, eyeing me up and down.
"Luther Kelly," I says.
"Well," says Long, "you are damn near as preposterous in person as you are in them damned dime novels my children liked more than saltwater taffy," he snorted. "I always find something in here with Theodore. Last time it was some red Indian smelled like eight wet rams."
The naval boy twitched to his feet and staggered toward the door, ripping his sleeve on a bayonet. The Marine's port-arms was a little low on account of he'd fetched up with a couple inches of elk antler in his right ear, interfering with his uprightness.
"God," said the Secretary of the Navy, sensibly follering his seegar down the hall. Well, I gathered that Theodore's present lofty state was not Long's idea.
"Return to your posts," said Theodore. He finally found a handkerchief and commenced rubbing his glasses. In a moment we was alone, except for the mounted heads and rugs and such.
Teddy put on his glasses and blinked at the bright new world around him. He went to a big wall map—the kind that has Greenland on it bigger than Africa. He looked hard at some little pins with heads like warships on them. He poked a fat finger at the belly of Asia.
"Jolly good!" said Teddy, still in his English-period voice which he had come back from a safari with, along with all manner of strange dead critters.
Teddy fiddled with his watch chain, humming. I didn't like it, the humming I mean. Meant he was thinking. Teddy thinking was dangerous to the human race in general and me in particular.
"Well," I said, "I'd admire going back to my hotel and taking a bath. I got a dinner date in Bismarck, North Dakota."
"Sad is the man who sees opportunity and grasps it not," said Teddy. I knew just what he meant.
"Nice seeing you," I says, sidling and grasping my prize opportunity.
"Major Kelly," says Theodore, reminding me of my rank and the scaffold could go with it any time." I think we need a brisk walk."
My guts were doing a rapid fandango and my gout was sounding Charge!
"I'm awful tired," I whined, "and I got no sleep last week and my gout ..."
"Pity," said Teddy, fishing a red wig out of a handy elephant-foot cane stand. He stood in front of a mirror adjusting the thing. Nothing helped. It still looked like a tomcat run over by a dray.
"I'm hungry, too," I moaned. "I ain't et today ..."
"A shame," says Teddy, eyeing a linen duster. He slipped off his frock coat.
"My foot hurts to hell aready," I groaned. I did not like any of this at all.
"Besides, I was to meet a friend to dinner," I said. Hoping that this display of good manners would have an effect.
"I saw that Gussie was here in town and I believe that a walk would do you some good before you slink off to entertain your animal lusts."
"Animal lusts, is it?" I roared. "I at least don't haul their damn heads back and clutter the walls with 'em."
"Come along, Luther," says Teethadore, all rigged in red wig, duster, and cane.
"Animal lusts," I grumbled. And went along like a cut sheep.
Preceded by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, in disguise, I walked down the long hallway and followed him down a stairwell built for skinny folks running from fire. We come out behind a hedge which Teddy peered through, holding up one hand to halt me. It warn't necessary; I couldn't get out of the door without kicking his ass out of the way.
"There he is," hissed Teethadore. I peered over the top of the greenery and spied Long getting into a carriage.
"You insane four-eyed son-of-a-bitch," I snarled. "This is nonsense. Long said that he was leaving and he is leaving. Like he said."
"Sneaked back and caught me the last time," said Teethadore. "I would never trust such a man myself for high public office."
There wasn't much I could say to that. Here was one retired Injun scout and general-purpose scoundrel standing in the winter privet looking at sanity departing for the train station. I should have brained this blind sawed-off lunatic I was sharing the hedge with. We could have had less history. Always a good idea, life's best when nothing out of the ordinary happens, you will agree.
Them bicycles with the huge front wheels had become sort of dated and TR had some fancy Frog bicycle hid in the shrubs; he hopped on and pedaled off, wig flapping, looking for all the world like some escapee from an insane asylum. Well, it fit.
My curiosity had me by now so I went back up to Teddy's office and contemplated the heads on the walls and the hides on the floor and the nice collection of tusks from elephants he'd shot and the passenger pigeon stuffed and mounted that sat on his desk next to the inkwells. (It turned out to be the last passenger pigeon ever seen out-of-doors by anyone. Teethadore was an ornithologist and naturalist of note, so he identified it, shot it, had it stuffed, and staked his claim. Bully bully.)
I could have done with a decent glass of whiskey but Teddy was a teetotaler. A lot of his uncles died of drink, and he had an older brother, Elliott, who was to do the same. (The family had a farm in the Adirondacks where they sent their whiskeybills when they was having the DT's and lassooing green snakes with pink ones.) Anyway, Teethadore never touched a drop, another thing that failed to recommend him to me. It made him some figure of curiosity out West, let me tell you.
I idled for a while, pitching my hat at a rhinoceros's horn and I would have lit up a seegar if I'd had one. Teddy didn't smoke, either, it aggravated his asthma and he would have been choking for three days unable to stir from his bed. We might have been spared much. So much can proceed from little things like not having a seegar. I long ago decided that if there is a God at all It's either blind drunk all the time, or dead; there's no one minding the store.
I waited maybe half an hour and then Teethadore come running in like his pants was on fire and the Mongols was right behind; he hooked a foot in the mouth of the grizzly rug and he went headfirst into a glass bell jar had a blowfish—dead and varnished—in it and TR's glasses shattered along with the bell jar and the blowfish—they are brittle things—and a big chunk of blowfish stuck in Teddy's left cheek—spiny little bastards, too. All this pain and blindness caused Teddy to holler manfully, and while he was clawing the blowfish off his face he barked his shins on a deal table and fell on it, sending about forty little model ships in bottles flying. He laid out flat and slid along to bounce hard off a mapcase and then sweep the legs out from under an aquarium full of the ugly little fish you see in whiskey dreams.
I looked at the happy sight. The Assistant Secretary of the Navy was laid out bleeding in a puddle full of flopping fish whimpering faintly for something or someone. It seemed one or three of them fish was being ground up by them monstrous Roosevelt choppers and interfering with the Roosevelt diction as it went to bits and fell down his windpipe. (Screw yer damn Frog painters, this was a pretty sight.)
Teddy finally choked his way upright and spat out fish parts here and there; he fumbled around his soggy waistcoat and found another pair of glasses—he broke six or so pairs a day—and he got them on and looked up to see Luther Kelly, Major, USA, looking down and laughing fit to bust. Laughing like a whore with a dead john who's already paid.
"Brap you, Kelp," said Teethadore, still mushmouthed with the fish parts in his works. He hacked and coughed and struggled up, shedding tinkling bits of glass and bleeding from about twenty small punctures in his cheek.
"Long get off all right?" I says, trying to bridge the awkward part of the conversation.
"Express to Lake George." said Teddy. "He'll be gone a whole week!"
"Why, you could have us fighting the Rooshians, the British, and the Bolivians by then. All of them at once," I says. "I think I'll go wire Secretary Long and say please come back. Urgent."
"This is not time for your blasted levities," pouted TR. "I could carve a better government out of a meringue." I took that to mean if the goddamned fools would have listened to Teethadore he'd right now be entering Madrid at the head of a conquering army.
"Come along," said TR. "You will find this interesting."
Some folks snap when their gods are ill-spoken of, or their mothers, but I go berserk when anyone in command says "interesting," and I do that for excellent reason. I have fifty-six visible scars in my hide I got in the course of going someplace that these bastards called "interesting."
Teddy was built solid, like a sand-filled barrel with feet, but I got a good clamp on his windpipe and I roared, "I DON'T LIKE THIS AT ALL WHATEVER IT IS YOU ARE GONNA DO YOU ARE GONNA DO IT WITHOUT ME THIS TIME YOU INSANE DUTCH PECKERWOOD ..." and other endearments. Teddy nodded an eighth of an inch, grinning at me all the time.
I relaxed my grip.
"While you were choking me I thought of how hemp must feel ..." he said, still smiling.
I follered him glumly down the corridor to a guarded elevator and we went down and down and down. The door opened and TR led the way past eight guards to the Code Room. TR motioned me on past a couple of Marine sergeants and came along behind me.
A shaky—malaria, I suppose—captain come up to TR and he saluted. Teddy nodded in a practiced, condescending sort of way—hell, he couldn't have enlisted in the Army with his eyesight—and he looked around the dark room at the bustle and scratch.
"I have a message for Admiral Dewey," said Teddy. "Who, I do believe, is in Singapore."
"Yes, sir," said the captain.
Teddy carefully wrote out his message to Dewey, in big block letters, and he grinned hugely while doing it.
He showed it to me.
COAL PROCEED MANILA WAR
ACT SEC NAVY
I was shocked into speechlessness. I knew we would mix it up with the Spaniards, but I thought it would take months or years of sashaying and flannelmouthing by diplomats who all the while would protest they was trying to avoid that horrid circumstance.
"Come along, Major Kelly," said Teethadore. "We have our duties." I follered along like a broke old dog.
Up in TR's office, I jangled the coins in my pockets while Teethadore wrote out his resignation from his high position. He tucked it into his coat.
"Major Kelly," he said, "I will even buy you a drink."
"Uncommon decent of you," I said. I had a few words I could have said on all this but they was of no moment, like me.
We walked on over to Ollie's.
I had about twelve fingers of sour mash in a posh saloon that was nearby, and then I had a seegar. Teddy sipped bottled Saratoga water.
Excerpted from Imperial Kelly by Peter Bowen. Copyright © 1992 Peter Bowen. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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