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THE DOCTOR AND THE KIDA WEIRD WEST TALE
By MIKE RESNICK
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2011 Mike Resnick
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHolliday was cutting into his steak at the Sacred Cow when the large shadow fell over his table. He looked up to see an elegantly dressed pudgy man standing next to him.
"Are you the notorious Doc Holliday?" asked the man.
Holliday checked to make sure the man was unarmed. "I am," he replied.
The man extended a hand. "I am the notorious Oscar Wilde. I wonder if I might join you?"
Holliday shrugged. "Suit yourself."
Wilde sat down opposite him. "I didn't see you at my lecture last night."
"Good?" repeated Wilde, arching an eyebrow.
"It means you're not hallucinating."
Wilde threw back his head and laughed. "I knew I'd like you!"
"I'm flattered," said Holliday. "Not many people do." He gestured to the bottle on the table. "Pour yourself a drink."
"Thank you. I will." Wilde reached for the half-empty bottle and filled a small glass. "I am told that you are the only shootist who might have read my writings."
"Johnny Ringo probably did, but he's dead now." Holliday paused. "I hope," he added. "The only other one might be John Wesley Hardin. He's been in jail the last few years, but I hear he's studying to be a lawyer when he gets out, so at least it's safe to assume he can read." He paused. "Though I've met my share of lawyers who couldn't."
Wilde laughed again. "I'll be speaking again on Friday. May I count on seeing you in the audience?"
Holliday shook his head. "No, I'll be playing cards at the Monarch, over at 320 Harrison Street."
"Surely you can stop gambling for an hour or two to come hear me speak."
"Do I ask you to skip speaking and come on over to watch me gamble?"
"Speaking's part of my livelihood," protested Wilde.
"Gambling's part of mine."
"Whatever that means," said Holliday.
The waiter came by and asked Wilde for his order.
"I'll have what my friend is having," replied Wilde.
"Including a bottle of whiskey?"
Wilde smiled. "No, I'll just borrow his." "Within the limits of propriety," said Holliday. Wilde looked for a smile, but couldn't find one.
Wilde shifted his weight, trying to arrange his bulk comfortably on the plain wooden chair. "So what is the notorious Doc Holliday doing in Leadville?"
"Trying to be less notorious," replied Holliday.
"Seriously," said Wilde. "Is there some gunfight brewing?"
"I hope not."
"Surely you jest."
"Look at me," said Holliday irritably. "I'm a dying man, wracked with consumption. I can't weigh a hundred and thirty pounds. I'm a dentist by trade, but I've pretty much given it up, because you can't keep your clientele when you keep coughing blood in their faces." He stared at Wilde. "There's a very good sanitarium in Leadville. I'll move into it when I can't function on my own any more." A brief pause. "I came up here to die, Mr. Wilde."
"Excuse me," said Wilde. "I didn't know."
"You're damned near the only one."
"I haven't heard anything about a sanitarium here in Leadville," admitted Wilde.
Holliday coughed into a handkerchief. "There are other good ones, I'm told. I came here because everyone told me the air was pure and clean at ten thousand feet, and it is." He grimaced. "What they didn't tell me was that it's so damned thin that the birds prefer walking."
Wilde nodded his head and smiled. "I may borrow that line from you someday."
"There's no charge. You're welcome to the consumption, too."
"You fascinate me," said Wilde, pulling a thin cigar out of his pocket and lighting it up. "I may have to write a play about you."
"For a British audience?" said Holliday. "If you insist on wasting your time and money, come on over and do it at the Monarch."
"You own it?" asked Wilde.
"Part of it."
"Then why not call it Doc Holliday's, and put a huge sign out front?"
"Because there's fifty or sixty men that would like to see me dead," answered Holliday. "Why make it easier for them?"
Wilde leaned forward. "Did you really kill all those men you've been credited with?"
Wilde studied his face. "I can't tell if you're kidding or not."
"I'm supposed to have killed two men who were five states apart on the very same day." Holliday smiled. "They must have thought I was riding Aristides."
"Aristides?" repeated Wilde.
"He won the very first Kentucky Derby, which my friend Bat Masterson assures me is on the road to becoming a very important race."
"Bat Masterson? What does a gunman know about horse-racing?"
"We're not all one-dimensional shootists, Mr. Wilde," said Holliday. "I'm a dentist. Masterson is a sports journalist. And it looks like Hardin is going to be a lawyer." Holliday snorted in amusement. "I'll bet it won't stop him from killing people. It just means he'll have a defense lawyer he can trust."
"What about this Billy the Kid that everyone's talking about?" asked Wilde.
"I'm not talking about him."
"I mean, what else does he do?"
Holliday shrugged. "I hear he's barely twenty years old. I don't imagine he's had much time to find a profession yet."
"Besides killing people, you mean," said Wilde.
"That's only a profession if someone pays you to do it," answered Holliday. "I've never been paid a penny. Neither have most of us. And if you do it for free, no matter how reluctantly, then it's not a profession, it's an art form."
"Or a hobby," suggested Wilde. "How reluctant are you about killing people?"
"You make it sound like it's all I do, Mr. Wilde," said Holliday, and Wilde couldn't tell if he was being sardonic, angry, or merely conversational. "Occasionally I eat and sleep, and even pull a tooth or two." A brief pause. "But I will say that I never killed a man who didn't deserve killing."
"If you're looking for men who deserve killing, you might spend some time with Miss Anthony," observed Wilde. "I had dinner with her last night, and I gather she's had enough death threats to fill a small book."
"Believe it or not, Mr. Wilde," said Holliday, "I have spent most of my adult life trying to avoid confrontations, not seeking them out." He paused. "But I think you may overestimate the dangers to Miss Anthony."
"The threats are real," insisted Wilde. "She showed me some of the letters. Semi-literate, most of them, but dangerous."
"If anyone harms her, or even attempts to harm her, we're likely to have a replay of Lysistrata," said Holliday with a smile.
"You know the story of Lysistrata?" said Wilde, surprised.
"I have had a classical education, Mr. Wilde," replied Holliday. "Why, I've even read The Nihilists."
"You have?" exclaimed Wilde. His chest puffed up with pride. "What did you think of it?"
"I thought it showed promise."
Wilde's face dropped. "Only promise?"
"You're a young man with your whole career ahead of you," said Holliday. "I'm a dying man who is difficult to impress."
"It's a shame you won't live long enough to see the United States spread all the way to the Pacific Coast."
"No one currently alive may be around for that," answered Holliday. "It all depends on Tom Edison."
"Thomas Alva Edison?" said Wilde. "The inventor?" Holliday nodded. "What does he have to do with it?"
"Didn't you notice the electric street lights when you came to town?" asked Holliday. "And if you arrived by stagecoach the likelihood is that you rode the Bunt Line, one of those bullet-proof brass coaches that's powered by one of Edison's motors and requires no horses."
"I came by train," answered Wilde. "And I knew about the lights. I knew Edison had set up an office—or would it be a laboratory?—here in Leadville. But what does that have to do with expanding to the Pacific Coast?"
"The United States ends at the Mississippi River," said Holliday. "It would like to extend to the Pacific, but so far the magic of the Indian medicine men, especially a pair known as Hook Nose and Geronimo, have stopped them. Oh, we have some towns and ranches here and there, but we're here under sufferance. And since Edison is currently our greatest mind, the government has paid him to come out West and see what he can learn about the magic and how to counteract it."
"He was in Tombstone last year, wasn't he?" asked Wilde.
"Yes. He still spends some time there."
"And now he's in Leadville?"
Holliday nodded. "That's right. The silver mines in Tombstone are just about played out, so he came up here with an invention that can extract silver faster than any ten-man crew you ever saw."
"You were in Tombstone last year." Holliday nodded again. "And now you're in Leadville too." Wilde frowned and stared at him. "It can't be a coincidence." He suddenly smiled. "Can it?"
"I don't mine silver. He doesn't gamble."
"You didn't answer the question."
"You noticed." Holliday, his dinner finished, stood up and left a silver dollar on the table. "Tell the waiter that includes his tip."
"I think I'll visit the Monarch later," said Wilde. "I'd like to see you in non-violent action. I might even risk a dollar or two at the faro table."
Holliday walked to the door, buttoned his coat, and stepped out into the chilly Colorado night air. The Sacred Cow was on Third Street, three blocks from the Monarch Saloon, and he decided to take a short cut, saving half a block by cutting down an alley. Suddenly he was aware of a large snake, some ten feet long. Its head rose up until it was looking directly into his eyes. Holliday knew what was coming, and waited patiently. A moment later the snake vanished, to be replaced by an Apache brave in buckskins.
"Goyathlay sends you greetings, White Eyes."
"My eyes are bloodshot," answered Holliday. "What does Geronimo want?"
"He wants to remind you that the two of you had an agreement once, in Tombstone."
"We made a deal," agreed Holliday. "But it's over and done with, and I assume we're at hazard again. What now?"
"All I'm supposed to do is remember we had a deal for a few days in Tombstone?"
But he found that he was speaking to empty air.
Excerpted from THE DOCTOR AND THE KID by MIKE RESNICK Copyright © 2011 by Mike Resnick. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)Although it's the second book in the series, this is my first experience with Mike Resnick's "Weird West" novels, in which the tropes of steampunk are exported to the cowboys and saloons of the American frontier; and I have to say, for being a deliberate B-level quickie genre tale, this was much better than the usual kind of books on this level I receive, and I find it no surprise now that Resnick will be the main Guest Of Honor at this coming summer's Worldcon in Chicago. (CCLaP will be there! Will you?) The story of a fictitious showdown between the real Doc Holliday and Billy the Kid, in a slightly fantastical America where Native Americans like Geronimo can perform literal magic, and Thomas Edison has been hired by the government to combat them using futuristic electrical devices, Resnick takes great joy in the genre practice of piling together famous coincidences, gleefully dropping a touring Oscar Wilde into a random scene and an indignant Susan B. Anthony in another, while using the famed tight-lipped wit of the real Holliday to great effect within a fast-paced, action-oriented storyline; and for steampunk fans craving gadgets, this book won't let you down either, an admittedly pretty silly story but that delivers in spades all the things we fanboys are looking for. It's no mindblower, but is at least a solidly crafted and always delightful Western take on a genre so usually steeped in the trappings of big cities like London or New York, and it comes strongly recommended specifically to all my fellow steampunk fans.Out of 10: 8.5, or 9.0 for steampunk fans
Doc Holiday is awesome! Lots of lol moments and action!
This book tells a historically wonderful tale of the old west. Everyone from Doc Holiday and Billy Bonny to Oscar Wilde and Edison have their part tonplay.