- GO ASK ALICE -
By K.C. Harte
DISCLAIMER: Characters and settings from The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. are the intellectual property of Carlton Cuse, the late Jeff Boam, and any nameless entities who still own rights. In short, not mine; these characters are too much fun to leave idle. Characters you don't recognize are from my imagination unless otherwise specified.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Brisco ended way too soon. It seems a shame to let the characters collect dust. This story is set after the first season ended.
THANK YOU: To Jen, my beta and a rabid Brisco fan, even after all these years.
- Prologue –
On the 30th of January, an icy wind blew into San Francisco.
Its origins were uncertain; perhaps it came from the hills, perhaps from the bay. It lacked direction, spinning the weather vanes on the roofs of the houses on Nob Hill to random orientations. Like the usual Bay area breezes, this wind whistled between buildings and down alleyways, rocking carriages and rattling windows in its path.
Most of the city dwellers were far too involved with their own lives to pay it any mind. As they hurried about their busy lives, men clutched at their overcoats and women drew their shawls tighter in vain attempts to ward off the chill.
Others were more attuned to the natural world and not so dismissive.
It was an ill wind, the old wives up in the Irish ward whispered. A bad omen, the mystics down in Chinatown warned.
But it was a boon for businesses. Wednesday nights were usually slow at the Horseshoe Club, but tonight the main hall was packed with locals and tourists alike, all looking to escape the unseasonably chilly weather.
In the hustle and bustle of the post-dinner crowd, it was easy to see how one man might slip in unnoticed and take a seat in the corner. From a vantage point obscured by the long mahogany bar, he could watch the goings-on with a fair assurance that he wouldn't be detected.
Waitresses in tight sleeveless bodices and black stockings kept the beer coming. The piano player plunked out an untitled rag that was barely audible over the din of the crowd. The dancing girls would return to the stage at 8 o' clock.
He raised the frosty beer mug in a mock salute. He was going to like San Francisco very much.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Blame it on the weather.
Brisco County, Jr. was having a run of bad luck.
In the greater scheme of things, it had started the day he had agreed to help a wayward heiress and her Mexican boyfriend, a decision that had lead to a close call with a military firing squad. In the end, President Cleveland himself had cleared both Brisco's name and his partner's name, but things didn't return to the way they were before he stared down the business end of a half-dozen Springfield rifles.
Something had changed then, something he couldn't quite articulate. It started out as a small but persistent nagging - like a pebble inside his boot. In the following weeks and months, he began to feel it more strongly but got no closer to figuring out precisely what it was that had changed. Finally, after nearly a year of zigzagging aimlessly across the country, he returned to San Francisco.
And things were different here as well. His partner and his friends had moved on with their lives. The government had lost interest in his services for the moment. John Bly's gang had been dispatched. The new crop of criminals and bail jumpers didn't interest him. He toyed with the notice of reentering the legal profession, but the idea left him slightly nauseous.
So, in the end, Brisco County, Jr., spent his days hanging around the Horseshoe Club and playing cards. He wasn't a wealthy man to begin with – his partner, Lord Bowler, had been the businessman in the relationship. Between his wanderlust, women, and stud poker, he ate through his savings before he knew it.
Which brought him to his current predicament.
"Must've woke up on the wrong side of the bed," he muttered, his eyes on the worthless cards in his hand.
"A bed you still haven't paid for." Ellie, proprietress, hostess, barkeep, and guardian of order at the Horseshoe Club, tapped her foot impatiently. She stood, arms crossed, her gaze steady, her voice impatient.
It gnawed at him that he was past due on his rent. Despite the reputation of his professional kinsman, Brisco was a man of honor. He paid his debts.
"You'll have your rent," Brisco replied finally, taking a long moment to study his opponent. "For this month and next. In one," a quick glance at his cards and then back to his opponent, "two minutes."
Ellie crossed her arms. "If you're going to hang around here, Mister, I'll put you to work," she said, only half-joking, pushing through the crowd that had formed around the table.
"I don't doubt it," Brisco said as she left. He returned his full attention to the young man sitting across from him. His sole opponent was an actuary from Philadelphia. The other players had folded long ago; some remained at the table, others watched from the bar, drinking away their losses.
He could have suspended the game for another ten or fifteen minutes and on another night he might have done just that. Instead, Brisco slid a pair of gold coins to the center of the table. "Call."
The young out-of-towner splayed his cards out on the knotted wooden tabletop. "Full house. Aces and eights."
Brisco glanced down, frowned. He threw his cards down: a pair of threes, a six, a nine, a jack.
A collective gasp rose from the crowd, followed by murmurs of pity. The spectators shuffled away, as though uncomfortable at seeing the legendary Brisco County, Jr., lose to an insurance man barely out of university.
The stranger grinned uneasily. "Does that mean I won?"
"Yeah, kid, you did. I'm out." Brisco reached for his hat. "Evening."
As he crossed to the bar, he could feel Ellie's eyes on him. Her turned and gave her an easy smile, hands raised, signaling that he didn't intend to skip out on the two weeks rent on which he was past due.
Ellie shook her head. "What's going on, Brisco?" she asked, her brown eyes wrinkled with concern. "You've been hanging around here for weeks, hustling the tourists over cards."
"It pays well..." he said, shrugged, and tried to step around her, but she put her hands on her hips, blocking his path. "But not well enough," he admitted.
"What? No more bad guys to round up?"
"I guess I'm just waiting to get restless again."
Ellie smiled. "Then I might have just the thing."
She thrust a broom and apron into his hands before he could protest. "The front walk needs sweeping. That wind - it's blown all manner of dust up in here." When he didn't move, she gently shoved him towards the door. "Hurry, before the crowd picks up again."
Brisco sighed, then shouldered the broom with a signature grin. "If it'll pay the rent," he said, heading for the door. "But I'll tell you something, Ellie. I got a feeling that something's coming."
"I don't know," he admitted, but his eyes had that look that he got whenever he got started on 'the coming thing.' "Something. It could be right around the cor --- oomph!"
Brisco intended to say 'corner,' but someone barreled around the side of the building and directly into him. The newcomer was small and light, but he was caught off-guard and the impact sent him sprawling to the sidewalk, momentarily dazed.
Her eyes were wild, her breaths coming in ragged pants, and she appeared to be bleeding. She was barefoot, wearing a torn nightshirt - a man's nightshirt - and nothing else.
"Help," she gasped.
Roll credits. More to come!