4. The Marshal and the gambler

He was watching her waltzing gracefully at the rhythm of the music. He could never get tired of observing her, there were too many things in her he found fascinating. He knew she was the one. No other women in the world could make him feel the way he felt about her. And he was so happy she felt the same way towards him... She was dancing with a young man from Atlanta. John Henry didn't mind too much, he knew he could trust her, she was faithful. He would allow the young gentleman a dance, then would go to them and claim his cousin back. He would have the next dance.

"I'll say, that little Martha Ann, she's really something!" John Henry heard. A group of young men were standing next to the buffet table. They were all looking at Mattie and her dancing partner with looks of envy. No, no, John Henry could not let them develop any desire towards his cousin. No one but him would have her.

"That's for sure. But you know, I believe she's already in love..." one of the men answered.

"What do you mean?" another asked, surprised.

"William's right, Joe," a fourth continued. " Mattie has a crush on her cousin John Henry."

"Her cousin? How in hell? How d'you know that, Robert?"

"I heard of it, it's pretty well know, now, although they try hard to hide it, they are promised to one another, I believe."

"But... that's... disgusting!"

"Indeed, they're family..."

"So, what about the children? I hear consanguinity turns children into monsters..."

"Hold on your horses, boys," the one who seemed the oldest stopped them. A marriage between cousins isn't that seldom, nowadays. The war's destroyed many a southern family. It is a way to try and reconstruct it."

"Still, it's unhealthy!"

"What d'you think of John Henry, by the way?" William asked.

"He's very handsome!" a young girl interrupted them. "And has many manners, unlike you, boys! I've been hearing your conversation from the other end of the room! You might want to keep it down. Mattie and John Henry are here, this evenin'"

"A wise advice indeed, Mary," John Henry suddenly said, appearing behind her. The men all blushed at once, ashamed. "Gentlemen," John Henry went on, "may I suggest, next time, you make sure no one might overhear your discussions, fascinating as they may be." He then softly bowed and went to the dance floor to join his Mattie.

"My darling, may I have this dance?" he asked, bowing and offering her his arm. Smiling, she took it after thanking her former partner.

They began waltzing slowly, evolving through the room among the many couples. They smiled at each other, their eyes filled with love for one another. He wished the night would go on forever, that nothing would end this happy and peaceful moment they were sharing.

She leaned in and whispered in his ear, "Come back to me, John Henry, I miss you..." A tear rolled down her cheek and she smiled softly at him.

Then it all became blurry and John Henry opened his eyes in an unfamiliar place. He coughed and realized the terribly painful truth; he had been dreaming. He wasn't home anymore. He hated to dream of his home, for it made his current life in this unfriendly west all the more difficult to bear and it made him terribly nostalgic.

"Who's Mattie?" he heard.

He turned around in his bed and saw an already dressed Kate, looking at him.

"Where are you going?" he asked in a hoarse voice. The throat ached.

"I'm goin' to work. Since you haven't won a dime last night, someone has to pay the room. It ain't free."

"What do you mean work? What kind of work?" he asked, sitting.

"Well what d'you think?" The tone in her voice made it very clear to Doc that she was upset and in a bad mood.

"What's wrong?" Doc asked, displeased by her tone.

"Nothing's wrong. Nothing's ever wrong, with you! Stop playing the innocent all the time, will ya?" she began shouting. "You're always pretendin' you're so clean, the perfect gentleman!"

"What's goin' on, Kate?" he asked again, since he had not gotten a clear explanation.

"You should stop drinkin' so damn much is what's goin' on! Damn southerner!"

"Just what do you mean by stop drinking?"

She looked hard at him. "I mean you're not even able to satisfy me in bed anymore! You goddamn drunk!"

Then it all came back to Doc's mind. Last night, he had indeed been unable to perform any lovemaking in bed. And he realized it had been so for the last few days. But he knew the alcohol wasn't the only responsible for it: his health was terrible and he felt exhausted as soon as he woke up in the morning. No amount of sleep could suffice to rest him. He had barely enough strength to stand up, much less spend the nights making love to his woman...

"And that's why you're goin' to play the whore all day?" He asked, somewhat offended and embarrassed by what she had just said.

"Well, if you can't give me pleasure, others will!" she said coldly before slamming the door behind her.

Doc sat motionless in his bed. He was cold, as he always was, although it was a sunny spring day. He opened the drawer of his night table and took out the small book in it. He opened it and the page revealed a photography of Mattie. The quality wasn't very good, but it was a little bit of home. The book also contained a photo of his dear late mother along with several poems of Keats, Coleridge or Lord Byron, some lyrics he had written by memory and letters from home. He kept this book hidden from Kate, for he did not wish to share his memories of the South with her. This book was private, and only he could ever have access to it.

Sighing, he put the photo back in the book and placed it back in the night table before getting dressed. Kate was right, they had to earn money to pay for the room and meal.

"So, what's it gonna be, Holliday? Ya've been simperin' for hours. I'm getting' awful tired of your play-actin'!"

Doc simply looked at the man, a false smile appearing on his pale lips. "I'm in," he finally said throwing his chips in the pot. They now played for $200, a nice sum which Doc truly needed. As he looked deep in the eyes of his opponent, he was composed and calm, unlike the other who looked desperately nervous and stressed. Such men simply shouldn't play poker, Doc tought.

"Show your hand, Rudabaugh," Doc ordered.

Dave Rudabaugh did as he was told. He had three kings.

"A nice hand indeed," Doc commented.

"Show yours, now, come on!"

Doc revealed an aces full.

"Goddamn you!" Rudabaugh yelled, standing up at once.

"You're out of money, Rudabaugh," one of the players said. "Get home, now, before you get into trouble!"

"Shut up, old timer! Holliday, you son of a bitch!"

"What a nice vocabulary you have, Dave!" Doc said, staring at the man standing opposite him.

"Holliday, you don't wanna get on my nerves!"

"Don't I?"

"Shut up!" Rudabaugh made a motion to reach for his gun, but a shot was fired behind him, which made everyone in the saloon duck in surprise.

"That's it, now, you boys get outta here!" the town sheriff ordered the players at Doc's table. They did as they were told, including Rudabaugh, and Doc gathered his winnings.

"Hello handsome," a beautiful young woman said, caressing his neck. She took his cigarette off his mouth and took a puff. "Looking for some action?"

He looked at her, smiling. "I don't see why not!" Knowing that Kate was doing the same with men, he would not have to feel guilty for being with another woman. Besides, this was a good thing, he would make sure he was still able to satisfy a woman, for Kate had somewhat ashamed him, that morning.

"You're very pretty!" the whore said, looking at his naked body. She was beautiful too and lust immediately invaded Doc's body when he saw her naked. They laid down on the bed, prepared to share a tender moment of love.

Doc Holliday was on his own, playing solitaire to kill time. God knew how life out west could be boring when there were no big games of poker or when one had no occupation. And Doc had none.

"I'd like a coffee, please," Doc heard a man order at the bar. Coffee? How unusual... He thought without looking up at the man who had just entered. Doc turned a jack of diamonds, and it ended the game. Damn, he thought, I abhor solitaires... The most boring game you've ever played. No fun in it, since there's no challenge, no money...

"Sorry to interrupt your game."

Doc looked up. The coffee man was standing in front of him. He bore one of the thickest mustaches Doc had ever seen -and which reminded him a bit of Wild Bill's- and had a tin badge on his chest.

"I'm Wyatt Earp."

Doc did not respond, still looking at the stranger. He had heard of Wyatt Earp, of course. Who hadn't? But had difficulty knowing what a lawman would want from him, if not money to pay a gambling fine, as gambling was often forbidden by the law. Doc thought it would be best to surrender, the fine would be smaller than otherwise. Besides, there was just something about this man -in his eyes?- that fascinated Doc.

"Guilty as charge, Sheriff," Doc said, setting his deck of cards on the table. "What's it gonna be? 10 dollars fine?"

"Oh no, nothing like that. I'm looking for a man and I've been told to ask you about him, that you may know where he is."

"Oh, well that's good news. And who might that man be?" he asked, drinking a sip of whisky.

"Dave Rudabaugh. You seen him?"

"Indeed I have. About a week ago."

"Any idea where he went?"

"Actually yes, but why would I tell you? I've heard of you, Wyatt Earp. You've made yourself quite a reputation in small towns as a peace officer."

"I've heard about you too, Mister Holliday. And I know you're not well-known for helping out the law, but you seem to be the only one to know where he is, and I need this information."

Doc smiled. Was the sheriff implying some sort of threat? "You're lucky, Sheriff. As a matter of fact I also happen to loathe Dave Rudabaugh, and nothing would please me more than to see the poor soul behind bars or, God forbid, even worse, his neck crushed by a noose." He coughed then drank more whisky. "He went in the direction of Wichita Falls, hoping to reach Oklahoma within the week. I suggest your ride hard to catch him, Sheriff."

Wyatt smiled at the frail young southerner. He bowed his head slightly. "Thanks. I'm in debt to you. You can call me Wyatt." He held out his hand.

Doc scrutinized the sheriff a little while longer, then smiled and shook Wyatt's hand. "And you can call me Doc."

"What about your real name?"

"I've buried it a long time ago."

Wyatt looked at him, puzzled. That man seemed fascinating and he found himself hoping he would encounter Doc Holliday again in the future. "Well, thanks for the help, Doc. You have a good day," he said, putting his hat back on his head.

"And a happy hunting to you, Wyatt!"