Authors: Kathleen Y'Barbo
Wyatt Earp shook his head. “This little lady was kind enough to give up her table for us,” he said with a tone that seemed strangely casual considering his companion’s nervous demeanor. “I’m sure she’s not going to mention to anyone she’s seen you.”
“Seen who?” Anna said before she could stop herself. “I don’t believe we’ve met, and it appears that’s exactly as it should be.”
The lawman broke into a grin. “You don’t recognize this man, little lady? This fellow here, he’s famous.”
“He is?” Anna gave him a closer inspection. “Really?”
“Yes, of course,” Mr. Earp said. “This here’s the outlaw William Bonney. You won’t tell the law he’s here, will you?”
The pair seemed close to laughter.
“Never mind,” Anna said, shaking her head. “I’m sure you’re a nice fellow. You certainly don’t look like an outlaw.”
In fact, he looked like a nice old man, unless one studied his face. Only then could a person see that rather than being of advanced years, he was middle-aged at most. His skin may have been pale and his cheeks gaunt, but there were no wrinkles around eyes as blue as the Colorado sky.
If he’d been younger, she might have pegged him for the famous outlaw Doc Holliday. But while this man was indeed on the unhealthy side, as newspaper reports claimed of Holliday, the fellow standing before her bore little resemblance to the young, dark-haired man in the newspaper photographs.
The lawman reached out to shake her hand. “Pleased to meet you,” she said. “And you’re Wyatt Earp.”
“I am. A pleasure to make your acquaintance, ma’am.” He cut his companion a look. “If you’ll excuse us, Mr. Bonney and I have plenty to catch up on.”
“Of course.” Anna’s gaze dropped to the packet in Bonney’s hand. “Would you like me to post your letters?” She held up Gennie’s letter. “I’m already taking this for a friend, and I don’t mind dropping them off at the front desk on my way out.”
“No,” Bonney said quickly, pressing the letters against his chest. “I’m sure this is a fine establishment, but I prefer to send my correspondence through the postal office.” He winked. “Cut out the middleman and avoid the diversion of the curious, as it were.”
“I see. Well, I’m stopping at the post office for stamps on my way home.” She paused to give him time to consider her offer. “Though if you’re particular with your mail, perhaps you’d prefer to deliver them yourself.”
His smile was dazzling despite the paleness of his skin and the weakness of his demeanor. “You do understand, then.”
“Yes, of course.” And with what she hoped was a graceful exit, Anna turned and swept down the stairs to the main lobby. “What an odd man,” she said to herself as she took a few tentative steps
toward the door and the sidewalk beyond. “I wonder who he really was.”
The chill air hit her square in the face, and Anna’s breath caught. The dining room had been so warm that she’d completely forgotten the remainder of last month’s snow on the ground. Anna shrugged deeper into her coat and pressed on.
Only when she’d crossed Eighteenth Street did she realize she’d just missed the perfect opportunity to investigate the aging lawman. She looked at the Windsor. Then turned away and left her aspiring career in journalism in a heap on the curb.
“Home, miss?” her driver, McMinn, asked as he handed her into the buggy.
Anna shook her head and handed him Gennie’s letter. “We need to post this for Mrs. Beck, and I need some stamps.”
“There you are,” a deep and distinctly Southern voice called. “Am I too late to avail myself of your kindness?”
Anna swiveled to see Mr. Earp’s mysterious, fair-haired friend walking toward her, the packet of letters in his hand.
“Not at all,” she said.
When he reached the buggy, he leaned heavily against it as if exhausted. Despite the chill in the air, perspiration glistened on his high forehead. He reached into his pocket for a handkerchief to mop his brow, then handed her the letters. “Thank you.”
As she took the packet, he slipped a folded bill into her hand. She could feel his fingers trembling.
“This should cover the cost,” he said.
“Oh no, I couldn’t possibly …” Anna’s attention moved from the folded bills to the face of the man who held them. The harsh afternoon sun revealed the sickly pallor of the man’s skin, and his gaunt look clearly stemmed from more than his thin build. “Are you unwell?”
Rather than respond, the man merely shrugged. “This cold air is lovely, don’t you think? Gets a man’s blood racing. Again, thank you. I am in your deepest debt.”
Anna tried to return the funds to him. “No, please. It’s just a few letters.”
“To you, perhaps,” he said, “but to me it is much more. A pity I must resort to such lengths just to keep my letters from being accidentally mislaid before they reach their intended recipient.”
Anna felt his fingers tremble and realized she still held his hand. “I don’t understand.”
“No,” he said slowly, “I suppose you don’t.”
He took a step backward, and the money slid from her gloved fingers, landing at her feet on the floor of the buggy. When she reached down to grasp the bills, the man Wyatt Earp referred to as Mr. Bonney turned his back on her and slipped into the crowd. Anna had no trouble following his progress among those strolling up and down the thoroughfare. Between his almost-white hair and his superior height, one would be hard pressed to miss the man who shuffled along with the slow gait of a fellow much more advanced in years.
The packet of letters lay in her lap, and Anna noticed the top one addressed to a convent in Georgia. She looked down at her feet, where the man’s money had fallen. An idea formed in her head.
McMinn cleared his throat. “Post office?” he asked, gathering the reins.
“First the post office and then back here to the Windsor,” Anna said quickly before she lost her courage. If she truly wanted to be a journalist, what better time to begin than when she knew the exact location of the infamous Wyatt Earp?
He is the last man anybody would ever take for a killer …
Kansas City Star, May 15, 1883, regarding Doc Holliday
Two steps outside the doctor’s office, Jeb nearly keeled over. There in broad daylight, on the sidewalk in front of the Windsor Hotel, stood a man who strongly resembled the murdering coward Doc Holliday.
Jeb edged closer, keeping his hat low over his eyes and a pair of well-padded matrons between him and the suspect. Holliday had lost weight since their run-in back in Leadville. His suit hung on shoulders that seemed less broad than Jeb remembered, but the silver revolver was deadly familiar. He wore a look of ill health that explained the fit of his clothes, and more than once he paused to cough. Abruptly Holliday turned, and Jeb backed into the shadows to watch from under the brim of his Stetson.
Doc zigzagged across Eighteenth Street, then leaned into a nicely appointed buggy to talk to its occupant. The society gal shook her head, causing the blue feathers on her hat to obscure Jeb’s view of her face. He could see chestnut curls and hands that moved as if she couldn’t manage to speak without them.
It didn’t take a Pinkerton to figure out what was going on between Doc Holliday and the woman in the buggy. Jeb’s temper flared. Was money changing hands? It appeared so.
It never ceased to amaze him how easily a woman got caught up in turning a bad man good. Jeb gave the stylish society belle a second look. Though he couldn’t see her face, she was shapely enough that in his previous existence, before he’d learned the Lord had a better way of doing things, he might have practiced his skills on the poor girl. Instead, he’d have to be satisfied with watching Doc Holliday make the attempt.
That the man walked free on the streets of Denver galled Jeb to no end. Except for the longstanding, almost antique warrant in Arizona, which probably wouldn’t be honored anyway, John Henry Holliday had nothing to keep him from enjoying what few years he had left in any way he chose.
Unlike all those he put in the grave.
Returning his attention to the buggy, Jeb assessed the situation. From his angle, he could make out nothing of the woman’s features under the silly hat, but from the style of buggy and fine horse, she was clearly a woman of some worth.
Stilling his urge to race over and confront Holliday, Jeb rested his palm on his pistol. A part of him hoped Doc might commit some crime right in front of him so he could use the Colt on the gunfighter.
Not likely, and Jeb knew it. If there was one thing besides gunplay Doc Holliday excelled at, it was staying one step ahead of the law.
The pair seemed oblivious to his intrusion on their private
moment, such was the intimacy of their conversation. There seemed to be some point of debate, for the woman continued to thrust the money back at Doc only to have him return it to her. Finally the former dentist stepped away from the buggy and headed back across Eighteenth toward Jeb.
The possibility Doc might recognize him did not keep Jeb from getting a direct look at the criminal, who’d aged beyond his years. He seemed to wear his troubles in his expression as well as his posture.
Not that Jeb cared. Even though he’d read of Doc’s supposed battle with illness, to see that Ella’s killer suffered gave him some measure of satisfaction. That the consumption was a slow, cruel death was slightly comforting, as well.
The Bible said he should let go of any concern over what the Lord did with Holliday. This was an ongoing project at which Jeb failed more than succeeded.
Jeb slowed his pace to allow a harried mother to herd half a dozen children into the Crutcher Mercantile, all the while watching Doc’s back. The Georgia dentist plying a society matron with money intrigued Jeb as much as it put him on alert. Doc was up to something.
Jeb glanced behind him to see if Doc’s friend still waited, but the buggy had already disappeared. He turned his attention back to Doc, who made slow but steady progress through the bustling crowd until he disappeared inside the apothecary that was located inside the Windsor Hotel.
. A man in his health probably spent a considerable amount of time and money buying potions and powders to keep himself upright and moving.
All the better, for that was a stop Jeb too needed to make.
Jeb took a deep breath of clear, bracing air and paused to survey the scene around him. Though Holliday mostly traveled alone, only allowing his supposed wife Kate any access to him, there was nonetheless a possibility some of his less law-abiding friends might be lurking about. Jeb saw no one he recognized, but he knew there could still be new hangers-on whose names he might only learn the hard way. By way of habit, he rested his palm on his Colt and gave one last hard look to anyone who might be glancing in his direction.
Jeb spent the next several minutes staring at the apothecary door, trying to decide just how bad an idea it was to go inside. His stupid side won out. He took two steps forward, then stopped as the woman’s buggy came around the corner and rolled to a stop in front of the Windsor Hotel.
So they were meeting after all.
Jeb crossed the street and caught up to the woman as her driver helped her down. She paid Jeb no attention, though from his spot behind her Jeb could see she gave particular interest to the upper floors of the hotel.
“I’ll be in the dining room,” she said.
The voice sounded vaguely familiar. Before Jeb could figure out from where, the driver spied him staring and moved toward him.
“You need something, pal?” the undersized Irishman asked.
Jeb pulled his hat lower over his eyes and shook his head. He turned and moved a few yards away, then retraced his steps in time to see the pretty lady entering the Windsor’s front doors.
A glance at the driver, who had already climbed into the seat and
slouched his hat over his eyes, and Jeb followed the mysterious female inside.
The lobby stretched half a block in either direction, and a double staircase led to one of the dining rooms. For a city girl who probably got little in the way of exercise, she took the steps at a decent pace. When a group of men in business suits obscured his view, Jeb watched her hat, a concoction of feathers and ribbon, bob and bounce as she climbed above the crowded lobby. Careful to blend in as best he could despite the fact he still wore a full beard, Jeb crossed the lobby and waited at the bottom of the stairs until the woman disappeared into the main dining room.
A fellow in a hotel uniform caught sight of him and frowned. Jeb tipped his hat and pretended to leave, then circled around behind the man to wait for his chance to get upstairs undetected. It came a few minutes later in the form of a screeching child who threw herself onto the floor in the middle of the lobby. While the hapless parents attempted to console their little one, the uniformed employee watched intently, giving Jeb a moment to race up the staircase without being noticed.
Jeb reached the second-floor landing and stumbled to a stop. In the center of the nearly empty dining room sat Wyatt Earp and his wife. And with them was Doc Holliday. This Jeb certainly hadn’t expected, for the once inseparable duo had not been seen in public in years. From what he’d heard, Wyatt had settled into quiet obscurity as a family man bent on living to a ripe old age. The woman approached the outlaws’ table as boldly as if she’d known them all her life.