Dear readers, tonight we go to a Queer Weird West, to listen in on a conversation between a gunslinger haunted by a demon and Doc Holliday. They’re talking about murder, Wyatt Earp, and about the strange life in Tombstone, Arizona, in 1881.
“The Protagonist Speaks…” John Ringo pondered this, then cast a sharp look at Doc Holliday. “That’s you, I suppose…”
“I am indeed the protagonist of my own life.”
John huffed a laugh. “And I’m my own antagonist?”
“How can that be? Even if you don’t consider yourself… entirely heroic.” Doc reached for the list of questions. An idle afternoon in a darkened saloon in Tombstone was in danger of turning tedious due to the Arizona heat. A distraction was called for. “Let’s make a start on these, anyhow. I have to admit I’m curious.”
What are you best known for?
“Easy,” Doc answered on Johnny’s behalf. “You’re known as a gunslinger, as am I.”
John shook off this thought and slumped further in the chair.
Doc, as he was wont to do, filled the silence. “It’s not that a hard reputation isn’t a convenience from time to time. It adds a certain… weight to one’s words. But I do wonder sometimes if I wouldn’t rather people see the truth beyond it.”
“Such as?” John prompted.
“Aren’t there days when you’d rather not be known as a killer? I know we’ve each earned it, but you could count up all our kills on one hand, and still have a few fingers left over. Add in Wyatt’s count, and you still wouldn’t need a second hand. Yet you and I are seen as desperados, while his lawman’s badge is barely even tarnished.”
Johnny ignored Doc’s chatter about Wyatt Earp with the ease of long practice, and mused, “I used to think… I could earn favors for the souls I freed.”
“Ah, yes. Your demon lover.” It had always been plain that Doc never believed Johnny about that, though he indulged such talk as if it were real. “I’m sure he is both beautiful and bodacious. But that still hasn’t motivated you to really earn your deadly reputation.”
“No, I met him after I’d earned it.” Johnny lowered his head, and rubbed at his face with both hands as if wanting to wrench off a mask. “I only killed the one man… and I thought I had good cause, but it ruined me. Maybe he – the demon, I mean – maybe he just has a taste for ruination.”
“Before that, then. Were you really so different as a youth?”
What was it like where you grew up?
“Ordinary. Indiana, then Missouri. My Pa owned a general store. They were quiet folk. Pious. I had some schooling, but mostly I read. Had the run of his aunt’s library.”
“Sounds idyllic,” Doc remarked – and he probably meant it, despite his sardonic tone.
“My parents decided to emigrate to California when I was fourteen. My Pa… On the way, in Wyoming… my Pa shot himself –”
“The deuce you say!”
“Don’t get all excited. It was an accident. Climbing down from our wagon carrying his rifle.” John sighed. “I saw the whole stupid thing.”
Doc considered him carefully, and then lit a thin cigar and drew in the smoke. “We’re not so different, are we?” he mused before a long exhale. “My mother died when I was fifteen. She was pious, too. My father, then… well, he lost my respect for ever.” Doc livened as another thought struck him. “But I wager you don’t have a saint in the family! My cousin Mattie, I swear it, will be canonized… Not that I’ll be around to see it.”
“No saints,” John confirmed. “But none of ’em were sinners.”
“Now, what’s next?”Continue reading “John Ringo (of Writ in Blood, by Julie Bozza)”