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Debbie Does Dodge by Will Buster

EXTRACT FOR
Debbie Does Dodge 
(Will Buster)


DEBBIE DOES DODGE

Chapter 1 - Arrival

 

Deborah Drake watched with bored, aching eyes from her uncomfortable perch on a dusty rail car seat. She was in the third car of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad train as it loudly chugged into the Dodge City station area. Smoke rose like some sinister shroud covering almost everything that she was looking at. Wood frame buildings appeared shadowy and ghostly in the late afternoon sunlight. Tobacco smoke and male sweat odors permeated the interior of the noisy car. 

Deborah’s face was unnaturally white and tensely drawn from many hours of seemingly endless exhausting tedium, as she’d ridden the train from Chicago to St. Louis and then through Topeka to her ultimate destination, Dodge City. Well there wasn’t anything ultimate about it. It was a half assed cow town at the end of the civilized world. It was reputed to be the haunt of cattlemen, desperados and women of the lowest vices who would sell their bodies for fifty American cents and a stiff drink of hard liquor.

Now she was here. The slender blonde could feel the train slowing down with its diminishing clackety pace before jerking to a sullen halt. Steam hissed and the general noise was punctuated with loud shouts of railroad hands. Doors clanged open and the other passengers grabbed their belongings and stumbled down the railway car steps. Now that her long trip was over she shuddered there in the uncomfortable seat. All she had in the world was the one suitcase containing clothing, a few daguerreotypes of her father and mother, an old bible and some trinkets of jewelry. She wore her money belt under her green dress. It contained the modest remains of her small fortune. There were three twenty dollar gold pieces along with two eagles and a half eagle also in that belt. It was all her money that was left from the city and life she’d left. To think a mere $85 not counting the small change in her hand bag and some jewelry was all that stood between her and abject poverty. Well she did have the letter of introduction to a Mister Charles Beeson of the Long Branch tavern on Front Street, wherever the hell that was.

She squeezed her eyes shut trying to concentrate. She’d obviously have to ask some questions when she got off this stinking, infernal train. It was certainly a long way from old Virginia. With a trembling hand she gripped her portmanteau and slowly stood up like some newly resurrected soul emerging from an ancient crypt to face judgment day.

When she finally emerged from the haze and smoke of the hissing engine she found herself beside the small wood frame station. A black porter was busy moving some crates onto one of the cars and the conductor was collecting tickets from a few passengers who were about to climb on the train. Then she saw the ticket window and she moved to it. “Could you tell me where the Long Branch is sir?”

Charles “Chalk” Beeson enjoyed his role as owner of the famous Long Branch. The honky-tonk piano ground out Foster hits as fast as Sam could play them. The clinking of glasses and bottles were almost constant mid the hum of patron’s voices. He smiled to himself to think that just five years before there had been literally nothing here. That’s when Sitler had built his sod hut and this cow town just sprung out of the Kansas plains. To think it was 1877 and the town had a sheriff, several deputies, a mayor, a newspaper, three well known taverns and several other thriving businesses and virtually all of it right on Front street.  

His pleasant reverie was interrupted by a rude Eastern looking woman who was trying to get his attention. “Mister Beeson! Mister Beeson! I need to speak with you! Now!”

She practically had to shout in her highest, shrillest voice to be heard over the noisy bar room. His eyes narrowed a bit as he took in the sight of the bedraggled looking blonde with the pale green dress and the telltale dusty appearance of those who’d just escaped the train. He motioned for her to follow him. He just didn’t feel like getting into a shouting match in front of the paying customers. One of the lessons he’d learned over the years was to serve the booze and keep a low profile. Make all those cow pokes and sodbusters think that they were the most important guys to come along since General U.S. by God Grant. 

Debbie followed the tall, big-shouldered gent towards the rear of the place. He gave her an appraising look when he opened the door to his office. She assumed it was an office because she saw a paper-strewn desk along with a half empty bookcase and the inevitable stench of tobacco.

“Well ma’am maybe we can talk here. It’s a little less noisy.”

“Mister Beeson my name is Deborah Drake. I’m from Chicago.” Her voice was a lot more pleasant now that she didn’t have to screech to be heard.

His reply was disinterested and matter of fact. “I figured you were from back east. You got the look of an Easterner and you sure do talk funny. So what business you got with me anyway?”

She slowly withdrew the letter from her luggage and presented it to him. “Sally Haskins was an acquaintance of mine and she was kind enough to write this letter of introduction for me. She said you might have a job for me.”

He opened the letter and read it slowly and carefully. It was an introduction all right, the only problem was he didn’t have a job and he didn’t run a brothel, at least not officially. He looked back at the expectant woman. “I ain’t got a job right now. I haven’t had one for over a month. It’s too bad but I can’t help you.”

She looked as if she’d been hit in the stomach with a shovel. Her voice came out a whisper. “Mercy me! What am I to do? I’ve come all this way and you’re telling me there’s nothin’?”

He saw the beginning of a tear start to form and trickle down her pale cheek. She really looked like she’d gone through the ringer. She was a looker though he could see that. Perhaps Frank Tanner could have some use for her. That of course was assuming she was that kind of girl.

A grudging smile crept over his face. “I tell you what missy; I’ll let you stay in one of my rooms over night. You can get a good supper and a good night’s rest and in the morning I’ll introduce you to Frank Tanner. He runs the Lone Star club. It’s on the other side of the tracks on the South side of town. I’m sure he’ll have work for you.”

Relief shone in her face when she heard that. She didn’t know what kind of work was in store for her but at this point she didn’t care. For the moment at least there was light at the end of this long dark tunnel.

Debbie hadn’t realized how hungry she was. The steak and potato supper was heavenly as she practically inhaled the rich tasting meat. The beer wasn’t all that bad either. It helped wash out the dust in her throat and it tasted real good when it was swallowed with the warm beef and spiced potatoes. Her attention was suddenly drawn from the rapidly disappearing food by raised voices.

“Why you cheatin’ son of a bitch! I seen you palm that fuckin’ card. You had a fuckin’ ace up your sleeve all night you yellow bellied tin horn!”

These caustic remarks were leveled at a well-dressed looking gentleman. Two other men who’d been playing cards at the same table quickly scooped up their money and made tracks. The gentleman was still sitting at the table calmly counting his winnings. “Well Willy I just don’t quite see it that way. No you best hush up and quit while you can still breathe and keep a few dollars in your pocket. I don’t need to cheat foolhardy scum suckers like you. You’re so dumb you couldn’t beat aunt Amy and she don’t play cards.”

His southern drawl was calm and cultured. His bearing was one of fearless confidence. Willy was dressed in typical cowpoke chaps and vest. He couldn’t have been more than twenty but he had a dangerous glint in his eye. His retort as even more insulting than his first. “This time you gone to far you piece of southern white trash. I’m gonna blast your spit hacking soul to kingdom come or were you just good enough to suck Robert E Lee’s cock?”

Some whistles and woowies came from some of the hard-bitten men who were sitting or standing by.

The Southern gentleman placed his cards face down on the table and slowly reshuffled the deck. His eyes had become intense, like a cobra watching a mouse. Debbie could tell even from such a short introduction to the ways of the West that the professional gambler was probably more dangerous than the enraged cowboy. “I do believe sir you have said the magic words. What is your name?”

“What business is it of yours Doc?”

“Well I just wanted to know so I could inform your kin about your untimely demise is all.”

This brought some laughter from the spectators.

“Why you lily livered cracker. My name is Willy Burns and I’m gonna fill you full of little holes you cheatin’ bastard! Now stop your talkin’ and let’s finish this outside.”

Doc gave a long sigh, “Will you tell him Chalk or should I.”

Beeson spoke up at that. “Hey Willy Doc doesn’t cheat! Now sit down and have a drink on the house and tell Doc you’re sorry for cussin’ him.”

“You keep out of this Chalk! I seen what I seen!

Doc coughed and whipped his face with a damp handkerchief. He slowly rose to his feet and put the handkerchief back in his pocket. There was both the look of resigned sadness and the eager expectation of the executioner in his gaze as he followed the cowpoke out the swinging door. It was as if Debbie had no mind of her own at that moment. She got up and went to the door to watch. Several other men quickly went out to the boardwalk to see what would happen. Doc and Willy walked out into the street and positioned themselves about thirty paces from each other.

Then it happened. Debbie jumped a foot as a loud shotgun blast erupted less than fifty feet away. Both men looked over to see the town sheriff striding towards them.

Doc looked apologetic. “Sorry Charlie but the kid said things that just can’t be taken back. He asked for this.”

By now Charlie was between the two but advancing towards Willy. “Come on Willy you really don’t want this. Go back to the triple K and sleep it off. You’ll thank me next week.”

Willy whined, “But he was cheatin’ at cards. I lost almost ten dollars. Tell him to give it back!”

Charlie was talking quietly to the young cowpoke now. “Willy your old man and me go back a long way. You stand to lose a hell of a lot more than ten dollars. Doc Holiday is one of the most dangerous gun slingers this side of the Mississippi and I sure don’t want you pushing up daisies son so give it a rest, say you are sorry to Doc and I’ll see to it you get a good night’s rest in the jail and in the morning you’ll be back home and in one piece. Trust me on this one Willy. You don’t want to do this.”

Doc by this time had sidled up to the sheriff and his Southern manners took over. “Mister Basset sir this young fool has a big mouth and sure needs to learn a lot about playing poker. But just to show there’s no hard feelings I’ll give him back five bucks along with a lesson learned. Watch this Willy!”

Doc drew his side arm and in a blur of motion he fired at the boot shop sign about a hundred feet away and placed a hole dead center in the second o of boot. Calmly he put the gun away…”Willy I’ve been shooting food for my supper years before you was born. So take Charlie’s advice and go home.”

He tossed the gold piece to Willy and he reluctantly clasped it while staring at Doc and then the fresh hole in the Boot shop sign. Willy shrugged and went along with the sheriff.

When Doc returned to the entrance of the Long Branch he noticed the girl in the pale green dress looking with interest and perhaps was it his imagination? Was it admiration?

She voiced her thought. “I declare sir you are a credit to the South. You could have killed that boy and no mistake. You’ve earned a star in your crown.”

Doc bowed slightly and removed his hat. “Do I detect a trace of magnolia drippings in your sweet voice ma’am?”

“I’m originally from Virginia. My pappy fought for Massa Robert he did. He was a fine officer until he was killed at Gettysburg.”

Doc extended his hand. “I’m Doc Holiday, one time dentist, gun slinger and sportin’ man. I’m originally from Georgia and I’m honored to meet a real lady. They’re pretty rare out here as you might have already suspected.”

She smiled at Doc. She hadn’t been exposed to such manners since she’d moved North back in 74. “I do fear they won’t be playing any more cards this evening. So why not share a bottle of Johnny Walker’s best with me and I’ll tell you all about Dodge. I assume you are new here?”

“Yes Mister Holiday. I’m looking for gainful employment.”

They sat down at the table where his winnings and cards still lay where he’d left them. Everyone else got back to his own business and the near tragedy was already forgotten. She asked, “So what was with Willy? Did you really cheat or was he just a fool?”

Her winning smile told him she was just curious. He laughed, “Oh the kid doesn’t know how to hold his liquor yet. I do suspect he can’t handle the average whore yet either. You do know this town is noted for havin' the best whores this side of Topeka which sure ain’t sayin’ much.”

She raised her eyebrows but didn’t look particularly shocked. Sally Haskins had given her two earfuls to say the least. He poured her a drink once a bottle had been delivered. “So miss, I’m afraid I did not get your name.”

“I’m Debbie, Debbie Drake recently from Chicago and other places. I left Virginia in 74. How long have you been here mister Holiday?”

He took a stiff drink and answered, “Please miss Drake call me Doc. I prefer to be called that although my relatives in a weak moment used to call me John. So welcome to Dodge City Deborah.”

“I’m just curious Doc, you say you were a dentist?”

Something happened to Doc’s eyes at that. They grew cloudy and distant as he recalled past times and images. “I studied in Philadelphia to become a dentist. You must understand that was a remarkable city. I went to concerts and heard great music performed by an orchestra of over fifty musicians. It makes the music in this hellhole sound like mere noise. Day after day I gotta listen to that ten thumbed klutz over there hammer out worn out tunes. I used to listen to Beethoven and Chopin when they had piano concerts. Hell some of the better ladies could play some of those piano works. The library there was packed with volumes from almost every printing house in America and England. I could read Shakespeare in the cool of a shady elm in the public park on Sundays. But you see Miss Drake I am afflicted by a disease which most persons call consumption. I suspect I received this questionable legacy from my mother who died about the end of the war. You’re talking to a dead man that’s still walkin’.”

With genuine sympathy she interjected, “Oh I’m so sorry Doc. How can you stand being out here? “

“I lost my practice because my patients didn’t like being coughed on. So now I gamble and carry a gun in hopes that someday somebody will be a little faster than me and put me out of my misery. Problem is self preservation makes me too fast. I’m too greedy for life I guess but I sure don’t fear the grim reaper. Me and him are old friends by now. He keeps beckoning to me night after night. Some mornings I wake up and I am genuinely surprised. You see that creature over there sitting at the bar? The one in the crimson dress?”

She nodded, “Yes Doc. You mean the one with the reddish hair?”

“Yeah, that’s big nosed Kate. She’s the ugliest whore in Kansas. She’s the only one desperate enough to take up with me because of my condition. I’ve been exposed to great music, great literature, the mysteries of science and now I play cards, hang around with the lowest harlot in the state and I fear I shall never see lovely Georgia again.”

She’d only been sipping a little from the golden fiery liquid in her glass. She didn’t like the stuff but she tried to make it look like she was enjoying it. “I truly am sorry Doc. My life hasn’t exactly been a bed of roses either. Why are you telling me all this? I’m a total stranger after all.”

“I gotta tell somebody that cares enough to listen.” He swallowed some more whiskey. “Kate don’t care, my friends haven’t even seen the East and well at least you’re from the old South. I hope you find what you are lookin’ for in Dodge. There sure as hell ain’t much here in this dusty, flea ridden hell hole.”

She looked grim as she thought back herself. “To tell you Doc Chicago ain’t much better. It’s bigger and badder in a lot of ways. You treat me like a lady and I thank you for that. It’s been along time since I was treated like a lady and that’s because I haven’t acted like one for quite a spell.”

He nodded in understanding. “Yeah, gone are the days that I was a gentleman. I guess we are a sorry lot we Southerners who lost our glory when the blue bellies and the carpetbaggers took the fine ways away. You have to survive after all and sometimes it isn’t pretty but you have to play the hand you are dealt and that’s the long and short of it.”

Her eyes were drooping and fatigue was hitting her like a ton of bricks. “I really must seek repose Doc. That train ride was a long one and I feel like I’m a million years old. Beeson’s got something lined up for me tomorrow. Good night Doc. Don’t be a stranger.”

He stood up and helped her out of her chair. “If anyone bothers you, just let me know. I’ll see to it the varmint doesn’t try it again.”

His hand was warm in hers although his face was white and pasty. Her answer was soft filled with fatigue and compassion at the same time. “Thank you Doc. I suspect there still lurks a fine gentleman beneath that crusty surface. I’ll need all the friends I can make in this hellhole. Isn’t that what you called it?”  

“Yes ma’am and I was bein’ kind.”

Minutes later she was undressed although she still wore her money belt around her waste. In seconds she was asleep in the strange uncomfortable bed. That night she was so tired she could have slept on a board.