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The Last Ride of German Freddie

Ecce homo,” said German Freddie with a smile. “That is your man, I believe.”

“That's him,” Brocius agreed. “That's Virgil Earp, the lawman.”

“What do you suppose he wants?” asked Freddie.

“He's got a warrant for someone,” said Brocius, “or he wouldn't be here.”

Freddie gazed without enthusiasm at the lawman walking along the opposite side of Allen Street in Tombstone. Earp’s spurred boots clumped on the wooden sidewalk. He looked as if he had somewhere to go.

“Entities should not be multiplied beyond what is necessary,” said Freddie, “or so Occam is understood to have said. If he is here for one of us, then so much the worse for him. If not, what does it matter to us?”

Curly Bill Brocius looked thoughtful. “I don't know about this Occam fellow, but as my mamma would say, those fellers don't chew their own tobacco. Kansas lawmen come at you in packs.”

“So do we,” said Freddie. “And this is not Kansas.”

“No,” said Brocius. “It's Tombstone” He gave Freddie a warning look from his lazy eyes. “Remember that, my friend,” he said, “and watch your back.”

Brocius drifted up Allen Street in the direction of Hafford's Saloon while Freddie contemplated Deputy U.S. Marshal Earp. The man was dressed like the parson of a particularly gloomy Protestant sect, with a black flat-crowned hat, black frock coat, black trousers, and immaculate white linen.

German Freddie decided he might as well meet this paradigm.

He walked across the dusty Tombstone street, stepped onto the sidewalk, and raised his grey sombrero.

“Pardon me,” he said. “But are you Virgil Earp?”

The man looked at him, light eyes over fair mustache. “No,” he said. “I'm his brother.”

“Wyatt?” Freddie asked. He knew that the deputy had a lawman brother.

“No,” the man said. “I'm their brother, Morgan.”

A grin tugged at Freddie's lips. “Ah,” he said. “I perceive that entities are multiplied beyond that which is necessary.”

Morgan Earp gave him a puzzled look. Freddie raised his hat again. “I beg your pardon,” he said. “I won't detain you.”


It is like a uniform, Freddie wrote in his notebook that night. Black coats, black hats, black boots. Blond mustaches and long guns in the scabbards, riding in line abreast as they led their posse out of town. As a picture of purposeful terror they stand like the Schwartzreiter of three centuries ago, horsemen who held all Europe in fear. They entirely outclassed that Lt. Hurst, who was in a real uniform and who was employing them in the matter of those stolen Army mules.

What fear must dwell in the hearts of these Earps to present themselves thus! They must dress and walk and think alike; they must enforce the rigid letter of the dead, dusty law to the last comma; they must cling to every rule and range and feature of mediocrity ... it is fear that drives men to herd together, to don uniforms, to impose upon others a needless conformity. But what enemy is it they fear? What enemy is so dreadful as to compel them to wear uniforms and arm themselves so heavily and cling to their beliefs with such ferocity?

It is their own nature! The weak, who have no power even over themselves, fear always the power that lies in a free nature—a nature fantastic, wild, astonishing, arbitrary—they must enslave this spirit first in themselves before they can enslave it in others.

It is therefore our duty—the duty of those who are free, who are natural, valorous, and unafraid, those who scorn what is sickly, cowardly, and slavish—we must resist these Earps!

And already we have won a victory—won it without raising a finger, without lifting a gun. The posse of that terrible figure of justice, that Mr. Virgil Earp, found the mules they were searching for in Frank McLaury's corral at Baba Comari—but then the complainant Lt. Hurst took counsel of his own fears, and refused to press charges.

It is wonderful! Deputy Marshal Earp, the sole voice of the law in this part of Arizona, has been made ridiculous on his first employment! How his pride must have withered at the joke that fortune played on him! How he must have cursed the foolish lieutenant and his fate!

He has left town, I understand, returned to Prescott. His brothers remain, however, stalking the streets in their dread black uniforms, infecting the town with their stolid presence. It is like an invasion of Luthers.

We must not cease to laugh at them! We must be gay! Laughter has driven Virgil from our midst, and it will drive the others, too. Our laughter will lodge burning in their hearts like bullets of flaming lead. There is nothing that will drive them from our midst as surely as our own joy at their shortcomings.

They are afraid. And we will know they are afraid. And this knowledge will turn our laughter into a weapon.


Ike Clanton was passed out on the table. The game went on regardless, as Ike had already lost his money. It was late evening in the Occidental Saloon, and the game might well go on till dawn.

“It's getting to be hard being a Cowboy,” said John Ringo. “What with having to pay taxes now.” He removed cards from his hand, tossed them onto the table. “Two cards,” he said.

Brocius gave him his cards. “If we pay taxes,” he said, “we can vote. And if we vote, we can have our own sheriff. And if we have our own sheriff, we'll make back those taxes and then some. Dealer folds.” He tossed his cards onto the table.

Freddie adjusted his spectacles and looked at his hand, jacks and treys. He tossed his odd nine onto the table. “One card,” he said. “I believe it was a mistake.”

Brocius gave Freddie a lazy-lidded glance as he dealt Freddie another trey. “You think John Behan won't behave once we elect him?”

“I think it is unwise to give someone power over you.”

“Hell yes, it was unwise,” agreed Ringo. “Behan's promised Wyatt Earp the chief deputy's job. Fifty dollars.” Silver clanged on the tabletop. Ike Clanton, drowsing, gave an uncertain snort.

“That's just to get the votes of the Earps and their friends,” Brocius said. He winked at Freddie. “You don't think he's going to keep his promises, do you?”

“What makes you think he will keep his promises to you?” Freddie asked. He raised another fifty.

“It will pay him to cooperate with us,” Brocius said.

Ringo bared his yellow fangs in a grin. “Have you seen Behan's girl? Sadie?”

“Are you going to call or fold?” Freddie asked.

“I'm thinking.” Staring at his cards.

“I thought Behan's girl was called Josie,” said Brocius.

“She seems to go by a number of names,” Ringo said. “But you can see her for yourself, tonight at Shieffelin Hall. She's Helen of Troy in Doctor Faustus.”

“Are you going to call or fold?” Freddie asked.

“Helen, whose beauty summoned Greece to arms,” Ringo quoted, “and drew a thousand ships to Tenedos.”

“I would rather be a king,” Freddie said, “and ride in triumph through Persepolis. Are you going to fold or call?”

“I'm going to bump,” Ringo said, and threw out a hundred-dollar-bill, just as Freddie knew he would if Freddie only kept on nagging.

“Raise another hundred,” Freddie said. Ringo cursed and called. Freddie showed his hand and raked the money toward him.

“Fortune's a right whore,” Ringo said, from somewhere else out of his eccentric education.

“You should not have compromised with the authorities,” Freddie said as he stacked his coin. “Once you were the free rulers of this land. Now you are taxpayers and politicians. Why do you bring this upon yourselves?”

Curly Bill Brocius scowled. “I'm on top of things, Freddie. Behan will do what he's told.”

Freddie looked at him. “But will the Earps?”

“We got two hundred riders, Freddie,” Brocius said. “I ain't afraid of no Earps.”

“We were driven out of Texas,” Freddie reminded. “This is our last stand.”

“Last stand in Tombstone,” Ringo said. “That's doesn't have a comforting sound.”

“I'm on top of it,” Brocius insisted.

He and his crowd defiantly called themselves Cowboys. It was a name synonymous with “rustler,” and hardly respectable—legitimate ranchers called themselves “stockmen” The Cowboys ranged both sides of the American-Mexican border, acquiring cattle on one side, moving them across the border through Guadalupe and Skeleton Canyons, and selling them. Most of the local ranchers—even the honest ones—did not mind owning cattle that did not come with a notarized bill of sale, and the Cowboys' business was profitable.

In the face of this threat to law from the two hundred outlaws, the United States government had sent to Tombstone exactly one man, Deputy Marshal Virgil Earp, who had been sent right out again. The Mexicans, unfortunately, were more industrious—they had been fortifying the border, and making the Cowboys' raids more difficult. The Clanton brothers' father, who had been the Cowboys' chief, had been killed in an ambush by Mexican rurales.

Brocius now led the Cowboys, assuming anyone did. Since illegitimate plunder was growing more difficult, Brocius proposed to plunder legitimately, through a political machine and a compliant sheriff. His theory was that the government would let them alone if he lined up enough votes to buy their tolerance.

German Freddie mistrusted the means—he did not trust politicians or their machines or their sheriffs—but then his opinion did not rank near Brocius', as he wasn't, strictly speaking, a Cowboy, just one of their friends. He was a gambler, and had never rustled stock in his life—he just won the money from those who had.

“Everybody ante,” said Brocius. Freddie threw a half-eagle into the pot.

“May I sit in?” asked a cultured voice. Ay, Freddie thought as he looked up, the plot thickens very much upon us.

“Well,” Freddie said, “if you are here, now we know that Tombstone is on the map.” He rose and gestured the newcomer to a chair. “Gentlemen,” he said to the others, “may I introduce John Henry Holliday, D.D.”

“We've met,” said Ringo. He rose and shook Holliday's hand. Freddie introduced Brocius, and pointed out Ike Clanton, still asleep on the table.

Holliday put money on the table and sat. To call him thin as a rail was to do injustice to the rail—Holliday was pale and consumptive and light as a scarecrow. He looked as if the merest breath of wind might blow him right down Skeleton Canyon into Mexico. Only the weight of his boots held him down, that and the weight of his gun.

German Freddie had met Doc Holliday in Texas, and knew that Holliday was dangerous when sober and absurd when drunk. Freddie and Holliday had both killed people in Texas, and for much the same reasons.

“Is Kate with you?” Freddie asked. If Holliday's Hungarian girl was in town, then he was here to stay. If she wasn't, he might drift on.

“We have rooms at Fly's,” Holliday said.

Freddie looked at Holliday over the rim of his cards. If Kate was here, then Doc would be here till either his pockets or the mines ran dry of silver.

The calculations were growing complex.

“Twenty dollars,” Freddie said.

“Bump you another twenty,” said Holliday, and tossed a pair of double eagles onto the table.

Ike Clanton sat up with a sudden snort. “I'll kill him!” he blurted.

“Here's my forty,” Ringo said. He looked at Ike. “Kill who, Ike?”

Ike's eyes stared off into nowhere, pupils tiny as peppercorns. “I'm gonna kill him!” he said.

Ringo was patient. “Who are you planning to kill?”

“Gonna kill him!” Ike's chair tumbled to the floor as he rose to his feet. He took a staggering step backward, regained his balance, then began to lurch for the saloon door.

“Dealer folds,” said Brocius, and threw in his cards.

Holliday watched Ike's exit with cold precision. “Shouldn't one of you go after your friend? He seems to want to shoot somebody.”

“Ike's harmless,” Freddie said. “Besides, his gun is at his hotel, and in his current state Ike won't remember where he left it.”

“What if someone takes Ike seriously enough to shoot him?” Holliday asked.

“No one will do that for fear of Ike's brother Billy,” said Freddie. “He's the dangerous one.”

Holliday nodded and returned his hollow eyes to his cards. “Are you going to call, Freddie?” he asked.

“I call,” Freddie said.

It was a mistake. Holliday cleaned them all out by midnight. “Thank you, gentlemen,” he said politely as he headed toward the door with his winnings jingling in his pockets. “I'm sure we'll meet again.”

John Ringo looked at the others. “Silver and gold have I none,” he quoted, “but such as I have I'll share with thee.” He pulled out bits of pasteboard from his pockets. “Tickets to Doctor Faustus, good for the midnight performance. Wilt come with me to hell, gentlemen?”

Brocius was just drunk enough to say yes. Ringo looked at Freddie. Freddie shrugged. “Might as well,” he said. “That was the back end of bad luck.”

“Luck?” Ringo handed him a ticket. “It looked to me like you couldn't resist whenever Doc raised the stakes.”

“I was waiting for him to get drunk. Then he'd start losing.”

“What was in your mind, raising on a pair of jacks?”

“I thought he was bluffing.”

Ringo shook his head. “And you the only one of us sober.”

“I don't see that you did any better.”

“No,” Ringo said sadly, “I didn't.”

They made their way out of the Occidental, then turned down Allen Street in the direction of Shieffelin Hall. The packed dust of the street was hard as rock. The night was full of people—most nights Tombstone didn't close down till dawn.

Brocius struck a match on his thumb as he walked, and lit a cigar. “I plan to go shooting tomorrow,” he said. “I've fixed up my gun—filed down the sear so I can fan it.”

“Oh Lord,” Ringo sighed. “Why'd you go and ruin a good gun?”

“Fanning is for fools,” Freddie said. “You should just take aim ... “

“I ain't such a good shot as you two,.” Brocius said. He puffed his cigar. “My talents are more organizational and political. I figure if I got to jerk my gun, I'll just fan it and make up for aim with volume”

“You'd better hope you never have to shoot it,.” Freddie said.

“If we win the election,.” Brocius said cheerfully. “I probably won't”



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