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Courage. Honor. Loyalty. All fine things, but they’ve led John Ringo to kill a man. He was raised right and he knows he’s not a murderer, but otherwise he’s a mystery even to himself. Doc Holliday claims to have some insights, but Doc is too devoted to Wyatt Earp to spare much attention for the man who’s already lost his soul.
Which leaves Johnny Ringo prey to the distractions of a demon. Imaginary or not, if this creature abandons him, too, then surely his sanity is forfeit – and what will his life be worth then?
This Queer Weird West novel follows these three along the complex trails that lead into and out of Tombstone, Arizona in 1881.
“And baths,” Doc Holliday was saying, standing tall in the center of their hotel room. “We are in desperate need of baths, and I apologize if you are already aware of that fact. Can you arrange that for us, my dear?”
“Of course, sir,” the girl replied, apparently awed by all this to-do. Holliday was behaving as if he were royalty. “The bathing room’s down the hall on the right, sir. There’s some water heating already, but if you can wait half an hour, sir, there’ll be plenty for both of you, and I’ll build the fire up. I can bring the pot of coffee you wanted right away.”
“Half an hour it is, then,” he declared, handing her a generous gratuity and ushering her out the door. Holliday turned to John. “What do you think, pilgrim? A fine room, considering its surroundings. Though I do believe this town will prove quite a rich lode. I can smell money in the air, and fools waiting to part with it.”
John let his saddlebags drop to the floor, looked around him at the lace curtains, at the porcelain jug and bowl standing before the mirror. At the wide bed with green padded silken spread. Everything looked fragile and ridiculously expensive and dangerously seductive. “And you reckon they won’t care about us both in the same bed?”
“Of course not, people do it all the time. There is a distinct shortage of beds out here in the West, especially in new towns such as this. We were lucky this room was available.”
“I guess I always figured if they said I’d have to share a room they were politely telling me to get lost.” It felt foolish now, having taken umbrage at something that was apparently quite accepted.
Holliday, in the midst of unpacking, cast a look at John. “Are you really one of those half-wild people who rarely visit a town?”
“No, but… maybe I’m more myself out there,” John said, indicating the world stretching beyond the outcropping of humanity. “This is… small –”
“I don’t find it so.”
“– and my earnings have been pretty irregular lately.”
“Don’t fret about that,” the man murmured.
“Who the hell are you, Holliday?” John demanded. “Is this your world? Because you sure seemed comfortable out in the wilderness last night.”
“You like that about me, that I belong in both?” He waited until John shrugged, then continued, “Well, if you do, why don’t you learn to belong here as well, and then you can like yourself for it, too. Share the luxury with me, Johnny. As you said, I shared the darkness with you last night.” The man smiled, walked over to stand before John, reached up to run a hand back through John’s hair. “There’s a handsome face hiding behind that long hair and the trail-dirt, I’ve already worked that out. Now, take your clothes off, pilgrim, and bathe with me. I want to see what those rags hide.” He leaned in close and whispered, “I’m sure you’re quite beautiful naked.” There was a knock at the door – and Holliday stole a kiss from John’s mouth.
John pushed the man away, glaring fury. Holliday let the girl in, and John waited impatiently as she arranged a tray of coffee and cups and a whole lot of unnecessary fixings, waited as Holliday chattered inanely with her. “You’re crazy,” John said once they were finally alone again. The man just laughed, at ease. In fact, it seemed he was enjoying himself immensely. “Are you always like this?” John asked, wondering how long he could suffer it.
“Oh yes,” Holliday said airily. “Well, actually I suppose I’m in unusually high spirits. I promised myself, for these couple of months, complete abandonment. And you do seem to be the kind of fellow I can completely abandon myself to…”
“Don’t talk like that, maybe people can hear us. And – what you did before she came in – if she caught us we’d get run out of town, if they didn’t hang us first.”
“Now there’s an ambition: to be so absolutely debauched we get thrown out of every town we visit. What’s the matter, pilgrim? With your reputation, you must be used to finding yourself unwelcome.”
“Yes, but for gunfights, not for something like that.”
“You don’t care about them, do you? Surely it doesn’t matter to you what they think.”
“No, but it’s personal, it’s private.” Under Holliday’s interested gaze John shrugged again, uncomfortable.
Smart enough to change the subject at last, Holliday headed for the coffee and began pouring two cups. “How do you want it, pilgrim? Let me guess… you like it just as it is. Now, I like coffee with cream and sugar – though they only have milk here, I’m afraid – but that’s too civilized for you, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he said. Holliday brought one of the cups over, and John eyed it dubiously. The thing looked so delicate it might shatter in his hands, though of course it looked quite safe in Holliday’s fine fingers.
“Take it, pilgrim. It’s either this lovely little cup, or drink straight from the pot.” Holliday laughed. “But you would, wouldn’t you? Don’t let me give you ideas.”
John quickly swallowed the coffee, felt the heat of it spread through his chest and the strength of it clear his head. He poured himself another cup, then sat cross-legged on the floor, pointedly ignoring the chair opposite the one Holliday sat in – avoiding even the rugs. The wooden floorboards, though polished, were the most natural part of the room.
They sat in silence for a while, finishing the pot of coffee between them. Then Holliday asked, “Where were you from before Texas? You don’t speak like a Texan.”
“California before that. We traveled west from Missouri. Before that, Indiana.”
“And before that?”
“My family?” John shrugged – but such things had mattered in Mason County, when it was the newer German immigrants versus the longer-settled Americans. “The Dutch part of Belgium, if you go back far enough, but that never made no difference to me.”
“I see…” was the response. However, Holliday didn’t ponder on it long. Instead he sat up as if about to stand, saying, “Let’s inspect the bathing room. I haven’t felt clean for a couple of weeks now, and tonight I want to make the best possible impression.” Perhaps he saw John’s reluctance, for he said, “I suppose from the look of you, my dear, that your ablutions involve jumping in a river once a year whether you need it or not. But would you indulge me? I like that you are so vivid to all five of my senses, that you assault me so thoroughly, but I’d like to see your handsomeness as well as your wildness.”
“Don’t call me ‘dear’,” John said sullenly. “I’m not made for words like that. I don’t know what you want from me, Holliday, but I’m not your dear.”
“We just fuck, yes, and keep each other company between our amorous bouts. But don’t mind me if I treat you affectionately.” The man confided, “Most of the time, I promise you I don’t mean a word of it.”
Ordinary people are extraordinary. We can all aspire to decency, generosity, respect, honesty – and the power of love (all kinds of love!) can help us grow into our best selves.
I write stories about ‘ordinary’ people finding their answers in themselves and each other. I write about friends and lovers, and the families we create for ourselves. I explore the depth and the meaning, the fun and the possibilities, in ‘everyday’ experiences and relationships. I believe that embodying these things is how we can live our lives more fully.
Creative works help us each find our own clarity and our own joy. Readers bring their hearts and souls to reading, just as authors bring their hearts and souls to writing – and together we make a whole.
And that’s me! Julie Bozza. Quirky. Queer. Sincere.
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