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Kenneth James Crist: An Incident in Dodge

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Art by Kevin Duncan 2022

An Incident in Dodge

 

Kenneth James Crist

 

April 14th, 1888, in Dodge City, Kansas.

A rather smallish dapple-gray mare ambles along the dry, dusty Front Street. She is tired and thirsty, as is the slight, well-dressed man in her saddle. He rides with the loose, disjointed posture of one who has traveled on horseback for most of his life and he is no youngster. His suit is well-cut, though dusty, and is entirely black, as is his shirt, neatly knotted tie and firmly-crowned Stetson hat. His boots, also black, could use a wax and polish and show evidence of riding through brush.

The quiet clopping of the mare’s hooves stops as he pulls her to a stop in front of the apothecary shop on the north side of the street. He dismounts slowly, giving his joints time to settle into a standing posture, then he secures the mare’s reins to a hitching rail. From his vest pocket he takes a single cube of sugar, and placing it on the flattened palm of his hand, he offers it to the mare. Her lips delicately fumble for the treat and take it without touching the man’s glove. The sugar dissolves on the animal’s tongue. The man reaches up and strokes the animal’s neck and he says, “I’ll just be a minute here, Perse, and then we’ll get you fed and watered.” Persephone’s head nods as though she might understand perfectly the man’s conversation.

Jake Withers looks up from behind the counter, as the tiny bell above the door jingles. He adjusts his spectacles and takes in the stranger as the latter approaches the counter of the apothecary shop. The man is about five feet and maybe nine inches and thin. Jake looks over the suit and notes the seams and tailoring. Expensive duds to be riding in, he thinks, and he doesn’t fail to note the pair of Colt Army Dragoon revolvers, worn butts forward and low on the man’s hips. There have been a number of improvements in firearms since those were produced and Jake wonders why the well-dressed man clings to outdated firearms.

“What can I help you with, today, Sir?” Jake’s smile is automatic and neither false nor genuine. It’s just there, the working smile of a salesman.

The man looks Jake up and down and says, “I need something to relieve a sore tooth. Probably should get the damn thing pulled, but I hate a dentist…”

“Yessir,” Jakes says, “Got just the thing, right here.” He reaches to a shelf behind the counter and brings forth a small blue bottle with an eyedropper in the top. “Whenever that ol’ tooth gets ta botherin’ ya, just put a drop or two directly on it. Fifty cents. Can’t go wrong at that price.”

“Better let me have two of those,” the man says and produces a dollar coin from a pocket. Jake wraps both bottles carefully in brown paper and places them in a small paper bag and hands them over. “Will there be anything else, Sir?”

“Ya got anything to drink back there? Anything cold, maybe?”

“Well Sir, got somethin’ new you could try. Man in Georgia makes this stuff called Coca-Cola. Got quite a zip to it. Just came out last year…”

“If it’s cold and wet, ya don’t have to sell me very hard…”

Jake steps back into an adjacent room, where his icebox is and comes back with a smallish bottle and uses an opener to pop it open. “That’s a nickel,” he says, “might help that tooth a little, too. It’s got coca extract in it.”

The stranger drops a nickel on the counter and takes the bottle to a small, marble-topped table, one of several along the west wall of the shop. He sits and sips his drink and suppresses a belch or two. In a few minutes, Jake comes out from behind the counter and asks, “How’s that drink, Sir?”

“Pretty damn tasty. What’d you call it again?”

“Called Coca-Cola, Sir. Say, can I ask a question? Not to be personal, but I was wondering why you carry those old Dragoons? There being so many more modern pieces available nowadays? Just kinda curious, ya know…

The stranger reaches right-handed and pulls the revolver from his left holster and holds it up to the light from the front window. The blued steel gleams and the walnut grip shines. “I like the smoke of black powder,” he says, “and the feel of a heavy gun. I like the noise of a .44 and the way it’ll knock a man clean off his feet. That’s all. Just my kinda gun.”

 

Outside, Persephone stands patiently, switching her tail to keep the biting flies moving. Occasionally, one will land on her front shoulder and she will twitch her muscles to make it move. Her thoughts are not deep thoughts, but she does have memories and anticipations. She is in love with the Man, as much as a species of four-legged transport animal can love a two-legged master. She has loved him as long as she can remember, but her memory is not that long. She does remember an incident that took place a long time ago involving herself, the Man and a rattlesnake. Like most horses, Perse has a loathing and fear of snakes and, though she doesn’t remember where the incident occurred, she remembers clearly the buzz of the reptile and seeing it lashing back and forth as it backed away from her and the Man. She remembers the Man, sawing the reins left and nudging her with a spurred heel, getting her to move in a side-step. And she remembers the Man pointing his finger at the snake and a strange, crackling noise, and in her panic, seeing the snake blacken and burn into a charred husk of harmless meat.

She remembers, too, the way the Man dismounted and took the time to speak with her and calm her with his gentle touch, rather than just riding on and expecting her to deal with her fear alone. Now, Perse is half-asleep, when a woman brushes past and the mare takes a half-step to the right, making way for the human. The woman goes into the same doorway the Man went into earlier.

 

As Jake and the stranger are conversing, the front door of the shop opens and the bell jingles. A woman walks into the shop and Jake quickly steps to his counter. The stranger rises and tips his Stetson slightly and says, “Ma’am…” She nods and says, “Good day, Sir” and continues on to the counter, where she makes several purchases. As she leaves, the stranger again rises and again touches his hat and says, “Good day, Madam.” Her cheeks flush a little, but she again wishes him a pleasant day and she exits the store.

Jake comes back from behind his counter and, with a snicker, says, “Madam. You’re entirely correct in this case, Sir. I’m sure you wouldn’t know who she is, then?”

“Not at all,” says the stranger, “just being polite.”

“She runs the brothel down at the end of Tinker’s Alley. That’s Susan Sullivan. Known as Curly Sue around here.”

“Brothel, huh? Well, she looks like a nice lady, so I guess she deserves our respect, don’t you think, Jake?”

“Oh…oh my, no disrespect intended Sir, I…I just thought you should know who she is…that’s all…”

The stranger’s eyes are like looking into twin gun barrels and Jake is a bit uncomfortable now. And how did this man know his name? Jake was certain he never introduced himself. Jake’s Adam’s apple slides up and down in his suddenly dry throat and the stranger says, “Judge not, Jake, lest ye be judged. That’s in the Good Book, so it’s good enough for me.” He turns and walks to the door, opens it, once more ringing the bell, and steps out into the afternoon heat.

 

As evening is coming on, Persephone is much more comfortable. She is at the livery stable, where she has been fed and watered. Her saddle and bridle have been removed along with the saddle blanket. She has been brushed down and curried and some burrs combed out of her mane and fetlocks. Some ointment has been applied to a couple of sores caused by chafing of the saddle blanket, mostly due to sweating and accumulation of dirt. She is in a relatively cool stall and the absence of the bothersome flies is a blessing. She is standing with her knees locked and is dozing and dreaming away the evening. Perse is content.

 

The stranger is also content, having had a bath, a shave and a haircut. He is wearing a fresh shirt and underwear and his suit has been cleaned and pressed. Now, as he walks the length of Tinker’s Alley, he thinks about the only need he hasn’t satisfied. He approaches the brothel and notes the elaborate, hand-painted sign over the door. Professionally done, obviously by a talented artisan, it reads, “Enchanted Evenings.” He nods his head and opens the door and steps inside.

The woman who greets him is the same lady he saw at the apothecary shop, and she speaks to him almost as an old friend. “Good evening, Sir. Welcome to Enchanted Evenings.”

“Good evening to you…is it Susan, I believe?”

“Yes, but how did you…oh, yes, of course. Jake, the druggist. I suppose my personal history is now filed away in that handsome head of yours…”

“Not at all, Susan, Jake merely told me your name and made me aware of your business location. In case I should feel the need…well, you understand…”

“Of course, Sir. Please come with me and you can look over our ladies and perhaps make a choice.” Susan escorts the stranger out of the foyer and into a formal parlor, which the stranger finds to be, like most brothels, overdecorated with overstuffed furniture, lamps with chintzy shades and throw pillows. It contains at the moment, four scantily-dressed women, three quite young and one older woman who could only be called plain. The stranger makes his choice immediately, telling Susan, “That one, with the long blonde hair.”

“Ah, yes, Madeline is one of our youngest and sweetest girls. And will this be for a short encounter? Or maybe something longer?”

“I’ll want her for all night. And a very private room, please.”

Susan smiles and says, “Sir, that will cost twenty dollars in advance. If you choose you may give the girl any gratuity you feel is appropriate later.”

The stranger places a twenty-dollar gold piece in Susan’s outstretched palm and the young, pretty Madeline joins him. She takes his arm and they head up stairs to a private room. They step inside and Susan hears the door lock. She hears nothing else for the rest of the evening.

 

In the morning, the stranger leaves early and Madeline does not appear for some time, so after a while, Susan goes up to the room. She uses her key to open the door and finds Madeline sitting naked on the side of the bed. She appears at first glance to be alive and well, but then as Susan draws closer, she sees that all is not well.

Madeline’s face is completely slack, and her sightless eyes stare at the wall. The irises, once such a pretty cornflower blue, are gone, replaced by whiteness. There appears to be bruising about her mouth and on both sides of her throat, right where the carotid arteries run just beneath the skin. Her breasts are reddened and swollen and her arms hang slack.

Susan draws closer still and detects the faint but unmistakable odor of burnt hair. She observes reddening and swelling in Madeline’s pubic area and that all her pubic hair appears to have been singed away.

“My God! Maddie! What did he do to you?” Susan cries.

Madeline slowly turns her head toward the sound of Susan’s voice and slowly, ever so slowly, a smile spreads across her face.

“He…everything…everything. He did…everything,” she says.

“What do you mean, ‘everything’, Maddie? You have been well-trained in the skills of your trade, there should be nothing a man could teach you…

“Oh, no Susan…he took me to places I’ve never been. He gave me so much…of himself. He knew things about me. Things about my family and my life. Things I didn’t even know. And he…loved me. He didn’t just rut…like, like an animal or like most men. He took time…to pleasure me.”

Susan paces about the room, concerned over the condition of her employee, already wondering what she’ll ever do with a blind whore. She notices water in the basin on the washstand. The water is bloody and next to the basin, lays a single, slightly yellowed molar.

“So, he knocked out one of your teeth, too?”

“Oh, no, that tooth is his. He had me pull it. I did it with my fingers…”

“You can’t pull a tooth with just your fingers, Maddie.”

“I know, but I did. He told me I could do it and I did. I just grabbed it and popped it right out. And I took away his pain…”

“Let’s get you downstairs and get you cleaned up,” Susan says, “take my arm, Dear.” Susan leads Madeline to the door and downstairs to the girls’ common area. The other girls are afraid when they see Madeline, but Susan hushes them and sends them to their rooms.

Later in the day, the stranger returns to Enchanted Evenings. Susan tells him if he does not leave, she will call the sheriff, but the stranger walks right past her and finds Madeline, sitting by herself, awaiting whatever comes next in her life. What comes next in her life is the stranger, who bends down close to her ear and tells her his name. He invites her to leave the brothel and travel with him and she does not hesitate to say yes. They leave together.

 

Persephone canters across open prairie, headed north. It is spring and the wildflowers are just beginning to bloom. She senses that the Man is in a good mood this morning and his mood governs hers. Once more she and the Man travel and she would have it no other way. On her back, seated in front of the Man, the Woman rides as if she was born to the saddle.

The man whispers to her as they ride. One of the things he tells her is, “Next time we stop, we’ll have to fix those eyes.”




Kenneth James Crist is Editor of Black Petals Magazine and is on staff at Yellow Mama ezine. He has been a published writer since 1998, having had almost two hundred short stories and poems in venues ranging from Dark Dossier and The Edge-Tales of Suspense to Kudzu Monthly. He has several books in print, Jariah and the Big Green Booger, and What Really Lives in Loch Ness, both children’s books, and Groaning for Burial, a book of zombie stories, plus A Motorcycle Cop’s Motorcycle Manual, all available through Amazon.


He reads everything he can get his hands on, not just in horror or sci-fi, but in mystery, hardboiled, biographies, westerns and adventure tales. He retired from the Wichita, Kansas police department in 1992 and from the security department at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita in 2016. Now 77, he is an avid motorcyclist and handgun shooter. He is active in the American Legion Riders and the Patriot Guard, helping to honor and look after our military. He is the owner of Fossil Publications, a desktop publishing venture that seems incapable of making any money at all. On June the ninth, 2018, he did his first (and last) parachute jump and crossed that shit off his bucket list.


Kevin D. Duncan was born 1958 in Alton, Illinois where he still resides. He has degrees in Political Science, Classics, and Art & Design. He has been freelancing illustration and cartoons for over 25 years. He has done editorial cartoons and editorial illustration for local and regional newspapers, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His award-winning work has appeared in numerous small press zines, e-zines, and he has illustrated a few books. 

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2022