Death Takes a Holliday

Death Takes a Holliday


Death Takes a Holliday_Tom Wood_mediumDustups were nothing new for the grim-looking stranger, but this was something different. A special day, a special occasion. And everything had to be just right.

He wasn’t dressed all in black when the mud-covered stagecoach arrived in Tombstone, his clothes matching the same gray and tan colors as the dusty trail behind him. But when he started swatting at his dark outfit, it was almost like a dustdevil blotted out the sun. Finally revealed, one had to give the devil his due—he was a menacing figure who commanded attention, respect, envy and fear, all at the same time.

The stranger stood a shade under six feet, and wore a wide-brimmed black hat that mostly hid his features, although the thick, dark mustache could plainly be seen. And few people would have wanted to look into those coal-black eyes anyway, even if they could have.

Despite the oversized duster, it was clear there wasn’t a whole lot to him physically. He was gaunt and pale — some would say almost skeletal — as if he was another of those lungers who went West hoping to prolong precious life. But his piercing eyes danced with death.

When the dirty duster came off and his handsome black suit could be seen by all, it also revealed two matching ivory-handled pistols strapped low around his waist. And if that didn’t send a chill through the residents of Tombstone, his persona certainly did. There hadn’t been anybody in town with that kind of deadly presence since . . . well, since three days ago, when Doc Holliday abruptly returned to the cattle town.

Everybody knew what Doc Holliday was capable of, although his legend was larger than the actual facts, if truth be known. But it was certainly true that Doc Holliday was the best-known shootist the world had ever seen as he blazed his way across the West over the last decade. And it was most certainly true that he and the Earps’ gunfight with the Clantons and McLaurys at the O.K. Corral had become the stuff of legend.

And it was certainly true that Doc Holliday was finally dying. That’s what made dentist John Henry Holliday from Valdosta, Georgia, the deadliest man-killer the West had ever seen. He was a man with nothing to fear but death. And he did not fear death; indeed, he welcomed it with open arms. Consumption, as tuberculosis was then known, and the ever-present liquor bottle had taken physical tolls on Doc Holliday, but neither slowed his nerves nor his hand when circumstances arose.

Doc’s nerves also extended to the poker and faro tables, where Holliday made and lost fortunes after his dentistry skills were no longer wanted by a public wary of catching the dreaded disease that wracked his frail frame. Doc acquired his legendary gambling skills in a short period of time, quickly learning how to read his opponents’ “tells.” Gestures, looks, sighs, signs, bluffs — Doc knew exactly what the gambler seated across from him was thinking and planning, almost as if he could see through the backs of the cards.

And that led to Doc acquiring other skills necessary for survival in the wild and wicked saloons where he plied his trade. After an accusation was grumbled, Doc would tilt back in his chair and let his right hand drop ever so slightly as he finished raking in another pot with his left hand. The amiable, drunken grin would be replaced by an icy stare. He was a human rattlesnake, coiled to strike. “Why, suh,” he would say in that baiting Georgia drawl that he’d never lost, “are you callin’ me a cheatuh?”

Nowadays the accuser would usually back down with a grumbled “no,” and the game would continue. In days past, the question would usually be met with a curse and a move toward a gun or a knife. Blood would be spilled. Not Doc’s.


The ebook version is now available via Troy Smith and  Western Trail Blazer on amazon:
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The really cool cover is by Karen Michelle Nutt.

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