Saturday, August 08, 2009

When at story doesn't work

This is where I started to have fun. While researching I found out that Buffalo Bill's Wild West show was in England in 1887. These were some of my heroes from my youth. And I really enjoy writing Cowboys. Dax's character seemed to take off and I was envisioning his back story in my mind.

Chapter Three
David Alexander Cochran opened his eyes with some difficulty and looked at the three feathers that swung back and forth in front of his face. He lay on his side in the dormitory facing a long row of empty bunks. Empty bunks meant that he had overslept. Great. His first day in England and it was already half wasted.
“Great Dax,” he mumbled to himself. “Not only did you sleep in but apparently you’re seeing things.”
He rolled over on his back and wiped the sleep from his eyes. The feathers were attached to a twisted circle of willow branch that was intricately woven with brightly color threads. The circle hung from the bunk above him. He was pretty sure it hadn’t been there when he fell asleep the night before. How in the heck did it get up there during the night without him knowing it?
He heard a chirp and realized that he was not alone. Two people stood at the end of his bunk. He sat up and his head pounded in protest. It felt like he’d been on a three-day drunk. If only he had. That could be fixed with a concoction he’d picked up from the Arapaho.
“Dream catcher for Dax.” Red Shirt said in his broken English from the end of his bunk. The Indian’s Chippewa wife, Little Deer, stood beside him smiling broadly. She didn’t speak a word of English but she nodded in agreement as if she understood what they were talking about.
Maybe she did. Dax sure as hell didn’t.
What was she holding in her hands? Was it a bird? Was he still dreaming?
As if she read his mind Little Deer opened her hands a bit. Sure enough a bright yellow bird sat nestled in her palms. She brought her hands up to her face and said something to the bird and it broke into song. Red Shirt nodded his approval and the two walked off, leaving Dax scratching his head in confusion.
“They were worried about you,” Buck said. Buck Taylor dubbed King of the Cowboys by Will Cody was just a few years older that Dax. Buck had a way with horses and could do things with a rope that seemed impossible. They’d become friends since Dax joined the show last winter, more so in the two weeks they’d spent on the ship since there’d been plenty of time for talk.
“Was it the Comanche?” Buck asked.
“In your dreams,” Buck said. “I figured from the way you were hollering that you must have been dreaming about the Comanche.”
“I was hollering?” Dax asked. He tried to remember what he’d dreamed about but all he could recall was a sense of fear and a lot of running from something or someone. The rest of it was pretty much a mystery. He scrubbed his hands through his hair and looked sideways at Buck.
“Like you were being skinned alive,” Buck said.
Dax ran a hand down his bare chest just to make sure his skin was still attached. He’d come close to losing it one time and that was enough.
“I don’t remember what I dreamed about,” Dax confessed. “Maybe it was the Comanche.” He looked at Buck as if he held the answers. “Was I really that loud?”
“Loud enough that they heard you out in the Indian Camp. Loud enough that Little Deer made you that dream catcher. She said it would catch the bad spirits that caused nightmares and let the good spirits through so you’ll only have sweet dreams from now on.”
“That loud,” Dax groaned. It was humiliating to think that every one on the twenty-three acre exhibition grounds had heard him carrying on.
“Jasper kicked the end of your bunk and you stopped,” Buck explained. “But yeah, it was loud. Everyone jumped up and grabbed their guns because they thought we were under attack.”
“Dang it,” Dax moaned. “Now everyone probably thinks I’m some namby pamby momma’s boy who’s afraid to be away from home.
“Nobody thinks that,” Buck said. “We all know what you’ve been through in the past. It would be enough to give anyone of us nightmares, Cody included. Still you better hope that thing does its job or you’ll be sleeping out in the cold next time.”
Dax dubiously eyed the dream catcher. His experiences with the Indians, especially Geronimo, had taught him not to doubt the things that were in the spiritual realm. It seemed like a mighty big job for a bunch of thread and feathers to pull off. Still there was nothing to lose by leaving it be.
“Are you planning on lollygagging all day?” Buck asked.
“I’m up,” Dax kicked the blankets off and reached for his pants. “Is there anyplace around where we can take the horses for a good run?”
“There’s a park,” Buck said dryly.
“A park?” He was supposed to run Katie through a park? Sounded kind of sissified for a horse that was used to the wide-open spaces. He needed to get her out where he could let her have her head and run the kinks out from being on the ship. Dang it. He needed to run his own kinks out too. There was nothing like riding flat out with the wind in your face to settle a man’s mind and get rid of the cobwebs. That was probably why he’d had the nightmares. There had been too much time spent closed in. There were those who would argue that being in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean didn’t count as being closed in. However being on a boat could give one a feeling of claustrophobia since there was no place on it where you could run. Plus the smells tended to get to him. Unwashed bodies, all the animals below deck, and the scent of the ocean were not smells he enjoyed. He would much rather fill his lungs with the smells of prairie grass and the wind. Flowers weren’t bad either. The girl he’d talked to yesterday, the one called Merritt. She smelled like flowers. Like real pretty flowers. Pretty like she was. I wonder if she will come to the show…
“Welcome to the mother country,” Buck said with a wide grin. “Whatever you plan on doing, just make sure you’re back here in time to get ready for the reception tonight. Major Burke has got all the promoters coming. They want to get things going right away and get the public excited about the show.”
“Great,” Dax sighed. “Guess I better get my suit pressed too.”
“You got it,” Buck said. “And a shave wouldn’t hurt either.”
Dax ran his hand over the three day growth of beard. “Maybe I’ll just grow one of them lip squirrels like you got.”
Buck’s lips quirked beneath his impressive handlebar mustache. “You always were jealous of my good looks,” he said. “Maybe if you try hard enough you’ll grow enough hair to have one of these.”
“I’m not sure if it’s worth the trouble,” Dax said. “From what I can tell it hasn’t impressed the ladies.”
“And that scruff you’ve got on your face has?”
“I’m not giving away any of my secrets,” Dax replied as he opened the trunk sitting at the end of his bunk and rummaged through it for his suit. “But I had one leaning out of her carriage yesterday so she could talk to me.”
“Most likely she was trying to get away from the buffalo.” Buck laughed.
“Think what you will,” Dax said. “She said she was coming to the show.”
“Try not to scare her too bad if and when she shows up,” Buck laughed as he left. “Maybe we’ll let Cody sweet-talk her into staying.”
“Go ahead. Laugh it up,” Dax mumbled as he pulled his rolled up formal suit from the trunk. The sea voyage had not been kind to it. It was a mass of wrinkles. He found the shirt and tie that went with it and threw it on his bunk. Thankfully, Cody employed a laundress with the show so he wouldn’t have to deal with it himself. He’d have to use his own brand of sweet-talking to get it done on time but the prospect didn’t bother him too much. He’d never had any trouble charming the ladies when he needed too.
Dax pulled on his shirt and boots. Without even thinking about what he was doing, he strapped on his double action colt and checked the cylinder for bullets. It was so much a part of him that some of the members of the show had ribbed him about wearing it that first day on the ship. He did leave it off after that and felt naked the entire time. It wasn’t as if he was planning on shooting at fish, although it had been tempting to give it a try when some skimmed over the waves as they steamed along. Flying fish they were called, or so one of the sailors said. He wasn’t one to shoot an innocent animal, or fish as the case may be but it did seem like a challenge at the time. Still he resisted the temptation with the knowledge that there would be plenty of opportunity for trick shooting once they reached England.
His first task of the day was taking care of Katie. So after charming the laundress and grabbing a bite in the ground floor dining hall set up for the performers he made his way out of the dormitory that had been built especially for their stay on the American Exhibition grounds.
The amphitheater seated over 20,000 people with room for another 10,000 in standing room only. The arena, which was part of the amphitheater, was a third of a mile in circumference, which gave room for a lot of whooping and hollering when the time came for the show to begin. Dax had a feeling the British had no idea what was about to hit them.
The Indians with the show created their own village on the grounds. Their teepee’s looked just a bit out of place with the buildings of London looming in the distance. However there was already a sense of community among the different groups represented. Cook pots bubbled over open fires and children scampered about, glad to be free after two weeks aboard ship. There was close to a hundred Indians of various tribes with the show along with a hundred white men and women who served as performers, wranglers, musicians and staff. Then there were the various animals: horses, buffalo, deer, elk and a great brown bear that looked mean enough to kill the Queen herself but was as harmless as a kitten.
The people of London best be forewarned. The American Wild West had just hit town.

“Quit messing with it,” Dax said to Buck later that evening.
“I hate these dang things,” Buck said as he stuck his finger in the neck of his formal shirt. “I feel like there’s a noose around my neck and the hangman is waiting to drop the trap.”
“If Cody catches you fingering it one more time he’ll be stringing you up himself,” Dax replied. “Eat one of them bitty sandwiches so you’ll quit thinking about it.”
“I can’t,” Buck said. “It chafes my neck when I swallow.”
Dax shook his head. Buck might dazzle the eye on horseback but in the middle of a formal affair he was lost. And this was one heck of a formal affair. He’d been introduced to more Lords and Ladies than he could shake a stick at. It was so crowded at the reception that it near to impossible to move without several excuse me’s and I beg your pardons. He tried to keep an eye out for the pretty girl he’d talked to the day before but it close to impossible to find anyone in the mass of people, especially someone he didn’t really know. He was certain he’d recognize her if he saw her again. There was something about her blue eyes…
“Do you think everyone in the entire city of London is here tonight?” Buck groaned.
“Only the important ones,” Dax said.
“Makes it darn near impossible for a man to breath,” Buck grumbled, then quickly recovered as a dandy approached them and asked Buck a question.
Dax hid a grin behind his cup of punch. Even though he talked like a cowboy he could hold his own in polite conversation when needed. It was one of the reason’s Cody hired him on. He was adaptable. He had grown up in Boston’s polite society with his stern grandmother before heading west to find his father. She had taught him about the finer things in life. He knew how to dress for a party and hold a teacup. He could even dance a waltz if the situation called for it. From the looks of the company gathered in the ballroom of the fine house on Park Lane there wouldn’t be any waltzing tonight unless it was two-stepping one of the tunes the Cowboy band played. Tonight it was all about the Wild West show.
Red Shirt and a few of the other Chiefs stood in the corner of the parlor decked out in all their feathered finery. Occasionally one or more would nod in agreement at the group of men and women gathered around them. Mostly they talked about the Indians as if they were an exhibit in a museum but every now and then someone would ask a question and Red Shirt would try to answer in his broken English. One gent clearly thought that Red Shirt was deaf as he kept shouting questions at him as if it would help him to understand. Dax felt sorry for the man. Just when he was getting used to using the white man’s language he was suddenly bombarded with the British accent.
Annie Oakley and her husband Frank Butler were doing much better than Red Shirt. Even though Annie was barely five feet tall she was still a commanding presence, even in her self made costume that was a bit out of place among the satins and silks of the ladies but still suited Annie herself. Frank, who was a fair shot himself, doted on wife and made sure all attention was on Annie. Cody was with them and the two men entertained a group in the center of the room with tails of Annie’s shooting feats.
“I’ve heard rumors that she can shoot the ash off a cigar while you hold it in your mouth,” one gentleman said to Frank.
“Actually it’s the ash off a cigarette.” Frank’s pride was evident.
Dax moved closer while the crowd murmured their disbelief. He knew where the conversation was headed and needed to be available for Cody.
“Not only can she shoot the ash off a cigarette,” Cody said. “She can shoot a dime at 90 feet.”
The murmurs grew to a rumbling. Dax managed to hide his smile as he heard the remarks.
“And she can split a playing card from the side.”
“Hard enough for a man to do so, but a woman?”
“I simply do not believe it.”
Dax watched as Cody smiled and sipped his drink until the words the showman had been waiting on reached his ears.
“I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Cody lifted his arms wide and addressed the crowd as if he were treading the boards of a stage play. “Would you care for a demonstration?”
The rumbling of disbelief changed to a chorus of ascent.
“Of course we will need a gun,” Cody added and one appeared as if by magic. Dax grinned at Cody’s plan. It was Annie’s very own smooth bore Winchester that had been made specifically for her and secretly carried in to the party beneath one of the blankets worn by an Indian. Dax’s own double action colt sat beneath his right arm in a shoulder holster, just in case he needed it. It was there strictly for demonstration purposes, or so he reminded himself. Years of living on the edge had definitely left a mark upon his soul.
Annie smiled humbly as she took the rifle and Frank beamed with pride. Their host, who was one of the American Exhibition sponsors, guided them to the balcony that overlooked the garden behind the house. The party guests poured from the house, some into the garden, some onto the balcony while others gathered at the row of tall windows that stretched across the back of the house.
“How can she see?” Someone in the crowd asked. “Isn’t it too dark?”
Cody talked to the host while the crowd once more murmured their disbelief. In just a short while a line of servants appeared in the garden, each one carrying a torch. Another servant made his way through the crowd with a tray of glassware.
“I hope none of this is important to you,” Cody remarked loud enough for the crowd to hear.
“Something from my wife’s side of the family,” the host said jokingly. “I’m quite sure I can live without it.”
The crowd laughed at the joke as the tray was flourished to the crowd before being placed upon a small table that had also appeared by magic.
“Stand back please,” Cody addressed the crowd below. “It would pain me to see any of you injured by broken glass.”
The anticipation grew as the people below backed away from the balcony to make room for a clear area in the center of the torches. Dax noticed that the before mentioned wife and owner of the glassware winced when she saw the damage being done to her carefully tended plants below. Not a good night for their hostess. He was sure Bill would make it up to her with ringside tickets or a personal tour. He was good that way. Dax made his way down a staircase to the garden to help out on the remote possibility that Annie missed a shot. She never missed a shot.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Cody intoned in his best showman style. “Allow me to present to you the most impressive display of sharp shooting ever seen on this fair ground.” He swung an arm toward Annie, who stood with her rifle in her hand, poised and ready. “I give you Annie Oakley!”
Frank pitched a glass in the air as soon as Cody’s words faded away. The light from the many torches caught it and the reflection of the firelight made the glass glitter in the darkness as it tumbled through the night sky. In the blink of an eye Annie raised her rifle and shot the glass. Dax ducked as he reached the bottom step and quickly stepped away to avoid the flying shards. Another glass quickly flew into the air followed by another. The applause grew louder with each successive shot as Frank kept on throwing and Annie kept on hitting her targets. Cheers erupted when Frank held up the empty tray along with cries of encore.
“Now folks,” Cody said. “We don’t want to show off too much. Just come on out and see the show for a taste of what life is really like in the Wild West.”
“I want to see that young man shoot,” a voice said from the end of the balcony.
Dax looked up and saw a man pointing a finger right at his chest. Torch light bounced off gold hair shot with silver and he recognized him as the gentleman he’d talked to on the street. The gentleman with the very pretty daughter. Was she here too? His eyes quickly scanned the crowd on the balcony but there was no young faces above, no one with golden blonde hair and bright blue eyes. Just older types, mostly gentlemen with a few ladies scattered among them, all looking at him with bright interest since it appeared he was to be the second act.
“He is Kid Cochran, is he not?” the man asked. “The fastest gun alive, or so the advertisements say.”
“Why yes he is,” Cody said. Kid Cochran, celebrated scout to the United States
Cavalry, friend of the Sioux and the dreaded enemy of Geronimo himself.” He arched an eyebrow in Dax’s direction. “And the fastest gun alive,” he added with his showman's flourish.
“Have him shoot,” the gentleman said. He held up his glass. “I will throw it in the air.”
Dang…He wasn't Annie. Sharp Shooting wasn't his game. There was a difference between what Annie did and what he did. But he couldn't back down and he sure couldn't let Cody down. Dax looked at Cody who just barely tilted his head as if he disapproved of the notion. Dax knew he didn't, that it was all part of the show. It would get people talking. It was exactly the reason why he was here. They had not planned on someone from the crowd calling him out. That just made it that much better. The fact that it was Merritt's father was an added bonus. Maybe there was hope that he would see her again.
“I'm not sure if our hostess can spare any more of her fine glassware,” Dax said. “You got something else I can shoot at?”
The gentleman grinned in delight. “What do you suggest?”
Dax scratched his chin and twisted up his face as if he had to think on it for a bit. It was all staged of course; he knew Frank had him covered. Still it would be a delight to have the English gent dig up the coins.
“How bout a few of those shillings? Isn't that what you call money in these parts?”
“It is,” the gentleman replied. “However I do not customarily carry shillings upon my person.” There was subdued laughter from the crowd at this remark. “Can anyone spare a few? I promise to pay you back of course.” The laughter was louder this time, jovial, with several men adding agreement or disagreement to the gentleman's promise of compensation.
“I have some coins Father,” a feminine voice said.
Dax's heart suddenly jumped into his throat. She was here. The girl from the street. Merritt. The crowd parted and she appeared by her father's side with her hand in her reticule as she dug for coins. She wore a dress of blue satin, with her hair pinned up. A few tendrils caressed her cheek and long graceful neck. A desire to kiss that neck suddenly overcame him. She glanced at him from beneath lowered lashes as she placed the coins in her father's palm and Dax felt it like a punch in the gut. It had been a very long time since he'd reacted with such intensity to a woman. It wasn't as if he hadn't been around any, he'd had plenty of women in his lifetime. It was just that none had stirred him. Not since Rebekkah…
“Will this do?” The gentleman held up a coin between his forefinger and thumb. Merritt stood beside him with her hands gripping the rail. She looked as if she regretted stepping forward. As if she wished to remain in the background. A girl with chestnut hair dressed in gold joined her at the rail and they linked arms. She relaxed somewhat, as if she drew courage from her companion. What was she afraid of?
“Only if you have five more.” Dax reminded himself that he was here for the show, not to chase pretty girls. That would come later, he hoped.
“I do,” he said. “Do you have need of a weapon?”
Dax grinned, shook his head and drew his colt from the holster beneath his arm. Those closest to him gasped in shock or admiration, he could not tell. He simply shrugged as if it were perfectly normal to carry a double action colt to fancy parties and checked the chamber. “You best give me some room.” Those around him backed away with an undercurrent of anticipation.
“Your name sir?” Cody asked the gentleman.
“Thomas Chadwyke, Earl of Pemberton.”
Cody shook his head. “I don't think I'll ever get used to all these fancy titles.”
“You may call me Pemberton,” the Earl said.
“Pemberton,” Cody smiled broadly. “When I say go I want you to throw all six coins in the air.”
“All six at once?”
“All six at once.” Cody said. “Make sure you throw them into the circle of light where Kid Cochran can see them.”
“Very well,” Pemberton shook his head as if he were dealing with an indulgent child. Dax backed away until he was next to one of the torches. He scanned the balcony and the night sky to make sure there was nothing in his line of sight to distract him. And to make sure no one would be injured in case a bullet just happened to stray off course. That wouldn't help the show a bit.
“Are you ready?” Cody asked the both of them.
Dax took a deep breath, expelled it and nodded. Pemberton held his hand over the garden with the coins in his fist and nodded also.
“One. Two. Three. Go!” Cody shouted the last word. As soon as he heard it Dax dove, rolled and came up firing. Before the crowd could even gasp he heard the ping of six coins as they were deflected by six successive shots. One landed on the ground before him and he picked it up, examined the hole in the middle and flipped it up to Lord Pemberton. He kept his eyes on Merritt, who stood beside him, her eyes wide and sparkling with excitement.
“Here's one,” someone shouted, holding up a coin.
“And another!”
Three more voices joined in and the five remaining coins were held up for inspection, all of them showing evidence of his bullets hitting the mark.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Kid Cochran,” Cody shouted and the crowd burst into applause.
Dax bowed for the crowd but kept his eyes on Merritt who applauded also, her face showing her amazement of his feat.
“Good Show!” Pemberton shouted. Then he, his daughter, and her friend disappeared into the crowd.

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