Meeting Mark Twain
This short story will be the third chapter of my next novel. See "Dead Man's Hand" and "Goliath, Wild West Outlaw" posted on this site for the first two chapters.
The three lawmen saw the outlaw Goliath’s horse first and then saw his body lying face down on the ground. They dismounted and examined the giant’s body.
“He’s alive,” Ned Baker said after feeling his pulse, “but that’s a bad wound on his head.”
Goliath opened his eyes, saw the badge on Ned Baker’s chest, and blurted, “Who the hell are you? The sheriff?”
“No,” Baker said, “not the sheriff. The sheriff is dead. We just found him and his lady friend, murdered. We are deputy U. S. Marshals on the trail of stagecoach robbers.”
The deputies sat Goliath up against a tree and cleaned his wound. One of them put a dozen stitches in Goliath’s head. “What happened to you here fella? Obviously somebody hit you on the head with that big rock over there with the blood on it. Who did it and why?”
“Dunno know for sure,” Goliath responded. “I was talking to the man who murdered the Comanche Kid at the Genoa Saloon when somebody smacked me on the head.”
Goliath recovered quickly and rose to leave.
“Now don’t go off looking for the one who hit you, possibly the same one who killed the Comanche Kid,” Ned Baker cautioned. “Leave that to us, we’ll track him. That’s our job. Where are you heading, where can we reach you?”
“I’m on my way to the Boss Morrison Ranch,” Goliath said. “Old Boss offered me a job when I saw him at Walley’s Hot Springs.”
“Boss ain’t at his ranch,” Ned said. “We were just there. Only one there is his daughter, Mary Lou. She’s such a pretty little thing.”
Reuben Taz and Rhonda carried on a running conversation during a leisurely journey.
“We should have killed that outlaw Goliath,” Rhonda suggested grimly.
“Didn’t we?” Taz questioned. “He wasn’t moving when we left him.”
“He was still breathing when I robbed him,” Rhonda noted. “His head is hard as the rock I hit him with. He’ll come after us.”
“You think?” Taz said.
Rhonda responded, “That was a lot of money I took from him. He’ll come after us to try and get his money and gun back. You may remember that you took that fancy gun of his that shoots twice as many bullets. Tell me about where we are going, Carson City. I’ve never been there.”
Taz said, “There is a state prison in Carson City. A bad place I never want to be, that prison.”
Rhonda said, “You’ll probably end up there one day, soon. For killing the Comanche Kid, among other crimes.”
“I doubt that, you stupid whore,” Taz snapped. “Who is going to catch me, do you suppose? That stupid Sheriff of Genoa?”
“No, not him,” Rhonda conceded. “All that fool cares about is trim. He paid me a small fortune for certain special favors. Prisons don’t interest me much, What can you tell me about Carson City that might interest me?”
“The city was named after Kit Carson, but who doesn’t know that,” Taz spat. Taz contemplated the matter for a moment and then he continued. “Kit Carson married a beautiful Arapaho woman named Waanibe, which means Singing Grass, after fighting a duel for her hand in marriage.”
Taz pulled out the dime novel Hornswoggled at Hell Creek from his saddlebag and opened it to his bookmark. “There is a beautiful Arapaho princess named Sweet Water in this book. The crippled Irish leprechaun Tiny Tim is obsessed with her. Sweet Water is obsessed with removing bad men from their heads.”
Rhonda muttered, “My kind of girl.”
Taz read in the saddle as they continued to move along slowly.
“You got anything for me to read?” Rhonda inquired.
Taz pulled another book from his saddlebag and tossed it at Rhonda. She caught it and read the title aloud. The Celebrated Jumping Frog. What’s this about?”
“Read it and find out,” Taz snapped.
“It’s too bumpy on this stupid mule to ride and read,” Rhonda complained. “Look!” she shouted. “There’s a pitching Betsy up ahead, on its side. I guess it pitched right on over.”
They stopped to investigate the crashed red Concord stagecoach. All the horses but one had been cut loose. The unfortunate dead horse lay on the ground. Someone had begun to butcher it. An empty green Wells Fargo strongbox sat open and empty by a fire where two women huddled while horse meat cooked.
Taz and Rhonda eased their way into the camp, conscious of apprehensive eyes boring into them. Taz tipped his hat and said, “We’re friendly, folks. What happened here?”
“It was those murdering sons of whores!” the older woman blurted. Rhonda coughed dramatically.
The blue-eyed blond younger woman responded meekly, “Stagecoach robbery. Five masked men. They took the driver, whip, and passengers over there.” She pointed to a nearby cliff. “Then they shot them all.” She started sobbing. “They killed my husband. We just got married two weeks ago. We came West to start our new life together.”
“Are you sure they are all dead?” Taz questioned.
“They must be,” the older woman said. “We did not hear anybody calling out or anything. One of the robbers said, ‘Don’t bother burying them because the buzzards got to eat too.”
“Rhonda, go check and see if they’re all dead,” Taz ordered.
“You go check!” Rhonda yelled. “You’re the expert on dead bodies. Making them dead, anyway.”
Taz went down the cliff to check. “Yes indeed, they are all dead, all but one. Who is the guy in the plaid suit?”
“He’s a liquor peddler,” the older woman replied.
“Where’s his sample case?” Taz asked.
“The robbers took it,” the older woman said. “My name is Mary, by the way.”
“The liquor peddler was alive,” Taz said. “I finished him off with my knife rather than let him suffer. What else did the robbers take?”
“$10,000 in greenbacks, a hundred ounces of gold dust, $300 in gold coins,” Mary said. “That’s what the driver said was in the strongbox. And they took our diamond rings and other possessions of the passengers. Sally there begged to keep her wedding and engagement rings but they said if she didn’t give them up they would cut off her finger.”
“Like you did to the Comanche Kid,” Rhonda accused Taz.
Taz snarled at Rhonda and asked the women, “So where did the robbers go?”
“Didn’t say,” Mary responded, “but they did say they would be coming back to rape us.”
“Sally maybe,” Taz said, “but not you, I don’t think. Let’s get out of here. I suppose we can take you to Carson City with us. If we can find some horses that you didn’t eat.”
Mary said, “I wouldn’t mind being raped all that much. My late husband hadn’t touched me in years. Carson City sounds good to me. I have a few friends there.”
A Famous Frog
Taz, Rhonda, and the two women stranded by the stagecoach robbery rode for about four hours until they arrived in Carson City and decided to stop first at the St. Charles Hotel. They deposited the animals at a nearby livery stable. Mary and Sally were taken to the Pioneer Stage Company office in the hotel to report the robbery, and the Sheriff of Carson City was summoned.
Taz and Rhonda found their way to the restaurant/bar on the ground floor of the hotel, enticed by the “Free Lunch” sign and elaborate Italianate details. They ordered a drink and filled their plates. Several poker games went on at nearby tables.
“I’m starved!” Rhonda exclaimed.
“You should have eaten some that horsemeat Mary and Sally cooked up,” Taz said.
“No horse for me,” Rhonda said, “but I’d eat that stupid stubborn mule you made me ride here.”
“This grub sucks,” Taz complained as he dumped his food on the floor. “I think I’ll read while you make a pig of yourself.” He pulled out Hornswoggled at Hell Creek and immersed himself in it.
Rhonda also decided to read while she ate and pulled out The Celebrated Jumping Frog. A sharply-dressed gentleman with bushy red hair and a big mustache sat alone at a nearby table scribbling away in a notebook. He glanced up at Rhonda, stared for a moment, and then held up his own copy of The Celebrated Jumping Frog.
“I wrote that story, you know, the one you are reading,” the man said. “Do you like it?”
“Sure I like it,” Rhonda replied. “I’ve read the first page so far. So you are Mark Twain then?”
“Yes, I am. That’s my pen name. My real name is Samuel Langhorne Clemens.”
“So what is a famous writer like yourself doing in this part of the country?” Rhonda asked.
Twain explained that he used to live in Carson City, but now he just visited occasionally. He said his brother Orion used to lived here but moved to California last year. Twain came to Carson City mainly to visit the grave of his niece at Lone Mountain Cemetery. She died a couple years ago at the age of 9 from spotted fever. Twain shed a tear after revealing that sad fact.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Rhonda said.
“Thank you, my dear,” Twain said. “What are you doing in these parts?”
Rhonda said, “I’m on my way to Montana with this fella.” She nodded at Taz. “He’s a bad man. Not as bad as some but badder than most. What are you writing in that notebook.”
Twain responded, “I’m working on a new book, a travel book. The title will be The Innocents Abroad. I recently returned from a cruise through Europe and the Holy Land on the steamship Quaker City.”
“Sounds exciting.” Rhonda yawned. That book Hornswoggled at Hell Creek my companion is reading is about a steamboat too, a steamboat that exploded, the Victoria. His father blew it up with a bomb.”
Mark Twain looked shocked but he would be more shocked real soon.
A moment later all hell broke loose. Five masked tall and burly men strode into the hotel bar/restaurant where Taz, Rhonda, Mark Twain, and a few others sat. The men wore black leather dusters, black Stetsons, and had full beards. They all brandished Navy Colts, some more than one. The gang had already visited the stagecoach office as they had decided not to wait for the next stagecoach to hit the trail but instead to do the robbery before it even left. The robbers got the money and gold after brutally killing the sheriff and others in the office, including Mary and Sally.
The robber who appeared to be the leader said, “I am Walter Wayne. I am wanted for murder and other crimes. I like to kill people. Put your valuables on the table! Wallets, purses, money, jewelry. All of it!”
Mark Twain objected with, “Not me, sir! I need what little money I have.”
Walter Wayne pressed the muzzle of his Navy Colt against Twain’s forehead and spat, “Dumb ass, I’m going to blow your brains out … and then take what little money you have off your corpse.”
Reuben Taz pushed the table where he had been sitting over and used it for cover. He pulled out his recently acquired Walch twelve-shot revolver and emptied it as fast as he could pull the trigger. Two of the robbers fell. The rest of them gathered up the wounded and quickly fled while firing back. “Let’s get the hell out of here!” Wayne shouted.