Authors: David Fuller
Published by the Penguin Group
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Copyright Â© 2014 by David Fuller
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication
Fuller, David, date.
Sundance : a novel / David Fuller.
1. Sundance KidâFiction. 2. Ex-convictsâFiction. 3. Adjustment (Psychology)âFiction. 4. New York (N.Y.)âFiction. I. Title.
PS3606.U53S86 2014 2013046245
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
and to their grandparents,
JOYCE AND JACK, RUTH AND
This is a work of fiction, a flight of the imagination.
We all know Robert Parker and Harry Longabaugh were shot and killed in 1908 in Bolivia.
However, their bodies were not found during a 1991 expedition to San Vicente, Bolivia. A German named Gustav Zimmer was found in the grave thought to be
e stepped through the arched grillwork gate and into free sunlight for the first time in twelve years. The sun was a shock against his pale skin and his eyes watered against the brightness. He adjusted his saddle against his hip, then slowly crossed the small yard with the raked dirt and stooped saplings. When he reached the road, he stopped. The air carried smells of baked earth, sagebrush, horse manure. Crested wheatgrass at the roadside bent under a breeze that a moment later raised the hair on his arms.
He looked around, pretending to take in his surroundings. The town was much as it had been back in '01, when he had gone in. A few more sun-warped, low-slung homes, a few more tall buildings in the downtown business area near the railway station. But through the dust and heat, he scanned the road with a different purpose. He was looking for her. It was that time of morning when people were at their jobs, and the road, which ran directly through town to the railroad tracks, was not busy. He fingered the faded olive-colored bandanna tucked under his shirt collar. He had worn it every day, even while in prison, ever since she'd given it to him before he'd been arrested. Finally he quit looking and turned away. She was not there. He was alone.
He set down his saddle and noted where the guard's fingers had made clean marks in the dust. The fool had collected it from storage and carried it upside down. How could a man in the West not know how to carry a saddle? But then, what sort of fool was he, a man with a saddle and no horse? He reminded himself that the world was no longer his, a changed place he would need to relearn.
His gun belt was coiled around the pommel. He knew at a glance that the gun in the holster was not his and had never belonged to him. He didn't bother to draw it, as he had already guessed what had happened. His own had been stolen inside while in storage, replaced with this cheap imitation, and there was not a thing to be done about that. He wondered why they hadn't taken the saddle.
He bent to pick it up. His fingers felt for the stitching on the saddle's underside. He touched the hard edge of coins he had sewn there almost fifteen years before, in the event of an emergency. They had missed that, which meant he was not broke. He balanced the saddle on his hip and walked the six blocks through the town.
He knew little sense of time, as his mind was preoccupied. She might have stayed in any one of the boardinghouses he passed, but he had never been there, and did not know which one. She had lived there for years, visiting him each week. That had come to an end five years before, when he had sent her away, as he could no longer stand to see her wasting her life waiting for him to get out. For three of those years they had been in constant communication through letters. Until the day her letters stopped coming, bringing on a sudden, terrible, unexplained silence. He had held on to the small hope that she would surprise him, that she would be there when he was released. That she was not there meant that he would have to find her, track her down, if need be. He did not know how to start looking, but he would find her, he would find his wife and know one way or the other if she was dead or alive.
He walked until he was surrounded by the tall two-story buildings of downtown. He stopped when he saw a vehicle that moved with no visible source of power. This was something new and impossible, and
at first he failed to understand it. His eye sought invisible horses that might be pulling it. After a moment he realized it had to be a motorcar. It came toward him making a metallic sound, and the trailing cloud was unlike the dust off the back of a wagon. He had heard of motorcars while inside, but seeing one in person made him keenly aware of the things he had missed. He was entering the world anew. He thought he heard the jingle of harness and clop of horseshoes as the motorcar passed, clearly his imagination, then was surprised when a horse and wagon came around from behind him. Surprised, but also relieved. The old world was not quite banished, but it had certainly eroded. In that moment he thought he understood why his saddle hadn't been stolen. In this world, there seemed to be less need for a horse.
He reached Front Street. Every sprouting town alongside the Union Pacific railroad line had a Front Street that faced the tracks, with saloons, hotels, and brothels, shoulder to shoulder to shoulder. Because of the tracks, these towns grew more rapidly, and were more modern than the rest of the West. He passed a number of busy saloons until he chose one at the far end that was clean and empty. He walked into its cool, dark interior. He set saddle and gun belt on the rough wood floor and straightened to face a bar shining with varnish. He watched the saloonkeeper feign diligence, running a white cloth over an area already spotless. The saloon was unnaturally quiet, which put him on alert. Something was wrong, something not immediately evident. He listened, but rather than find something present, he discovered an absence. He concentrated on the distant whine in his ears and after a moment knew it was in his head and he was listening to silence. This was something new, as it meant the complete lack of hiss. He had lived with hiss for the last twelve years. He sniffed and there was no smell of gas. The room held still without the sporadic judder of gaslight. He looked at glass bulbs aglow with steady electricity.
He tucked the olive bandanna deeper under his shirt collar.
The saloonkeeper watched him out of the tail of his eye as if in recognition. Harry Longbaugh tightened, then shrugged it away. The
saloonkeeper had almost certainly served any number of recently released convicts, probably every one of them geared up in Longbaugh's haunted pallor and guarded eyes.
“Before you say a word,” the saloonkeeper stashed his rag behind the bar, “I seen plenty of you boys come on down here from the pen, and it's always the same, âYears since my last drink,' like it's my job to stake you. Well, you got yourself put there and my liquor ain't free, better to know that while you're sober.”
Longbaugh dug out the coins the guards had returned when they brought his saddle, holster, clothes, hat, and boots. He set them on the polished bar. The saloonkeeper nodded, moved a glass under his nose, and poured. Longbaugh marveled at itânot the liquor but the glass. A real glass. Not a tomato can. A real glass in his hand.
“Guess you ain't had it in a while. Word to the wise, maybe you ought to go easy.” The saloonkeeper put the bottle back up on the shelf as if that would keep it out of reach.
“One day someone will listen to that good advice,” said Longbaugh.
He heard laughter from a table in back. “But not today!” said an older man's voice through a cackle. Longbaugh had not noticed anyone else there, and wondered not for the first time if he had lost his touch.
“Got a name?” said the saloonkeeper.
Without thinking, Longbaugh spoke the name he had been using for the last twelve years: “Alonzo. Harry Alonzo.”
The older man snorted “Alonzo” as if in recognition, and Longbaugh knew he should be going. He drank his drink.
But he did not leave. He turned to consider the man he had failed to notice. The man's eyes were off, and he realized the old man had a lazy eye that drifted aside to admire the electric lights. Three shot glasses were lined up in front of him, each one full, each one untouched. The old man kept them out of reach on the far edge of the table, where he considered them disdainfully.
“You know me?” said Longbaugh.
“I know what makes men crazy,” said the old man.
“Don't mind Orley,” said the saloonkeeper. “He's harmless.
days he sits and keeps his thoughts to himself.” He meant to warn old man Orley by his emphasis.
“Most days nobody comes in. Not the smart ones, anyway,” said Orley.
“They all come in, Mr. Orley,” said Longbaugh, “smart, dim, ignorant.”
“That so?” said Orley, confused but curious.
“And they insult you.”
Orley sat straighter and smiled. “That they do, yessir, that they do.”
“Shut your mouth, old man.” The saloonkeeper wanted to keep his paying customer happy. “Really, mister. You don't have to humor him, he's a little light upstairs.”
“Wouldn't be a bit surprised,” said Orley happily.
Longbaugh stared at the old man, then at the three full shot glasses. “You see drink for what it is,” said Longbaugh.
Orley nodded. “The Devil's brew is what it is. Turns men evil.”
Longbaugh smiled and looked down at the bar. “Not much of an excuse.”
Orley's wandering eye moved to Longbaugh so that he now saw him with both eyes. He grinned as if he had been waiting for a kindred soul. He came halfway out of his chair, leaned forward to take the middle shot glass, brought the glass to his lips, and drank the whiskey down. The saloonkeeper watched with openmouthed surprise.
“We had a drink together once, Old Scratch and I,” said Orley, setting the empty shot glass down in front of him as he sat back down.
“Good company, was he?”
“Best you could know.”
“Polite. Good for a laugh.”
“Why not. He gets what he wants.”
“All he has to do is wait. We all get to him in time.”
“Some sooner than others.”
The saloonkeeper looked back and forth, from Longbaugh to Orley. “Orley? I never saw you drink before.”
Orley appeared calm now. “Waiting for someone to drink with.”
Longbaugh kept his eyes on the bar and spoke softly. “How long since she's been gone?”
Orley answered without pause. “My wife has been dead ten years. Give or take a decade.”
“Cholera, they said. Went fast. Not pretty.”
Longbaugh spoke almost to himself. “That
hell.” If Etta was dead, that could well be him in ten years.
Someone opened the door and Longbaugh saw a narrow silhouette cut the sunlight in two, gun belt strapped to his waist, holster hanging low by his hand. He could not make out his age. Longbaugh watched him duck his head to come in and the electric light revealed an awkward boy around seventeen. His hips were lean and struggled to hold up his jeans and gun belt, his shirt bloused around his reedy torso, while his neck stretched tall to reach his smooth chin and small head.
“Heard you was gettin' out today, mister.” The very young man had a high voice, as if it had to rise to climb that neck. Dark fuzz was evident on his upper lip. Longbaugh saw something dried white along the edge of the boy's mustache hair and thought it was milk.
“You the welcoming party?”
“I have a personal acquaintance with sheriff's deputies, mister, and sheriff's deputies have a personal acquaintance with prison guards at the Rawlins Penitentiary. They tell me everything they'd'a told my daddy.” The gun belt was a good one, well worn and comfortable, and obviously had originally belonged to an older man.
Longbaugh realized the young man had followed him from the penitentiary. He wasn't fooled by the narrow frame and high voice. The truly dangerous were the young. They believed their dreams to be real and that they would live forever. A tongue of fear licked the nape of his neck, and it was not fear of the boy. A situation like this had come on him early in prison. When it was over, no one tested him a second time. He was not proud of what he had done.
Longbaugh turned his back on the very young man and leaned over
the varnished bar. He looked at the reflection of his motionless fingers in the high polish. He was unnaturally still, as if blood no longer pulsed through his body, and that absolute lack of motion commanded the attention of the others.
The young man spoke louder to his back. “You're why my father died.”
“I never killed another man.”
“You made his reputation, and you took it away.”
“I did not know your daddy.”
“The hell you say, mister, Bill Lorigan was his name, Sheriff William Lorigan, you remember him now? You do, you
that name, he arrested you and was bringing you in when you escaped and turned him into a joke.”
Orley chuckled. “Sheriff died of a punch line, one picked lock away from immortal fame.” Longbaugh grimaced, thinking,
Please don't help me.
Orley aimed a finger at Longbaugh. “Now I got your name: Houdini.”
The saloonkeeper snapped, “Quiet, you,” then turned to the young man. “Leave my customer alone, Billy, he ain't bothering you. Have a heart, boy.”
“Already got one. Once it stops, I don't.”
Longbaugh didn't care for the way the young man strove to sound dangerous. Then he wondered about this Houdini. The name sounded as if it had been made up. He watched the young man peripherally, aware of the itch in the boy's smooth fingers that hovered near the heel of his revolver.
“My sheriffÂ .Â .Â . my
, Sheriff Lorigan, he said the Kid was the fastest.”