It's been a long time since Jimmy Hickok cared about living - exactly 12 years ago, when he left Rock Creek and had been utterly alone since then...
The Wildfire Saloon had become a favorite of "Wild Bill Hickok" as he made his way through Kansas territory. He enjoyed the privacy the townsfolk afforded him and he had his own chair at the end of the bar, half hidden in the darkness.
He's been there a few times before and kept comin' back 'cause the barkeep, Joe, is friendly. It was almost empty, just after supper rush and Joe was free to talk... Jimmy heard the church bell chime, "What's goin' on Joe?"
Joe laughed and set up a glass on the counter, fillin' it with whiskey. "Our young Marshal and his girl, they're gettin' married this evening."
Jimmy felt a thin smile on his lips and reached into his jacket.. a daguerreotype picture of a young woman with a sweet smile and luminous eyes held lightly in his fingers. He fought back the feelin' knawin' at his stomach.
Joe reached out his hand to him, "Mr. Hickok? Can I see that picture?" Jimmy looked at Joe and then back at the picture, measuring the man before he handed it over. "Quite a looker there" says Joe.
"Yeah" he drank the whiskey down and dropped the glass to the counter...
"She broke your heart, Mr. Hickok?"
A soft chuckle, "No, she never knew how I felt."
"Never told her?"
"Nope, don't want to talk about it neither," the barkeep shrugged his shoulders and placed the picture back on the bar. He went back to cleaning his glasses. Jimmy tipped his glass at the man who dutifully refilled it. He lifted his glass solemly and gave a silent toast to the woman.
"She married my friend," he began and the barkeep wisely kept quiet, "She loved him, I know that." He stared at the hard wood of the counter top, his long dark hair hung down hiding his face, "I walked her down the aisle myself."
He seemed to freeze in time. "It almost killed me."
Lost in his thoughts he continued. "You should've seen her, her hair was all done up like a princess... white flowers like a crown. She held onto my arm and as we walked, she squeezed it ... like a hug. She was so happy - stars have never shone so bright."
Jimmy looked up at the man, waiting for him to say someting. When Joe just went about washing the glasses Jimmy turned away annoyed, "Well you gonna stand there all night like statue, or you gonna talk back."
Joe didn't rightly know where to begin, "What happened after the wedding?"
He slid the glass across the counter, Joe filled and placed it back in front of him... "I left a week or two later... joined up with the army. A scout don't live too long in a war like that... but I guess I was cursed to make it through and live. " He downed another drink...
He touched the edges of the photo and a piece of paper tore off the edge. "It looks pretty worn there."
Jimmy nodded. "All those nights waiting for the battles, waiting to die... I carried this picture with me. I tucked it tight in my jacket pocket...." he touched his jacket, right where the picture would have been.
"Every night before I laid down to sleep I'd take it out and talk to her..." he looked up with warning in his eye, " No I ain't no crazy man, but it was nice to talk to her... I used to imagine what she'd say."
"Sometimes I could imagine what she'd say, 'Hickok!' she liked yellin' at me, 'What kind of mess have you got yourself into now? This ain't no contest.... they're shootin' at you...' Yeah... but no matter how many chances I took ... no matter how stupid I was... I never got hit with as much as a nick or a bullet through the arm."
"Sounds like she's been lucky for you." Jimmy gave him a hard look, then shrugged his shoulders..
"So how'd you get the picture? She give it to you?"
Jimmy shook his head and downed another shot of whiskey. He motioned for a refill. As Joe obliged Jimmy told him about the picture. "I took her to dinner one night ...in Willow Springs... there was a man takin' pictures of people in the restaurant... she looked so pretty in that dress... we danced in the streets and ..." Another shot down and another. Jimmy was determined to stop the ache in his chest, "and that's all there was." He didn't need to tell him that soon after that dance she was almost killed because of him. Two more shots went south and Jimmy had past his breakin' point.
Now very drunk and very unhappy, Jimmy picked up the picture and held it like he's going to rip it.. the bartender stops him quickly, sayin' "Hey Mister Hickok, if you don't want it... let me keep it... it will be something to remind me of tonight.."
Jimmy tossed it back on the counter, "Sure, you keep it, I don't wanna miss her anymore."
Jimmy pulled himself up and off the chair and trudged out the door.
Joe looked after him and back down to the brown and tan picture faded and worn by time. He shook his head. "Yes Sir," he breathed. He could understand what Mister Hickok was talking about. She wasn't what you'd call a classic beauty, but those eyes... those eyes could pull a bear right inside a trap. She was certainly a striking young woman.
Jimmy stayed away from the bar for nearly a week 'cause he knew that's were her picture was. He gave it up so he'd stop missin' her. It hadn't done a thing except bring the dreams. Everynight when he closed his eyes she was there, dancing in his arms, riding beside him, dressed like a Saloon girl, face bathed in firelight right before he kissed her. She haunted him, her face everywhere in his thoughts. He couldn't go on like this.
The next day, he made up his mind to get it back. Maybe the dreams would stop, he prayed they would. He paused in the doorway as he heard a flury of noise spilling out into the street..
"Hey!" yelled Joe, "give it back.. it's not mine!"
"Come're Curt! The barkeep got a pretty picture hidden behind the bar!" Jimmy was through the door in a moment....
"Give it back Johnson... It ain't no plaything.."
The dirty man arguing at the bar laughed at Joe whose face was now red with anger. "Well she's pretty enough to be 'My Plaything..' " he laughed and struck a match on the side of the bar. He lit his cigarette, placed it in his mouth and took the picture back from his friend.
Joe looked up and saw Jimmy flyin' through the crowd but it was too late. The match touched the edge of the picture... the old paper caught the flame in an instant and was devoured in the heat.
An animal yell caught Johnson's attention and he turned to see the angry eyes of Hickok advancing on him. Realization came too late and Johnson was knocked into oblivion by a balled fist. His friend was smart enough to run away while Hickok's attention was directed at Johson. Jimmy easily caught him. He lifted him off the floor by his collar and slid his Colt free of it's holster, placing the gun to the man's temple.
Joe had come 'round the bar... He placed a hand on Jimmy's ,"No son, you can't do that..."
"But it's gone!" Joe could hear the silent break in Hickok's voice..
"I know, I know... but there nothing that can be done now... I don't think she would've wanted you to kill a man over this."
Jimmy let go of the collar and Johnson slumped back to the floor. Joe walked Jimmy back to the bar and sat him down, pouring him a whiskey on the house. He looked up at Joe, a sad smile at odds with the utter dispair on his face, "It's strange that even after all these years - she's still the one that I adore... more than anyone else... I won't ever find anyone like her."
The next morning Jimmy walked through town. Feelin' as sad as the sun, unable to shine around the clouds that shrouded the town. He felt so very removed from everything... nothing could pull him from his stupor, his prized possession was gone.
He paced the length of the town. He was so oblivious that he didn't hear the short footsteps behind him or the hand pulling on his coat tails.
"Mr. Hickok! Mr. Hickok!" the voice called frantically... the boy walked around the side and touched his hand, "Mr. Hickok!"
Jimmy looked down and nodded, "Josiah, what's so important?"
"This Mr Hickok...." He held out a small brown envelope, "you got a letter today... it's from Nebraska..."
"Nebraska?" Jimmy quickly thanked the boy and headed back to his room over the Newspaper office.
He sat down on the bed and carefully pulled the paper open, a piece of paper fell into his lap but his eyes were directed on the letter before him written in graceful handwriting...
Jimmy set the letter down beside him and picked up the paper that lay in his lap. He turned it over in his hands and stared at the image in front of him. Lou, twelve years older, but still a beautiful woman. She was right.. her hair was longer.. and she wore it up, like Rachel used to. Sweet curls touched her cheeks and a graceful smile was spread across her lips.
What really made his heart stop was the boy sitting with her. He was a handsome boy with dark eyes and a strong face. He had a serious look about him and his hand was placed on his mother's, wrapped around her fingers. His eyes seemed to look right at him. She was right...
Early the next morning, Jimmy Hickok, dressed in his sunday best, walked back into the Wildfire Saloon and sat in the same chair at the end of the bar. Joe came right over and placed a glass on the counter... Jimmy threw some coins on the counter and put two fingers up in the air. After a quizzical look Joe placed another glass next to the first and filled both. Jimmy took one in his hand and nodded to Joe, "Join me for a toast?"
If Joe was surprized at the light tone in his voice he didn't show it. He placed his rag on the counter and lifted his glass. "What are we toastin' to?"
"I'm goin' on a trip. I've got someone special... actually two special people that I need to see..." Jimmy reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the picture. He handed it to Joe and finished his drink.
Joe handed him back the picture and asked pointedly, "The boy?"
Jimmy smiled and shook his head, "Her's and her husband's - they just named him after me."
"There's resemblance enough." Joe left it at that. He looked out the window and told him that they stage was ready. Jimmy stood and thanked the barkeep for listenin' the other night. "Any time Mr. Hickok."
Jimmy stopped at the door and turned back a real smile on his face, "Call me Jimmy."
This is a story inspired by a song. Chad Brock sings a beautiful ballad called 'Hey Mister'. I heard it in a concert and have loved it for it's raw emotional pull. I mean no disrespect to either the songwriters or Mr. Brock, I hope that everyone will enjoy this story as the labor of love that it is. written by: Kim Tribble/Dale Oliver/Dave Robbins sung by: Chad Brock album: Yes!