"The saloon had just cut off his credit, and he threw it down to cover the bet," she explained as she unlocked the glass case and carefully removed the worn cameo. She rubbed her thumb across the carving. It was worn almost smooth, and what was once the detailed profile of a beautiful woman had melted into a white shadow. She handed it to him and beamed with pride as he examined it. She was too impatient to let him discover it at his own pace though and she spoke up, "Look at the back."
He turned it over slowly and adjusted his glasses to read the inscription, "To the best looking boy I've ever seen; Love, Jimmy." He said it out loud and hadn't comprehended what he was reading at first. He looked up at her abruptly. "The best looking boy?" he repeated, "Who is he? Jane?"
She shook her head. "Everyone would like it to be Jane; give some credence to her insistence that they were involved. But it says 'Jimmy', not Bill."
"There's documentation that he went by Jimmy at times. A few military reports in the war, some letters, old pay ledgers from the pony express."
She shook her head, "But not in Deadwood. Here he was Bill. Even Charlie Utter called him Bill. And Jane never referred to him as anything else, and lord knows she was known to talk about him quite a bit." Her eyes were gleaming, she was warming to the topic, and her excitement was contagious. "In fact, we don't have a single documented instance of anyone calling him Jimmy later than 1870. He abruptly switches from demanding he is James Hickok and not Wild Bill as depicted in the books of Marcus, to cashing in on his celebrity."
"Your article was on that, wasn't it? I read it. Remarkable research." He wasn't looking at the cameo anymore, but he continued to hold it in his hand, liking the weight of it, the tangible connection to another time.
She brushed aside the compliment. It paled in comparison to the topic at hand. "And look at how worn it is. A woman doesn't wear out a pendant like that. And if he'd gotten it as a gift for someone, then why was it in his pocket. It clearly wasn't something he'd just bought. So who was this boy? What was their connection? Why did James Butler Hickok buy a boy a cameo necklace and never give it to him?"
He tossed the cameo back to her. "It's a nice little mystery," he told her, "If you could answer any of those questions with proof you'd have something to publish and a chance to upset quite a few apple carts in the process."
She put the cameo back into the case, beside the guns, the aces and eights. She sighed as she turned the key to lock it, "I don't think that's likely. I've spent quite a few years researching Wild Bill and one thing I can say is that he was an expert at burning bridges. There's no following his trail back to someone that he wanted to forget."
Wild Bill leaned his elbows back against the bar and watched the poker game in the corner. For the moment he was content only to watch. With a sigh he hooked his thumbs into his vest pockets. And then, just as his earlier whiskey began to take effect, just as his blood started to buzz and the stiffness in his shoulders began to melt, his left thumb came up against an old and familiar memory.
He poured himself another whiskey and took a sip before giving in and pulling the cameo from his pocket. He did not look at it at first, but only held it in his hand, running his thumb across it, worrying it smoother with every pass. The motion was comforting for awhile, but an uneasiness started to grow in his stomach, and he knew he'd have to do a lot more drinking to quiet it.
When his glass was empty he poured another one and at last bent his head to look at the cameo. It had been with him too long and the ivory was discolored from gunpowder and tobacco. His eyes weren't what they used to be and he squinted to see it better. He stared for sometime, seeing past the cameo to things he'd hoped to forget.
Bill jumped when a friendly hand fell on his shoulder and the look he shot his friend, Charlie, would have frightened most men. But Charlie was oblivious, as usual, and just grinned at him. "Buy ya a drink, Bill?"
"Got enough already," Bill answered gruffly, gesturing to the bottle beside him and hoping Charlie would move on.
He wasn't that lucky. Charlie threw some coins on the bar and gestured to the barkeep, all the while keeping his eyes on Bill. "Whatch'ya got there?"
"Nothin'." Bill didn't feel like talking, and he shifted his focus back to the game in the corner, closing his hand tightly around the pendent, so that the points of the leaves that wreathed the cameo cut into his palm. He liked the pain, gave him something to focus on and kept his mind from wandering into the past. Across the room, a dark haired saloon girl stopped by the poker game to light a lamp. The curve of her shoulder reminded him of someone and he opened his hand again to stare at the cameo.
He'd pictured it nestled in the hollow of Lou's neck often. Pictured the way her fingertips would have flown to her mouth in surprise when he gave it to her. She did that sometimes, as though the feelings inside of her were too big for her tiny frame and would spill out uncontrollable if she did not physically hold them in. She'd have looked away shyly before she met his eyes and then…But he'd been a coward and she'd never seen the cameo, never known that she made him feel dizzy and foolish.
"It's awful pretty," Charlie commented, "Somethin' for Agnes?"
"Nope," Bill muttered and tucked the cameo back into his pocket, "Just a lucky charm, is all."
Charlie nodded in understanding and watched as Bill shot back a full glass of whiskey before grabbing his bottle and heading for the poker table. Charlie called after him, "Ever occur to you, Bill, that if you played a little less poker, you'd need a whole helluva lot less luck?" Bill heard him but chose not to listen and sat down at the table, too absorbed by the memories in his pocket to see what was coming through the door at his back.