A fine friend in Hell.

“You cheatin’ son of a b—”

Mike’s insult was cut off by the roar of a shotgun at close range. The blast took a chunk out of his torso and spun him around.

Every face turned to stare at Caleb, who stood over the messy remains of Loco Mike Abel.

“Jesus Christ,” came one voice from near the bar. “He shot him.”

“I saw it, too. Damn near cut him in half.”

“I think I’m gonna be sick.”

The bottom of Caleb’s stomach dropped out, and soon the floor seemed to tilt beneath his feet. Almost immediately, he felt a steadying hand on his shoulder.

“It’s all right,” Doc Holliday said in a low, soothing voice. “It’s all over. You did good.”

In loving memory of

my grandmother Martha.

She taught me to play cutthroat poker and said,

“Shut up and deal, kid,”

when I wanted to go to sleep

after winning a few hands.

Thanks, Ma-Mu.

Going to bed early never got anyone anywhere.

Author’s Note

In writing this book, I have tried my best to stay true to the spirit of John Henry “Doc” Holliday. Wherever possible, I have kept the actual names, places, and dates intact. Even some details that might go unnoticed are historical fact. However, this is a work of fiction, and some things needed to be altered a bit for the sake of the story. My real intention is to entertain but also give an accurate portrayal of one of the Old West’s most well-known figures. Doc was a character in every sense of the word, and hopefully this book will let that shine through. If it’s true history you’re after, I would suggest books like Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait, by Karen Holliday Tanner, or The Frontier World of Doc Holliday, by Pat Jahns. With that said, turn the page and enjoy!


Dallas, Texas


The Busted Flush Saloon wasn’t the biggest place in Dallas to go for a drink. It wasn’t even the best. It was, however, the closest when approaching the town from the southeast, and that was good enough to bring plenty of folks through its doors. The saloon was cobbled together from splintered, weathered wood and leaned slightly to one side. In that way, it resembled the drunks who stumbled out of it after a long, rowdy night.

It was the end of summer, and waves of heat from the ground made the Busted Flush appear to waver in the breeze. Grit covered the ground after having been blown or tracked into each and every building. Everyone in Dallas knew only too well the feeling of their teeth crunching upon the dust that had coated the backs of their mouths. It was hot. Everyone knew it. Even so, that didn’t stop some folks from needing to drive the point home even more.

“I’ll be damned, it is hot!” the tall fellow bellowed as he strutted into the Busted Flush. He was a big man with long, wavy hair encrusted with dust, tangled with briars, and tossed about by the wind. He gazed around at the half dozen or so others inside the place, waiting for some kind of answer to his statement.

Finally, a portly figure standing behind the bar obliged him, twisting a cloth through one mug after another as he said, “You got that right. What can I get for you, Mike?”

The big fellow’s proper name was Mike Abel, but he went by the name Loco Mike. He hadn’t exactly earned the nickname or gotten it from someone else. The name, along with the three guns holstered on his person, were overly obvious attempts to gain respect or at least some degree of fear. Judging by the tired glances he got from the others around him, he might have needed to try a little harder.

“I’ll take a beer. Jesus, it’s so hot I think I feel my gullet baking in me,” Mike said as he strutted up to the bar. Slapping the shoulder of an old-timer standing there, he asked, “How ’bout you, Orville?”

“Sure, Mike,” Orville said without even glancing in the bigger man’s direction. “But I felt a whole lot worse when I was out digging. You ain’t never felt heat like the kind that gets reflected off the top of a tin pan.”

The barkeep took a mug out for him and filled it with beer from a rusted tap. “Any luck playing cards last night?”

Mike had both hands flat upon the warped wooden surface and looked at the barkeep as though the man had just insulted his mother. “What the flamin’ hell is that supposed to mean?”

Freezing for a moment, the barkeep topped off Mike’s drink and set the mug down in front of him. “Nothing, Mike. Just making conversation is all.”

“Well conversate about something other than my goddamn losing streak!”

“Sure, Mike.”

The old-timer was chuckling and shaking his head.

“What’re you laughin’ at?” Mike grunted.

Without flinching, the old-timer stared straight ahead and ignored the growling menace beneath Mike’s question.

“He’s probably laughing at those sorry hands you tried to bluff with last night,” came a voice from the Busted Flush’s front door.

Mike, as well as one or two others in the saloon, turned around to get a look at who’d just spoken. What they saw was a solidly built figure wearing the black suit and string tie that might as well have been the uniform of a professional gambler. He carried a polished cane, which seemed to be more of an accessory than a necessity. A wide-brimmed hat cast a dark shadow over the well-dressed man’s face. Beneath that veil of shadow, the man was smiling.

Taking hold of his mug roughly enough to spill at least a quarter of its contents upon the bar, Mike shifted on his heel until he was facing the new arrival. He glanced around at the other drinkers, not even seeming to notice that they were already leaning forward with their elbows in the grooves that they’d worn into the bar.

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