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Authors: Patrick Culhane

Tags: #Organized Crime, #Los Angeles (Calif.), #Private Investigators, #Detective and Mystery Stories, #Historical, #Mystery & Detective, #Private Investigators - New York (State) - New York, #Gangsters - New York (State) - New York, #New York (N.Y.), #Earp; Wyatt, #Capone; Al, #Fiction, #Mafia - New York (State) - New York, #Mystery Fiction, #Adventure Fiction, #Historical Fiction, #Crime, #Suspense, #General

Black Hats

BOOK: Black Hats
6.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

April 1920. The Prohibition era has just begun, and the Wild West is a fading memory.

Legendary lawman Wyatt Earp is spending his golden years in Los Angeles as a private detective — and sometime consultant on cowboy movies. Bored and restless, he jumps at the chance to go east to help the son of his late friend Doc Holliday. The young man’s mother fears her gambler son will lose everything, including his life, in wild and woolly Manhattan, where Johnny Holliday has opened one of the first, and glitziest, speakeasy nightclubs.

Wyatt’s onetime deputy, Bat Masterson, joins the defense of young Holliday against a new breed of badmen — mobsters led by Brooklyn’s brash, brutal Alphonse Capone. Young Al and his sadistic boss Frankie Yale have targeted Holliday’s nightspot, where jazz-baby diva Texas Guinan is welcoming suckers and money is flowing like bootleg beer.... As the Twenties (and machine guns) start to roar, the lawless lawmen move through a glittering world of beautiful showgirls, ruthless gangsters, and high-rolling gamblers — taking one last glorious stand that makes the O.K. Corral shoot-out pale, signaling the end of their legend and the beginning of Scarface Al’s.
Black Hats
is a thrilling and colorful ride into a time and place where good guys and bad guys blur, and big-city dreams turn on a dime. In vivid detail, the enigmatic Earp’s character draws into sharp focus, while Capone’s young personality comes alive, foreshadowing the master criminal he would become. Wearing another hat, Patrick Culhane is one of suspense fiction’s most respected writers, and his newest, most innovative blockbuster is grand, enormous fun.





Copyright © 2007 by Max Allan Collins

FOR STEVE LACKEY — who fired the first shot

This is funny.

—Doc Holliday’s last words

There are those who would say it all breaks even

because the rich get ice in the summer

while the poor get it in the winter….

—Last words written by Bat Masterson

Suppose, suppose….

—Wyatt Earp’s last words



gambler lingo for
: get serious

APRIL, 1920



Sky darker than the inside of your fist, rain slanting in from the east, slashing at will, unseen till lightning gave it away.

Wyatt Earp, not in particular reflective, found his memory bestirred by weather, most often.

And back in Tombstone, what? Almost forty years ago? That craven crowd had ambushed Virgil, a marshal making his midnight rounds, maimed him, ruined his left arm forever with their buckshot and cowardice.

Now Wyatt was doing the ambushing, and his nightly rounds were hardly marshal’s work. He did have a badge in his wallet, a private detective’s star courtesy of his friends at the Los Angeles Police Department, for whom he occasionally did jobs.

Not this job, though.

Lowman’s Motor Court on North San Fernando Road consisted of a dozen pink adobe cabins, six facing six across a graveled courtyard, where tiny pools glimmered in the sky’s occasional shouts of white. The other night—this was Wednesday, that had been Monday—when Wyatt had stopped here, the foothills of the green Verdugo Mountains had conspired with a blazing orange sunset to provide a majestic backdrop for this sordid little assignation village.

Tonight the hills were just shapes, dark shoulders that couldn’t be bothered to shrug in this downpour. Wyatt knew how they felt.

A damned domestic case.

Wasn’t exactly dignified work for a man, was it? City of Angels coppers, at least, always gave him real jobs to do—hauling back wanted men from Mexico, sub rosa; putting the boot to claim-jumpers in the wilds of San Bernardino County. Hell, getting an investigative operator’s license had been only to please Police Commissioner Lewis. Wyatt had never had no intention of hanging out a shingle and becoming a goddamned bedroom dick.

But word had gotten round that Wyatt Earp himself, the Grand Old (for Lord’s sake!) Lion of Tombstone, was doing detective work; and the occasional client would find him at his rented bungalow on Seventeenth Street.

Not that this job came from the “occasional” client. This was the kind of thankless task that he would do only for a friend. He’d had very few real friends in his life, but when one came around asking a favor, Wyatt Earp was not the kind to say no.

He stood beneath a palm tree, the tree swaying, Wyatt not. He’d positioned himself between that tropical excuse for vegetation and the teal Model T that William S. had loaned him—

Wyatt had learned to drive ages ago but had never owned an auto—hands in the pockets of a black rain slicker and wearing a wide-brimmed black Stetson that funneled the sluice nicely.

Slender, six one, with Apache cheekbones, unblinking sky-blue eyes and snow-white hair with a well-trimmed matching mustache, Wyatt Earp might have been fifty-five. But he was seventy.

In this weather, a man like Earp—legendary lawman, gambler, buffalo hunter, prospector, Indian fighter, survivor of more bloody encounters than even the Wild West might be expected to throw at a body—should darn sure feel that moisture in his joints, be well and truly plagued by phantom pulsing pains from all those wounds.

Had he ever been wounded.

Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp—who had shot it out with drunken cowboys and notorious outlaws, gone toe-to-toe with the Clantons and McLaurys at the gunfight near the O.K. Corral, been through countless Indian raids and rode posses against cattle rustlers and tracked stagecoach bandits, whose brothers Virgil and Morgan had been shot down in the streets of Tombstone—had thus far in his lifetime suffered not a single bullet wound.

That time with Curly Bill Brocious, Wyatt wading across that stream with his damned fool cartridge belt slipping down around his knees and turning him into a waddling duck of a man, answering Bill’s shotgun with a sixgun, that time? That time he’d come close to a cropper, skirts of his coat shot all to pieces, pretty well riddled to shreds. And a horse had died. Also Curly Bill.

Wyatt had never been one to wear a gun unless he was on marshaling duty, or maybe carting a big sum—the latter leading to that embarrassment when a police captain on security detail disarmed the former frontier marshal going into the ring to referee the Fitzsimmons/Sharkey bout in ’96.

This bounty huntering for the Los Angeles blue boys, however, had him hauling the long-barreled Colt .45 out of mothballs. The ungainly old girl cleaned up good; she’d been a gift in Dodge City days from a dime-novel writer, an eccentric who’d pumped Wyatt for info, then never wrote a damned word about him!

Anyway, Wyatt had always prized the weapon, especially the way he could sight down that ten-inch barrel; but it was awkward as hell in a shoulder-rig. So, tonight, he carried her in a stiff-leather holster on his left hip, cross-draw, border-style—like Doc used to.

Something near a smile worked at the line of his mouth, summoned by the thought of his deceased gambler friend. Most people, back then, had hated Doc Holliday, mean drunken consumptive that he was. But Holliday’s dark sense of humor had always tickled Wyatt.

You’d be hurting in this wetness, Doc
, Wyatt said to his friend, in his mind.
Coughing like a
schoolgirl getting her first taste of whiskey

I like the rain, thank you very much, Wyatt
, Holliday might well have drawled back in his Southern gentleman’s way.
And what would you know of schoolgirls, or whiskey for that

The lights were still out in cottage number four. Wyatt found the notion distasteful of interrupting the couple,
in flagrante de-licto
. He would wait for them to finish. It was the Christian thing to do.

Just over a week ago he’d gone to Bill Hart’s home in rural West Hollywood. For a movie star’s diggings, the place was modest, a ranch-style ramble with some horses in a corral and a barn no bigger than Wyatt’s bungalow. The former deputy marshal and the current Western film star sat in Hart’s study where the walls were lined with books about the old days and authentic artifacts from back then were displayed in glass cases as if something precious—six shooters and buffalo guns and assorted Sioux Indian junk.

Flames whipcracked in the big stone fireplace over which hung a Remington painting of a Blackfoot war party on horseback. This unseasonably chill April day in California almost justified the fire, and Wyatt couldn’t blame his actor friend for indulging himself. Big comfortable leather chairs with rough-wood arms angled toward the warmth.

The deeply tanned Hart—Wyatt had a card player’s pallor—possessed the long narrow face and craggy hawkish features of the gunfighters and Indians he so often portrayed. An inch taller than Wyatt and just as muscularly trim, William S. Hart struck a handsome figure on the silver screen, but Hart was no young leading man, and would never see fifty again.

Still, Bill was a hell of a horseman, and made the only of these so-called “Western” pictures Wyatt could sit through.

Nonetheless, Hart was not his only actor friend here in Hollywood—he and Tom Mix associated, too. But that silly-ass nonsense Mixie dished out in those gaudy childish white-hat outfits, Wyatt wouldn’t waste his time on, though Tom was an even better rider than Hart.

Not that stunt riding had anything to do with anything except Buffalo Bill Wild West Show bunkum…whereas Bill Hart’s Old West rang damned near true—good guys threw down liquor, fought with fists more than guns, gambled, chewed (and spat) tobacco, and the clothes were nothing fancy, except on the saloon girls.

Of course Wyatt was always willing to go to a film set as a paid consultant, and had done so for Mix as well as Hart. This was a lean enough time that Wyatt Earp could scarce refuse offers from either the LAPD or Hollywood.

Right now Hart wore an orange, green, white and black plaid shirt and denim trousers with turquoise-buckled wide leather belt and tooled brown-leather boots, while Wyatt wore a white shirt with black suspenders and no tie, gray slacks and black Oxfords.

Hart’s gray-blue eyes under heavy black brows seemed to look inward; the hard lines and sharp angles of his face were heightened by the reflection of the fireplace that provided the study’s only light.

Melodrama was the stock-in-trade of a fellow like Hart, so Wyatt couldn’t hold the theatrics against him.

“I am a fool with women,” Hart said.

“Not a small society,” Wyatt said.

Hart’s eyes found his friend’s. “I don’t mean to say that I…dally freely.”

Wyatt managed not to smile. Of all the actors he’d known—and he’d known many, from Eddie Foy playing the Commy-Kew in Dodge to Charlie Chaplin losing at faro to him last month in a private, slightly rigged game—Wyatt had never known any of these hams to be such a puritan as Bill. Little drinking, no wild parties, with stud poker the star’s only vice.

But not his only failing: Hart had a habit of falling in love with his leading ladies, and had asked his latest one to marry him.

“I am having second thoughts,” Hart admitted.

“Better now than later.”

“I…I hate to listen to gossipmongers. You know how malicious the rumor mill can be in this town.”

Wyatt nodded.

“So the bad things that are being said about Millie, I should really ignore, but…Wyatt, is it ungracious of me to question her sincerity?”


“When we had dinner last night, at Musso and Frank’s, I suggested, perhaps, that we should spend more time together before we formally announce our engagement…you know, away from the set and the seductive hurly-burly of filmmaking.”

“Yeah. Hurly-burly can get away from you.”

His nostrils and eyes flared. “And do you know how she reacted?”


“She covered her hand protectively—the one with the diamond ring I gave her! As if I might snatch it away! And she said that if I embarrassed her, if I thought I could make a public fool of her, we would just see what the lawyers and the reporters thought about it.”

BOOK: Black Hats
6.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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