Authors: Deanna Lynn Sletten
Driving slowly down Main Street, Maggie absorbed the atmosphere of this once famous western town turned tourist trap. Maggie loved Deadwood. She, Andrew, and the kids had visited a couple of times on their way to Seattle to visit her father and sister, but they'd never spent as much time as she'd have liked exploring it. She didn't care that the town lived and breathed tourists. It still pulled you back to its lively, uncensored roots and made you feel a part of a time long gone. She planned on spending a lot of time there, camera in hand, exploring every inch.
Wanting to absorb the mood of the past, she rented a room at the Bullock Hotel right on Main Street. Because it was mid-September, the tourists were not as thick as in summer, and securing a room in this historic establishment was possible. It was a charming, three-story brick building with rooms that were plush and inviting, and to top it off, they even had their own ghost who might haunt you at no extra charge. Maggie found this charming and exciting, and settled right in.
The day was warm and sunny, so she kept her van parked and set out exploring the town on foot. After picking up several brochures from the front desk, she wandered from saloon to saloon, casino to casino, shop to shop, taking pictures of whatever caught her eye and luxuriating in not having a timetable or schedule to live by. Just before three o'clock, she headed into Old Saloon #10, the site of the famous shooting of Wild Bill Hickok in 1875. The saloon boasted in its brochure, "Wild Bill Shot Daily", so she found a seat in the dark saloon at one of its rough, wooden tables, ordered a Diet Coke, and settled in for the show.
Sure enough, right at three with the place now filled with tourists, a gentleman appeared dressed to the nines as the famous James Butler Hickok, alias Wild Bill, and began telling his life story to the fascinated crowd. With a soft Southern drawl, he strutted back and forth in front of his audience telling the events that led to his untimely demise. Then, after choosing three members from the audience to portray his fellow card players, the four sat at a table and played out his final minutes of life.
Maggie took several pictures of the man who called himself Wild Bill before he ended up lying on the sawdust floor with a 'bullet' in the head, holding in his hand the infamous "aces and eights". His brown hair was long and wavy under his hat, and his mustache hung long on each side of his mouth in true Hickok fashion. His eyes sparkled with mischief. She thought he had an interesting face, so she took several close-ups in the darkened room.
After the gun had fired and the audience finished cheering, good ol' Bill arose from the dead to thank everyone for coming. He reminded them that they replayed the show several times a day, then he disappeared into the back room from where he'd come.
Maggie was sifting through the brochures to decide where she might want to eat a late lunch when a deep, male voice beside her made her look up in surprise.
"Did you enjoy the show, ma'am?"
Maggie found herself looking into the eyes of Wild Bill. Still in costume, he smiled at her while brushing off the sawdust that clung to his long, black jacket.
"Can't say I've seen a better shooting recently," she told him. She couldn't help but notice his face was just as interesting up close. Lightly tanned with the beginnings of crow's feet framing brown eyes that sparkled when they caught the light. Mischievous, maybe. Downright dangerous for certain. Yet at the same time, his smile was warm and inviting, hardly dangerous at all.
"I couldn't help but notice you were taking pictures earlier. That's a nice camera you have there," he said, nodding toward her camera on the table.
"Thank you," Maggie said, beginning to wonder what old Bill was up to. Maybe he needed a few copies of pictures for his wall.
"Do you take photos for a living?" he asked.
Maggie laughed. "Oh, heavens no. I'd like to, even hoped to one day, but that's not in the cards anymore I'm afraid."
Wild Bill tipped his head and wrinkled his brow. "Why?"
This caught Maggie off guard. "Well, um...,"
"Can I buy you a drink?" he asked, interrupting her indecision. "Or do you have a husband and family waiting for you somewhere?"
Husband and family waiting for me somewhere? Do I look that married?
Maggie frowned as she considered his question.
"No. No one is waiting for me right now," she said carefully.
Crap, what am I walking into? Drinks with Wild Bill? This is crazy!
"Well then," he said, as he slid up on one of the high stools and waved the waitress over. "What can I get you?"
Maggie looked at the empty glass in front of her.
"Diet Coke," she said, warily.
Bill looked at the waitress.
Cokes, please, Missy," he said, handing her two wooden tokens. He looked back at Maggie. "I hate to come off looking cheap, but they give me dozens of those drink tokens to pass out to the guests, so I might as well use them."
Maggie nodded, looking confused. "Wild Bill drinks Diet Coke?"
Bill laughed. "I'm sure I'm a disgrace to the real Bill Hickok, but I have a show later, and I like being sober and not falling down for real."
Maggie couldn't help but smile. He seemed friendly enough, not devious in any way. She relaxed a little and decided to enjoy his company.
"How long have you been getting shot here, Bill?" she asked him, as the waitress delivered their sodas.
Bill smiled. "First off, my name is really Robert. Robert Prescott. But you can call me Bob."
Maggie almost choked on the sip of soda she'd taken when a laugh gurgled up her throat at his name. Another Bob. What a strange coincidence.
"I prefer Wild Bill, if you don't mind," she said, after clearing her throat from her near-death choke. "After all, you're dressed for the part."
Bill looked at her curiously over his glass but nodded in agreement.
"Whatever the lady prefers," he said in good humor. "And what shall I call you?"
Maggie grinned. "Calamity Jane seems appropriate. Don't you think?"
Bill shook his head, but there was a smile on his lips.
"Calamity Jane it is," he said, raising his glass to toast her. She touched hers to his and they both laughed.
"Well, Calamity, getting back to your question, I've been getting shot here since June. As Bob, I'm just an everyday, mild-mannered, eighth grade history teacher in Salt Lake City. I've always wanted to try my hand at acting, and my favorite time period is the old west, so I signed on to play Bill for the saloon and for other events in town when I'm needed. I find it much more interesting reliving history instead of just talking about it."
"School must have started by now in Salt Lake City. Why are you still here?" Maggie asked, interested in this faux outlaw's story.
Bill turned one end of his long mustache between his fingers, as men with mustaches used to do. "I was having such a fun time doing this, I decided to take a year off from teaching and continue during the winter. After twelve years of teaching, I was ready for a change."
Maggie nodded, understanding perfectly how change was needed from time to time. Hadn't she just turned her world upside down in only one day?
"Before I ask about your story, Calamity, I have another question. Can I buy you lunch? I'm famished and would enjoy company with my meal for a change."
Maggie was surprised by his question but could read nothing more into it other than sharing a meal. And she was starved, too. She agreed, and the two stepped out into the bright sunshine and strolled up Main Street to the Midnight Star Casino. Bill assured Maggie that Diamond Lil's, the bar and grill upstairs, was the perfect place to get a great lunch. And she'd be able to see some movie memorabilia at the same time.
Maggie found it amusing that no one looked twice at Bill's costume while they were walking up the street, and even while they were being seated at a table in the restaurant. The hostess merely smiled and said, "Howdy, Mr. Hickok," when he appeared in front of her, and she seated them at a table by a window facing Main Street. Apparently people in Deadwood didn't think too much of long-dead gunmen turning up on their streets or in their eating establishments.
Maggie and Wild Bill ordered cheeseburgers and fries, then got up and wandered the room to look at the movie costumes that hung in glass display cases on the walls. It was late afternoon, so the place was relatively quiet, and their wandering didn't disturb other customers. Wild Bill explained that the Midnight Star was owned by actor Kevin Costner, therefore the costumes and posters were from his many movies throughout the years.
They laughed at the plastic-handled pistols displayed with his clothes from
"Do you think he really used those toy guns?" Maggie asked, surprised at how cheap they looked.
Wild Bill grinned and shrugged.
As they walked through the restaurant for several minutes, they shared which movies they had seen and talked about which of the more detailed costumes impressed them, like those from
Dances with Wolves
Soon, their food was ready, and they sat and enjoyed it, while they talked about their lives before coming to Deadwood.
"Your turn, Calamity," Bill said between bites. "What brings you here alone without that family of yours that I know you have."
"Do I look that settled?" Maggie asked, wincing at the fact he could tell she had a family at home. Was it so obvious?
"No, ma'am. As a matter of fact, you're quite the looker. But I see a ring on your finger, and you're dressed like every other middle school mom I've been in contact with, so that kind of gives you away." He winked at her, teasing, and Maggie actually blushed at his words.
"I'm sort of taking a much needed vacation by myself," she told him, wondering if it sounded as bad as she thought.
"Ah, burnout right?"
Maggie's brows rose.
"Is it really that obvious?" She thought she must look old and haggard to him if he could tell just by looking at her. He wouldn't be far off, either. She felt that way.
Bill only smiled and shook his head. "Nothing to be ashamed of. We all get burned out now and then. Heck, I used to wonder what kept some of those mothers going at the school. They'd have two or three kids in school, running from one school to another, volunteering their time, plus working, plus running a home, not to mention driving kids to sports and music lessons. Who wouldn't burn out and run away?"
Run away. That stung. Maggie sat quietly, considering what she had done. She hadn't planned it. It just happened. And now, almost forty-eight hours later, she was sitting in a bar with a strange man in a strange town. What had seemed so innocent just seconds ago now seemed like the act of a horrible person.
"Hey, Calamity," Bill said in a soft voice. "Did I say something to upset you?"
Maggie looked up into the warm brown eyes of Bob, the history teacher, alias Wild Bill.
"You must think I'm a terrible person. I walked out on my family. How could I do such a thing?" She dropped her eyes to the table and stared at her half-eaten meal.
Bill reached over and gently touched her cheek, drawing her eyes back to his.
"Actually, Calamity, I think you're one brave woman. It's not just anyone who can see what they need to do to survive and grab it. You did what you had to do, and where it leads you, who knows? But at least you didn't stay behind to confront your other option—going crazy." Bill smiled at her. "You'll go home a better person, better wife, and better mother for having the guts to escape for a while. And you will go home, Calamity. Make no mistake about that. But only when you're ready. Up here," he said, touching the side of her head, "and here," he pointed to her heart.
Maggie stared at him for one long moment, taking in everything he'd said. A slow smile spread across her face.
"That's pretty deep for a gunman, slash lawman of the west," she said, her eyes sparkling once more.
Bill laughed. "Pretty deep for a history teacher, too," he added. His eyes suddenly lit up. "Say, I have tomorrow off, and the weather outside is beautiful," he said, glancing out the window. "Have you ever had the privilege of riding up the mountains to Rushmore on a hog?"
"A hog?" Maggie repeated, laughing at the thought.
"Why Bill Hickok, I'd expect you to ride up the mountain on a horse, not a motorcycle."
"Well, I believe that if Wild Bill were alive today, he'd ride a motorcycle. But not just any cycle, mind you. A Harley-Davidson. How'd you like to ride up with me tomorrow, Calamity? I promise you, it'll be a blast."
Maggie thought a moment as she looked into his eyes, considering all the possibilities. It was absurd, of course, completely ridiculous to consider. Riding up into the mountains with a complete stranger on a Harley? It was exactly the type of thing she'd never even consider in her old life. That was why she knew it was the right thing for her to do now.
"How do I know you're not a serial killer who lures women up the mountain and disposes of them there?" Maggie asked, half-teasing, half-serious.
Bill smiled. "I can give you references. Just ask the local sheriff if I'm trustworthy."
Maggie considered the idea, then she took a deep breath as she formed her next words. "I'm not looking to start anything," she said, hesitantly. "If I say yes, we go only as friends."
Bill tipped his head in agreement. "Your honor is safe with me, Calamity," he said, with a thick, southern drawl.
Maggie relaxed and agreed, and they made plans for him to pick her up at her hotel the following morning.
As they stepped outside into the late afternoon sun, Bill took off his hat and tipped his head into a slight bow. "Until tomorrow," he said and turned to walk down the street toward Saloon #10. Only a few paces away, he stopped, turned, and called her name.
"Calamity Jane," he exclaimed, and Maggie turned at the sound of his now familiar voice. "It's cold in the early morning. Be sure to dress warmly and wear your leathers." With another tip of his hat, he turned and ambled on down the street.